Allen Weinstein: NYT publishes excerpt from his commencement address at Southern Methodist University





Begin with the Salem witchcraft trials of the 1690s. Move forward to the Alien and Sedition Acts of the early Republic, and from there to the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War. Turn then to the arbitrary political arrests of the First and Second World Wars, the many abuses of the cold war McCarthy era, and from there to the civil liberties climate in our own time. Find your conscience and hold it close.

One of the pivotal connective links from earliest repressive efforts to the present time is the pushback each received from opponents at the time: a phenomenon that the late scholar and United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called the “self-corrective” forces at work within American society.

These forces make difficult any and all efforts to create a thoroughly repressive climate of opinion, even during wars and pre- or post-war red scares. You will not find similar self-corrective societies in great numbers in our time. There are precious few and none as obsessively self-corrective as ours.

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