The New Seditious Libel

Bennett L. Gershman, Pace University School of Law

Document Type Article


This article traces the dark roots of seditious libel, its obscure history in this country, and its ominous revival in three recent court opinions. Examining the early history of seditious libel, we attempt to isolate its elements and tacit premises. As we shall demonstrate, authoritarian ism, political insecurity, diabolization of dissenters, and a hysterical fear of opposition have traditionally accompanied waves of prosecution for seditious libel. A belief in official infallibility, originally an explicit premise of seditious libel, remains its implicit ideological mainstay, as we shall see when we trace our nation's dark tradition of repression. With the light of history, we then explore the three recent decisions that resurrect this ignominious judicial tradition.