What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Hawkish on sedition

One of the more remarkable ironies of what is infelicitously called the War on Terror is the rigid mental partition we have set up between its foreign policy aspect and its domestic security aspect. The basic way this works is that the domestic aspect is ignored in its specifics, while the foreign policy aspect is exaggerated in generalities. A politician who talks tough on foreign policy, but almost exclusively in the comfortable language of political abstraction, is labeled a Hawk; while a politician (at this point only imaginary) who talks tough about the specific details of the domestic threat, will probably be labeled a bigot.

Now this is all very strange to me. Consider: The only reason the Jihad is a real threat to us is because its agents and propagandists are in our midst. In other words, the Jihad has not the wherewithal (yet) to deliver us blows from without. It must rely on infiltration into, or recruitment in America. That is a fact.

Here is another fact, perhaps even less palpable than the above: America has a long history of reacting early and vigorously to this peculiarly modern sort of war of subversion. Whittaker Chambers knew a thing or two about this modern form of war:

When, in 1936, General Emilio Mola announced that he would capture Madrid because he had four columns outside the city and a fifth column of sympathizers within, the world pounced on the phrase with the eagerness of a man who has been groping for an important word. The world might better have been stunned as by a tocsin of calamity. For what Mola had done was to indicate the dimension of treason in our time.

Other ages have had their individual traitors — men who from faint-heartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th century, for the first time, man banded together by millions, in movements like Fascism and Communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.

Arresting stuff. We might add that the seeds of this ghastly vocation were already sprouting in the late 18th century when the French Revolutionaries, in Burke’s cogent phrase, declared that “all government, not being a democracy, is a usurpation,” and made war by subversion on the whole world to vindicate that statement. The fifth column, a linguistic innovation of Spaniards in the 20th century, was really the political innovation of Frenchmen in the 18th. Napoleon’s armies would appear at some Italian hamlet with the announcement: “Men of Italy, the French Army comes to break you chains,” and then proceed to plunder the place. Subversive war was declared upon the whole of Europe — every ancien regime without exception.

And the subversion came also to America. Whereupon Americans cracked down on it with zest, in an episode taught by our Liberals as a black mark on our national honor. Whoever has imbibed this Liberal fairy tale of the awful Alien and Sedition Acts ought to at least take a moment to read the legislation. In fact it is less restrictive than Senator McCain’s campaign finance law; and far, far less restrictive than the standard campus and workplace speech codes.

But the Federalists and Pres. Adams overreacted, right? Horseapples. A moment’s reflection on the misery, the deprivation, the treachery and cruelty, the torture and humiliation and depravity, the quarter-century-long bloodletting and chaos: all this, finally culminating in the proto-totalitarian despotism of Bonaparte, was visited upon Europe by the convulsion of the Revolution — a moment’s reflection upon it ought to stifle the charge of overreaction. The very worst that can be conjured up by Free Speech absolutists from the Alien and Sedition Acts episode, is that some muckraker journalists served unjust prison sentences. That’s it. They were not guillotined. Their churches were not desecrated. They were not subjected to a reign of terror.

Or again, when Communism exploded upon the European scene, America moved quickly to update our sedition laws to counter it. Further updates came in response to Fascism, and, after the Second World War, in response to the renewed threat of Communism. Earlier we cracked down on Copperheads (in the North) and Unionists (in the South); on Mormon polygamists whose commitment to their marital innovation, it was believed, inclined them toward sedition; on anarchists and other turn-of-the-century radicals; etc., etc.

My point is this. An aspect of the American political tradition, since the very beginning of the Republic, has been a willingness to act aggressively against subversive movements. Our Liberals think is aspect a disgrace; in my view a more sober analysis will disclose that it has been a singular achievement, even a triumph. Since the dawn of the Republic, the world has been convulsed by eruptions of utopian revolutionary fervor, which invariably issue in merciless slaughter and iron autocracies; and none of this tumult has ever made much headway here — in part because Americans have been willing to use the instrument of law to strangle it in infancy.

