One of the most powerful essays I have ever encountered in my lifelong reading of political classics is Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless.”
It ranks as one of the most brilliant pieces of political writing of the 20th century. Havel, a dissident playwright who later would become the president of post-communist Czechoslovakia, observed how communist authorities in his country and the rest of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe always were busy imposing public displays of the officially accredited ideology.
Even more significant to Havel, though, was how this official ideology deviated from common, everyday thought and behavior and, moreover, how it would take only a few acts of dissidence for this whole facade of officially accredited ideology to come crashing down.
Of course, the Czechoslovakian communist authorities were well aware of this intellectual and cultural dissonance, which is why they rooted out all acts of dissidence, even seemingly innocuous ones, mercilessly.
Havel didn’t find any of that at all surprising. Employing a rather brilliant analogy, he compared Eastern European communism to a piece of very vulnerable meat, which, despite being hermetically sealed, was prone to rapid spoilage by a mere prick of the packaging.
Communist leaders understood this all too well. They were aware of how even relatively minor acts of defiance conceivably coukd threaten their deeply unpopular regimes.
More than thirty years have passed since the collapse of Eastern European communism, which reigned, however tenuously, over tens of millions of people for two generations. Yet, I’m struck by the various ways that the U.S. left in may notable respects now resembles Eastern Bloc communism, certainly in terms of how it imposes accredited ideology in public places while demonizing unaccredited expressions of dissent as unacceptable “hate speech.”
Rather conspicuous examples of this emerging orthodoxy are the BLM phrases painted along thoroughfares of major U.S. cities, notably New York and Washington, D.C.
Fortunately, for now, at least, a few Americans, fed up to their earlobes with these impositions of elite-sanctioned orthodoxy, are pushing back. A rather fascinating example of this occurred recently in New York when participants at a block party also doubling as a small business protest furtively painted “F*ck Cuomo and DeBlasio” on a public street, presumably at least partly in response to the BLM slogan painted with the assent and active participation of Mayor DeBlasio on a street adjoining Trump Tower.
Some police purportedly were amused by this act of defiance – and, frankly, what beleaguered NYPD cop wouldn’t be – though DeBlasio and other city officials predictably were entirely unamused and ordered a quick painting over of this act defiance.
This leads one to wonder: How common will these expressions of dissent become in the future, especially if the Democrats capture the White House in November? The left undoubtedly will intensify its efforts to impose its cultural and political orthodoxy in all facets of American life – public spaces and events, basically anywhere the state can exert its heavy hand – while recalictrants, hopefully, at least, will respond equally forcefully with creative acts of defiance.
We are, after all, Americans – people who historically have displayed comparatively little patience for officially imposed elite orthodoxies.
Our forebears foreshowed a revolution by boarding merchant ships in Boston Harbor and casting tea into the water, proudly characterizing this act of defiance as a “tea party,” a term that still resounds among millions of Americans almost a quarter millennium later.
This marked only the beginning of American obstinacy in the face of tyranny. Less than a decade after the constitutional machinery of the American Republic was put into motion, farmers on the western frontier fomented an open rebellion against taxes, namely the taxes that the federal government imposed on the whiskey that they manufactured from their corn to eke out a meager living.
Early in the 19th century a newspaper editor faced prosecution under the Alien and Sedition Acts for expressing publicly the wish that a 21-gun salute to President Adams would go awry and that one of the stray cannon balls would strike the chief executive squarely on his arse.
This only scratches the surface of the historical memory of recalcitrance.
With the left standing virtually at the helm of America culture and possibly primed to acquire most of the levers of political power in the immediate future, liberty-loving Americans will be challenged as never before to decry its attempts to impose its rigid orthodoxy into every nook and cranny of American life – one that is increasingly taking on many of the contours of a totalitarian ideology. The times are calling on us to engage in acts of contemptuous defiance of leftist norms. In the spirit of our revolutionary forebears, each of us must engage as often as possible in creative acts of dissidence.
Our obstreporous colonial forebears would expect nothing less from us.