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Voices of Warning

(This is not a déjà vu aimed solely at the incumbent Democrats, though in my view there is cause for alarm, but these warning voices also indict their prower-driven opponents whose presumptions, tactics, priorities, and propaganda present, in my view, an even greater danger.)

Warning voices about ways, means, and follies are seldom welcomed by those who wield power (or advocates/supporters of that power, ideology, or point of view). Here are a few of those voices, from past to present—all with a déjà vu ring.

300s BC – Solon

Athenians are “trusting in shifty speeches rather than examining closely men’s deeds.” (The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets, M. Schmidt, p. 201)

AD:1400s—Pope Alexander VI

The most grievous danger of any Pope [or power figure] lies in the fact that encompassed as he is by flatterers, he never hears the truth about his own person and ends by not wishing to hear it.” (Pope Alexander VI, 1492-1503 to a consistory of cardinals during a brief period of remorse in a reign of depravity. Quoted by B.W. Tuchman, The March of Folly, p. 85)

circa 1603-07—Shakespeare

But ‘tis strange
And ofttimes to win us to our harm
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.
Macbeth (Act I: Scene III)

1798—John Adams

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other. [Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (1798-10-11) (ref:]

1814—John Adams

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. [Letter to John Taylor (1814-04-15); Ref:]

1816—John Adams

Power always thinks it has great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws. [Letter to Thomas Jefferson (1816-02-02) : Ref:]

1816—Thomas Jefferson

I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale. [Letter to John Taylor (28 May 1816) ME 15:23 (Ref.]

1928—Justice Louis Brandeis:

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding. … Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that, in the administration of the criminal law, the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. (Dissenting Opinion, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438)

1900s – Mahatma Gandhi

Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good. (Quoted in Brussats’ Spiritual Literacy, p. 324)

1976—A Senate Select Committee

The United States must not adopt the tactics of the enemy. Means are as important as ends. [Final Report of the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, (aka, the Church Committee)].

1987— Christopher L. Blakesley*

Today, there appear to be few more pressing problems than terrorism. Because combating terrorism is so important, there is a tendency for the executive branch to eschew the Constitution and constitutional procedures when they get in the way of policy objectives. … But we must ask whether, in the name of antiterrorism, we have become terrorists; whether, in the name of anticommunism and antitotalitarianism, we have allowed erosion of antitotalitarian protections in our Constitution and constitutional order. (p. 198.) … But a dangerous world is not rendered less dangerous if we adopt totalitarian practices in order to fight totalitarianism, or when we use terrorist means to fight terrorism. Indeed, the constitutional checks and balances provide the wherewithal to ensure that we do not violate international law or destroy our constitutional republic through precipitous executive action (p. 211). The greatest danger posed by terrorism to our democracy and constitutional republic may be our executive branch’s overreaction to it and use of terrorism as an excuse to erode the constitutionally mandated sharing of powers in the realm of foreign affairs, war powers, and combating international crime. If we are to avoid manifest hypocrisy, the destruction of the rule of law, and erosion of our primary democratic and constitutional values, we must be vigilant and avoid participating in criminal conduct, either directly or as aiders and abettors. We must not allow hysteria to cause us to accept an arrogation of power by the executive branch at the expense of the other two branches. Although Congress is sometimes cumbersome and the judiciary may make mistakes, these institutions are set in the Constitution as checks and balances for our domestic protection against autocracy. Whether combating terrorism is accomplished by means of extradition and prosecution of alleged perpetrators or by a decision to initiate acts of war, the constitutional order must be preserved. (p. 212) [* Professor of law at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Louisiana State University. This article (Terrorism and the Constitution by Christopher L. Blakesley, BYU Studies, vol. 27 (1987), Number 3 – Summer 1987 212) is adapted from and expanded beyond three other articles by the author: “Jurisdiction as Protection against Terrorism,” University of Connecticut Law Review 19 (Summer 1987): 895-943; “The Evisceration of the Political Offense Exception to Extradition,” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy 15 (Summer 1986): 109-24; and “A Study of the Executive Branch’s Attempt to Eviscerate the Separation of Powers–Thoughts Prompted by Francis D. Wormuth and Edwin B. Firmage, To Chain the Dog of War: The War Power of Congress in History and Law,” Utah Law Review, no. 2 (1987): 451-66].

But again, as in ages past, warning voices are anathema to the intrigues of wealth and power that have plagued humanity since the days of Cain. We hear it in the cries against the prophet Jeremiah circa 626-586 B.C. “Therefore the princes said unto the king, We beseech thee, let this man [Jeremiah] be put to death: for thus he weakeneth the hands of the men of war that remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, in speaking such words unto them: for this man seeketh not the welfare of this people, but the hurt” (Jeremiah 38:4). In modern parlance, his voice was declared to be not just unpatriotic, but TREASONOUS.

As I see and hear it—whether we are staunch conservatives or die-hard liberals—we seem too often, blind and deaf—where seeing, we see not and hearing, we hear not.* Or like the proverbial monkeys, we see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil* about our own follies, but spend our faculties seeing, hearing, and speaking evil of our opponents—and thus presiding, each in our own fashion, over the hemorrhage of democratic and republican values.

* A recurring theme in what I write about and witness; and in my view, perhaps first amongst the most tragic, endless déjà vus of history.