1. Josh’s post details an extreme case that I cannot shy away from in this discussion, from a right-wing perspective.
2. Before the Civil War, some Abolitionists burned the Constitution. It was a “pact with the devil,” they said, as it didn’t overtly condemn slavery. And the Supreme Court did nothing to help their opinion when in Dred Scott it asserted that the Declaration of Independence was only for white people, and that slavery, which is not mentioned once in the Constitution, is actually a protected right (if you want textual proof of these claims, just read Dred Scott).
If you’re not familiar with Lincoln, and exactly why the Constitution in his thought did help free the slaves, and so much more, please see this essay on Gettysburg and this other one on the Second Inaugural.
3. So here we are today, where most Americans, like the Abolitionists were, are well-meaning, but also a little gullible, as they are willing to turn on their institutions because such institutions are merely associated with injustice. Libel and slander go a long way in the free world.
But perhaps worse than what we “think” – however misguided that may be – is how we act. Dissent is a very tricky business, and when we proclaim it our “right” no matter what, we proclaim three things:
- That we can malign our institutions however we want, as long as they seem to disagree with us.
- That we can openly break the law as long as we do not hurt another physical, mortal being (the latter part of 2 was developed recently. Before that, the right of the people trumped all, and justice could be meted out in more active ways.)
- That we can say whatever we want about whomever we want.
It is that 3rd principle I have saved for last, the one concerning speech, because it shows most clearly what the eagerness to dissent in action will do. Nobody would care for the Constitution if it didn’t help us provide for each other, or treat each other well. The Constitution makes us free so we can be humane. Part of being humane is using speech well. The issue of dissent used badly, then, is less “ungratefulness” and more “being bestial and childish.”
To say “I’m right, therefore I’m not going to listen to you or obey you” has less to do with law and order and more to do with telling everyone that they might as well be dead. The fraternity sought by all sides of the political spectrum is impossible under the wrong concept of dissent, the one to which most subscribe today.
For law and order nowadays come from popular rule simply. What little the Constitution originally provided for State legislatures to elect by themselves, some degrees removed from the popular vote, is all gone now. In this democracy, dissent that is not done by legal means, or that uses speech badly on purpose, is a supremely arrogant statement, and a dangerous thing for all of us to think ourselves capable of doing.
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