THE DISSENT OF THE GOVERNED by Stephen L. Carter

THE DISSENT OF THE GOVERNED

A Meditation on Law, Religion, and Loyalty
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Interesting issues, disappointing book. In a series of three lectures Carter (Law/Yale) “meditates” on the challenge religious belief poses for political authority in American society. By reinterpreting the Declaration of Independence he first suggests that justice be measured in terms of government’s response to dissenters. He then argues that the federal government’s response to those who take religion seriously has been to cast them more as potential traitors whose religious faith implies a challenge to sovereignty rather than legitimate dissenters whose views deserve accommodation. For Carter a “liberal constitutionalism” has dominated American society, imposing an image of secular uniformity in the name of atomistic individual rights. By rushing to “celebrate our own open-mindedness” when embracing a seemingly neutral areligious polity, however, we overlook “the way . . . a strongly secular bias can be . . . stultifying to people whose religious faith is at the center of their lives.” Against the widely-accepted “single-national-community ethos” that requires legal uniformity Carter envisions a system of community autonomy in which “believing families” shape their lives around a shared faith; the goal is to allow religious believers the same political freedom to act on their beliefs as those who embrace a secular society. Unfortunately, even in local community government in accord with any set of beliefs, religious or secular, unavoidably involves leaving some people outside the favored order whenever society is not perfectly homogeneous. This would seem to be an obvious problem for Carter to address when considering practical issues, but he rushes to play the role of detached scholar in the presence of real policy questions. His apparent support for state aid to religious schools, for example, is quickly qualified by claiming that “I am by no means advocating” such aid, but merely arguing for its constitutionality. When addressing powerful topics, wishy-washy meditations are just not very satisfying.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1998
ISBN: 0-674-21265-7
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1998




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