1st Edition

An Ethics of Political Communication

By Alexander Brown Copyright 2021

    Working in the tradition of analytic philosophy, Alexander Brown argues that many different forms of political communication (or anti-communication) that often infuriate the public can also be ethically or morally objectionable. These forms include question dodging, offering scripted answers, stonewalling, not listening, disseminating propaganda, pandering, being insincere, giving false denials, issuing revisionist interpretations, refusing to take responsibility, never apologising, boasting, and gaslighting. Brown invokes a host of normative reasons including those having to do with epistemic arrogance, interference in autonomy, and violating the right to be heard. This is not to say that, all things considered, politicians should never engage in dubious political communication. Sometimes these are necessary evils. Brown argues, however, that further moral inquiry is needed to show why they are evils, and to determine when the use of these rhetorical tactics can be excessive, unreasonable, or out of place. 

    Key Features:
    • Identifies and conceptualises forms of dubious political communication
    • Develops an ethical evaluation of political communication
    • Considers possible justifications for the use of dubious political communication
    • Makes practical recommendations on how to regulate unethical political communication

    1. Why an Ethics of Political Communication?
    1.1 Introduction
    1.2 What is Political Communication and How is it an Ethical Matter?
    1.3 On the Challenges of Political Communication
    1.4 The Cinderella of Ethical Inquiry
    1.5 Political Morality
    1.6 Political Legitimacy
    1.7 Conclusion

    2. Question Dodging
    2.1 Introduction
    2.2 What is Question Dodging?
    2.3 Deception, Manipulation, and Interference in Autonomy
    2.4 Political Accountability, Political Scrutiny, and Well-Informed Voters
    2.5 Deliberative Respectfulness
    2.6 Conclusion

    3. Stonewalling
    3.1 Introduction
    3.2 What is Stonewalling?
    3.3 Contempt
    3.4 Political Accountability and Political Scrutiny
    3.5 The Duty to Keep the Public Fully Informed
    3.6 Conclusion

    4. Disengagement
    4.1 Introduction
    4.2 What is Disengagement?
    4.3 Epistemic Virtues and Vices
    4.4 The Communicative Rights of the Affected
    4.5 Conclusion

    5. Flat Denials
    5.1 Introduction
    5.2 What Are Flat Denials?
    5.3 Contempt and Spite
    5.4 Deception, Manipulation, and Interference in Autonomy
    5.5 Political Accountability, Political Scrutiny, and Well-Informed Voters
    5.6 Distracting Public Debate and Debilitating Resistance
    5.7 Conclusion

    6. Revisionist Interpretations
    6.1 Introduction
    6.2 What Are Revisionist Interpretations?
    6.3 Gaslighting
    6.4 Taking Wrongful Advantage of the Vulnerable
    6.5 Treating People Merely as Means to an End
    6.6 Conclusion

    7. Consent, Justifications, and Unintended Consequences
    7.1 Introduction
    7.2 Consent
    7.3 Justifications
    7.4 Unintended Consequences
    7.5 Political Legitimacy Through Hypothetical Agreement
    7.6 Conclusion

    8. Nudges, Codes of Conduct, and Sanctions
    8.1 Introduction
    8.2 Prioritisation
    8.3 Non-Regulatory Measures
    8.4 Regulatory Measures
    8.5 The Free-Rider Dilemma
    8.6 Enforcement
    8.7 Conclusion

    9. Conclusion
    9.1 Introduction
    9.2 A Limited Ethics
    9.3 On the Importance of Shared Responsibility
    9.4 Wider Ramifications
    9.5 The Need for Regulation
    9.6 A Suprapartisan Ethics


    Alexander Brown is a reader in political and legal theory at the University of East Anglia (UEA). He is the author of The Politics of Hate Speech Laws (2020), A Theory of Legitimate Expectations for Public Administration (2017), Hate Speech Law: A Philosophical Examination (2015), Ronald Dworkin’s Theory of Equality (2009), and Personal Responsibility: Why it Matters (2009).

    "In the age of polarization and misinformation, Alexander Brown provides the essential guide to understanding the ethical challenges and the misuse of rhetorical tactics in contemporary political communication"
    Robert E. Denton, Virginia Tech