Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America / Edition 1

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Overview

Americans should not just tolerate dissent. They should encourage it. In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Steven Shiffrin makes this case by arguing that dissent should be promoted because it lies at the heart of a core American value: free speech. He contends, however, that the country's major institutions--including the Supreme Court and the mass media--wrongly limit dissent. And he reflects on how society and the law should change to encourage nonconformity.

Shiffrin is one of the country's leading first-amendment theorists. He advances his dissent-based theory of free speech with careful reference to its implications for such controversial topics of constitutional debate as flag burning, cigarette advertising, racist speech, and subsidizing the arts. He shows that a dissent-based approach would offer strong protection for free speech--he defends flag burning as a legitimate form of protest, for example--but argues that it would still allow for certain limitations on activities such as hate speech and commercial speech. Shiffrin adds that a dissent-based approach reveals weaknesses in the approaches to free speech taken by postmodernism, Republicanism, deliberative democratic theory, outsider jurisprudence, and liberal theory.

Throughout the book, Shiffrin emphasizes the social functions of dissent: its role in combating injustice and its place in cultural struggles over the meanings of America. He argues, for example, that if we took a dissent-based approach to free speech seriously, we would no longer accept the unjust fact that public debate is dominated by the voices of the powerful and the wealthy. To ensure that more voices are heard, he argues, the country should take such steps as making defamation laws more hospitable to criticism of powerful people, loosening the grip of commercial interests on the media, and ensuring that young people are taught the importance of challenging injustice.

Powerfully and clearly argued, Shiffrin's book is a major contribution to debate about one of the most important subjects in American public life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Shiffrin has provided readers with a challenging work that is well worth the reading and, in the opinion of this reviewer, well worth doing. This well-documented book is written in an engaging style with its theme and major points lucidly displayed. Very noteworthy is the author's penetrating analysis of Supreme Court cases."--The Law and Politics Book Review

"In exploring dissent as a tool in opposing injustice, [Shiffrin] examines the place of dissent in liberal theory and in the media marketplace, as well as the marginalization of dissent. A demanding but interesting analysis."--Booklist

Booklist
In exploring dissent as a tool in opposing injustice, [Shiffrin] examines the place of dissent in liberal theory and in the media marketplace, as well as the marginalization of dissent. A demanding but interesting analysis.
The Law and Politics Book Review
Shiffrin has provided readers with a challenging work that is well worth the reading and, in the opinion of this reviewer, well worth doing. This well-documented book is written in an engaging style with its theme and major points lucidly displayed. Very noteworthy is the author's penetrating analysis of Supreme Court cases.
Library Journal
Shiffrin law, Cornell analyzes contemporary First Amendment jurisprudence, paying special attention to problems created by various forms of "hate speech" legislation. He contends that these types of speech restrictions do not fit into the traditional "free speech" framework, one that views free speech as a "marketplace of ideas." Rather, Shiffrin advocates a shift in First Amendment law toward a structure that better ensures various forms of dissent. The freedom to dissent, he observes, is the basis for preventing tyranny, as outlined by such notable liberty theorists as John Stuart Mill. Shiffrin's perspective also seems influenced by nontraditional intellectual strands, such as "critical race theory," which closely examines how racism affects American justice, and neo-Marxism. One is left wondering if he envisions a structure wherein some dissent is more protected than others. This is an academic work that will be appreciated by left-leaning legal scholars--those who will take the time to reread Shiffrin's informed but dense prose.--Steven Anderson, Gordon Feinblatt Rothman Hoffberger & Hollander, Baltimore
Booknews
Shiffrin (law, Cornell U.) argues for the centrality of dissent to the American concept of free speech, claiming that it should be actively encouraged by society; and he applies this viewpoint to consideration of such controversial topics as flag burning, cigarette advertising, racist speech, and subsidizing of the arts. He discusses how institutions such as the media and the Supreme Court work to stifle dissent rather than encourage it, and suggests specific changes in society and law that could reverse this trend, such as the reform of defamation laws to make them more open to criticism of those in powerful positions. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
David E. England
Shiffrin has produced a work that is appropriate and necessary reading for anyone interested in social justice and/or the theory of freedom of expression. There certainly should be room on the bookshelf for this one, and it would make a very strong supplementary text for honors/graduate/professional classes dealing with freedom of expression.
Law and Politics Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691070230
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/10/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Pt. 1 The Meanings of America 1
I The First Amendment and the Meaning of America 3
II Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Advertising 32
III Racist Speech, Outsider Jurisprudence, and the Meaning of America 49
Pt. 2 Combating Injustice 89
IV Dissent and Injustice 91
V The Politics of Free Speech 121
Notes 131
Index 199
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