American Samizdat

Wednesday, October 17, 2007. *
I found the preface to this book by Naomi Wolf (linked above) at You can find a video of a talk by Ms. Wolf at the site, as well as the text of the preface to her book.

Here's an excerpt:

Americans expect to have freedom around us just as we expect to have air to breathe, so we have only limited understanding of the furnaces of repression that the Founders knew intimately. Few of us spend much time thinking about how "the system" they put in place protects our liberties. We spend even less time, considering how dictators in the past have broken down democracies or quelled pro-democracy uprisings. We take our American liberty for granted the way we take our natural resources for granted, seeing both, rather casually, as being magically self-replenishing. We have not noticed how vulnerable either resource is until very late in the game, when systems start to falter. We have been slow to learn that liberty, like nature, demands a relationship with us in order for it to continue to sustain us.

Most of us have only a faint understanding of how societies open up or close down, become supportive of freedom or ruled by fear, because this is not the kind of history that we feel, or that our educational system believes, is important for us to know. Another reason for our vagueness about how liberty lives or dies is that we have tended lately to subcontract out the tasks of the patriot: to let the professionals -- lawyers, scholars, activists, politicians -- worry about understanding the Constitution and protecting our rights. We think that "they" should manage our rights, the way we hire a professional to do our taxes; "they" should run the government, create policy, worry about whether democracy is up and running. We're busy.

But the Founders did not mean for powerful men and women far away from the citizens -- for people with their own agendas, or for a class of professionals -- to perform the patriots' tasks, or to protect freedom. They meant for us to do it: you, me, the American who delivers your mail, the one who teaches your kids.

I am one of the citizens who needed to relearn these lessons. Though I studied civics, our system of government was taught to me, as it was to you, as a fairly boring explication of a three-part civil bureaucracy, not as the mechanism of a thrilling, radical, and totally unprecedented experiment in human self-determination. My teachers explained that our three-part system was set up with "checks and balances," so that no one branch of government could seize too much power. Not so exciting: this sounded like "checks and balances" in a bureaucratic turf war. Our teachers failed to explain to us that the power that the Founders restrained in each branch of government is not abstract: it is the power to strip you and me of personal liberty.

So I needed to go back and read, more deeply than I had the first time around, histories of how patriots gave us our America out of the crucible of tyrants, as well as histories of how dictators came to power in the last century. I had to reread the stories of the making and the unmaking of freedom. The more I read these histories, the more disturbed I became.

I give you the lessons we can learn from them in this pamphlet form because of the crisis we face.
posted by Bruce at 1:12 PM
Post a Comment

Site Meter

Creative Commons License