By: Mark Glennon*
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Why should those words occupy the most prominent position in the Jefferson Memorial, circling its interior dome?
Why not some of his words from the Declaration of Independence? Or from the Bill of Rights that he principally authored?
I’ve wondered that since working as an intern in Washington, D.C. some forty years ago. Late on Washington’s humid, summer nights, at the time, you could drive up, park easily and sit safely and mostly alone in the memorial, which I often did.
Today, the answer is more clear and more frightening than ever before: Nothing in an open society means anything, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, if it submits to the tyranny to which Jefferson pledged hostility, because no thoughts or actions are truly protected if their very existence is cancelled at the outset by tyranny over the mind.
And the uprising America now faces, at its core, seeks to impose precisely that tyranny.
Perhaps tellingly, the Declaration of Independence says nothing about freedom of expression, which is really a corollary to freedom of thought, since thoughts are of no use if they cannot be shared. The Founders could probably have assumed it would be obvious that those freedoms were part of what they intended for America. By their time, the Age of Reason was well underway. Freedom of speech had been law in Britain since its 1689 Bill of Rights.
But we can make no such assumption today. America risks being overrun by a book-burning mob that no longer hides its goal of cancelling the thoughts and speech of its opponents.
Worse, we are inspiring those mobs around the world. “We export outrage, deplatforming, and social mobbing,” as a recent article in Quillette put it. “The fact that cancel culture has seeped into other countries is evidence that American soft power is alive and well. The way things are going, though, eventually the only culture left will be the one that has ‘cancel’ behind it.”
The mob seeks to undo the Age of Reason itself. Indiscriminate destruction of statues is hardly the problem. The true problem is the loss of reason which that indiscriminate destruction displays.
Insults, labeling and ad hominems suffice as their answers for most everything. Hypocrisy is for the other side to worry about, as the mob sees things, freeing it to contradict itself even from sentence to sentence. Race relations are being set back by fifty years thanks to its identity politics. They don’t really care about that result.
Presentism is the core of the mob’s existence – no person or issue is judged rationally based on historical context. No historical figure is safe. Mankind’s struggle over thousands of years to achieve something approaching civilization is of no interest to the mob.
Nobody today is safe. Not high schoolers facing grade penalties for political beliefs that differ from the orthodoxy they are taught. Not the nurse recently fired as dean of a nursing school for saying that all lives matter. Not the Boeing executive forced out of his job for writing 33 years earlier that women should not be in combat.
Most chilling is that two institutions on which we should rely to defy the mob have, for the most part, become part of the mob – higher education and the national media.
Universities produce little more than daily comedy fodder for Campus Reform and College Fix. Their science is so politicized that a “replication crisis” in the studies they produce now plagues even the most respected scientific journals. The University of Chicago stands nearly alone with a genuine commitment to the open and vigorous contest of ideas.
Most of the more prominent institutions in national media have tossed even a pretense of being anything but “resistance journalism,” which is now taught openly in leading journalism schools. They lie about the news and hide competing viewpoints. It’s that simple — they lie.
About a third of the population in the colonies supported the American Revolution at the time. Another third opposed it and the remainder was indifferent.
Those numbers seem roughly comparable today, with perhaps a third of America openly supporting the tyranny over the mind that Jefferson abhorred. They are organized, loud and often violent, or at least tolerant of violence on their behalf. That means they could win.
They will be defeated only if, like the signers of the Declaration of Independence, we “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Stay silent no longer. Kneel to nobody. Rely “on the protection of divine Providence,” as the signers of the Declaration did, but remembering how John F. Kennedy concluded his inaugural address: “God’s work must truly be our own.”
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.