Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Government of the Good


Abner S. Greene

First Page



Government "speaks" both directly through its own pronouncements and indirectly through funding private speech. Many scholars of both political theory and constitutional law have argued that government should not use its persuasive powers to promote contested notions of the good life. Whether the issue is providing information about childbirth without also providing information about abortion or insisting on adherence to decency standards when awarding cultural grants, scholars generally have maintained that government should avoid taking sides.

In this Article, Professor Greene supports the contrary position, advocating a vigorous role for government speech even in areas of great social contest. Government speech fits our constitutional order if it is but one voice among many, does not coerce, and lays bare its public source. Professor Greene demonstrates that arguments against a robust speech role for government fail, whether they are arguments coming from the political right, urging small government and a concomitant right against taxpayer dollars used for speech, or from the political left, urging government to enhance citizen speech through establishing general forums without government itself weighing in on controversial issues. Government speech can play an important role in counteracting private sources of value and in expressing a centralized viewpoint, even if that viewpoint does not represent a consensus. Furthermore, Professor Greene contends that the various scholarly arguments for maintaining the open character of certain government-funded forums, though perhaps correct as a matter of political prudence, lack the support of principles deriving from either political or constitutional theory. In general, this Article advances the view that, apart from case-by-case concerns with monopolization, coercion, and ventriloquism, government speech should remain a matter of political struggle rather than legal rule.