WHY SOCIETIES NEED DISSENT

Cass R. Sunstein, Author
Cass R. Sunstein, Author . Harvard Univ. $22.95 (246p) ISBN 978-0-674-01268-4
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-674-01768-9
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University of Chicago law professor Sunstein draws on an impressive knowledge of economics, law and psychology, as well as a great deal of common sense, to make an elegant and compelling case that dissent is critical to a successful society. So convincing and lucid is his argument that this work is likely to influence the current debate on the role of dissenting from official or conventional thinking when society faces external threats. Sunstein does not elevate dissent based on abstract ideology, but rather on the most pragmatic of grounds—good choices are unlikely to be made by a society that stifles dissent. In an engaging analysis, Sunstein examines studies of three related phenomena—the human desire to conform to group norms, group decision-making processes and the tendency for groups to polarize—that lead to the suppression of dissent. This suppression in turn results in the loss of accurate information and competing arguments, which are the basis for rational and effective decision making. Making his arguments all the more powerful, and more acceptable across the political spectrum, is Sunstein's choice to avoid taking political or moral positions on the many charged social issues—such as affirmative action and conformism among judges and in other branches of government—he employs as examples of how decision making is aided when dissent is encouraged. Sunstein also offers wise suggestions on how to create systems that not only tolerate but encourage dissent. This is a noteworthy achievement and an invaluable contribution to the literature on the enduring question of dissent's role in a democratic society. (Sept.)

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