Sunday, January 15, 2017

As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter

You find interesting information in the most out-of-the-way places. Gregg Smith of the Great Falls Tribune in north central Montana has written a column, Cultural shaming of differing views an authoritarian mindset. He is addressing the campaign on the left to dox, threaten and shame their opponents who won the election, manifested currently by death threats to the various performers at the Inauguration ceremony, so far having frightened a blind opera singer and a young teenage girl into rescinding their commitments. Why are we not pursuing and prosecuting these violent criminals making death threats? Government should be supporting the rule of law regardless of which partisans might be breaking it.

While I would believe that we all ought to agree that this is deeply repugnant behavior, it is clearly being sanctioned by the losing faction but to what end remains unclear. Is it a strategy or is it simply an emotional manifestation? We do not yet know.

Smith's column is about this partisan intolerance on the left and his argument is that it originates in a totalitarian mindset. Worth reading. Regardless of the possible validity of the argument, the information that I found interesting was his citation of Justice Robert H. Jackson, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, 1941-1954. Jackson was United States Solicitor General (1938–1940), United States Attorney General (1940–1941) before he became Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. He was famous for his commitment to due process as a means of protecting citizens from government. Most striking to me, he was the last Supreme Court justice appointed who did not graduate from law school.

When skimming some professional journals recently, I came across an article about Justice Robert Jackson, a former Associate Justice on the US Supreme Court. The article praised his writing, so I read some of his opinions.

In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, he wrote the opinion holding a state cannot force a student to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in the interest of “national unity.” Justice Jackson wrote:
"As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be…Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

It seems trite but necessary to say the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
The gulf between that classical liberal stance of a mid-last century Democrat (Jackson) and those of today who threaten, bully, seek to close off dialogue on campuses and suppress any speech which they find incompatible with their own beliefs is pretty broad.

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