A Post-Imus 'Republic of Virtue'; Beware of Purported Good Intentions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Post-Imus 'Republic of Virtue'; Beware of Purported Good Intentions


Byline: Tony Blankley, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Imus affair was not about Don Imus; it was and more importantly, is about the motives of those who brought him down. And we should be familiar with those motives, because they recur throughout history. They were well articulated in a once-famous speech:

"Since virtue (good citizenship) and equality are the soul of the republic .. it follows that the first rule of your political conduct must be to relate all of your measures to the maintenance of equality and to the development of virtue..

"What is our goal? The enforcement of the constitution for the benefit of the people. Who will our enemies be? The vicious and the rich. What means will they employ? Slander and hypocrisy .. The people must therefore be enlightened. But what are the obstacles to the enlightenment of the people? Mercenary writers who daily mislead them with impudent falsehoods. What conclusions may be drawn from this? These writers must be proscribed as the most dangerous enemies of the people. Right-minded literature must be scattered about in profusion.

"If the driving force of popular government in peacetime is virtue, that of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror: Virtue, without terror is destructive; terror without which virtue is impotent. Terror is only justice that is prompt, severe, and inflexible; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie."

These are excerpts from the speech "Republic of Virtue" by Maximilien Robespierre in 1794 that justified and accelerated the Reign of Terror into its culmination, "La Grande Terreur" (The Great Terror) the bloodbath from which the French Revolution never fully recovered.

Do I exaggerate? Of course. Last week the mob didn't cut off Imus' head, merely his microphone. But it is by studying repression of ideas in its extreme, unambiguous form that we may understand clearly its earlier, partly obscured symptoms and motives.

For me, the repressive mentality was brought home last week while participating in a National Public Radio interview on the Imus affair. A "respected" liberal journalist and I were exchanging views when she said (to closely paraphrase): As long as we got Imus off the air, I don't much care how we did it.

In other words, the ends justify the means. If Imus' words are destructive, the people shouldn't hear them. Just shut him up anyway you can. Of course, the acceptance of the proposition that "bad" words or ideas should be suppressed is itself, a priori, a rejection of the principle of free speech.

But note, we need to distinguish between constitutional free speech and a culture conducive to free speech. Neither Imus, nor any of us, have a right to be published or broadcast. Constitutionally, we only have a right to stand on a street corner or otherwise self-publish our ideas and words. …

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