LTMS events

TILT seminar: Prof. Rowan Cruft (University of Stirling, UK)

Date: Time: 13:00 Location: Room 1003 and MS Teams

Does Free Speech Undermine Democratic Legitimacy?


This talk examines the normative relationship between (a) standards of deliberation necessary for democratic legitimacy and (b) human rights protections for free speech. 

(a) Engaging in deliberation before a democratic political decision can contribute to the legitimacy of enforcing that decision. But deliberation only helps legitimate a decision if the deliberation meets certain standards: deliberators should not be manipulative, should focus on the common good, and should be thoughtful and willing to change their views; deliberators should be able to communicate in the public sphere without using unfair means to promote their own views or to silence others. 

(b) Freedom of speech is an especially important human right, grounded in our fundamental need to engage in communication. The human right to free speech seems prima facie to require protection for communications that are manipulative and that focus on partial interests; it also seems to protect unreflective communications, and to allow the wealthy to buy themselves a louder voice. 

Free speech therefore seems inconsistent with regulation aimed at making democratic deliberation meet the standards necessary for it to legitimate post-deliberation decisions. If this is correct, then democratic legitimacy is fragile: the kind of deliberation necessary for legitimacy cannot be secured by regulation or enforcement, as such regulation or enforcement would violate human rights. 

My presentation will investigate these issues. I will attempt to clarify the contours of democratic legitimacy’s fragility. We will see that some regulation and enforcement of legitimacy-enhancing deliberative standards is permissible despite the appearance of a conflict with free speech rights (e.g. regulation to prevent some manipulative communication and to prevent some unfair prominence), while other areas of regulation are not permissible (e.g. regulation to require reflective engagement).  The conclusion is that free speech rights are complex and contoured, and democratic legitimacy is still moderately fragile.



Rowan Cruft is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Stirling in Scotland. He is the author of Human Rights, Ownership, and the Individual (OUP 2019), and co-editor of Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (OUP 2015) and of Crime, Punishment, and Responsibility: The Jurisprudence of Antony Duff (OUP 2011). His research examines the nature and justification of rights and duties, and their role in shaping a democratic public sphere.

Moderator: Dr. Anuj Puri


Attendance is free.

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