Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s

Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s

Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s

Freedom at Risk: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s


The Reagan Administration's belief that "individual liberties are secondary to the requirements of national security" has led to a massive assault on civil liberties that is unparalleled in American history in its scope and intensity. This indictment of the Reagan Administration examines how exaggerated fears of Soviet capabilities, hostility to the concept of an open society, as well as a search for "total security" and a revolution in constitutional law have not only justified but have institutionalized an attack on the Bill of Rights in ways that will be difficult if not impossible to eradicate. While citing historical precedent for counter-subversive crusades, the contributors to Freedom at Risk discuss an alarming number of incidents and ways in which the Reagan Administration has made radical departures with the past in its zealous enforcement of secrecy, censorship, and repression, especially with regards to Central American policies. Author note: Richard O. Curry is Professor of American History at the University of Connecticut.


[Richard O. Curry]

Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions of danger, real or pretended, from abroad.

-- James Madison

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning, but without understanding.

-- Justice Louis Brandeis

Most Americans like to think of the United States as an enlightened and progressive society. It is difficult to minimize the influence of the American Revolution, Enlightenment ideas, the protections afforded by the Bill of Rights, the advance of political democracy, attacks upon monopoly and special privilege, the destruction of slavery, and the implications of some social reform movements. Indeed, there is much to admire about American politics, life, and culture.

Yet, there is a darker side to American history as every informed person knows. We are not referring here to the truism that social progress is inevitably accompanied by conflict -- bitterly contested encounters with conservative or traditionalist forces opposed to innovation and change. We are speaking, rather, of a reactionary and authoritarian tradition that is as deeply ingrained in American society and politics as is the spirit of light and progress.

This is not to say that American history is little more than a perpetual struggle between forces of light and darkness. Life is far too complex to be explained by simplistic exaggerations. Yet, this is precisely what some of our leaders, past and present, would have us believe. President Reagan for example, has portrayed the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" -- a godless, atheistic octopus extending its tentacles everywhere in remorseless efforts to destroy the "free world." Moreover, Mr. Reagan not only has maintained that the nuclear freeze movement in the United States has been infiltrated by KGB agents, but argued (before the onset of "Irangate") that opponents of his Central American policies, if not outright subversives, were "soft on communism." The administration has also denied visas to distinguished foreign visitors under the ideo-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.