- Paperback: 800 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton; 1 edition (October 17, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393327450
- ISBN-13: 978-0393327458
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 33 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism 1st Edition
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By Geoffrey R. Stone's estimate, America has lived up to the ideals encapsulated in the First Amendment about 80 percent of the time over the course of its history. Perilous Times's focuses is on the remaining 20 percent, when, during war or civil strife, the better instincts of the public and its leaders have been drowned out by a certain kind of repressive hysteria. Stone, the former dean of law provost at the University of Chicago, identifies six periods of widespread free-speech repression, dating back to the administration of the nation's second president, John Adams, and continuing through the Vietnam era. In between, two of history's greatest presidents, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, were involved in constitutionally questionable efforts to suppress dissent.
Stone examines these pivotal episodes with a lawyer's attention to detail and precedence and a writer's focus on character and story structure. From Adams's secretary of state, the "grim-faced and single-minded" Timothy Pickering (who scanned the papers daily looking for seditious language) through John Ashcroft on one side, and the cheeky late-18th-century congressman Matthew Lyon and the Yippies of the 1960s on the other, there are plenty of characters enlivening these pages. Given its publication during the War on Terror, Stone's work feels particularly timely and vital. He devotes only a few pages to the post-9/11 environment, crediting George W. Bush for his refusal to scapegoat Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the attack, but castigating his administration for "opportunistic and excessive" actions centering around the Patriot Act. One wonders if Stone will some day be forced to update Perilous Times with a full chapter on the early 21st century. --Steven Stolder --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Stone's history examines America's tendency in wartime to compromise First Amendment rights in the name of national security. During the Civil War, a former congressman, Clement Vallandigham, was imprisoned and nearly executed for objecting to the conflict as "wicked, cruel, and unnecessary" in the First World War, the anarchist Mollie Steimer was sentenced to fifteen years for calling capitalism the "only one enemy of the workers of the world." Each of these measures seemed essential to victory at the time; later, however, pardons were issued. We may one day feel the same about Guantánamo and the Patriot Act, but not all wrongs are immediately remedied. In 1971, Attorney General John Mitchell tried to use the contentious Espionage Act of 1917 (which, largely forgotten, had never been revoked) to prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers. It is still law today.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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One can see this type of conflict throughout the history of the United States, as the author of this book shows in great detail in this book. Superbly written and full of helpful references and footnotes, the author narrows his discussion to the effects of war, or rumors of war, or invented threats of war, on free speech. When reading the book one is amazed to learn the low degree to which citizens of the United States have placed on the First Amendment, even as early as 1798. The First Amendment was not really thought of as sacrosanct as it is at the present time (outside of the government). This may explain why early on in U.S. history, the populace was quite willing to stifle speech they thought as treasonous or threatening in time of war (or false threats of war). And the stifling of speech was not unique to a particular political party, newspaper, magazine, or pamphlet. Both the left and the right, and in between, took their turns in the suppression of speech at various times in U.S. history.
Everything in the book is fascinating, and those readers who are not aware of the events discussed may be shocked that they actually took place in a country that so prides itself on freedom, both in speech and association. The author though is not content to merely report facts. He analyzes the different attitudes about free speech, both in the minds of the citizens, the press, and in the courts. Legal issues in constitutional law are all discussed in great analytical detail, and the author does not hesitate to express his own opinions on how the different cases should have been decided. A book like this definitely stands out against the hype and yellow journalism that so frequently is labeled as objective analysis these days. It is a welcome part of the political and legal literature, and all readers willing to take the time to its study will walk away with a massive amount of information and insight, and be better equipped to grapple with the issues of free speech as even now they are being debated (and suppressed). Cooler heads did prevail throughout the U.S. constitutional history of free speech, as this book proves without question. One can only hope this will continue to be the case.
When we live through events like the consequences of the Patriot Act, and many different modern events that come from fear and a search for security, political correctness, and a variety of other elements, we assume they are new to the country since they are new to us.
Any of these incredible infringements on our perception of what should be basic freedoms seems aberrant to the ideals and history of American Freedom. In this fascinating book Stone shows us how these very freedoms, which we assume as permanent ideals, have frequently been more aspired to than quite achieved.
So whereas today we have the 24 news cycle generating scandal for a variety of crisis, or non-crisis, we forget that even popular presidential candidates in America were arrested for their opinions. Stone remembers us of the incredible powers, vague mandate, and absurd enforcement of laws which makes the American current reality considerably less worrying.
The book isn’t truly concerned with describing our current reality. It deals from revolutionary times, the civil war, world wars, and ends by Vietnam. The target audience of this book are people with some knowledge of American history, otherwise you may miss much of the context of what is being said. I found this an illuminating and very timely book on how the current failures of liberty are not new, and therefore probably not enduring, as the others weren’t. In a strange way the frequent failure and recovery in the past gives us some hope for the present.
Highly recommend. 4 stars. Great read for a college course where we get tired of the same boring monotone monologues of the typical wartime stories.
Most recent customer reviews
This is a splendid book and given today's politics,truly timeless