those in power need checks and restraints

Es­ti­mated reading time is 2 min­utes.

SPEAKING OF THINGS like those in power then and now, William O. Dou­glas re­marked, “The pri­vacy and dig­nity of our cit­i­zens (are) being whit­tled away by some­times im­per­cep­tible steps. Taken in­di­vid­u­ally, each step may be of little con­se­quence. But when viewed as a whole, there be­gins to emerge a so­ciety quite un­like any we have seen—a so­ciety in which gov­ern­ment may in­trude into the se­cret re­gions of a (per­son’s) life.”

Dou­glas’s term as Chief Jus­tice of the United States Supreme Court Dou­glas lasted al­most thirty-seven years (1939–1975), the longest term in the his­tory of the Supreme Court.

Here are a few more of his observations:

“Those in power need checks and re­straints lest they come to iden­tify the common good for their own tastes and de­sires, and their con­tin­u­a­tion in of­fice as es­sen­tial to the preser­va­tion of the nation.” 

“Once the gov­ern­ment can de­mand of a pub­lisher the names of the pur­chasers of his pub­li­ca­tion, the free press as we know it dis­ap­pears. Then the specter of a gov­ern­ment agent will look over the shoulder of everyone who reads. . . . Fear of crit­i­cism goes with every person into the book­stall. The subtle, im­pon­der­able pres­sures of the or­thodox lay hold. Some will fear to read what is un­pop­ular, what the powers-that-be dis­like. . . . [Then] fear will take the place of freedom in the li­braries, book stores, and homes in the land.” 

“The framers of the con­sti­tu­tion knew human na­ture as well as we do. They too had lived in dan­gerous days; they too knew the suf­fo­cating in­flu­ence of or­tho­doxy and stan­dard­ized thought. They weighed the com­pul­sions for re­strained speech and thought against the abuses of lib­erty. They chose liberty.” 

“Only when there is a wilder­ness can man har­mo­nize his inner being with the wave­lengths of the earth. When the earth, its prod­ucts, its crea­tures, be­come his con­cern, man is caught up in a cause greater than his own life and more mean­ingful. Only when man loses him­self in an en­deavor of that mag­ni­tude does he walk and live with hu­manity and reverence.” 


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