Speak Truth to Power?
sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility
against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom
of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably
to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
States Constitution, First
words reflect sentiments so essential to a condition of liberty
that they are at the forefront of the history of American political
thought. Jefferson’s quotation as well as the first of the listings
in the so-called Bill of Rights, represent a theme carried over
from the Revolutionary War period: minds should be free to
explore and express whatever is of concern to them. If one
reads the First Amendment closely, it becomes evident that this
provision was intended to prohibit government intrusions upon
the then-known means and settings for free thought.
Many of the
central figures who helped bring British rule to an end would,
upon ascending to power under the newly-created Constitution,
deny these fundamental principles to Americans. This should surprise
no one familiar with the nature not only of power, but of those
who fancy themselves fit to exercise it. Thus, George Washington
– as President – personally led federal troops into western Pennsylvania
to confront leaders of the Whiskey Rebellion. This rebellion was
in opposition to a federal tax on whiskey, promoted by Alexander
Hamilton as a means of paying off a national debt, much of which
arose from the confederacy’s issuance of all-but-worthless “Continentals.”
Hamilton and his friends had bought up much of this debt in expectation
of the constitutional provision that would authorize the new government
to pay it off at face value. (And I’ll bet you thought financial
corruption in American politics didn’t arise until the 20th
century!) Thus were Americans introduced to the first of an endless
string of contradictions: a rebellion against a British tax on
tea was an act of patriotism, while a rebellion
against a federal tax on whiskey was an act of insurrection.
Nor did the
sentiments for freedom of expression last once the American system
of government was in place. The Sedition Act of 1798 made it a
criminal offense to “print, utter or publish, . . . any false,
scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the
United States, or either House of Congress, or the President,
with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute.
. . .” So much for the “spirit of liberty” that
leads modern conservatives to don three-cornered hats!
and defenders of the modern American state apparently have no
quarrel with embracing such contradictory thinking. Neither “conservatives”
who wish to “conserve” and protect the state’s arbitrary
powers of violence in military and police matters; nor “liberals”
who find coercive regulation of the lives of people more to their
liking than “liberating” them from state power, object
to the present arrangement. The leadership of both the Republican
and Democratic parties share a bipartisan commitment to keeping
human beings – whether Americans or foreigners – under the violent
boot of the state. It is the questioning of this dehumanized premise
that has led millions of young people to support the presidential
candidacy of Ron Paul who dares to challenge this prevailing dogma.
of liberty has always depended upon minds free to think, read,
and communicate with others concerning any matters that interest
them. The free movement of thought has long been a countervailing
force to state power, a truth made evident in the consequences
of Gutenberg’s invention. The Reformation, the Enlightenment,
the Renaissance, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, were
all energized by the creative powers inherent in the free exchange
of ideas and information. The established order – desirous of
maintaining the status quo it represents – has long warred against
such influences. Heresy trials of the past have their modern counterparts
in blatant censorship, charges of treason, and state efforts to
curtail the Internet.
It is no
idle coincidence that the corporate owners of the political establishment
are also the owners of the major print and broadcast media, or
that the information content disseminated by such outlets is constrained
by the interests of such owners. Repeated U.S. military attacks
on Al Jazeera news facilities in the Middle East, and current
efforts by the American political establishment to criminally
prosecute Wikileaks’ Julian Assange for revealing government
documents, illustrate how desperate the state is to control truth.
As if to trumpet the extent of their legal ignorance, both Sen.
Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin opined that Assange should be charged
with treason. A federal statute defining “treason”
as certain acts committed by a person “owing allegiance to
the United States,” and the detail that Assange is an Australian,
did not inform the unfocused gurglings of these erstwhile, bipartisan
expression of human thought; every revelation of governmental
behavior, is entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.
Be they printed or uttered words, photographs or films, or any
yet-to-be-invented technology, no political restraints ought to
be allowed – whatever the grounds – on the free flow of information.
City governments that have criminalized photographing or videotaping
the actions of policemen are in violation of the constitution
under which they pretend to operate. Police officers who confiscate
or destroy such evidence are, when criminal activities are involved,
engaged in acts of obstruction of justice and should be so charged.
If you were in possession of evidence involving a criminal act
and destroyed such evidence, is it not clear that you would quickly
be prosecuted for your deed?
of course, will deny the First Amendment basis for the protection
of such expressions. They will offer the weasel argument that
a “free press” is limited only to newspapers or
and, perhaps, just to journalistic news reporting rather
than opinionizing (despite the fact that no such distinction
is to be found in the Amendment). They may also contend that since
radio, television, the Internet, photography, motion pictures,
telephones, recording systems, computers, et al, did not exist
in 1789, the framers could not have intended their inclusion in
the First Amendment. Such an argument cuts both ways, of course:
the 18th century absence of these technologies – along
with airplanes, electricity, nuclear power plants, automobiles,
xerography, et al – should also prohibit Congress from regulating
these varied forms under the “commerce” clause!
will have no tolerance for such distinctions, and they trust that
Boobus with his well-conditioned mind will be too dense to appreciate
them. Having allowed the government – via the usurped authority
of judicial review – to be the interpreter of its own powers and
limitations; we ought not be surprised to discover that it has
given itself a broad definition to the former, and a narrow
construction of the latter. Nor have the statists found any
interest in that pesky Ninth Amendment, which was designed as
a catch-all for all the other liberties supposedly to be protected
under the Constitution.
is often said that people like Ron Paul, Andrew Napolitano, Lew
Rockwell, Julian Assange, Justin Raimondo, and the dozens of others
who write on a variety of websites across the Internet, are “speaking
truth to power.” If this is all they were doing, the established
order would have little to fear. Those who exercise coercive “power”
already know the “truth,” and no changes would
occur from letting them know that you know.
the statists is that such persons are “speaking truth to
the powerless” and, as a consequence, their sanction
for political rule will come to an end. Hitler’s Propaganda Minister,
Joseph Goebbels, got to the essence of the matter when he declared
that “the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.”
When the barbed-wire and fences that enclose the mind are cut,
the herd will be lost, free to seek better lives in greener pastures.
History has shown us the creative and liberating powers to be
found in minds that are free to think, speculate, and communicate
with one another without any forceful restraints as to methods
or content. We are living in the final days of a dying civilization,
a death brought about by an abundance of repression designed by
and for the benefit of those who presume to rule others. Perhaps
we can rediscover from the origins of our now-terminal culture
those conditions in which the minds and bodies of individuals
were free to be create the substance of that civilization. If
so, an even more wondrous, life-enhancing civilization may arise
from the ashes.