Dissent

“Why Don’t We Complain?” by William F. Buckley, Jr.: A Brief Analysis

"Why Don't We Complain" William F. Buckley, Jr.

(Photo Credit: National Review)

In “Why Don’t We Complain?,” William F. Buckley, Jr. (1961), arguably the most influential modern conservative intellectual, proffers a clarion call to seize the power of purposive complaining. Too often, unfortunately, Buckley contends, people permit their milquetoast proclivities to render them silent, consigning them to toxic, vexing helplessness. For Buckley, this helplessness results in an increasing eroding of individual rights, abdicating these rights to government. No Luddite, disconsolate about technological change and innovation, the conservative intellectual links this helplessness to unhealthy technological dependency and burgeoning centralized economic and political power.

Writing in 1961, the latter part of the Civil Rights Movement, one may find the author’s frustration with many Americans’ reticence, their unwillingness to muster the courage to raise objections about matters ranging from the inconsequential to the consequential puzzling, especially given the tremendous social unrest and protest of the aforementioned period. Ostensibly, Buckley still sees, at the time of the essay, a general reluctance to expressing sentiments openly, especially vociferously, that may offend someone, permeating the nation.

The piece communicates that many would rather remain uncomfortable than frankly address the root(s) of the discomfort. He uses an example of everyone on a train experiencing agonizing heat, but no one on the train possessing the courage necessary to ask the train conductor to turn off the heater or modify its temperature.

Buckley explains that those willing to complain, to voice their opinions freely often discover their candor distresses many or most. Purposive complaining, therefore, can generate opposition, even acrimonious opposition.

While the intellectual understands not protesting uncontrollable phenomena, he exposes people who fail to address the controllable.

When only a limited number of individuals express themselves, those voices can become the dominant voices, which Buckley identifies as a grave threat to our democracy.

Although many, especially the heedlessly pious, eschew dissent, America thrives when she values it. Buckley leaves us with a dystopian vision of what can occur in a nation full of people apprehensive about dissent: “When our voices are finally mute, when we have finally suppressed the natural instinct to complain, whether the vexation is trivial or grave, we shall have become automatons, incapable of feeling.”

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Advertisements

Political Correctness Threatens Free Speech and Dissent

At the recent Fellowship Foundation National Prayer Breakfast, Dr. Benjamin Carson gave a speech that has received tremendous national attention because it critiques President Obama’s handling of the national debt, healthcare, education, taxes, and etc. in ways unfavorable to him.  What should not get lost in the responses to the speech, however, are the powerful comments he makes about America’s current insistence on political correctness.  Political correctness is threatening to diminish one of most important purposes of the First Amendment: protect unpopular speech.  While the First Amendment still protects unpopular speech, many people in positions of power are finding ways to create conditions where dissenting voices will face serious repercussions.  While it was not the politically correct thing to do, Dr. Carson did not allow a burgeoning American penchant for political correctness to keep him from disagreeing with President Obama on substantive issues while at this event that traditionally has not been a place where dissent has been accepted and while being in close proximity to President Obama.

When one elects to defy political correctness, he or she must be ready for backlash.  Many employers will establish a hostile agenda against employees when they voice disagreement with their policies and practices.  Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is charged with the responsibility of protecting employees from this type of discrimination, employees are not always safeguarded from this discrimination.  Many employees are too afraid to exercise their First Amendment rights because they fear losing their jobs.  Political correctness informs employees to remain silent and keep their disagreements with their employers private.  Unfortunately, too many people buy into this promotion of silence and end up getting crushed by the misery of their silence.

More lawyers, philanthropists, organizations, and etc. need to be willing to help individuals to combat efforts by powerful employers to mute their employees.

What good is the First Amendment if the American people are afraid to exercise the rights it guarantees?

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other organizations deserve tremendous appreciation for their offering of free legal representation to individuals to fight against employers’ efforts to abrogate their employees’ First Amendment rights.

America would have never gained her liberation from Great Britain had it not been for the value of dissent the colonists evinced.

Some employers are even arrogant enough to place in writing that they forbid their employees from using their First Amendment rights to speak in opposition to them.  We certainly need more organizations like the ACLU and NAACP to rise up and aid in striking a mighty blow against political correctness and First Amendment violations.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission needs to be much more aggressive in defending employees against employers who engender conditions where political correctness is mandated, especially when it comes to employees’ rights and requests to have religious, racial, and viewpoint accommodations.

While this piece has focused primarily on political correctness in the workplace (and a little on political correctness in general), it is crucial to understand that political correctness is present in virtually every space of American life.  We deny the dangers of political correctness and don’t engage in efforts to eradicate it at our own peril.

What did you think about Dr. Benjamin Carson’s statements about political correctness?  What did you think about his critique of President Obama’s handling of the national debt, education, taxes, and healthcare?  Do you agree or disagree that political correctness is a threat to free speech and dissent?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison