The Perversion of Autonomy: Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society

The Perversion of Autonomy: Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society

The Perversion of Autonomy: Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society

The Perversion of Autonomy: Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society


Modern psychological and political theory meet head-on in this powerful re-evaluation of America's contradictory and sometimes dangerous addiction to individualism. Best-selling author Gaylin and co-author Jennings investigate the contentious intersections of interdependence and autonomy, rights and public responsibility. They examine the painful abrasion occurring between America's tradition of personal freedom and privacy, as it rubs against the still valuable if almost vanishing ideals of sacrifice and social order.


What does it mean to be free? What constraints on freedom are legitimate in the service of social living? These are the questions we addressed in 1996 in the first edition. These questions have an added sense of urgency since September 11, 2001.

There is no escaping the fact that the America we wrote about several years ago is not the same America we seek to fathom today. Almost overnight, people came to look upon government with a newfound admiration and sense of resolve. The 1990s had been a time of remarkable prosperity and had seemed to many a time of endless, petty political bickering and backbiting. The presidential election of 2000 was one of the most divisive and bitter in American history. With the assault on our homeland, the alienation and disgust seemed to disappear. People once divided came together in a sense of common purpose. The same people who had burned flags during the Vietnam era were now displaying them in the windows of their SUVs, BMWs, or Ford Escorts.

Within a few days after the attack, Attorney General John Ashcroft went before Congress to argue for a sweeping new law, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, that would, in effect, defend life and liberty by considerably increasing the power of the federal government to investigate and to intrude in the telecommunications and financial transactions of private citizens. The attorney general spoke of a balance between the capabilities of law enforcement in an era when terrorists command sophisticated global telecommunications capabilities and traditional constitutional and civil liberties.

Noted civil libertarian and constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe of Harvard University soon added his voice to the discussion of balancing by pointing out that individual rights could not trump everything; the Constitution was never meant to be a suicide pact for the society. Nonetheless, he was also somewhat reserved and leery about the willingness of Congress and the Supreme Court to achieve the correct balance. What . . .

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