The Charlotte News



Free Speech:

Ideals And Traitors

By W. J. Cash

Site ed.note: For an earlier similar article by Cash on Americanism and freedom of speech, see "I Propose A Lodge" - March 4, 1928, a "Moving Row" column for The News. Cash's article brings to mind the speaker ban laws enacted in North Carolina in the early Sixties and used ultimately to prevent invitations to left leaning speakers at the University of North Carolina, until near revolt by students forced reconsideration. Such incidents, with anti-war protests later, led then television commentator Jesse Helms to brand the students at the University "pinkoes", a statement garnering much favor among his right leaning friends. And at the same point in time, 1964, on the other coast, the "Free Speech Movement" wound up in seizure of the campus administration building over similar speaker bans at the University of California at Berkeley--an incident which provided one Edwin Meese, District Attorney of Alameda County at the time, his early claim to fame by his thorough and swift prosecutions of the protesters. As Cash well said it, such suppression by fools tends to make martyrs of the fools they sometimes seek to suppress.


A BOOK which is badly needed in these United States is a sort of simple primer of Americanism, designed for people who are barely able to read, and also for people who, being well able to read, apparently exercise the faculty on Hearst newspapers. I say it is badly needed on the evidence afforded in recent days by the violent expression of Earl Browder's speeches at Tampa and Terre Haute, and the equally violent suppression of a communist candidate for governor at Oak Park, Ill., a bailiwick of Chicago which lays some claim to culture and which can boast of being the birth place of the celebrated Mr. Ernest Hemingway. On the evidence afforded by these and also by the police forces in the city administrations of these towns, who stood by blind and deaf while the violence was in progress and never raised a hand to stop it. Yes, and also on the evidence afforded by the great mass of the citizens of these towns, who have yet to rise up in anger against the connivance of police and city administrations in such violence.

There are various explanations invoked for the conduct of such people as participate in these affairs, or who lend them their open or tacit approval. One of the most common is that they are really saddists at heart, eager for any scapegoat at which to vent their native delight in brutality, and also the hate bred in them by a constant sense of inferiority. And in the realm of the subconscious there is probably considerable truth here.

So, from the standpoint of behaviorism, is there a kind of truth in the ironic explanation that these people are really themselves communists at heart, anxious to accommodate Mr. Browder and his comrades by making them into martyrs and affording them reams and reams of newspaper space that they could not otherwise command, and so breeding communists right and left? Certainly, that is the way it works out in practice.

The safest and simplest explanation, I think, is that these oppressors are (for conscious purposes) honest enoug--and stupi--and ignorant. They plainly carry in their breasts a vast conviction of rectitude, and undoubtedly see themselves as paladins of patriotism galloping up ineffable slopes to the defense of the faith--undoubtedly believe, when they profess to be defending Americanism, that that is exactly what they are about. The trouble is that they have no notion as to what Americanism actually is, and are too dull to find out for themselves--bombarded, as they are, by lies from every side.

Hence, as I say, I think somebody ought to write them a simple little book. And to that I'll add that somebody else ought to endow a foundation to see that the little book gets into their hands.

About the content of the book there would be no difficulty, of course. As I need not tell people of any sense, Americanism is, in its essence, an ideal, which began by repudiating "every form of tyranny over the mind of man," and which sets up the people as the sole source of authority, expressly asserts the right of the people to make and destroy governments as they think best, and professes faith in the capacity of the people, for all their blunders, to work steadily toward the creation of an order in which the opportunity for self-development, and such measure of happiness as is possible to imperfect man under a not-always-kindly nature, will be ever wider and wider for the generality.

And, another thing which I need not tell people of any sense, the foundation stone of that ideal is, of course, the right to free speech. And when we say the right to free speech, we mean just that. We mean the right to say what seems damnable to every last man in the land save only the speaker himself. Nay, we mean even the right to say what the speaker himself may think in his private mind to be damnable. We mean the right of William Randolph Hearst to poison the stream of national thought with stories that, according to his own confession, he knows to be vicious fabrications; the right of a Huey Long or a Gerald L. K. Smith to loose their cynical falsehoods; the right of an Irish congressman, himself an emigrant to the land, to shout "communist!" and "Traitor to the American Tradition!" at the reigning President of the United States; and we mean precisely the right of Earl Browder to peddle his moonshine in broad and open day. Precisely the right of Browder to speak without molestation, and the right of anybody who cares to hear him without molestation.

So much is true both logically and historically. For once you deny the freedom of speech to Communist Browder, there is no longer a freedom of speech. Tomorrow, given the circumstances, the way will be wide open to deny the right to a Democrat or Republican or a free taxer or a Catholic or Baptist, or what you please. And whoever knows his American history knows that the men who fought for and established this right as a part of the American heritage explicitly meant that there should be no limitation whatever on it.

Dangerous? Of course. Every liberty is dangerous. But it is part of the American ideal that we have chosen this danger rather than the danger I have just been reciting, as the lesser of the two. It is part of the American ideal that we choose to rest faith in the good sense of the people in the long run.

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