Nothing, in my view, is more pressing today than that we show the courage to embrace this aspect of our political tradition, defy the Liberals when they howl, and employ it against an enemy that has already done more damage to us than all of those other wars of subversion combined. Proposing that would earn politicians the true label of Hawk.

Comments (13)

"...Americans have been willing to use the instrument of law to strangle it in infancy."

It's interesting how right-wing jeremiads so often (as with Grover Norquist's lust to shrink the size of government until it's small enough to drown in the bathtub) of infanticide.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Whatever, Rodak. Do you care to address the substance of the post, or just the stylistic choices I made?

Because of course repressing Communism before it established a football is perfectly analogous to murdering a human child.

I don't know if it would be better, both rhetorically and legally, to argue that the teaching of jihad is incitement to the murder of civilians. The replacement of the American Constitution with sharia would, of course, be the subversion of our system in its essence. But where the rubber meets the road, for most people, is when it comes to having themselves or those they love blown up on buses. Insofar as it can be argued (and it can be) that the advocacy of jihad is advocacy of murder, this makes a very plausible case that it should be stopped. Too, that makes it clear that you don't have to be reasonably _able_ to bring down the government in order for your calling for killing people to be illegal. So small groups that get together and talk about how they can carry out the jihad, even if there is no plausibility that they will be able to establish sharia, would still be, in effect, trying to figure out how to engage in acts of domestic terrorism against Americans.

By the way, what is the present legal state of the game re. sedition laws? My recollection is that the original alien and sedition acts were declared unconstitutional. But we still have something else in place? If so, what is it?

The Alien and Sedition Acts both had sunset clauses, as I recall. They expired.

Current sedition law is 18 U.S.C. § 2385 -- http://vlex.com/vid/19190035.

Pretty strongly-worded. I would only want to add enabling legislation taking specific cognizance of the Jihadist aspect of the current threat.

For some reason I can't get that vlex link to work. Got another route to it?

From the original Alien and Sedition Act:
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That if any person shall write, print, utter, or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute...

That is the most Orwellian phrase I have read in some time. It makes it functionally impossible to oppose any law or executive order using "scandalous" language. How dare those citizens question their government officials? The nerve of those people.

Oh boo hoo. Obviously in the context of the Jihad, we're not interested in the partisan aspects of the Alien and Sedition Acts. The Bush Administration is perfectly worthless on the question of Islam. My standing proposal is an amendment to the current sedition law, taking specific cognizance of the contemporary threat from Islam.

Please also note that the Sedition Act allowed for a defense of truth, so the key word of "uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings" is FALSE.

It seems to me that the present sedition act is more tightly worded than the old Alien and Sedition Act, which should in itself allay concerns about outlawing criticism of the government per se. Indeed, one question would be whether it could be argued that acts of jihad that killed infidels but could not plausibly be expected to "overthrow or destroy" the government of the United States would not be covered.

"Do you care to address the substance of the post, or just the stylistic choices I made?"

Actually, Paul, my observation on your stylistic choice *was* a comment on the substance of your message.
To stick with your own chosen trope, I was issuing a warning against throwing the baby out with the bath water.

"...but could not plausibly be expected to "overthrow or destroy" the government of the United States..."

One strains to imagine a scenario in which the government of the United States could be "overthrown," other than by total defeat in war with a foreign enemy, or by a military coup d'etat from within. Al-Qaeda will never be in any position to even dream of accomplishing the former. It could accomplish the latter, however, if we panic under the threat of terrorist acts and pull a Musharraf. (cf., my comment of 7:55 p.m.)

Obviously in the context of the Jihad, we're not interested in the partisan aspects of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Well, I wrote that as a response to your comment in the post about Liberal fairy tales. The historical record of nakedly partisan misuse of the original laws and their progeny should be a reason for caution in advancing this measure.

Please also note that the Sedition Act allowed for a defense of truth, so the key word of "uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings" is FALSE.
In today's environment, that is an unlikely interpretation. Even the Federalists were unable to abide by that standard and they were the ones who created the legislation. Today, national security is a buzzword that circumvents any law, treaty or standard of truth.


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