"LAW'S PROMISE, LAW'S EXPRESSION: Visions of Power in the Politics of Race, Gender, and Religion" by Kenneth L. Karst

"LAW'S PROMISE, LAW'S EXPRESSION: Visions of Power in the Politics of Race, Gender, and Religion"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A brief but profound analysis of how the Reagan-Bush right has exploited the law to victimize women, gays, and ethnic minorities. Karst (Law/UCLA; Belonging to America, 1989) looks at the conservative ""social issues agenda"" to show how its call for a return to ""family values"" (code name for a host of causes -- civil rights deregulations, an end to abortion rights, the revival of school prayer, etc.) is little more than brilliantly staged ""political theater"": a cynical manipulation of the ""expressive qualities"" of the law to stigmatize and thereby exclude certain groups in a winner-take-all struggle for social dominance. Karst ranges widely, but never wildly, over a broad field of timely topics (e.g., Colorado's antigay initiative, gays and women in the military, Tailhook, Quayle on ""Murphy Brown,"" university speech codes, the LA. riots) and recent Supreme Court cases (including Casey, which reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, and Weisman, which found prayers at public school graduation ceremonies to be unconstitutional). He argues that these seemingly unrelated conflicts all reveal the basic tenet of the social-issues agenda: that the ""gender line is under attack and must be defended"" by using the law to subjugate, if only symbolically, all those who challenge the ""ideology of masculinity"" -- that is, white, straight, Christian masculinity. According to Karst, Clinton's election has not snuffed the ""politics of cultural counterrevolution"": on the contrary, the social-issues agenda continues to dominate local elections and both state and federal courts. Karst's writing is surprisingly restrained, given his incendiary thesis. Some readers may be deterred by the occasionally opaque analysis of Supreme Court doctrine and the copious notes (one-third of the book), but those who persevere will get a fascinating tour of the murky ""zone where religion, sex and politics intersect."" Challenging and intense -- for all serious students of American culture, but probably best for those with some background in the law.

Pub Date: Feb. 16th, 1994
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press