Being a champion of liberty means fighting for human freedom and pushing for policies and laws that lessen the oppressive control of the state on individuals. These people didn’t just talk the talk- they walked the walk. Each was faced with a moment in their lives when they could have just backed down from their beliefs and knuckled under to those who demanded that they sacrifice their liberty and freedom to the state- but in each case they resisted and fought back. In their lives we as conservatives can gain inspiration to continue to fight for life, liberty, and the protection of individual property rights from a greedy and tyrannical state, and yet with their passing our world loses three more brave warriors of freedom.
Vaclav Havel, the former dissident playwright who led Czechoslovakia’s 1989 “Velvet Revolution” against communism and then served as his country’s president, died Sunday at the age of 75. Unlike many who after the fall of communism replaced those tyrants with themselves as a tyrant, Havel was a committed patriot and lover of liberty in the mold of a George Washington.
…”The [Communist] past has left us spiritually impoverished,” he declared in pledging as president to focus on “the ethical, moral aspects of society, on creating space for dialogue, agreement and tolerance.”
As a dissident leader, Havel promoted the slogan, “May truth and love triumph over lies and hatred.” During his years in office he stressed the importance of “civil society,” or citizens’ organizations free of government control, as the underpinning for democracy. “None of us—as an individual—can save the world as a whole, but . . . each of us must behave as though it were in his power to do so,” Havel wrote in his 1997 book, “The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice.”
As president, Havel sought to guide his country away from its Communist past while avoiding witch hunts against former rulers. “The transformation of the totalitarian system into a democratic one is not only a matter of several parties replacing one ruling party and the introduction of some democratic mechanisms,” Havel said in a 1994 interview with The Times. “It is also a matter of a great transformation of thinking because people must learn again to be citizens, to rediscover the civic responsibility which the totalitarian regime did not demand from them because it required mere obedience.”…
His emphasis on the morality of the individual, the search for truth, and focusing on thinking like a free person mark him as a true patriot. As a true democrat and classical liberal, he was initially loved by the world for his efforts, but in his later years modern day liberals, progressives, communists, and fascists went after him politically and personally and his star faded somewhat. As a great freedom fighter, his death should have been noted around the world and should have been acknowledged by world leaders, but it wasn’t really, and it falls to us to note it and mourn it.
Also passing on this last week was Senator Daniel K. Inouye (Democrat, Hawaii), who died of respiratory complications at the age of 88. He was currently the President pro tempore of the United States Senate, which capped his long career in that body. Although I disagree with his votes on many issues during his time in the Senate, his service in World War Two fighting the enemies of freedom- fascists in Germany and Italy- proved that he was indeed a champion for liberty. Here is the account of how Inouye won his Medal of Honor in 1945 (via wikipedia):
…On April 21, 1945, Inouye was grievously wounded while leading an assault on a heavily-defended ridge near San Terenzo in Tuscany, Italy called Colle Musatello. The ridge served as a strongpoint along the strip of German fortifications known as the Gothic Line, which represented the last and most dogged line of German defensive works in Italy. As he led his platoon in a flanking maneuver, three German machine guns opened fire from covered positions just 40 yards away, pinning his men to the ground. Inouye stood up to attack and was shot in the stomach; ignoring his wound, he proceeded to attack and destroy the first machine gun nest with hand grenades and fire from his Thompson submachine gun. After being informed of the severity of his wound by his platoon sergeant, he refused treatment and rallied his men for an attack on the second machine gun position, which he also successfully destroyed before collapsing from blood loss.
As his squad distracted the third machine gunner, Inouye crawled toward the final bunker, eventually drawing within 10 yards. As he raised himself up and cocked his arm to throw his last grenade into the fighting position, a German inside fired a rifle grenade that struck him on the right elbow, severing most of his arm and leaving his own primed grenade reflexively “clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore”. Inouye’s horrified soldiers moved to his aid, but he shouted for them to keep back out of fear his severed fist would involuntarily relax and drop the grenade. As the German inside the bunker reloaded his rifle, Inouye pried the live grenade from his useless right hand and transferred it to his left. As the German aimed his rifle to finish him off, Inouye tossed the grenade off-hand into the bunker and destroyed it. He stumbled to his feet and continued forward, silencing the last German resistance with a one-handed burst from his Thompson before being wounded in the leg and tumbling unconscious to the bottom of the ridge. When he awoke to see the concerned men of his platoon hovering over him, his only comment before being carried away was to gruffly order them to return to their positions, since, as he pointed out, “nobody called off the war!”
