Free Speech and 'Democratic Persuasion': A Response to Brettschneider


Larry Alexander

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Liberalism’s hallmark is its endorsement of certain basic freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association. Yet the content of some speech, religious doctrines, and criteria of association are inconsistent with liberalism’s tenets. Speech might advocate restrictions on speech as well as the abolition of democracy, the expulsion of religious and racial groups, and so forth. So might religious doctrines. And associations might require various “illiberal” conditions for membership and might seek to advance various “illiberal” goals. I shall refer to illiberal speech, religion, and association as “illiberalism” for short. What should be the liberal state’s response to illiberalism? If it outlaws illiberalism, its credentials as a liberal state appear to be undermined. If it permits illiberalism, it licenses Robert Frost’s derogatory quip that liberalism can’t take its own side in an argument. Either way, liberalism appears self-contradictory and incoherent. It must either betray its principles or betray itself (and thereby betray its principles). Liberalism both appears to be possible — we’ve seen it done — and impossible (it can’t be done). That is, in brief, the paradox of liberalism. Elsewhere, I have diagnosed the problem as one that stems from the impossible-to-realize idea of evaluative neutrality that defines the liberal freedoms. I there argued that the paradox was real and insoluble. Corey Brettschneider believes he can avoid the paradox. He thinks the key is government speech and subsidies. I believe he is mistaken. The paradox remains.