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Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America
Steven H. Shiffrin

Paperback | 2000 | $52.50 | £44.95 | ISBN: 9780691070230
220 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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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.


"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


"In an era when political philosophers from John Rawls to Michael Walzer to Jürgen Habermas appeal to consensus as the basis of political legitimacy, Steven Shiffrin makes compelling the contrary case that dissent is the lifeblood of democracy, and that freedom of speech is its essential guarantor. This refreshing and accessible tour through the logic and purposes of the First Amendment, buttressed by a host of applications to commercial speech, political speech, and hate speech, is valuable reading for all those interested in the dynamics of democratic politics."--Ian Shapiro, Yale University

"Shiffrin, one of the academy's leading first-amendment scholars, weaves into his account critiques of many of the arguments made by contemporary scholars, not to mention often devastating analyses of current Supreme Court doctrine. His analysis of the hash of current doctrine regarding regulation of advertising is particularly telling."--Sanford Levinson, University of Texas at Austin

"What emerges from this fundamental reorientation is . . . a well rendered account of an embattled national vision: a vision of what it might mean to be an engaged participant in civic life, to be an independent thinker, and ultimately to be an American."--Robin West, Georgetown University

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Table of Contents:

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

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Steven H. Shiffrin:

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