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There's No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195093834
ISBN-10: 0195093836
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Head of Duke University's English Department and putative flag-bearer for political correctness, Fish here collects a lively and vigorous sampling of his cultural criticism. Notable are his textured essays written for a series of campus debates with conservative Dinesh D'Souza. Fish places such current education controversies as those over multiculturist requirements in historical perspective; scores simplistic critics of affirmative action; suggests self-segregation can be justified as an exercise of autonomy; and observes that political power and " real political correctness" is determined by the "triple threat of money, media domination and governmental regulation." His provocative title essay argues cogently that the neat legal definition between speech and conduct breaks down in concrete examples. In more abstruse essays, Fish turns his analytic skills, honed in literarycriticism, to dissect some of the presumptions of legal thought. If the essays do range a bit, they are linked by a skeptical and probing voice.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Fish, the author of numerous books on Milton, literary theory, and the politics of teaching, has become in recent years famous for defending the contemporary academy in a series of debates held at various colleges and universities with the neo-conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza. In anticipation of these debates, he prepared five remarkable essays, which constitute the core of this learned and wide-ranging collection. Other essays concern the political and historical context of controversies over the notion of "free speech," as well as the enduring legacy of Milton and the masochism of Volvo-driving academics. Despite his public reputation, Fish's views cannot be easily subsumed under such labels as "deconstructionist," "post-structuralist," or even "leftist." The provocative title simply refers to the fact that, as Fish avers, "the act of speaking would make no sense... absent some already-in-place and (for the time being) unquestioned ideological vision." Many readers will find pleasure in Fish's simultaneously literate but blunt prose style. Recommended for informed readers.
- Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (December 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195093836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195093834
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 0.7 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #821,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University. He has previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He has received many honors and awards, including being named the Chicagoan of the Year for Culture. He is the author of twelve books and is now a weekly columnist for the New York Times. He resides in Andes, New York; New York City; and Delray Beach, Florida; with his wife, Jane Tompkins.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Walter Hearne on November 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Stanley Fish is a provocative, clever, engaging.....charlatan. His main idea: censorship isn't bad, it just depends on what we're trying to do with it. Fish's most ludicrous claim is that the free speech paradigm is not "tolerant" of those who, like himself, argue for a "more restrictive" approach to expression. Yet here he is, writing, publishing, a profiting from a book with such a view. Did I miss something here? Apparently he feels that because many people vehemently disagree with him, he is not being tolerated. Poor Stanley.
Fish attempts to compare the prohibition of "hate speech" to other limits on expression, such as those on obscenity, fighting words, or matters of national security, without recognizing the miserable failures and excesses that have resulted from all three. His one promising analogy, libel/slander law, is left unexplored.
Fish also claims that the "slippery slope" argument is mere exaggeration. He argues that the PC culture on college campuses cannot be compared to McCarthyism because nobody has really been seriously victimized by it. His one piece of evidence is a quote from a Time magazine article. The Shadow University by Kors and Silvergate gives the lie to Fish's rosy scenario. Fish also fails to account for a mechanism by which we might recover from an unduly expansive or repressive application of his progressive censorship (an ideal borrowed from Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse, an intellectual forebear whom he never acknowledges). Once Fish's program has been fully implemented, it is only a matter of time before such censorship precludes not only "hate" speech but arguments in favor of greater liberty of expression.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
Free speech does not exist. American democracy is a sham. Our feeling that the holocaust was wrong is merely an irrational emotional reaction. The U.S. constitution allows churches to persecute nonbelievers - and that would be just fine. These - and many other controvertial opinions - are expressed by Stanley Fish, one of the leading postmodernists of today, in this book.
The core of Fish's argument is that *any* discussion, by the mere fact of *being* a discussion that uses words in a certain languages, involves "censorship", because the words, terms, and expressions used in the language have hidden biases in them. Therefore, we are better of without preserving the "illusion" that there is an objective right or wrong, or that democracy is objectively better than fascism, or that the first amendment means anything.
Fish, I think, is pulling an "Andy Kaufman" on us. It is highly unlikely that he actually believes any of this nonsense, despite his articulate defense of it. (Fish is, one must admit, a compelling writer, who can get you convinced - momentarily - of the most absurd nonsense. You only notice the logical lapses, non-sequitors, and stretching of anaolgies *way* past their breaking point - if at all - when you finish the reading.) I think it is much more probably that he just wants to get people angry by taking up a "provocative" position with a seemingly straight face - hence the book's title.
The question is what is Fish's purpose in all this. If his purpose is to get an apathetic public to question and defend their beliefs in freedom of speech and democracy, that is good. But it seems to me more likely that Fish is simply being meritricious for personal gain: he is using his considerable rhetorical and pedagogical talents to defend nonsense, not because he believes it or wants others to object to him, but in order to make a name for himself as academia's "bad boy".
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Brady on October 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
First, readers should be warned - if you're not comfortable with the jargon of academia, this book is going to be something of a slog - the author seems to be writing for other academics here, going so far in several of the essays to dispute points made in other articles, by other scholars, without sufficient context for readers who don't read the academic journals.

Once you hack your way through the erudite, convoluted obfuscation of the writing style, you're presented with 17 essays examining a spectrum of topics, largely intended to lead the reader to re-examine basic beliefs and assumptions that may not have previously been closely examined - a worthy goal, and the reason I picked this book up.

The rhetoric is as good as one would expect of a Professor of English, and it's understandable when the text convinces some readerss. The logic of his assertions, however, is remarkably strained, when it appears at all. Much of his reasoning is accomplished by way of case law - he'll take a few legal decisions about the topic, show the flaws in the logic used by the judge in those cases, and present this as proof of his own assertion. This is equivalent to proving that a wall is blue by showing that two people who claimed it as green are color-blind.

He uses unproven assertions, analogy, and observations with little relevance fairly convincingly, but the careful reader will spot the tricks and remain unconvinced.

In academia, one must publish or perish. If one must publish, it is an added benefit if one can re-publish one's work in a book for the general public. This has been used by other members of academia, and there's nothing wrong with it. If you understand the flaw in the logic of 'others have done it well, therefore, Mr. Fish does it well', then this book won't convince you of any of the author's assertions.
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