Erik Bleich – The Freedom to Be Racist? How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism

Seminar to be held on Thursday, January 26th in ERC 201 at 12:30 pm.

We love freedom. We hate racism. But what do we do when these values collide? This talk, based on the speaker’s 2011 book of the same title, advances descriptive, explanatory, and normative arguments. It explores policies that the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and other liberal democracies have implemented when forced to choose between preserving freedom and combating racism. Using a comparative historical approach, it reveals that while most liberal democracies have increased restrictions on racist speech, groups, and actions since the end of World War II, this trend has resembled a slow creep more than a slippery slope. Outcomes have varied across time and place, however, and have been less the product of differences in minority mobilization, constitutional law, or culture, than of conjunctures of factors in particular political contexts. From a normative standpoint, it develops a framework for evaluating the extent to which policy responses are proportionate to the level of harm the racism inflicts. It also asserts that the best way for societies to preserve freedom while fighting racism is through processes of public deliberation that involve citizens in decisions that impact the core values of liberal democracies.

Erik Bleich is professor of political science at Middlebury College in Vermont. His most recent book is The Freedom to Be Racist? How the United States and Europe Struggle to Preserve Freedom and Combat Racism (Oxford University Press, 2011). He is also the author of Race Politics in Britain and France: Ideas and Policymaking since the 1960s (Cambridge University Press, 2003), the editor of Muslims and the State in the Post-9/11 West (Routledge, 2010), and the author of articles on race, ethnicity, and policymaking in liberal democracies that have appeared in journals such as Comparative Political Studies, Comparative Politics, the European Political Science Review, Theory & Society, and World Politics.

* Light refreshments will be provided