On the importance of 'free utterance'
0 comment Saturday, May 17, 2014 |
The following editorial was written in 1922 by the legendary newspaperman William Allen White, known as the Sage of Emporia. It seems apropos today, though written in a rather different context.
White is hard to categorize politically today; like most men of past generations he is not easily labeled according to today's definitions. Above all, he was a champion of small-town middle America and the sense of community and belonging. He was one of the old-school newspapermen who believed in hearing both sides of an issue. His kind of journalism is mostly extinct.
To an Anxious Friend
July 27, 1922
You tell me that law is above freedom of utterance. And I reply that you can have no wise laws nor free enforcement of wise laws unless there is free expression of the wisdom of the people -- and alas, their folly with it. But if there is freedom, folly will die of its own poison, and the wisdom will survive. That is the history of the race. It is the proof of man's kinship with God.
You say that freedom of utterance is not for times of stress, and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger. No one questions it in calm days, because it is not needed. And the reverse is true also; only when free utterance is suppressed is it needed, and when it is needed, it is most vital to justice. Peace is good, but if you are interested in peace through force and without free discussion -- that is to say, free utterance decently and in order -- your interest in justice is slight. And peace without justice is tyranny, no matter how you may sugar-coat it with expediency. This state to-day is in more danger from suppression than from violence, because in the end, suppression leads to violence. Violence, indeed, is the child of suppression. Whoever pleads for justice helps to keep the peace; and whoever tramples upon the plea for justice temperately made in the name of peace only outrages peace and kills something in the heart of men which God put there when we got our manhood. When that is killed, brute meets brute on each side of the line.
So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold -- by voice, by posted card, by letter, or by press. Reason never has failed men. Only force and repression have made the wrecks in the world."

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