By Kyle Becker on Mar 16, 2012
Free Speech, Sedition & Treason
The American Left has pushed the United States to the brink of Constitutional crisis. Whether or not the left agrees with conservatives regarding the unconstitutionality of its preferred laws, the perception of millions of Americans is that the country is in political crisis. This is the state of the nation because what have widely been agreed-upon as the “rules of the game,” as implied in liberal democracy, are being replaced in piecemeal fashion by progressives whose primary agenda is to unfetter the government. Whether or not some of the left’s methods of transforming the country should be considered illegal or unconstitutional is the subject of this essay.
The New Left rationalizes its “fundamental transformation” of the nation, with the tacit endorsement of using extra-constitutional or even unconstitutional means, by appealing to a crusader-like mission to remedy the supposed structural injustices of our legal system. Among the left’s devices of transformation are the linguistic redefinition of terms like “freedom” and “equality,” thereby impacting public law, and the opportunistic and pragmatic employment of power.
For the purposes of this article’s argument, the left’s motives will be assumed to be laudable and its ends moral. What will be focused on are the means of the left’s value-transmission and whether or not specific practices should be considered illegal or unconstitutional. The same moral framework intrinsically applies to the right. Although current issues like the proposed crackdown on pornography are not addressed, like reasoning applies to all ideological and political content. But the focus will specifically be upon the New Left, since its agenda is currently driving the dominant political party.
The New Left has undertaken a programme of utilizing culture as a method of ingraining its values into a public highly resistant to the temptations of socialism. The institutions that animate public discourse – the schools, universities, entertainment and news media, the courts – are indisputably dominated by intellectuals whose sympathies tend toward the political left.
Yet is it the power of the left’s ideas that has led to the fait accompli? Or has it been the abuse of the state’s apparatus to effect political change that is the explanation for the left’s success in certain institutions? Successively answering these two questions leads us to the distinction between a reasonable difference of opinion and active, ongoing sedition.
Ideas in and of themselves cannot legally be treasonous, but they can be seditious. As one dictionary points out, “Sedition is any act, writing, speech, etc., directed unlawfully against state authority, the government, or constitution, or calculated to bring it into contempt or to incite others to hostility, ill will or disaffection; it does not amount to treason and therefore is not a capital offense.” Yet the same dictionary points out that sedition is the “incitement of discontent or rebellion against a government.” There is a tension in the American public’s view of what constitutes sedition and treason and this can be explained by our nation’s ideologically charged history.
In American history, the Founders were considered by the British to be seditious or even treasonous. They thus staked “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors” when they rebelled against the Crown. But by the end of the eighteenth century, the U.S. government had already passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which suppressed political speech deemed to be a threat to the interests of the state. The Wilson administration continued this dark legacy of speech repression with its passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts, which anarchists and socialists particularly rued. The subsequent Red Scare and the McCarthy era are commonly pointed to by left-leaning academics as exemplars of free speech suppression of the worst type. But scratch the surface of these cries of foul-play and one finds that the hard left actively suppresses speech whenever it is politically expedient or the conditions are ideologically favorable.
Although the practice should not be commended, the suppression of speech should not be illegal so long as the institution is privately owned or operated. But what crosses the line of amorality into immorality is the practice of an institution that receives federal funds or subsidies suppressing free speech or engaging in speech with political implications (a broader definition than is currently accepted). The reason this practice is morally indefensible is because the fruits of a citizen’s labor should not be confiscated or purposely diminished in value in order to finance speech that may run against an individual’s freedom of conscience. This runs directly contrary to any “open society.”
Thus, it is immoral for public schools, universities, or state-financed media outlets to receive federal funding and to promote a political ideology that is not in accordance with the agreed-upon rules of the game. It is immoral to promote coercive means, as implied in the advocacy of the use of state force, in order to impose one’s ideology on others or to silence one’s intellectual opposition. Yet this is precisely what the progressive left does on a routine basis in our schools and universities, as countless testimonials online avouch.
The intolerance of the “tolerant” left when it comes to ideology is rapidly becoming infamous. But whether or not those on the radical left vehemently disagree with those on the so-called right is not the point. Communists, socialists, fascists, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, Islamophobes have that right.
Neither is it the point that the content of the left’s speech may sometimes be seditious by nature, in the sense that progressives occasionally support unconstitutional means for imposing their contrarian morality upon others. This is sometimes the case.
The point is that the radical left’s behavior of suppressing the speech of its ideological opponents, whether in our public schools, colleges, universities, or publicly funded media ought to be illegal. This brings us to the next dilemma, which cuts at the core of free speech rights. The conclusion is the ultimate solution to the problem of public funds being utilized to promote sedition.
The New Left: Institutionalizing Sedition
The modern struggle over freedom of speech can be traced to the post-McCarthyite era, when many radicals reacted by insisting on absolute freedom of speech on our college and university campuses. The BerkeleyFree Speech Movement (FSM) embodies such a movement. FSM leader Mario Savo put his aims such: