1/10/2010

"The American Way of Life"

"We hear on every side that the American Way of Life is in danger. I think it is. I also think that many of those who talk the loudest about the dangers to the American Way of Life have no idea what it is and consequently no idea what the dangers are that it is in.

You would suppose, to listen to these people, that the American Way of Life consisted in unanimous tribal self-adoration. Down with criticism; down with protests; down with unpopular opinions; down with independent thought. Yet the history and tradition of our country make it perfectly plain that the essence of the American Way of Life is its hospitality to criticism, protest, unpopular opinions and independent thought. A few dates like 1620, 1776 and 1848 are enough to remind us of the motives and attitudes of our ancestors. The great American virtue was courage...

...The great American word is freedom, and in particular freedom of thought, speech and assembly. Asserting the dignity of man, and of every man, America has proclaimed and protected the freedom to differ. Each man is supposed to think for himself. The sum of the thoughts of all is the wisdom of the community. Difference, disagreement, discussion decided by democratic processes are required to bring out the best in the citizens. America has grown strong on criticism. It would be quite as consistent with the American Way of Life to offer prizes for the most penetrating criticism of our country as it would be to offer prizes to those who have done the best job of advertising it.

The heart of Americanism is independent thought. The cloak-and-stiletto work that is now going on will not merely mean that many persons will suffer for acts that they did not commit, or for acts that were legal when committed, or for no acts at all. Far worse is the end result, which will be that critics, even of the mildest sort, will be frightened into silence. Stupidity and injustice will go unchallenged because no one will dare to speak against them..."

Robert M. Hutchins
Chancellor of Chicago University (1950)

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5 comments:

Roadkill said...

Robert M Hutchins; intertesting guy. Graduated Yale Law School in 1925 and within 2 years was its Dean. By 1929 he was president of the University of Chicago. Spent his entire life in academia. He watched the world from the Ivory Tower.

I like his words regarding freedom: he advocated "freedom of thought, speech, and assembly." Waht would he think of Hate Speech rules on modern campuses, or Hate Crime legislation, which is basically hate thought legislation?

Your quote of Dean Hutchins words also had some interesting dates, apparently - based on the context - dealing with what the Dean believed were mileposts in American were hallmarks of American hospitality to criticism, protest. unpopular opinion, and independent thought. I understand 1776, but what are 1620 and 1848 doing in his examples? The former has to do with the Pilgims, the latter with failed revolutions in Europe.
Perhaps RM Hutchins spent a little too much time pontificating from the Ivory Tower, and not enough in the history books at his disposal.

Sunny B. said...

What do you think of the Hate Crime legislation? I think provides lawyers with a more dramatic and crowd provoking avenue for prosecuting criminals for crimes already on the books. Does it make that much of a difference if a white guy kills another white guy because he hates the bastard or a black guy kills a white guy because he hates honkies? Is one based on individual hatred that stems from a personal relationship? Is the other based on hatred of a group based on how a person was brought up? Is this individuality v. ideology? I would think the race crime would be less controllable because of a lifetime of indication focused on hating an identifiable group.

Would you give one killer life in prison and the other 200 years in prison? Who knows, after a hundred years of hate crime prosecution, maybe we will eliminate all hate and prejudice among the races, religions and sexual preferences.

We got to watch out for Big Brother and Big Mother.

Roadkill said...

Hate Crime laws are, to my way of thinking, nothing but thinly vieled efforts to criminalize thought. They intensify the punishment based on the perceived motive of the accused. Yet historically, motive has never been an element of any crime - at least not since the midieval Inquisition, anyway. As such, neither English Common Law nor American "Black Letter" law have paid much attention to motive, other than to help understand and explain the most heineous criminal activities.

Moreover, hate crime laws are also frought with constitutional problems of due process and equal protection. They are used almost exclusively in instances of white on black (or gays, or pick your victim group) crime, virtually never the other way around. And if hateful motive can intensify sentencing, why doesn't a benevolent or harmless motive mitigate sentencing? I mean, if you don't mean to kill someone during an assault, but they happen to die (say from a heart attack during the altercation), should the sentence be reduced to something commensurate with an assault and not a murder? What about mercy killings? Or giving your kids a darn good whupping that results in broken bones - but only for their own good to learn'um a lesson?

I think we should keep the criminal law focused on objective acts that can be proven or disproven, not on speculation about mental attitudes that may or may not have infuenced the actor.

You, me, and George Orwell agree!

Sunny B. said...

What do you think about the political pissing match over Harry Reid's "light skinned" comments? Obviously, a Republican saying such a thing would be BBQ'd on MSNBC. Reid, I assume, is getting the BBQ treatment on FOX NEWS. That's politics...

Politics looks like the focus is on less and less of problem solving and more and more regaining power. It's not really about tweaking the system to smooth out the system. Power and money are the major focus.

Jason said...

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I'd like to exchange links with you to help spread some traffic around between each other. If you'd like to, please leave a comment under our "Compadres" page when you've added our link and we'll return the favor.

Until then, keep up the good work.

Jason
DEBATEitOUT.com