Eternal Vigilance and The Duty to Dissent
More than a few conservative commentators have called for dissenting voices to be silenced in the wake of September 11.
Although commentators pretend to be interested in finding out the reasons for the attacks, they are only interested in the kind of answers they want to hear, i.e., that Muslims and Arabs are evil and must be killed, and that the United States government has never, and can never ever, do any wrong.
In the face of explicit calls for dissenters to be silenced, it is manifestly clear that the dissenters must not be silenced. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. If a mere rational disagreement can no longer be tolerated by the ruling classes, then American freedom is truly dead and buried.
In The Politics of War, Walter Karp describes the oppression which comes with war. Karp, however, describes events of oppression which are unknown to many Americans, specifically, the oppression engineered by Woodrow Wilson, the allegedly "great leader," during World War One, you know, the "Great" War.
As Karp writes, "Nothing was to be said or read in America that Wilson himself might find disagreeable...Americans rotted in prison for advocating heavier taxation rather than the issuance of war bonds, for stating that conscription was unconstitutional, for saying that sinking armed merchantmen had not been illegal, for criticizing the Red Cross and the YMCA." (pp 325; 326)
Now there's a role model for today's neo-conservatives: the arch-fiend, er, progressive, Woodrow Wilson. How dare anyone have a different opinion. And you dare to complain about how the Red Cross board wishes to spend the money donated to the victims of September 11. Best watch yourself, you may be heading for the slammer if the neo-cons get their way.
Karp adds that a woman who wrote to the newspaper that "I am for the people and the government is for the profiteers" received a 10-year prison sentence. (p 326) Federal agents went so far as to seize a motion picture, The Spirit of ‘76, because the "portrayal of the American Revolution had cast British redcoats in an unfavorable light." (p 327). Like the woman who wrote to the newspaper, the film producer received 10 years in prison. Mel Gibson may face life in prison for The Patriot, if the Thought Police have their way.
Without a doubt, the pandering neo-con sycophants for the total state share the same goals of Wilson: total and permanent victory in the war of ideas. Karp again: "Wilson and the war party were determined to corrupt the entire body of the American people, to root out the old habits of freedom and to teach it new habits of obedience." (p 329)
Wilson's party line is the same line we hear today: "Dissent is disloyalty, disloyalty a crime; loyalty is servility, and servility is true patriotism."
The effects on American political life were devastating, if one cares at all for liberty. "The official repression drove millions of independent-minded Americans deep into private life and political solitude. Isolated, they nursed in private their bitterness and contempt." (Karp, p 329) As a matter of human nature, it was the path of least resistance to give in to the state and to turn against former friends. And yet Americans wonder how it is that Hitler and the Nazis came to dominate politics in Germany.
And so, dear conformist neo-cons, I have a message for you: free Americans have no obligation to conform themselves to your opinions. As Karp notes, the logic of Wilson and the neo-cons is "the perennial logic of every tyranny that ever was."
Not on my watch.
Don't tell me they left this out of your history books in grade school, high school and college? America good, everywhere and always? I am sorry — genuinely sorry — to report that such is not the case. Better to know the truth than to believe in myths.
Such horrors, of course, do not need to continue in power for another 83 years. It is high time for Wilson's undeserved reputation to be stripped from him. Similarly, it is high time for Americans to cease living in fear, as they did under Wilson (who, by the way, fired all blacks in federal employment shortly after taking office; you hadn't heard that either? It's as if history is censored, isn't it?).
Let me put it this way: Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and George Washington would not have tolerated this nonsense.
Americans should not tolerate calls to silence. The days of political isolation need not outlive the Internet. If you are against the war, and against the imprudent and unconstitutional expansion of government power at home, speak out. Don't be afraid to tell your neighbors, your family, or your friends. Write to you jelly-spined representatives and let them know as well.
But most importantly — most importantly — communicate your thoughts not only with the courage of your convictions, but with tact, diplomacy, and good manners. There is no substitute for unflagging and polite debate in winning an intellectual battle. And we will defeat the state-loving rats in this battle.
At the dawn of the 21st century, America has yet to recover from the horrible changes wrought by Woodrow Wilson. As Karp argues, "The triumph of Wilson and the war party struck the American Republic a blow from which it has never recovered. If the mainspring of a republican commonwealth — its "active principle" in Jefferson's words — is the perpetual struggle against oligarchy and privilege, against private monopoly and arbitrary power, then that mainspring was snapped and deliberately snapped by the victors in the civil war over war." (p 324)
It gets worse. Consider the details of the death of republican liberty: those who were smothered by Wilson turned their rage not on the professional politicians, but upon scapegoats. The 1920s saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and of populist movements. The long-term effects of Wilson's repression remain with us today:
What the war generation ceased to care about, its children were to forget almost entirely. Who was left to remind them? Over the long years since 1917 the "despotism of professional politicians" has suffered its own ups and downs [Karp wrote in 1979], but it has never been menaced — as it was menaced for so long — by free men struggling to protect their own freedom and regain a voice in their own affairs. From the ruins of the war, the republican cause has never revived to rally free men. It has ceased to make a difference in our politics...who can measure the cost of that loss, both to ourselves and to humanity, in whose name both wars had been fought. (Karp, pp 343-44)
That is a grim, but true, account of the fortunes of liberty in America. Because it is a true description of the past, however, it imposes an even greater duty on the present generation to fight the intellectual struggles of the day without flagging. The cause of liberty and property must once again rally free men, before there are no more free men. The cause of liberty and property must menace the despotism of professional politicians, who see our lives, liberty and property merely as tools at their disposal, to advance their own careers and swell the bank accounts of their friends.
I have said before that what makes LewRockwell.com distinctive is exactly that feature which is despised by its enemies, namely, the fact that it stands unrelentingly for liberty and property, without compromise. This is one web site that is emphatically not too cowardly to fight the real enemies.
To repeat, as Thanksgiving is near: LewRockwell.com, real mashed potatoes; other conservative websites, just add water for a watered-down philosophical defense of liberty that is neither philosophical nor a defense.
With a war on, the differences are clear. On the one hand, commentators at war. On the other hand, liberty and property. Such writers as John Derbyshire, who says "Empire, please," and Jonah Goldberg, who wants to see American colonies around the world, are squarely within the inheritance of Woodrow Wilson. They can have Wilson.
At this stage in American history, it is utterly ridiculous to ask those who value life, liberty and property to voluntarily silence themselves. If the voices of liberty are silenced today, it may be a very long time before they are raised again. And so they will not be silenced. Political correctness calls on men to voluntarily silence themselves, and most Americans understand p.c. to be morally bankrupt. But why is it morally bankrupt? It is bankrupt precisely because in silencing your mouth, it achieves victory over your views by default.
Ask yourself this: if those who disagree with you are so sensitive, so concerned not to offend anyone, why don't they shut themselves up first, as a show of good faith? Not going to happen. Political correctness is a one-way street which seeks only to silence its opponents in the march toward progressivism and collectivism.
If no one dares to speak out against racial quotas, against government tyranny, or against any given counter-productive, immoral and idiotic foreign or domestic policy of the government, then the forces of evil and idiocy will win by default.
That cannot be allowed to happen.
Let those who value life, liberty and property fight the good fight. If we lose, we lose. But defeat in such a fight will not come at the expense of honor. Those who value life, liberty and property have an affirmative duty to dissent, and to to so charmingly, intelligently, and unrelentingly. Need a role model to aid in your perseverence? Forget the currently trendy dictator John Adams (it was the Sedition Act of Adams' Federalist Party which Woodrow Wilson resurrected to punish dissenters). Try Patrick Henry.
November 14, 2001
Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman