THE ABUSE EXCUSE by Alan M. Dershowitz

THE ABUSE EXCUSE

Cop-Outs, Sob Stories and Other Evasions of Responsibility

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In this train-of-thought collection of short essays, all previously published in newspapers or in Penthouse, the bulldog lawyer (Contrary to Popular Opinion, 1992, etc.) attacks the seemingly endless litany of new defense excuses as destroyers of the basic tenets of democracy. Once individual responsibility and the rule of law begin to erode, Dershowitz rails, we are beginning the march towards anarchy. Some of these excuses--conveniently listed in a glossary- -are easy to shoot down, such as the PMS defense (raised by a surgeon charged with drunken driving), the Twinkie defense (used in the now-famous Harvey Milk killing), and the Super Bowl Sunday defense (perhaps this should be O.J. Simpson's approach). Although Dershowitz attacks all abuse excuses, he seems especially vituperative toward feminists such as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin. His argument against the controversial battered woman's syndrome resembles that of law professor Anne Coughlin (who goes unfootnoted) in arguing that despite its support by many feminist groups, this is actually a regressive approach that considers women unable to control their actions. Dershowitz claims that these abuse defenses actually stigmatize the defendant, implying that all women could become man-killers, or all urban blacks white-killers. He takes no note, however, of the fact that many women wait weeks or months before being accepted into a shelter, nor does he grapple with the problem that, although a sleeping husband may not seem to pose an imminent threat, since one-third of all women murdered in this country (as of 1992) are killed by their husbands and lovers, defining ``imminent threat'' can be tricky. Dershowitz sees a dangerous overall trend away from acknowledging responsibility evidenced in national policies on everything from Bosnia to the death sentence against Salman Rushdie. The general thesis is convincing, and these disparate essays make for interesting if sometimes redundant reading. Only his attack on feminism, however, reaches the level of provocation we expect from Dershowitz.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-316-18135-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994




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