Dissent Of The Governed / Edition 1

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Overview

Between loyalty and disobedience; between recognition of the law's authority and realization that the law is not always right: In America, this conflict is historic, with results as glorious as the mass protests of the civil rights movement and as inglorious as the armed violence of the militia movement. In an impassioned defense of dissent, Stephen L. Carter argues for the dialogue that negotiates this conflict and keeps democracy alive. His book portrays an America dying from a refusal to engage in such a dialogue, a polity where everybody speaks, but nobody listens.

The Dissent of the Governed is an eloquent diagnosis of what ails the American body politic--the unwillingness of people in power to hear disagreement unless forced to--and a prescription for a new process of response. Carter examines the divided American political character on dissent, with special reference to religion, identifying it in unexpected places, with an eye toward amending it before it destroys our democracy.

At the heart of this work is a rereading of the Declaration of Independence that puts dissent, not consent, at the center of the question of the legitimacy of democratic government. Carter warns that our liberal constitutional ethos--the tendency to assume that the nation must everywhere be morally the same--pressures citizens to be other than themselves when being themselves would lead to disobedience. This tendency, he argues, is particularly hard on religious citizens, whose notion of community may be quite different from that of the sovereign majority of citizens. His book makes a powerful case for the autonomy of communities--especially but not exclusively religious--into which democratic citizens organize themselves as a condition for dissent, dialogue, and independence. With reference to a number of cases, Carter shows how disobedience is sometimes necessary to the heartbeat of our democracy--and how the distinction between challenging accepted norms and challenging the sovereign itself, a distinction crucial to the Declaration of Independence, must be kept alive if Americans are to progress and prosper as a nation.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

In The Dissent of the Governed...Carter eloquently rejects the claim that argument from religious morality has no place in public debate...[He] not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. His meditations on the tensions between democracy and religion display the eloquence and independence of mind that have made Stephen L. Carter one of America's leading public intellectuals.
— Michael Lind

Washington Post Book World

[Carter] believes that judges too seldom see themselves as parts of the government; and that this illusion prompts them to approach many grievances as monologuists...rather than as participants in an ongoing 'conversation'...His arguments [are] forceful and interesting...[This book] deserve[s] to be read with close attention, especially in Washington, where 'the etiquette of democracy' seems, these savage days, to have plunged to an all-time low.
— Edwin M. Yoder, Jr.

Forbes
Thought-provoking observations about the relations between government--including the courts--and society's dissenters...Stephen Carter rightly rails against government hostility toward America's religious communities. He finds little legitimacy in denying government funds to religious schools and in court hostility to school prayer. He trenchantly observes that if this secular disdain for religious participation in public life had been operative in the past, we might never have had the antislavery movement and the Martin Luther King Jr.-era civil rights movement...One need not agree with the book's musings or interpretations...to appreciate its plea for a greater sensitivity on the part of our political establishment to those with unconventional beliefs.
The Weekly Standard

Carter offers sound insights into the nature of governmental power [and] delivers a masterly attack on what he calls 'liberal constitutionalism,' that is the use of law to increase the power of the federal government for the purpose of enforcing secular values.
— Mark Miller

Commentary

There is much good sense in The Dissent of the Governed...And there is also much to praise in [Carter's] basic diagnosis of the discontent that has been bred by the overreaching of the federal government, particularly the courts...[This is an] important contribution to a heated, ongoing debate. The ministry he has chosen is a laudable one, instructing liberal sectarians in the true demands of their creed of tolerance. On these fundamental matters, his is plainly a voice for reason.
— Gary Rosen

Theological Studies

Carter celebrates reasoned dissent and urges the need for 'public moral dialogue'. Choosing examples from familiar conflicts between religion and law, he argues cogently that those in control of government today too often delegitimize the perspectives of groups, particularly religious communities, who strive to promote an alternative vision to the secular bias dominating politics, the media, and the courts...To continue a civil polity of indifference or hostility toward religious values, he warns, threatens to transform dissent into disallegiance. This gracefully written book should prove useful for anyone interested in a civil argument over contemporary public affairs.
— Thomas E. Buckley

Religion & Public Life

Carter possesses a sensitive and well-informed mind; he is independent in his judgements and at the same time almost always sensible and persuasive; he is highly serious in that he addresses fundamental issues such as those of morality, religion, and politics; he is expert in matters of public law; and finally, he is a lucid and graceful writer.
— Glenn Tinder

