THE DISSENT OF THE GOVERNED

THE DISSENT OF THE GOVERNED

by Stephen L. Carter
     
 

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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

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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674029248
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Series:
William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
232 KB

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

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

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