San Diego Law Review


Larry Alexander

Document Type

Law & Religion


In my book Is There a Right of Freedom of Expression?, I argued that liberalism, to the extent it is defined by a commitment to freedom of illiberal speech, illiberal religions, and illiberal associations, is at its core paradoxical. For, I argued, if liberalism is the correct political philosophy, it must regard illiberal thought and its manifestations in action and policy as fundamentally mistaken. And these mistaken illiberal views cannot be deemed by the liberal to have value as views, except perhaps for whatever instructive value they might have in getting people to see the truth of liberalism. When such views pose no danger to the liberal regime, the liberal can tolerate their expression and to some extent their manifestation in action. The liberal might even frame this tolerance as a right—though a right that can be rescinded when illiberal views threaten to become ascendant. In other words, liberalism can tolerate illiberal views that do not appear to threaten the liberal regime’s existence. The relation between liberalism and illiberal views, therefore, if liberalism is to avoid paradox and incoherence, must be a modus vivendi relation of qualified and limited tolerance rather than a relation in which illiberal views have rights as a matter of principle. Liberalism, like any other fighting faith, must take its own side in the argument with illiberal views and eschew the false high ground of principled neutrality in matters of speech, religion, and association.