The remainder of Inouye’s mutilated right arm was later amputated at a field hospital without proper anesthesia, as he had been given too much morphine at an aid station and it was feared any more would lower his blood pressure enough to kill him. Although Inouye had lost his right arm, he remained in the military until 1947 and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain…
Without his service- and others like him- the fascists might have won the war and millions of free people would be oppressed under their liberty-crushing policies. His later votes may have been incorrect in my opinion, but he was a true patriot and our nation is built on a diversity of votes and values and so both conservatives and liberals should recognize his great service to our nation.
The last patriot who I would like to recognize who died this week is Robert Bork. Judge Bork was an American legal scholar who advocated the judicial philosophy of originalism, served as a Yale Law School professor, Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General, and a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, but is likely most famous for being rejected in 1987 when he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan.
Once upon a time in our nation, Justices who were great legal scholars and superstars of litigation and noted authors were nominated to the Supreme Court to serve in that august body. Once upon a time, being the top of your profession was important to being put in the top court in our nation, and Judge Bork was at the top of his profession and a well-qualified judge. But those times are past us, and now- as a result of what happened during Judge Bork’s nomination hearings in the Senate- nominees to the Supreme Court are picked because they are NOT noted authors and superstars of litigation or top legal scholars- in fact, any sort of paper trail that shouts greatness is also shouts political risk and opinions that people likely will disagree with, so both Republicans and Democrat Presidents pick nobodys who are a great mystery and whose judgements one hopes will live up to what we once knew in this nation.
Senator Kennedy and his allies in the Senate turned a process of confirming that a Judge was indeed qualified to the bench into a witch-hunt, where the politics of personal destruction are the way to defeat political enemies, and where the personal views and values of a person- especially if firmly held and believed- are not marks of greatness but instead a target to attack. The attacks on Judge Bork in his confirmation hearings foreshadowed the modern day politicians who are simply empty rhetoric sprouting fools who lack any sort of views or beliefs other than power and who continually engaged in negative and personal attacks to advance their own power.
Kennedy and the left were coldly intelligent in attacking Bork, because he did indeed represent a grave threat to their political views and values. As Andrew C. McCarthy wrote on The New Criterion:
…Bork’s jurisprudence—derivatively, his conviction that, in a democracy, it is for judges to interpret and apply existing law, not invent and impose “organic” law—stands as a mortal threat to the so-called progressive project. Being intolerable to a free people, that project must be proclaimed by politically insulated judges if it is to advance at all….
…There seems no end to subjects now perceived as fit for resolution by judges: presidential elections, economic policy, the requirements of national security, the identity of wartime enemies, the rules of professional golf, the definition of marriage, the artistic pretensions of smut, the availability of capital punishment, the unavailability of restrictions on abortion, infanticide, suicide, and euthanasia—today’s courts grapple with all these matters and so much more.
Yet, since becoming a fixture on the national stage in the early 1970s, Bork has toiled in a lonely swim against this relentless tide. His simple, eloquent message, voiced as insistently at the would-be legal activists of the right as at the left’s meliorist legions, is this: The political seduction of the law is killing American democracy…
Bork fought against the destruction of rule of law his whole life, even when this fight became more about him personally and his personal views, distorted by demagogues and abandoned by his supporters. For his service to our nation and for fighting a very important fight on the very nature of what a democracy is, we mourn his passing and hope to find inspiration and learning from the path that he trod forward.
We will miss the good President from the Czech Republic, the Democratic Senator from Hawaii, and the conservative Judge from Pennsylvania. They are gone, but not forgotten.
Original Post: A Conservative Teacher