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Copyright 1988 The Harvard Law Review Association.

Harvard Law Review

NOTE: A COMMUNITARIAN DEFENSE OF GROUP LIBEL LAWS.

JANUARY, 1988

101 Harv. L. Rev. 682

Excerpt

The project to develop a communitarian 1 alternative to the dominant liberal account of American politics currently occupies a central place in both legal and political theory. 2 Communitarian thinkers reject liberalism as reflecting an impoverished vision of the self, 3 one that discounts our participation in common traditions and practices and ignores the fulfillment that individuals can achieve through citizenship. 4 In contrast to liberalism's individualist portrayal of politics, communitarianism emphasizes the classical conception of a political community animated by a shared conception of the good. 5 Communitarians, however, have been criticized for failing to identify the practical consequences of their disagreement with liberals and for failing to articulate why the communitarian position is preferable. 6 Thus, the advancement of the communitarian project depends on demonstrating its capacity to resolve concrete political and legal problems in a persuasive way.

One problem that highlights the practical significance of communitarianism is that of group-vilifying speech. Whether state and local governments can limit the expression of Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups is a source of ongoing legal and political controversy. 7 Although the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a criminal group libel law in the 1952 case of Beauharnais v. Illinois, 8 like provisions have since been subjected to continuing judicial 9 and scholarly 10 criticism, culminating in the 1978 decision of the Seventh Circuit striking down an ordinance aimed at preventing a Nazi demonstration in the predominantly Jewish village of Skokie, Illinois. 11 The debate between liberals ...
 
 
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