Why Societies Need Dissent

Why Societies Need Dissent

Paperback Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures

By (author) Cass R. Sunstein

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  • Publisher: HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Format: Paperback | 256 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 210mm x 18mm | 422g
  • Publication date: 6 May 2005
  • Publication City/Country: Cambridge, Mass
  • ISBN 10: 0674017684
  • ISBN 13: 9780674017689
  • Edition statement: Revised ed.
  • Illustrations note: 3 line illustrations, 5 charts
  • Sales rank: 250,726

Product description

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.

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Author information

Cass R. Sunstein is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University.

Review quote

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 20030921 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 20031122 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 20040401 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 20040502

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