From Sisyphus's Dilemma to Sisyphus's Duty? A Meditation on the Regulation of Hate Propaganda in Relation to Hate Crimes and Genocide

By Gaudreault-DesBiens, Jean-Francois | McGill Law Journal, November 2000 | Go to article overview

From Sisyphus's Dilemma to Sisyphus's Duty? A Meditation on the Regulation of Hate Propaganda in Relation to Hate Crimes and Genocide


Gaudreault-DesBiens, Jean-Francois, McGill Law Journal


The author examines central legal and philosophical issues pertaining to die regulation of hate speech. In particular, he evaluates file competing perspectives of the "causationist" approach, which requires a direct causal link between die expression it purports to regulate and the harm it allegedly causes, and die "correlationist" approach, which would regulate hate expression based on a rational correlation between die expression and file harm. In contrast, the correlationist approach adopts a preventive logic that seeks to structure attitudes by enforcing positive norms. After examining die theoretical underpinnings of these views, and reviewing their legal and philosophical pitfalls--particularly in their extreme forms--the author ultimately favours the correlationist approach to hate speech regulation. Civil society and a democratic tradition will prevent this type of regulation from leading down a slippery slope to state censorship. To avoid undue limitations to freedom of expression, however, only extreme hate expression should be regulated, that is, abusive expression, which is distinct from offensive expression in that it targets persons rather than ideas. There is no optimal way to balance equality and freedom of expression, nor to address the challenges that the enforcement of hate speech regulation entails. Analogizing with the myth of Sisyphus, the author refers to these challenges as the dilemma of the "Sisyphus state", concluding that this dilemma becomes a duty to regulate against abusive forms of expression, because a constitutional democracy cannot tolerate radical denials of the humanity of some of its citizens.

L'auteur examine les principales questions legales et philosophiques soulevees par la reglementation de la propagande haineuse, en particulier le debat entre les'partisans d'une approche qui requiert un lien causal direct entre l'expression et le dommage, et ceux d'une approche qui se contente d'une correlation rationnelle entre l'expression haineuse et le dommage. Cette derniere approche adopte une logique preventive qui cherche a structurer les attitudes dominantes par l'application de normes positives. Apres examen des fondements rationnels et des dangers qui guettent chacune de ces deux positions, surtout lorsqu'elles prennent des formes extremes, l'auteur prend parti en faveur de la seconde approche, basee sur la correlation rationnelle. La societe civile et la tradition democratique suffisent a prevenir la degenerescence de cette position en censure etatique. Toutefois, afin d'eviter d'imposer des limitations excessives a la liberte d'expression, seule l'expression haineuse abusive--qui se distingue de l'expression simplement offensante en ce qu'elle cible des personnes plutot que des idees--devrait etre reglementee. Il ne semble pas y avoir de maniere ideale de concilier l'egalite et la liberte d'expression, ou de resoudre les problemes soaleves par l'application des lois portant sur la propagande haineuse. L' Etat fait face a un dilemme entre son devoir de reglementer l'expression abusive et les difficultes inherentes a un tel exercice. Tel Sisyphe, il fait alors face a une tache potentieUement infinie--car une democratie ne peut tolerer une negation radicale de l'humanite meme de certains de ses citoyens.

   The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the
   top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own
   weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more
   dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. (1)

Hate speech raises fundamental issues from legal, philosophical, and epistemological standpoints. It prompts us to think about individual and collective incarnations of hatred, how we apprehend this social phenomenon, and most important, how we characterize its dissemination. This article meditates on both the limits and the promises of regulations of hate propaganda, and more generally, of law itself.

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