Protecting the Best Men: An Interpretive History of the Law of Libel

Norman L. Rosenberg.

Published September 1990. Order online through The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN: 978-0-8078-4290-4.

From the trial of John Peter Zenger in the eighteenth century to the recent libel cases of William Westmoreland and Ariel Sharon, political defamation cases have attracted considerable attention. As Norman Rosenberg shows, cases like these raise fundamental questions about how much criticism of public leaders a supposedly open, liberal society will permit.

Drawing upon a wide variety of historical sources, Protecting the Best Men argues that there exists no natural, evolutionary history of free speech. It also challenges interpretations that rest upon discovering an “original understanding” about the First Amendment. Instead, this interpretive history of the law of libel highlights the complexity and historically rooted nature of legal concepts and legal consciousness in the United States.


“Rosenberg has written a fine book that demonstrates that libel law, like other supposedly timeless and apparently fundamental legal doctrines, depends on historical forces and follows no clear line of development.
– Law & Society Review

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