THE BAD ARGUMENT AGAINST HATE CRIME LAWS.

I hate giving Camille Paglia the attention she craves, but since you hear this kind of argument a lot (if sometimes in less overheated prose), I think it's worth addressing:

I have been on the record since the 1990s as strongly opposing hate crimes legislation. I think it is a totalitarian intrusion into citizens' thought processes. Government functionaries should not be ceded the dangerous authority to make decisions about motivation. They aren't novelists, psychologists or sibyls! Furthermore, there should be no special privileged class of protected groups in a democracy. A crime is a crime -- period.

I hate to break this to Paglia (and everyone else who makes this kind of argument), but if it's a "totalitarian intrusion" for "government functionaries" to "make decisions about motivation" then every state's homicides statutes are going to have to be repealed immediately. The distinctions between first and second degree murder, or between murder and manslaughter, all rest on drawing different inferences about motivation. The idea that there's something unusual about this, or that hate crimes provisions means punishing "thought crimes" or some such, is absurd.

Of course, even once you recognize that making inquiries about motivation are utterly banal rather than totalitarian, whether hate crimes provisions are a good idea is a matter of judgment. Personally, I don't think there's anything unreasonable about saying that, say, Emmett Till's murder has greater social consequences (and hence merits greater punishment) than, say, a bar fight that gets out of hand.

--Scott Lemieux

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