The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War

The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War

The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War

The American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War

Excerpt

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

—JAMES MADISON, 1776

L IBERTY is a constant, familiar theme in American history, yet the counterpoint of official repression is part of the reality. All governments, including our own, have limits to their tolerance as they seek to repress or punish foes, real or imagined. Their action serves to satisfy political needs and reinforce their power. Consequently, a regime will seek to punish those who directly challenge its security or symbolically threaten it. The victim may be a person or group directly challenging the stability of the regime, or he may be simply a scapegoat selected to serve a higher purpose or explain a failure of the regime.

Political demands invariably distort any equation of law to justice. In the United States, within the framework of constitutionalism, the government legitimately claims authority to defend itself against direct assaults on its integrity and security. But when power holders use the system repressively to pursue their own political and social goals, they risk—and often do—violence to the constitutional recognition of political diversity and due process.

Political repression reflects the particular attitudes and will of power holders, often supported by popular consent. Liberty is never absolute. Government may legitimately restrict individual liberty in pursuit of social stability and for the protection of some interests essential to humane society. Law and public policy are designed to restrain the potentially disruptive tendencies of personal passions and pursuits. Yet law presupposes a system of equal protection and equal restraint, with a known, readily observed content of policy. Government certainly may punish citizens who offer aid and comfort to its enemies during wartime; it may require passports for travel abroad; it may deport aliens who violate their lawful obligations; it may extract a measure of loyalty (other than partisan) from its employees; and it may even punish the expressions of opinions designed to raise a substantive evil the government may prohibit. But when such policies are . . .

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