How our shifting sense of "what's normal" defines the character of democracy
"A provocative examination of social constructs and those who would alternately undo or improve them."—Kirkus Reviews
This sharp and engaging book by leading governmental scholar Cass R. Sunstein examines dramatically shifting understandings of what’s normal—and how those shifts account for the feminist movement, the civil rights movement, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the founding itself, political correctness, the rise of gun rights, the response to COVID-19, and changing understandings of liberty. Prevailing norms include the principle of equal dignity, the idea of not treating the press as an enemy of the people, and the social unacceptability of open expressions of racial discrimination. But norms can turn upside-down in a hurry. What people tolerate, and what they abhor, depends on what else they are seeing. Exploring Nazism, #MeToo, the work of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, constitutional amendments, pandemics, and the influence of Ayn Rand, Sunstein reveals how norms change, and ultimately determine the shape of society and government in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.
Cass R. Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard. He received the 2018 Holberg Prize from the Government of Norway, often described as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for law and the humanities.
“Sunstein is admirably alert to the fragilities of liberal democracy.”—Lawrence Douglas, Times Literary Supplement
“The book as a whole offers us more insight into the mind of Sunstein. . . . It is an interesting mind which mulls mainly on the formation and maintenance of democracy.”—Lennard Davis, Times Higher Education Supplement
“Legal scholar Cass Sunstein asks: how does normality relate to past and present behaviour, society and government? Its power, he argues cogently, stems mostly from our responsiveness to others’ words and actions, influenced by our own ‘preference falsification, diverse thresholds and interdependencies.’”—Andrew Robinson, Nature
“Provocative, insightful, and original essays on the power of normality, by one of the great social thinkers of this or any other generation.”—Daniel Gilbert, author of the New York Times best-seller Stumbling on Happiness
“What if our constitution has nothing to do with the Constitution? In this extraordinary new book, perhaps the leading legal academic of our time places a new problem at the center of the challenge of self-government: How does truth navigate the minefields of the normal? This is exactly the moment when we might muster the strength to be different, maybe even better.”—Lawrence Lessig, author of They Don’t Represent Us
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