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Why societies need dissent
by Cass R. Sunstein
Harvard University Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-674-01268-4
Library of Congress Classification JC328.3.S93 2003
Dewey Decimal Classification 303.484

ABOUT THIS BOOK
ABOUT THIS BOOK

In this timely book, Cass R. Sunstein shows that organizations and nations are far more likely to prosper if they welcome dissent and promote openness. Attacking "political correctness" in all forms, Sunstein demonstrates that corporations, legislatures, even presidents are likely to blunder if they do not cultivate a culture of candor and disclosure. He shows that unjustified extremism, including violence and terrorism, often results from failure to tolerate dissenting views. The tragedy is that blunders and cruelties could be avoided if people spoke out.

Sunstein casts new light on freedom of speech, showing that a free society not only forbids censorship but also provides public spaces for dissenters to expose widely held myths and pervasive injustices. He provides evidence about the effects of conformity and dissent on the federal courts. The evidence shows not only that Republican appointees vote differently from Democratic appointees but also that both Republican and Democratic judges are likely to go to extremes if unchecked by opposing views. Understanding the need for dissent illuminates countless social debates, including those over affirmative action in higher education, because diversity is indispensable to learning.

Dissenters are often portrayed as selfish and disloyal, but Sunstein shows that those who reject pressures imposed by others perform valuable social functions, often at their own expense. This is true for dissenters in boardrooms, churches, unions, and academia. It is true for dissenters in the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court. And it is true during times of war and peace.



Table of Contents:

Introduction: Conformity and Dissent
1 Doing What Others Do
2 Obeying (and Disobeying) the Law
3 Traveling in Herds
4 What Will the Neighbors Think?
5 Free Speech
6 The Law of Group Polarization
7 The Framers' Greatest Contribution
8 Are Judges Conformists Too?
9 Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Conclusion: Why Dissent?

Notes
Index



Reviews of this book:
Why Societies Need Dissent...shows that demands for lock-step conformity are wrong and uninformed thinking. Sunstein's important new study is filled with empirical evidence of the significance of opposition, found in his compelling explanations of the need for, and benefits of, disagreement. Sunstein reveals that, in fact, the influence of dissenters is for the better, be it with courts, juries, corporate boardrooms, churches, sports teams, student organizations or faculties, not to mention 'the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court...during times of both war and peace.'
--John W. Dean, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Sunstein provides a learned, intelligent and lively discussion of an issue of the first importance in societies which assume that real discussion and debate ought to inform public decisions.
--William Neville, Toronto Globe and Mail

In this well-written and wise little reprise of the great themes of Rousseau, Mill, and Tocqueville, Sunstein plays sociologist, psychologist, and legal scholar to good effect. He writes of conformity, cascades, and group polarization as conceptual notions that illumine the fear, apathy, and indifference that beggar public discourse, leaving it for the advertisers, spinners, and multiple would-be Pericles of the modern age.
--E. Lewis, Choice

Reviews of this book:
As Cass Sunstein argues in Why Societies Need Dissent, we all pay a steep price when dissent is muzzled...Sunstein is implicitly raising a red flag about the deepening partisanship of American culture. A people cordoning themselves off from one another--listening to radio programs and reading books that parrot rather than test their assumptions--spells trouble. So does the growing polarization of our two major parties, which are increasingly dominated by their fringes. Sunstein combines these insights with the results of research in clinical psychology to show the costs and perils of stifled dissent.
--Mitchell Goodman, Raleigh News Observer

In an age of ever-increasing partisanship, political 'spin,' finger-to-the-wind politics and mega media mergers, Cass Sunstein offers a cogent and timely reminder that dissent is not merely an individual right; reasoned dissent and balanced debate are the very essence of a healthy, democratic society.
--Senator Patrick Leahy

Societies thrive on information exchange, yet powerful forces-from courtesy, to enthusiasm for consensus, to disdain for the heretic-suppress the expression of dissenting views. In this wide-ranging book, Sunstein traces the virtues of dissent in the most important decisions society makes, such as how to allocate resources, administer justice, and choose a government. His arresting findings are important to anyone who wants to know how organizations-from the family unit to the national government-should make decisions.
--Richard Zeckhauser, John F. Kennedy School of Government, and co-author of The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite

Why Societies Need Dissent displays Cass Sunstein's keen eye for the interesting question, his boundless intellectual energy, and his ability to bring theoretical sophistication to bear on pressing contemporary problems. I always read and benefit from reading Sunstein's work. Why Societies Need Dissent offers a welcome opportunity to learn anew from one of the nation's leading intellectuals.
--Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School, and author of Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption

This is a timely and important book by one of America's most thoughtful and respected scholars. Cass Sunstein discusses the genius of the Constitution and the indispensable role of free speech, dissent, and tolerance for new ideas in maintaining and strengthening modern society. This is the book for anyone who has ever wondered how to make sense of pluralism and diversity in our world.
--Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Conformism is a drive sufficiently powerful to produce disasters even in countries endowed with constitutional protections for free speech. In this timely book written in characteristically lucid and entertaining prose, Cass Sunstein develops the underlying logic. His elegant argument also has an optimistic side. Where conformism is at work, courageous dissenters may prevent catastrophes by sowing doubts about the apparent conventional wisdom, or simply by implanting in cowed individuals the courage to air objections.
--Timur Kuran, University of Southern California, and author of Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification

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