United We Fall argues that today’s harmful levels of polarization in American politics can be ratcheted down only by giving up the twin notions that the center is the sweet spot for political efficiency and that all differences deserve equal weight in the democratic balance. The American people need instead to embrace a political credo of civic engagement, confrontation with open ears, and spirited debate. The commonplace United We Stand must be supplanted by the insight that democracy is strongest where it acknowledges and formalizes real division. But surely bipartisan rancor in America and extremist violence around the world are symptoms of too much disagreement—not too little? No, asserts the author: The root cause of political violence of all stripes is the failure of opposing camps to engage each other openly and persuasively on their genuine and irreconcilable differences.
In making the case for principled disagreement, United We Fall reviews the history of good and bad disagreement practices in American politics, analyzes our mass media through a pro-disagreement lens, and draws on studies of conformist group behavior to expose the manipulative dynamics of contemporary dialog initiatives. Neisser assesses best practices for conducting public debate at all civic levels on the most vexed issues in America today: terrorism, multiculturalism, religion in politics, social and family values, race, the media, education, and the environment.
Reviews"Neisser (politics, SUNY, Potsdam) here calls for the practice and celebration of political disagreement. What our constitutional democracy needs, he argues, especially in this presidential election year, is more disagreement, not less. According to Neisser, electoral inertia and democratic dyspepsia can be overcome not by endorsing the beguiling notion of nonpartisanship but rather by embracing an ethic of disagreement, what he calls disagreement democracy. Disagreement is not simply a state of affairs, Neisser contends, but a process, a crucial activity in a country composed of citizens rather than subjects. In the political science tradition of democratic and communitarian theory, Neisser offers a compelling, provocative, and timely critique of American democracy; he rejects such myths as the melting pot and provides instead a vision in which American democracy, as a way of life entailing much more than merely voting or blogging, reclaims its soul through what he calls cross-border communication, where we move beyond boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion, and political party affiliation. Neisser's work is an illuminating contribution to dialogic democratic theory and belongs especially in university libraries and on scholar's shelves. Highly recommended."—Library Journal, September 15, 2008
"Celebrate partisanship! Celebrate disagreement! Let freedom ring! This is the healthy message of Phil Neisser's new book United We Fall. And it couldn't be timelier, in a general-election season where the center is worshipped by both major parties' presidential candidates....United We Fall is a much needed splash of cold water on an electorate falling into a cloud of the politics of nothing."—New York Post, June 22, 2008
"Neisser's well-written, well-researched book proceeds nicely through the history of the disagreement legacy to discussions of the media, democracy, and the practice of disagreement. His succinct but useful conclusion provides a roadmap for embracing disagreement...This book will be useful in a variety of classroom settings; students will find it an easy and enjoyable read. The generalist reader concerned with community-building, deliberative democracy, or the state of our current political and social discourse will also benefit from this book. Recommended. General readers and undergraduate students of all levels."—Choice, February 1, 2009
"Philip Neisser confronts and confounds the conventional wisdom. In a year where a longed-for unity is being promised and celebrated, Neisser argues that disagreement should be celebrated. Whether one agrees with Neisser or not, this provocative and elegantly written book brings much to our civic debate."—John Kenneth White, Catholic University of America
"Phil Neisser's new book is an eloquent contribution to the literature on democratic dialogue, deftly displaying the essential role disagreement plays in promoting a robust democracy. Well situated in the relevant literature, the book practices what it preaches, taking issue with the received wisdom in ways both thoughtful and considerate. This is an important contribution to the scholarship on the subject that provides a model for a better politics."—Sanford Schram, Visiting Professor of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College