Purging the Confederacy...and Liberty, Too

by Myles Kantor

Proving once again that the greatest threats to heritage are often indigenous, Seminole County in Georgia has banned students from wearing t-shirts with the Confederate Battle Flag.

To its credit, the ACLU has sued the school district for violating students' freedom of speech, albeit on federal grounds instead of the Georgia Bill of Rights.

Superintendent Larry Bryant justifies the prohibition since "Wearing inflammatory symbols does not promote…respect and tolerance." A better distillation of ahistorical political correctness would be hard to find.

Frederick Douglass observed that "Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one's thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist." He knew whereof he spoke, having encountered physical hostility for his abolitionist advocacy. (See James H. Cook's "Fighting with Breath, Not Blows: Frederick Douglass and Antislavery Violence," in Antislavery Violence: Sectional, Racial, and Cultural Conflict in Antebellum America.)

In a liberal society with a marketplace of ideas – conceptual capitalism, so to speak – individuals exchange views vigorously and sometimes venomously, but they remain free to engage in citizenship without preclusion of particular opinions. There is no ideological central planning where the State dictates what visions of society will be permissible for public debate.

When the State practices ideological interventionism, i.e., the abridgment or prohibition of certain discourse, it stigmatizes a brand of speech or seeks to liquidate it outright. This forecloses pluralism with philosophic homogenization, each predicated upon coercive ugliness.

Article 70 of the Soviet Criminal Code operated on this paradigm, criminalizing "agitation or propaganda carried on for the purpose of subverting or weakening the Soviet regime." Article 62 of Cuba's current constitution similarly prohibits the exercise of liberties "contra la existencia y fines del Estado socialista" ("against the existence and ends of the socialist State"). Being ideological monopolists, totalitarians don't like alternative ideas.

Bryant's conversion of Confederate apparel into a transgressive act constricts freedom of expression, making it inimical to the very tolerance he affects to value. Moreover, this commissar has besmirched and banished the heritage of copious students in his capacity as a public official, and as I have noted elsewhere, that is inflammatory.

Since in the eyes of many the Confederacy was an American Satan presaging the Third Reich, its banishment from spheres such as public schools is hardly repugnant. In their parochial fury, the anti-Confederates are blind to the censorial implications of such policy.

Senator Robert Byrd said in 1996, "We live in an era in which tolerance has progressed beyond a mere call for acceptance and crossed over to become a demand for the rest of us to give up beliefs that we revere and hold most dear in order to prove our collective purity." That era endures; Seminole County's purge of the Confederacy exemplifies it; and while this Stalinist obscenity doesn't belong anywhere, it's especially obscene in our purportedly sweet land of liberty.

My thanks to Rob Moody for apprising me of the Seminole County story.

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