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The Dissent of the Governed : A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty Paperback – December 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 1996)
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674212665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674212664
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,630,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In this "meditation on law, religion, and morality," originally delivered as part of Harvard's annual Massey Lectures series, which has attracted speakers from Richard Rorty to Toni Morrison, Stephen L. Carter dwells on themes from his larger books, including The Culture of Disbelief, with particular attention to allegiance (and its opposite, disallegiance) to religion and state.

Working from the text of the Declaration of Independence, Carter proposes that the true measure of a democracy can be found in its treatment of those citizens who dissent with its stated values. This has been especially important in the consideration of those who disagree with the local or federal government on moral grounds rooted in religious belief; in this century alone, that has been a factor in issues ranging from pacifist activism against World War I, the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the continuing debate over abortion rights. It is also relevant today with regard to such issues as the provision of government funds for private (usually religious) schools. Carter reminds us that the purpose of democracy is not to impose one set of values on a diverse citizenry, but to create a space for dialogue among people of varying value systems, each of which is accorded respect and dignity. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

From the marginalizing of religion in U.S. politics and law--his subject in The Culture of Disbelief (1993)--Carter turns to how the federal courts discount religion. His point of departure is a reading of the Declaration of Independence that stresses dissent as the criterion of government legitimacy. The extent to which government accommodates dissent is the index of citizen allegiance; if dissenters' grievances are persistently ignored, that justifies disallegiance and rebellion. Carter thinks many religious citizens' allegiance is now strained because of liberal constitutionalism, which creates a single national community concerned to "get the answers [to problems] right" and "not to worry too much about the process," but which, to do so, dismisses allegiances to other communities, religious ones in particular, that individual citizens regard as fundamental. But other allegiances have been an important corrective to government, even when they led to lawbreaking; Martin Luther King Jr. argued--cogently, Carter believes--that the civil rights movement's civil disobedience, although it arose from religious conviction, was based in a deeper allegiance to the nation. Finally, Carter finds the courts habitually dismissive of dissent (the Supreme Court found against Dr. King, he reminds us) and feeling themselves under no political obligation to individual citizens and citizen groups. He sees in the integration by the courts of constitutional interpretation and political obligation the means to accommodate democratic citizens' several loyalties for the sake of justice. Read this little book and become a better American. Ray Olson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rev. C Bryant on October 16, 2001
Format: Paperback
The Dissent of the Governed edits and expands three lectures which Carter presented at Harvard University in 1995. They found print in 1998, though the book came into general sales only last year. Having followed Carter since The Culture of Disbelief, appreciating him, arguing with him, sometimes disagreeing with him, I opened Dissent with expectation and some trepidation. Would ideas dating from six years ago speak to the America of the twenty-first century? The answer is yes.
Carter takes his title from the line in the Declaration of Independence which declares that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Carter argues, persuasively I believe, that a test of whether or not a government is authentic and just is how it handles the dissent of its citizens. The verdict for the United States is mostly negative. The "liberal project" of the twentieth century, symbolized by the New Deal and the Great Society, and given additional energy by the Civil Rights Movement, assumed that a legitimate role of government is to enforce a common set of values in the nation. The preferred method of enforcement is through societal structures, such as the school and the house of worship. Failing that, the government is justified in using law to enforce that common set of values. Carter argues that the project might have derailed, were it not for the Second Civil War (his name for the Civil Rights Movement), which relied on the courts for legitimation. Thus the judiciary became politicized. I read Dissent immediately after the Supreme Court intervened in the 2000 election, and I was amazed at Carter's prescience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rodboomboom HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This erudite writer is one of my favorites. Having enjoyed his previous writings, this one is no exception.
He argues a salient point that the Declaration of Independence might certainly be more about government by the dissent rather than by consent. In this regard, he cites the section of the Declaration which speaks of repeated replies to dissent by continued injuries and disinterest.
He then relates this thesis through the three lenses of: Allegiance, Disobedience, Interpretation.
Making good points along the way, he concludes: If instead we celebrate, always, results over people, bureaucracy over democracy, and centralization over community, then, we are saying after all that we have no interest in the "repeated Petitions" of which the Declaration speaks, that we will, as our revolutionary forebears charged against George III, meet the petitions only with ""repeated injury." If that is what constitutionalism has wrought, it is but one more sign that our celebration of the Declaration of Independence--indeed, our claim to democracy itself--is a sham."
Only wish is that his theology in places were more Biblical, i.e. that he saw the import of Romans 13 and the true Soverign's role in placing authorities, followed by understanding the two kingdom's functioning.
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By MW on February 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
For a long time now, at least since my wife and I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I've been thinking about the circumstances that precipitate civil disobedience.

In order for civil disobedience to be justified (assuming, of course, that it needs to be), it must appeal to a morality higher than the law of the state. As a Christian that's not a stretch for me, and the civil rights movement (at least as articulated my MLK) found its justification in transcendent Christian principles. In the state's view, however, there sometimes is no law higher than its own. This book squarely addresses that point of conflict, and I find the author's arguments very persuasive.

One of Carter's best observations is that many progressives who once championed civil disobedience in response the Vietnam War and segregation now seek to suppress and qualify it as it relates to issues like opposition to current abortion laws. This dynamic can be observed anywhere a self-defined group opposes a mandate of the state, regardless of which component is liberal and which is conservative.

The petition of a small but vocal minority is usually considered a nuisance, but the author insists that we must be very careful about how we contend with it if we are to maintain a broad allegiance to our common purpose.
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