Political Political Theory is no misprint. Jeremy Waldron’s stuttering title well expresses his intention. In the last generation, observes Waldron, “political theory” has become synonymous with considering the moral foundations of political life; the writings of John Rawls and Robert Nozick have framed much of the discussion. With the phrase “political political theory,” he signals the need to direct some philosophic attention to the actual operations of political life—particularly the forms, structures, and institutions by which we rule ourselves or are ruled by others. Philosophers used to think institutions too important to be left to the political scientists, and they should…
Who would argue with the Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal”?
But one immediately runs into trouble. What about the Declaration limiting it to “men”? Are women equal? They did not have the right to vote at the beginning. Yet, Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders certainly believed women were morally equal and were covered under the generic term “men,” for mankind. Was that enough?
The curious case of Lars Hedegaard
Only actions, not words, can break bones. People can, however, be just as badly damaged by hateful things said about them. So why should not the criminal law be made to protect people as much from malicious words as from physical assault?
I raise this question in light of a common reaction that I have discerned among several North American commentators to news of the recent acquittal by the Danish Supreme Court on hate crime charges of free-speech campaigner Lars Hedegaard.
Hedegaard had incurred these charges as result of having made some disparaging remarks about Muslims in an interview with a journalist who subsequently published them verbatim. After being earlier found guilty under an article in Denmark’s criminal code that makes it a criminal offence to publish insulting remarks about people on account of their religion, Hedegaard was two weeks ago eventually acquitted on a technicality.
The seven Supreme Court judges who heard Hedegaard’s case unanimously accepted the plea of his counsel that his offensive remarks had not been intended for public consumption, and that, had be been shown an advance copy of where they were quoted, he would have ensured they were suitably amended to prevent any possible misconstrual of them as insulting to Muslims.
Although pleased by the acquittal, several American commentators have deplored the fact that anyone could possibly face criminal charges on account of such a statute as had brought Hedegaard to trial, and which are now common throughout Europe as well as much else of the western world.