Hate speech has become a legal concept, political concept, even a linguistic artifact. We know hate means intense or passionate dislike, yet I have not seen analysis that distinguishes types of hate speech: types that help us make useful distinctions. Let’s identify three types to start, and call them simply Type I, Type II, and Type III.

Type I examples

Type I examples are inconsequential politically:

“I hate you.”

“I hate so-and-so because he is X,” where so-and-so is the person’s name, and X is the race, occupation, social class, ethnic group, nationality, religion, or any other quality that makes the speaker hate the individual.

“I hate all X,” where X represents the same categories mentioned above, and where, as in the first statement, the hater does not give a reason.

In all of these examples, speaker merely reports an internal state of mind or state of heart. Hater has no response if a listener asks, “So what?”, and sees no need to answer that question. The individual’s internal state and willingness to report that state are all that matter here.

Type II examples

Type II examples occur in the political arena:

“All of you ought to hate so-and-so because he is X,” where so-and-so and X mean the same as above, and where the speaker assumes X as a sufficient reason.

“All of you ought to hate X because [reasons follow].” Speaker does not assume reasons for intense dislike are self-evident, so explains why all individuals in X deserve hatred, or why haters will benefit from adopting this position.

“Follow me in this fight against [corruption, bad people, whatever evil or threat must be eliminated].”

Type II hate speech is politically, socially, and rhetorically significant. Speaker tries to persuade others to join in hatred toward an outgroup or individual. Reasons for hatred may be poor, logic may be flawed, arguments may be weak, accusations may be false, but all of these persuasive techniques exist. Something beyond speaker’s internal state motivates speaker’s desire to persuade others.

Targets of hatred in this second case obviously would not feel safe or secure, especially if speaker’s persuasive efforts succeed.

Type III examples

Type III examples also occur in the political arena, but occur outside the law:

“Go fetch your pitchforks and Molotov cocktails, friends!. Tonight we plan to [do harm to people and property], because we hate X.”

“If members of X do not do as we say, we will make them regret their disobedience.”

“Hang him.”

The first example is a well-recognized incitement of a mob to violence. The second example illustrates an extra-legal threat of violence against members of a group, based on a perceived power relationship. The third represents a lynching, or frontier “justice”. In all cases, speaker has no concern for legal constraints.

Implications for politics

This analysis is useful, because it contrasts two simple cases with a more difficult one. Type I speech is obviously protected speech, whereas Type III speech is obviously not protected. Type II speech has, to this point in our history, always been protected. Since the 1980s or so, college campuses have adopted norms and even codes that discourage or prohibit arguments or other kinds of speech that make others feel uncomfortable. These norms have now begun to affect non-academic arenas.

Thus many want to eliminate hate speech from public discourse, because it makes some listeners feel threatened and unsafe. Consider though that a great deal of political speech is designed to threaten people, remove protection or power, or place people in positions they would never choose themselves. These arguments make strong distinctions between people who are good, and people who are not.

If you empty political discourse of these persuasive efforts, you no longer have politics. You only have power.

Many of these arguments rely on the same logic and categories we have seen in our analysis of hate speech. I have a friend, for example, who observes that Republicans are evil. I say, “Not all Republicans are evil.” She replies, “You’re right, but their leaders are.” This description, that Republican leaders are evil, is intended to arouse intense dislike for these individuals, based on their group membership. It qualifies as Type II hate speech, when you add reasons for partisan dislike.

So we have to ask, does our desire to ban hate speech from public discourse mean we want to banish all political speech that tries to make us dislike members of another group? In that world, Republicans and Democrats would have little to say about each other. Every participant in politics would have to watch every word. That is why we protect all instances of Type II speech.

Efforts to persuade like-minded people to form intense antagonism toward non-like-minded people – indeed, to fear them and hate them – underpin most political campaigns. Political arguments in general often tend toward this kind of emotional divisiveness. If you empty political discourse of these persuasive efforts, you no longer have politics. You only have power.