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Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. ~Frederick Douglass

Dissent is an opinion, philosophy or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government, political party or other entity or individual in a capacity of contextual authority. A dissenting person may be referred to as a dissenter. The term's antonyms include agreement, consensus (when all or nearly all parties agree on something) and consent (when one party agrees to a proposition made by another).


  • Freedom of speech is useless without freedom of thought. And I fear that the politics of protest is shutting out the process of thought, so necessary to rational discussion. We are faced with the Ten Commandments of Protest:
    Thou Shalt Not Allow Thy Opponent to Speak.
    Thou Shalt Not Set Forth a Program of Thine Own.
    Thou Shalt Not Trust Anybody Over Thirty.
    Thou Shalt Not Honor Thy Father or Thy Mother.
    Thou Shalt Not Heed the Lessons of History.
    Thou Shalt Not Write Anything Longer than a Slogan.
    Thou Shalt Not Present a Negotiable Demand.
    Thou Shalt Not Accept Any Establishment Idea.
    Thou Shalt Not Revere Any but Totalitarian Heroes.
    Thou Shalt Not Ask Forgiveness for Thy Transgressions, Rather Thou Shalt Demand Amnesty for Them.
    • Spiro Agnew, speech to governors and their families, Washington, D.C. (December 3, 1969), Collected Speeches of Spiro Agnew (1971), pp. 98–99.
  • Thought that is silenced is always rebellious. Majorities, of course, are often mistaken. This is why the silencing of minorities is necessarily dangerous. Criticism and dissent are the indispensable antidote to major delusions.
  • Leading fosters a working atmosphere that stimulates an open exchange of ideas and fosters dissent. People should show a genuine concern for one another and treat one another with fairness, as peers and friends. With such an atmosphere it should be a pleasure to come to work.
  • No doubt, there are those who believe that judges-and particularly dissenting judges-write to hear themselves say, as it were, I I I. And no doubt, there are also those who believe that judges are, like Joan Didion, primarily engaged in the writing of fiction. I cannot agree with either of those propositions.
  • Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent? Several have died of conformity in our lifetime.
    • Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values (1956, 1965), Part 3: "The Sense of Human Dignity", §5.
  • The anti-apartheid movement in the '80s... he (Howard Zinn) was there. ...He put everything there, because he cared very deeply that these things were wrong -- that apartheid was wrong... that was the early '80s, and there were people who didn't really think it was so bad. That's the thing. A lot of times we look back and we remember how radical it was to confront apartheid. Now, everyone looks back and knows it was wrong... That's why dissent is so important, because it creates an atmosphere in which people can explore alternative ways of thinking.
  • The right to dissent is the only thing that makes life tolerable for a judge of an appellate court... the affairs of government could not be conducted by democratic standards without it.
  • The first opinion the Court ever filed has a dissenting opinion. Dissent is a tradition of this Court... When someone is writing for the Court, he hopes to get eight others to agree with him, so many of the majority opinions are rather stultified.
  • There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is responsive to human needs. If society is to be responsive to human needs, a vast restructuring of our laws is essential.
    Realization of this need means adults must awaken to the urgency of the young people’s unrest—in other words there must be created an adult unrest against the inequities and injustices in the present system. If the government is in jeopardy, it is not because we are unable to cope with revolutionary situations. Jeopardy means that either the leaders or the people do not realize they have all the tools required to make the revolution come true. The tools and the opportunity exist. Only the moral imagination is missing.
  • If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
    • Frederick Douglass, "West India Emancipation", speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York (August 4, 1857); reported in Philip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass (1950), vol. 2, p. 437.
  • No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.
    • Barbara Ehrenreich, "Family Values," The Worst Years of Our Lives: Irreverent Notes from a Decade of Greed (1991).
  • Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionaries and rebels—men and women who dared to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.
    • Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech at Columbia University's bicentennial, 31 May 1954, Public papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1961), p. 524.
  • You can actively flee, then, and you can actively stay put.
    • Erik Erikson, Insight and Responsibility, New York, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1964, p. 86; cited in Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, p. 49, footnote 5.
  • Daniel Sjursen, a 37-year old veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan... has just written a new book called Patriotic Dissent: America in the Age of Endless War... a short volume... Sjursen skillfully debunks the conventional wisdom of the foreign policy establishment, and the military’s own current generation of “yes men for another war power hungry president.” His appeal to the conscience of fellow soldiers, veterans, and civilians is rooted in the unusual arc of an eighteen-year military career. His powerful voice, political insights, and painful personal reflections offer a timely reminder of how costly, wasteful, and disastrous our post 9/11 wars have been. Sjursen has the distinction of being a graduate of West Point, an institution that produces few political dissenters... Sjursen’s initial experience in combat—vividly described in his first book...“occurred at the statistical height of sectarian strife” in Iraq. “The horror, the futility, the farce of that war was the turning point in my life,” Sjursen writes in Patriotic Dissent. When he returned, at age 24, from his “brutal, ghastly deployment” as a platoon leader, he “knew that the war was built on lies, ill-advised, illegal, and immoral.” This “unexpected, undesired realization generated profound doubts about the course and nature of the entire American enterprise in the Greater Middle East—what was then unapologetically labeled the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).”
