cover image On Dissent: Its Meaning in America

On Dissent: Its Meaning in America

Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover. Cambridge Univ., $22.99 (200p) ISBN 978-0-521-76719-4

This slim, spry volume offers a linguistic and legal definition of dissent as a vital aspect of American politics. Moving methodologically through the parameters of dissent (violence and nonviolence, the individual and the collective, the shifting edges of legality), Collins and Skover navigate a definition of a complex concept that manages to be at once accessible and inclusive of divergent opinions. Excerpted interviews from a variety of intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, Catharine A. MacKinnon, and Cornel West provide hypothetical and actual legal scenarios as well as outsider commentary that the authors use to tease out the theoretical limits of dissent in theory and practice. Stepping from one contrastive example to the next, Collins and Skover consider what exactly it means to view the actions of the Unabomber , large-scale 1940s protests by Jehovah's Witnesses, and Thoreau's civil disobediences (among many other examples) as outside of or within their understanding of dissent. In so carefully building their definition, they also construct a paean to the concept itself, insisting that the diversified applications of dissent feed the life of democracy and free speech. As they eloquently conclude, all dissent, including that with which we disagree, can "goad us even when we savor the stupor of our own folly", smartly pointing to the value both of the concept and of their succinct, constructive mapping of it. (July)