In a recent fertile and provocative post
on relativism, tolerance, and bigotry, Bob Hockett argues --- rightly I think
--- that a commitment to tolerance does not logically require permitting the
Nazis to march in Skokie. Most on the left were united on the view that the
Communists should be permitted to speak, but divided on the question whether
such permission should extend to the Nazis.
Is there a basis for distinction? In the case of the Nazis,
one could argue that there is little marketplace value in their message. If
their message were adopted, the government would be illegitimate --- applying
rudimentary principles of equality. Less true of the Communists. Socialism is
not illegitimate. On the other hand, repressing freedom of speech is
illegitimate, and the Communists of the 1950’s were committed to such repression.
One basis for distinction is that the message of the Nazis, like that of the KKK, is immediately harmful to ethnic, religious, or racial minorities. The message of the Communists was not immediately harmful to any such group. If intentional infliction of emotional distress is a constitutional tort, it is easy to see how one might say that the Nazis marching in the home city of Jewish survivors inflicts similar harm.