Friday, November 12, 2010

Walker Reviews Eloquence and Reason for H-Net

Professor Anders Walker, a legal historian at St. Louis University School of Law, has reviewed Eloquence and Reason for H-Net, a listserv for historians.  He writes:
Robert L. Tsai's Eloquence and Reason provides an interpretation of First Amendment jurisprudence that is at once nuanced, novel, and compelling. More than presenting simply a history of litigation strategy or Supreme Court politics, Tsai focuses on language, positing that freedom of speech is "a distinctive way of life" and "a sophisticated system of devotional practices," not unlike the "webs of signification" that Clifford Geertz associated with culture. Animating free speech culture, argues Tsai, are certain inspired rules of rhetoric, or what sixteenth-century political theorist Thomas Wilson called "precepts of eloquence." Such precepts, continues Tsai, not only "set fire to reason" as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously noted, but also elevate constitutional discourse from mere assertions of brute power to discursive constructs that simultaneously define Americans even as they bind them, ruler and ruled alike. . . . Perhaps the most striking aspect of Tsai's book is its sophisticated use of cultural/linguistic analysis in the service not of deconstruction but of formation, a topic that may even be of interest to political scientists and socio-legal scholars.

The rest of the review can be found here.