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The position by Jamie Billett on Prof. Harvey C. Mansfield's raucous claim that gays "undermine civilization" (Crimson, Oct. 22) is quaint but sadly mistaken.
It is quaint because it is so wonderfully civil libertarian, fitting so snugly in the legalistic mainstream regarding freedom of speech issues. As such, Billett's position jibes well too with a very smart formulation of the civil libertarian position on free speech by my friend Prof. Henry Louis Gates that appeared in The New Republic (Sept. 18,1993)
The civil libertarian perspective on free speech is essentially an efficiency formula which posits a free market in which all sorts of competing speech is sorted out, finding its natural value or water level. There are fewer systemic distortions associated with this natural free-market paradigm than with rules and procedures fabricated by non-market agency, be it government, university, courts, ad hoc boards, etc.
Thus, like Prof. Gates, Jamie Billett asks us "not to attack Mansfield"--or his speech agency--but rather to attack the product he puts in the marketplace: his words, their veracity, etc. The speech-bearer and speech marketplace are neutral, and presumably of course systemically harmless. I beg to differ; both bearer and speech can be harmful.
In their libertarian outlook--one I once shared by no longer--the Gates-Billett perspective acts as if the critical-legal theorists (Duncan Kennedy, Catharine MacKinnon, etc.) never wrote a word. But they have written--and wisely.
Critical-legal theorists have disaggregated the hegemonic boundaries that are masked by a presumptively "free" or "libertarian" market agency that mediates values in the American system, be they economic values or cultural values such as speech. Whether Billett recognizes it or not, the free-market agency of Prof. Mansfield's hate-speech directed at gays is little more than a mask for a quest for what I would call Nativist Hegemony.
In other words, the hate-speech discourse that Prof. Mansfield and other New Right intellectuals traffic in under the free-speech cultural agency is an extra-democratic bid to entrench privileged cultural enclaves and status enclaves. hate-speech of the type that Mansfield traffics in (viz. homosexuality "undermines civilization") is not just another disinterested quest via the free-market agency for a benign pedagogical outcome.
Quite the contrary. Mansfield's hate-speech methodology must be seen as a weapon of Nativist Hegemony in both cultural (ideological) terms and regulatory terms, which is to say inevitably I think in quasi-authoritarian or crypto-fascist terms. Keep in mind, in this connection, the Rev. Pat Roberts and Pat Buchanan.
The civil libertarian perspective on free-dom of speech misses the Nativist hegemony aspect of New Right intellectuals' smoke-and-mirror manipulation of free-speech cultural agency into hate speech. The libertarian perspective lacks a certain humane-enhancing quality, causing libertarian proponents to ignore the fact that hate speech of the Mansfield type typically traffics in four things our postmodern era everywhere generates plenty of--anxiety, insecurity, anger, and confusion.
The most visible extra-democratic outcomes of hate-speech are found in national statistics on crimes based on race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. There were 4,402 such crimes recorded in 1991 and 5,138 recorded in 199--a nearly 17 percent increase.
Regionally, southern California is at the vortex it seems of America's hate-speech induced violence, one instance of which occurred in 1989 outside a supermarket in La Verne. Four skinheads attacked an Iranian couple and their week-old infant, whom they assumed were Jews. Another incident in 1991 in Fullerton involved a skin head gang assaulting a Chinese-American student and two of his White friends.
We are virtually the only major democratic state that gives serious sway to the free-market or libertarian paradigm on speech issues. This is outmoded, I think. New Right intellectuals--and those they influence--utilize hate-speech as part of a cynical manipulation of the insecurities, anger, and confusion that are fundamental to postmodern life. Mansfield and his hate-speech are, I believe, very much the "business of the university," to quote Prof. Warren Goldfarb who differs with me on this. Martin Kilson Thomson Professor of Government
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