Glenn Beck on August 28, 2010 – The antidote to speech is more speech

Posted on August 28, 2010


When I was two years old, on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before the Lincoln Memorial and made a speech now so deeply embedded in the American consciousness that I am stirred by it every time I hear the briefest excerpt, though I have only “experienced” it through the recordings that continue to circulate 47 years later. On January 20, 2009, my husband played the speech in its entirety and wept openly while sitting in front of his computer (and trying to persuade our wiggly seven-year-old to pay attention for the whole oratory). That’s how profound was our shared sense of redemption on the occasion of the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, a man with African ancestry, married to a descendant of slaves, who grew up outside the contiguous continental United States, and who promised that there was yet something forward-looking, not backward looking we could attain as a nation. That the American mythology of inclusion and self-correction could come true in such a potent personification seemed overwhelmingly affirmative to us – and it still does.

Today, August 28, 2010, a television personality with little grasp of history, an alarmist who is prone to invoke half-remembered allusions to totalitarian debacles of the past, will stand again in this nation’s capital and claim that the United State of American needs to “restore honor.” “Restore honor” is code for Euro-White superiority, exclusion of immigrants, and a hypocritical social safety that reduces the contribution by the most prosperous members of society through regulation, taxation and other redistribution.

Good for him.

The antidote to speech is more speech, a principle I learned most vividly from Ann Baker, a pro-choice activist who has doggedly tracked perpetrators of violence against women’s clinics and wrote “friend of the court” briefs on bombers and shooters and potential bombers and shooters via the  National Center for the Pro Choice Majority. Ann understand that tireless, clear, accurate speech is the tool to be used against extremists and other political actors with whom one might disagree. She has organized counter-protests to oppose the aggressive gauntlet that “antis” set up outside of abortion clinics, and she has actually encouraged those who oppose the legality of abortion to speak, through placards and nonviolent protest, not to kill.

Say what you feel you need to say, Glenn Beck. It is my job and the job of Jon Stewart, Keith Olberman, news reports, and bloggers who disagree to do their best to inoculate readers and thinkers against misinformation, xenophobia and confused oppositional defiance disorder. That is the magnificence of the nation-state – its self-correcting property.

In my new book, Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World, I discuss this self-correcting property of the nation-state, a political structure that I claim has yet found no peer in terms of, at least, its potential to effect social justice. One of 16 public intellectuals, whose work I examine to make this point, Jürgen Habermas asserts, “[T]he idea that one part of a democratic society is capable of a reflexive intervention into society as a whole has, until now, been realized only in the context of nation-states.” (2001, p. 60) By “reflexive intervention,” Habermas means national course correction or social reform. In chapter four of my new book, I review scholarship on several central properties of the nation-state. Hume, Locke and other writers contemplating the purpose of government gave justifications for full revolt by the citizenry, in the face of abuse of their rights. However, these theorists about (pre-nation-state) government expected the options for citizens to be: 1) submit to domination, or 2) rebel and start over with a new state. They did not seek—because there had been few examples of—ways for the people to peacefully influence the trajectory of a society as a whole (i.e., its population plus the government), the capacity for self-correction that Habermas touts.

The American, Canadian, Indian, South Korean and other Constitutions guarantee citizens’ rights to criticize their government, to gather publicly, and otherwise work within the system for revisions of public policy.Nation-states with provisions for free speech, assembly, and other forms of protest are able to (in theory) and do (in practice) accommodate dissent and social innovation with relatively little societal disruption. Neither empires, nor the corporations and other entities of the global economy, nor ideologically defined subnations currently provide such codified protections of disagreement and potential for changing existing power arrangements.

Fallen Walls and Fallen Towers: The Fate of the Nation in a Global World is now available for Kindle.

The book will be available in hardcover September 11, 2010 via online bookstores in the United States, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Australia, and India.  Bricks and mortar bookstores can order the book via Ingram or direct from Nimble.


Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays. Trans. Max Pensky. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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