Given the witch hunt against the evidently dangerous (because historically literate) Professor William Cronon of the University of Wisconsin (my own dangerously intellectually independent doctoral alma mater), powered in part by the recent rise of the Tea Party (far more dangerous than the atheists among us, contra Messrs. Ruse and Berlinerblau), I feel moved to explore—albeit briefly—my own experience of being dangerous.
In 2001, an organization was founded by Lynn Cheney, wife of our then-beloved vice president, called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, ostensibly to promote “western values” and to “ safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically balanced, open-minded, high-quality education.” In fact, its intent was to further its own narrow right-wing agenda by intimidating liberal and left-leaning professors.
The ACTA (which ought to have been called the Aggressive Council for the Talibanization of America) issued a report titled “Defending Civilization: how our universities are failing America and what can be done about it,” listing 115 examples of statements by the professoriate indicating something less than complete support for the Bush Administration’s anti-terrorism policies. Although it would have been easy enough to limit itself to that loony handful who would give bin Laden a free pass, the ACTA went after those like me who cautioned restraint and a bit of national introspection.
For example, I had objected to Bush’s statement that he would make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them, pointing out that this was exactly what the 9/11 perpetrators had done: perceiving the United States to be a terrorist nation, al Qaeda made no distinction between what they saw as U.S. policy and those who “harbor them,” namely the people.
A few year later, I was included among the targets in right-wing nut David Horowitz’s book, The Professors: The 101 most dangerous academics in America, because of my commitment to a dangerous triad of (1) antinuclear activism, (2) evolution, and (3) atheism. Although it is clear that the ACTA as well as Mr. Horowitz have long been committed to stifling dissent and the free play of any ideas with which they are uncomfortable, I think it is unlikely that they—or their current incarnations in Wisconsin and elsewhere—herald a return of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, or McCarthyism. But clearly, we must be vigilant.
In the meanwhile, I suggest humor and sarcasm rather than horror and sanctimony. Thus, Mr. Horowitz was especially irritated when I publicly thanked him for including me on his blacklist (I had been too young and inconsequential to make Nixon’s Enemies List), after which I received a number of e-mails from aggrieved friends and colleagues, complaining that they had been unfairly omitted.
I was reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “The Burning of the Books,” which I commend to y’all:
When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned and on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cartloads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over. He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power ,
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me! Haven’t my books
Always reported the truth ? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you!