From Publishers Weekly
University of Chicago law professor Sunstein draws on an impressive knowledge of economics, law and psychology, as well as a great deal of common sense, to make an elegant and compelling case that dissent is critical to a successful society. So convincing and lucid is his argument that this work is likely to influence the current debate on the role of dissenting from official or conventional thinking when society faces external threats. Sunstein does not elevate dissent based on abstract ideology, but rather on the most pragmatic of grounds-good choices are unlikely to be made by a society that stifles dissent. In an engaging analysis, Sunstein examines studies of three related phenomena-the human desire to conform to group norms, group decision-making processes and the tendency for groups to polarize-that lead to the suppression of dissent. This suppression in turn results in the loss of accurate information and competing arguments, which are the basis for rational and effective decision making. Making his arguments all the more powerful, and more acceptable across the political spectrum, is Sunstein's choice to avoid taking political or moral positions on the many charged social issues-such as affirmative action and conformism among judges and in other branches of government-he employs as examples of how decision making is aided when dissent is encouraged. Sunstein also offers wise suggestions on how to create systems that not only tolerate but encourage dissent. This is a noteworthy achievement and an invaluable contribution to the literature on the enduring question of dissent's role in a democratic society.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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
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