LIVING THE BILL OF RIGHTS by Nat Hentoff

LIVING THE BILL OF RIGHTS

How to Be an Authentic American

KIRKUS REVIEW

A strangely intolerant brief filed in support of individual freedom. Longtime Washington Post and Village Voice columnist Hentoff (Speaking Freely, 1997, etc.) illustrates the Bill of Rights through stories about individuals whose lives exemplify them. Not surprisingly for an author more concerned with protecting citizens from government rather than in collective action through government, these stories revolve around court cases, and Supreme Court justices Douglas and Brennan play prominent roles. Less familiar and more interesting is the extended discussion of Kenneth Clark, whose work was footnoted in Brown v. Board of Education and who subsequently devoted his life to converting the intent of that decision into reality. Eschewing separatist appeals to black power and affirmative action, Clark remained a committed integrationist supporting equality in education as the key to social justice. With this exception, however, the stories of those not sitting on the bench share a basic plot: Individuals acting in an unpopular but completely legal manner come into conflict with an authority, they are pressured by those who believe more strongly in conformity to social norms than individual freedom, but they refuse to compromise their constitutional rights. The result of this formulaic discussion is both to supply some wonderful examples of principled fortitude and to reveal Hentoff’s odd intolerance of all potentially legitimate claims competing with the Bill of Rights. This means, for example, that an employee refusing to attend a seminar on sexual harassment is a hero, and campaign finance reform is unacceptable given the Court’s classification of campaign contributions as a form of free speech; apparently to be “an Authentic American” you have to believe that individual freedom trumps all other values. Hentoff should be praised for promoting the Bill of Rights, but should be reminded that there is more to the Constitution and to social life.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-019010-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998




MORE BY NAT HENTOFF

NonfictionSPEAKING FREELY by Nat Hentoff
by Nat Hentoff
NonfictionLISTEN TO THE STORIES by Nat Hentoff
by Nat Hentoff
NonfictionFREE SPEECH FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE by Nat Hentoff
by Nat Hentoff