First Things

In Dissent of the Governed, Stephen Carter points out that Americans do not believe in political trials. So, what is to be done with religious dissenters who protest the sovereign's understanding of the social contract? We cannot treat then as traitors and political subversives because that would come uncomfortably close to political trials. On the other hand, they cannot be regarded by analogy to the civil rights movement, because that would leave open the possibility that the sovereign is wrong...Carter correctly points out that when disaffected religious citizens are told to take their case on abortion, school prayer, family planning, or whatever to the public forum, the recommnedation is not sincere because liberal constitutionalism holds both in theory and practice that these things 'should be outside the realm of politics'...The question, then, is how the regime will treat the losers, and how the losers will comport themselves in their defeat. Carter is surprisingly—I think refreshingly—blunt in spelling out the problem.
— Russell Hittinger

Books & Culture

[A] crisply argued volume...The book is, as Carter's subtitle suggests, a meditation on 'the relationship between loyalty and disobedience on the one hand and, on the other, between the recognition of the sovereign's authority and realization that the sovereign is not always right. In America, this conflict is eternal'...[Carter] provides much grit for the mill. His summary of his position stresses dissent rather than consent as lying at the heart of the question of democratic legitimacy, thereby turning political-theory-as-usual on its head.
— Jean Bethke Elshtain

Booklist

[Carter's] point of departure is a reading of the Declaration of Independence that stresses dissent as the criterion of government legitimacy. The extent to which government accommodates dissent is the index of citizen allegiance; if dissenters' grievances are persistently ignored, that justifies disallegiance and rebellion...Read this little book and become a better American.
— Ray Olson

New York Times Book Review - Michael Lind
In The Dissent of the Governed...Carter eloquently rejects the claim that argument from religious morality has no place in public debate...[He] not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. His meditations on the tensions between democracy and religion display the eloquence and independence of mind that have made Stephen L. Carter one of America's leading public intellectuals.
Washington Post Book World - Edwin M. Yoder
[Carter] believes that judges too seldom see themselves as parts of the government; and that this illusion prompts them to approach many grievances as monologuists...rather than as participants in an ongoing 'conversation'...His arguments [are] forceful and interesting...[This book] deserve[s] to be read with close attention, especially in Washington, where 'the etiquette of democracy' seems, these savage days, to have plunged to an all-time low.
The Weekly Standard - Mark Miller
Carter offers sound insights into the nature of governmental power [and] delivers a masterly attack on what he calls 'liberal constitutionalism,' that is the use of law to increase the power of the federal government for the purpose of enforcing secular values.
Commentary - Gary Rosen
There is much good sense in The Dissent of the Governed...And there is also much to praise in [Carter's] basic diagnosis of the discontent that has been bred by the overreaching of the federal government, particularly the courts...[This is an] important contribution to a heated, ongoing debate. The ministry he has chosen is a laudable one, instructing liberal sectarians in the true demands of their creed of tolerance. On these fundamental matters, his is plainly a voice for reason.
Theological Studies - Thomas E. Buckley
Carter celebrates reasoned dissent and urges the need for 'public moral dialogue'. Choosing examples from familiar conflicts between religion and law, he argues cogently that those in control of government today too often delegitimize the perspectives of groups, particularly religious communities, who strive to promote an alternative vision to the secular bias dominating politics, the media, and the courts...To continue a civil polity of indifference or hostility toward religious values, he warns, threatens to transform dissent into disallegiance. This gracefully written book should prove useful for anyone interested in a civil argument over contemporary public affairs.
Religion & Public Life - Glenn Tinder
Carter possesses a sensitive and well-informed mind; he is independent in his judgements and at the same time almost always sensible and persuasive; he is highly serious in that he addresses fundamental issues such as those of morality, religion, and politics; he is expert in matters of public law; and finally, he is a lucid and graceful writer.
First Things - Russell Hittinger
In Dissent of the Governed, Stephen Carter points out that Americans do not believe in political trials. So, what is to be done with religious dissenters who protest the sovereign's understanding of the social contract? We cannot treat then as traitors and political subversives because that would come uncomfortably close to political trials. On the other hand, they cannot be regarded by analogy to the civil rights movement, because that would leave open the possibility that the sovereign is wrong...Carter correctly points out that when disaffected religious citizens are told to take their case on abortion, school prayer, family planning, or whatever to the public forum, the recommnedation is not sincere because liberal constitutionalism holds both in theory and practice that these things 'should be outside the realm of politics'...The question, then, is how the regime will treat the losers, and how the losers will comport themselves in their defeat. Carter is surprisingly--I think refreshingly--blunt in spelling out the problem.
Books & Culture - Jean Bethke Elshtain
[A] crisply argued volume...The book is, as Carter's subtitle suggests, a meditation on 'the relationship between loyalty and disobedience on the one hand and, on the other, between the recognition of the sovereign's authority and realization that the sovereign is not always right. In America, this conflict is eternal'...[Carter] provides much grit for the mill. His summary of his position stresses dissent rather than consent as lying at the heart of the question of democratic legitimacy, thereby turning political-theory-as-usual on its head.
Booklist - Ray Olson
[Carter's] point of departure is a reading of the Declaration of Independence that stresses dissent as the criterion of government legitimacy. The extent to which government accommodates dissent is the index of citizen allegiance; if dissenters' grievances are persistently ignored, that justifies disallegiance and rebellion...Read this little book and become a better American.
Michael Lind
Carter eloquently rejects the claim that argument from religious morality has no place in public debate...[He] not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. His meditations on the tensions between democracy and religion display the eloquence an dindependence of mind that have made [him] one of America's leading public intellectuals. -- New York Times Book Review
Michael Lind
In The Dissent of the Governed, Carter not only defends the legitimacy of religious argument but provides an impressive example of how a believer may engage in civil debate with fellow citizens who do not share his faith. His meditations on the tensions between democracy and religion display the eloquence and independence of mind that have made Stephen L. Carter one of America's leading public intellectuals. -- Michael Lind, New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Interesting issues, disappointing book. In a series of three lectures Carter (Law/Yale) "meditates" on the challenge religious belief poses for political authority in American society. By reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence he first suggests that justice be measured in terms of government's response to dissenters. He then argues that the federal government's response to those who take religion seriously has been to cast them more as potential traitors whose religious faith implies a challenge to sovereignty rather than legitimate dissenters whose views deserve accommodation. For Carter a "liberal constitutionalism" has dominated American society, imposing an image of secular uniformity in the name of atomistic individual rights. By rushing to "celebrate our own open-mindedness" when embracing a seemingly neutral areligious polity, however, we overlook "the way a strongly secular bias can be stultifying to people whose religious faith is at the center of their lives." Against the widely-accepted "single-national-community ethos" that requires legal uniformity Carter envisions a system of community autonomy in which "believing families" shape their lives around a shared faith; the goal is to allow religious believers the same political freedom to act on their beliefs as those who embrace a secular society. Unfortunately, even in local community government in accord with any set of beliefs, religious or secular, unavoidably involves leaving some people outside the favored order whenever society is not perfectly homogeneous. This would seem to be an obvious problem for Carter to address when considering practical issues, but he rushes to play the role of detached scholar in thepresence of real policy questions. His apparent support for state aid to religious schools, for example, is quickly qualified by claiming that "I am by no means advocating" such aid, but merely arguing for its constitutionality. When addressing powerful topics, wishy-washy meditations are just not very satisfying.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Stephen L. Carter
Stephen L. Carter is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School and the author of The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.