  • At a time when the U.S. “desperately needs a massive, public, empowered anti-war and anti-imperial wave” sweeping over the country, we have instead a “civil-military” gap that, Sjursen believes, has “stifled antiwar and anti-imperial dissent and seemingly will continue to do so.” That’s why his own mission is to find more “socially conscious veterans of these endless, fruitless wars” who are willing to “step up and form a vanguard of sorts for revitalized patriotic dissent.” Readers of Sjursen’s book, whether new recruits to that vanguard or longtime peace activists, will find Patriotic Dissent to be an invaluable educational tool. It should be required reading in progressive study groups, high school and college history classes, and book clubs across the country. Let’s hope that the author’s willingness to take personal risks, re-think his view of the world, and then work to change it will inspire many others, in uniform and out.
  • Dissent is morally neutral. You can correctly call yourself a dissident because you like to kick puppies, but at the end of the day, you're just a jerk who likes to kick puppies.
  • It is often hard to secure unanimity about the borders of legislative power, but that is much easier than to decide how far a particular adjustment diverges from what the judges deem tolerable. On such issues experience has over and over again shown the difficulty of securing unanimity. This is disastrous because disunity cancels the impact of monolithic solidarity on which the authority of a bench of judges so largely depends.
  • In the end it is worse to suppress dissent than to run the risk of heresy.
    • Learned Hand, Oliver Wendell Holmes lecture delivered at Harvard (1958); quoted in The Rhetoric of Our Times (1969) by J. Jeffery Auer, p. 124.
  • A dissenting minority feels free only when it can impose its will on the majority: what it abominates most is the dissent of the majority.
    • Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition, aph. 40 (1973).
  • [Dissents are] appeals to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of another day.
    • Charles Evans Hughes, reported in "Keeping Politics out of the Court", The New York Times (December 9, 1984); quoted in The HarperCollins Dictionary of American Government and Politics (1992) by Jay M. Shafritz, p. 407.
  • Political dissension is doubtless a less evil than the lethargy of despotism: but still it is a great evil, and it would be as worthy the efforts of the patriot as of the philosopher, to exclude its influence if possible, from social life. The good are rare enough at best. There is no reason to subdivide them by artificial lines. But whether we shall ever be able so far to perfect the principles of society as that political opinions shall, in its intercourse, be as inoffensive as those of philosophy, mechanics, or any other, may well be doubted.
  • The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.
  • It's beyond me how anybody can look at these protestors and call them anything other than what they are: anti-American, anticapitalist, pro-Marxist communists.
    • Rush Limbaugh, speaking about political dissent (February 2003), quoted in — Hunt, Jim (2009). They Said What?: Astonishing Quotes on American Democracy, Power, and Dissent‎. Polipoint Press. p. 22. ISBN 0981709168. .
  • We see political leaders replacing moral imperatives with a Southern strategy. We have seen all too clearly that there are men—now in power in this country—who do not respect dissent, who cannot cope with turmoil, and who believe that the people of America are ready to support repression as long as it is done with a quiet voice and a business suit. And it is up to us to prove that they are wrong.
    • John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City, speech at University of California, Berkeley (April 2, 1970), as reported by The Washington Post (April 3, 1970), p. 3.
  • There is one tradition in America I am proud to inherit. It is our first freedom and the truest expression of our Americanism: the ability to dissent without fear. It is our right to utter the words, "I disagree." We must feel at liberty to speak those words to our neighbors, our clergy, our educators, our news media, our lawmakers and, above all, to the one among us we elect President.
  • The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.
  • A simple way to determine whether the right to dissent in a particular society is being upheld is to apply the town square test: Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it's a fear society.
    • Natan Sharansky, The Case for Democracy, pp. 40–41, 2004, with Ron Dermer.
  • In a society where dissenting viewpoints are suppressed, those viewpoints are potent and dangerous... Where dissent is tolerated, it rapidly becomes quaint and is viewed as un-sophisticated; people merely amuse themselves with the expression of contrary opinion.
  • The fault I find with most American newspapers is not the absence of dissent. it is the absence of news. With a dozen or so honorable exceptions, most American newspapers carry very little news. Their main concern is advertising.
  • The heretic may be very irritating, he may be decidedly wrong, but the attempt to choke heresy or dissent from the dominant opinion by coercing the conscience is an incalculable danger to society. If war makes it necessary, it is the last count in the indictment against war.
    • Norman Thomas, "War's Heretics: A Plea for the Conscientious Objector", in The Survey magazine, August 1917. Reprinted in Arthur Weinberg, Lila Shaffer Weinberg; Instead of violence : writings by the great advocates of peace and nonviolence throughout history. Beacon Press, 1963.
  • Trudeau: Well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed. But it's more important to keep law and order in the society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier—
    CBC reporter Tim Ralfe [interrupting]: At any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?
    Trudeau: Well, just watch me. … Society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power.

See also[edit]


  1. a b Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
  2. Discussion at urbanlegends.about.com/b/2005/02/15/misattributed-dissent-is-the-highest-form-of-patriotism.htm (Misattributed: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism)
  3. Jefferson, Thomas (February 22, 1787). Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Smith Adams. The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827. The Library of Congress.

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