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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Rights and Responsibilities in a Republic Part 2: The Importance of Citizen Expression

By: Michael P. Tremoglie

The first ten amendments to the American Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. They are a charter of prohibitions on government power. The First Amendment contains a clause preventing government from abridging political speech.

There was a reason that America’s Founders wanted this prohibition among the first. They saw the ability to express opinions, to criticize the government, to rally others to your opinion, to change laws or policies with which individual citizens disagree, as a natural right. The method of expression was unimportant. But the ability to do so was vital.

For citizens in a republic, freedom of expression is not only a right but a responsibility. Citizens have a duty to complain about what they feel is unjust or corrupt and to organize others to complain. The American tradition of standing on a soap box and making an impromptu speech could be said, in a way, to be the descendant of the Roman Forum.

But all too often citizens in a republic, especially conservative citizens, do not make their voices heard. They are reluctant to make demands. They are timid about organizing. So they do nothing.

This is understandable. Few want to be in the spotlight. Those that do like the spotlight can convince their fellow citizens – like aforementioned soap box speakers- to express their discontent at the ballot box at the very least. Indeed, voting for or against is a duty for citizens in a republic that too many shirk.

But there are other ways to express one’s opinion other than just talking. Methods that in some ways are just as important, if not more important, than the ballot box or making speeches.

One way is by publishing. The written word is powerful. Magazines such as this one, newspapers, pamphlets, flyers, and advertisements are quite effective. They need not – and should not – be reserved only for elections but used every day.

Another very effective method of communication, one often neglected entirely by conservatives- is art. Songs, literature, television entertainment, theater, movies, paintings, performing artists such as comedians, and cartoons have the ability to move people to action or to persuade them to accept hitherto foreign to them. They can appeal to emotion in a way newspapers, monographs, tomes, or texts cannot.

It is incredible how in modern times popular music – especially during the 1960s and 1970s became almost sacred to an entire generation. It represented and gave expression to discontent by a group of decadent misanthropes whose idea of living was sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Having been one of that generation, although not one who ascribed to that culture, I saw first-hand the influence of music and movies. I observed how the arts were used to change the political ideals of the young. The effects of this change we are seeing today. We see it in the beliefs of today’s ruling generation. Those who preach the gospel of socialism, communism, and hatred of the bourgeoisie. Those who call anybody with whom they disagree fascists, racists, sexists, and homophobes.

Just as incredible that conservatives have eschewed using the arts. They seem to be incapable of understanding the importance of art’s influence on the culture. Plato recognized over two thousand years ago when he said you can write the laws if I can write the songs. (N.B. Others dispute that this was a Plato quote. It is often described to a Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher. Whoever said it, good for them.)

The Left has always known the importance of art, especially visual art. Early communist leaders such as Lenin knew this. The movie Battleship Potemkin was an early example of film used for ideological propaganda. Hitler had his Leni Riefenstahl. Why conservatives abandoned the fields of music, movie making, scriptwriting, comedy, and playwriting to the Left is puzzling. But for whatever reason, the conservative intelligentsia did not think it mattered. It was and is probably the single biggest error by conservative leadership in modern times.

Political expression, however, it is done, is a duty conservatives are delinquent in performing. It has led to the debacle that confronts conservatives today – that despite the average person being more right than left on the ideological continuum, Leftwing thought prevails among the intelligentsia and the ruling classes.

Conservatives seem to prefer to curse the darkness than light a candle. They better learn to strike the match before it is too late.


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