The First Amendment provides Americans with a far broader protection of free speech than that available in any other Western democracy, Lee Bollinger notes, and yet other democracies are not seen as significantly less open or more restrictive that the United States. Why do Americans guarantee people the right to advocate the overthrow of the government or advance racist or genocidal ideas? Why, for example, protect the right of neo-Nazis to march in predominantly Jewish Skokie, Illinois?
In The Tolerant Society, Bollinger offers a masterful critique of the major theories of freedom of expression, and offers an alternative explanation. Traditional justifications for protecting extremist speech have turned largely on the inherent value of self-expression, maintaining that the benefits of the free interchange of ideas include the greater likelihood of serving truth and of promoting wise decisions in a democracy. Bollinger finds these theories persuasive but inadequate. Buttrressing his argument with references to the Skokie case and many other examples, as well as a careful analysis of the primary literature on free speech, he contends that the real value of toloeration of extremist speech lies in the extraordinary self-control toward antisocial behavior that it elicits: society is stengthened by the exercise of tolerance, he maintains. The problem of finding an appropriate response--especially when emotions make measured response difficult--is common to all social interaction, Bollinger points out, and there are useful lesons to be learned from withholding punishment even for what is conceded to be bad behavior.
About the Author:
Lee C. Bollinger is Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.show more