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Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture
  • Robert L Tsai, American University

This book presents a general theory to explain how the words in the Constitution become culturally salient ideas, inscribed in the habits and outlooks of ordinary Americans. "Eloquence and Reason" employs the First Amendment as a case study to illustrate that liberty is achieved through the formation of a common language and a set of organizing beliefs. The book explicates the structure of First Amendment language as a distinctive discourse and illustrates how activists, lawyers, and even presidents help to sustain our First Amendment belief system. When significant changes to constitutional law occur, they are best understood as the results of broader linguistic transformations. Drawing on the ratification debates, "Eloquence and Reason" concludes by advancing a model of judicial review in which jurists are responsible for the management of political discourses and the empowerment of other participants to a public debate, quite apart from any substantive obligations they may have to the legal order. The Table of Contents and Preface are available for download.


"Just when I thought that there was nothing new to say about the First Amendment, Robert Tsai comes along and writes a book which encourages me to think again."—Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science, Yale University

"A provocative meditation on the ways metaphors used in constitutional doctrine empower, limit, create, and recreate the public over which the written Constitution is said to assert authority. Intriguing case studies arise from the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the Christian Right of the 1980s, and the attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1940s."—Mark V. Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"Tsai's exciting work on the interplay between the Supreme Court and the executive branch over free speech issues in the nineteen forties sheds new light on the origins of modern constitutional law. His new account of the relationship between language and power in political discourse is sure to be controversial and should be widely read."—H. Jefferson Powell, Professor of Law, Duke University, author of Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision

"This beautifully written, carefully argued, and thought-provoking book illuminates the way the practice of free speech and broad societal engagement with constitutional ideas animate American democracy."—Mary L. Dudziak, Judge Edward J. and Ruey L. Guirado Professor of Law, History, and Political Science, University of Southern California, and author of Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey

Publication Date
October 27, 2008
Yale University Press
Citation Information
Robert L Tsai. Eloquence and Reason: Creating a First Amendment Culture. New Haven(2008)
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