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Legal Weapons for the Weak? Democratizing the Force of Words in an Uncivil Society

Orville Lee
Law & Social Inquiry
Vol. 26, No. 4 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 847-890
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Bar Foundation
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/828976
Page Count: 44
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Legal Weapons for the Weak? Democratizing the Force of Words in an Uncivil Society
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Abstract

First Amendment absolutists and proponents of speech regulation are locked in a normative stalemate over the best way to diminish racial "hate speech." I argue that this stalemate can be overcome by considering a more expansive theory of the "force of words" and the risks the right of free speech entails for individuals. Drawing on a cultural theory of symbolic power, I discuss the merits and limitations of two recent texts which redefine hate speech as discriminatory conduct. As an alternative to this strategy, I develop an analytical framework for describing the social risks the right of free speech entails, and propose juridical and deliberative-democratic remedies that might redistribute and attenuate these risks. Cultural and legal theory can find common ground in the analysis of the undemocratic effects of symbolic power. Such common ground can be achieved if legal theorists consider the force of words as a problem for democracy and if cultural theorists consider the resources provided by democratic institutions and practices for the redistribution of the social risks of speech.

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