Biography

Stephen L. Carter has helped shape the national debate on issues ranging from the role of religion in American political culture to the impact of integrity and civility on our daily lives. The New York Times has called him one of the nation's leading public intellectuals.

Born in Washington, D.C., Stephen L. Carter studied law at Yale University and went on to serve as a law clerk, first on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and later for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

In 1982 he joined the faculty at Yale, where he is now William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. His critically acclaimed nonfiction books on subjects including affirmative action, the judicial confirmation process, and the place of religion in our legal and political cultures have earned Carter fans among luminaries as diverse as William F. Buckley, Anna Quindlen, and former President Bill Clinton.

Carter's first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, draws heavily on the author's familiarity with the law and the world of highly placed judges, but he didn't begin by attempting to write a "judicial" thriller -- Carter earlier tried the character of Judge Garland out as a White House aide, and also as a professor like himself. He has said that in the end "only the judicial role really fit."

With Emperor Carter has moved (for the moment) from writing nonfiction to fiction -- a shift which he downplays by noting "I have always viewed writing as a craft." But, while he has also indicated that another novel like this one is in the works, he sees himself as "principally a legal scholar and law professor" and plans to continue publishing nonfiction as well.

Good To Know

An avid chess player, Stephen L. Carter is a life member of the United States Chess Federation. Although he says he plays less now than he once did, he still plays online through the Internet Chess Club. For The Emperor of Ocean Park, Professor Carter says he had to learn about "the world of the chess problemist, where composers work for months or years to set up challenging positions for others to solve."

Carter lives with his wife, Enola Aird, and their two children, near New Haven, Connecticut.

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    1. Hometown:
      Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 26, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A. Stanford University, 1976; J.D., Yale Law School, 1979

Table of Contents

  • Preface

  • Allegiance
  • Disobedience
  • Interpretation

  • Notes
  • Index

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