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Free for All: Defending Liberty in America Today Paperback – September 15, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Live Free or Die," New Hampshire's grammar-challenged state motto, sounds worthy enough on the surface. But defining and ensuring freedom are infinitely more difficult and crucial than stamping slogans on license plates, as social critic Kaminer (Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and the Perils of Piety, etc.) argues in this insightful, incisive new collection of essays, most of which appeared in the American Prospect. The Bush administration's reaction to September 11 ramping up domestic surveillance, covertly detaining a thousand-plus suspects, instituting military rather than civil trials, squeezing dissent only continues what the author sees as a troubling trend of limiting liberty. A champion of First Amendment freedoms, Kaminer argues against restricting Internet communications, squelching pornography, threatening abortion providers under the guise of free speech and sacrificing defendants' rights in criminal trials in favor of the victims. She's for flag-burning as peaceful protest, instituting the Equal Rights Amendment and protecting abortion rights. A devout civil libertarian, Kaminer aims her crisp writing, clear thinking and deflating humor equally on all who would challenge liberties, from antipornography feminists to pro-surveillance attorneys general. She relishes exposing hypocrisy, such as the religion-based social engineering advocated by self-described antigovernment conservatives. Still, she unleashes her strongest barbs and uncharacteristically relies more on insult than insight in excoriating the right wing's anti-individualism. Despite Kaminer's argument that "civil libertarianism is a nonpartisan virtue," this will be an important book particularly for lefties who feel left behind in a nation in which conservatives are winning most of the battles.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Wendy Kaminer is a beacon shining through the smog. She is eloquent, pugnacious, and amusing, and best of all, she is right. --James Gleick, author of Faster

"Wonderful Wendy Kaminer! With wit and style and cold hard facts, she skewers contemporary credulity." --Katha Pollitt, author of Reasonable Creatures

"Kaminer, a wonderfully funny social critic, takes on a host of threats to rational thought." --Molly Ivins, author of Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Copyright 2002 edition (September 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807044113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807044117
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,696,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Social conservatives, Stalinist feminists, and political correct Democrats (not to mention the Christian soldiers of the Bush administration) will find no comfort here. Wendy Kaminer is going to come down on the side of individual freedom against governmental power whatever the issue at hand.
In this collection of essays, mostly from her column in The American Prospect, Kaminer looks at issues ranging from anti-terrorist encroachments on civil liberties to anti-abortion protests, and invariably comes down on the side of individual liberty, even when she has to share close quarters with the likes of NAMBLA or "pro-fetal life" abortion clinic demonstrators. Her justification is a fine restatement of the civil libertarian position: "If the First Amendment only protected sensible speech, we'd inhabit a very quiet nation indeed." (p. 80)
Because she writes with passion and wit, and because now more than at any recent period in our nation's history, there is the danger of "An Imperial Presidency" (p. 13), we need her and others like her--whether we agree completely with them or not--as a counter to the anti-civil libertarian designs of Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Bush. Kaminer represents in these pages the loyal opposition that largely went into hiding after September 11th.
Her main concern is for the health of the Bill of Rights, which suffered from cardiac arrest as the Twin Towers fell. Kaminer sees the resulting struggle between the Bush administration's desire to increase its power, and the individual's desire for privacy and due process, as a struggle between our collective need for security and our desire for freedom. When people are in fear they will let go of some of their liberties in order to feel secure.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark Howells on September 16, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thank goodness for Wendy Kaminer. A consistent thinker in the midst of our culture of conflict between fabricated absolutist alternatives.
This book is a collection of short essays on the state of American liberties which previously appeared in the "The American Prospect" over the past two years. They have been updated with additional material to confront the issues in civil liberty which have appeared after 9/11.
Censorship, religious freedom, women's rights, and homeland security are just some of the topics covered in these bite-size essays. The author's pen spares no sacred cows of either the Right or the Left. The feminist movement's campaign against pornography is vilified with as much fervor as is the conservative effort to criminalize flag burning. Both efforts are attempts at limiting unpopular speech. Kaminer shows them both to be the silly shibboleths of sanctimonious speech suppressors.
I don't agree with the author's opinions on every issue covered in the book. Her take on the criminal justice system, immigration, and social equality are a bit too left of center for my tastes. However, I am proud of her right to her opinions and her courage to care about the rights of others with whom she disagrees. If only we could all care with this much eloquence.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Janet on November 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
Threats to civil liberties are greater than ever since September 11, 2001. Due process rights are the most obvious casualties, but privacy, church-state separation, and other civil rights are being eroded, particularly for groups outside the mainstream.
Wendy Kaminer's latest book, "Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today", is therefore extremely timely and relevant. Kaminer is a lawyer, author, and social critic, whose previous books include "Sleeping With Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and the Perils of Piety", and "I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions". "Free For All" is a collection of her essays on civil liberties from the past several years, both before and after 9/11. Most of the pieces appeared in "The American Prospect", though a few are included from other publications such as "Free Inquiry" and "Dissent".
The topics she addresses include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to privacy, defendant's rights, women's rights, and many related issues. A number of themes crop up repeatedly, including the following: When people favor giving up rights, they usually have in mind other people's rights. Civil libertarianism requires applying the Golden Rule to people you dislike. Civil liberties (freedom to X) often conflict with civil rights (freedom from X). Threats to civil liberties tend to come from those who want people to "be good," whether according to Christian morality on the right, or political correctness on the left. We should be especially wary of expansions of government power, especially prosecutorial power, which are likely to lead to erosion of individual freedom. And sadly, Americans tend to pay only lip service to liberties that are supposedly inalienable.
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