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Being Good is Easier to Resist than Sweezy vs New Hampshire

[additional-authors]
May 2, 2024
19th-century illustration of The Flume, a canyon at the base of Mount Liberty in the White Mountains, New Hampshire. Published in Picturesque America or the Land We Live In (D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1872). NSA Digital Archive/Getty Images

No person can resist what’s evil

try though he may, and should;

but many find that being civil

is harder.  Being good

is something many people find

is easy to resist,

so good is often left behind

as soon as you are kissed,

when being good appears redundant,

the opportunities

for being naughty so abundant

the ones for goodness freeze.

 

New Hampshire when opposed by Sweezy,

Supreme Court decision

making hateful speech most easy,

gives prejudice permission,

to be as if quite blameless blurred,

mere blarney that’s defended,

and even —-not nem con! — conferred

a right that can’t be ended

for reasons such as anti-sem-

itism, which, though hateful,

woke people often don’t condemn

when anti-Jewish stateful.

 

 


Chekhov said: “One cannot resist evil, but one can resist good” (from the “Notebook of Anton Chekhov,” translated from the Russian by S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf, the concluding volume of the 15 volume “The Tales of Chekhov,” published by The Ecco Press.

In “Colleges Have Gone Off the Deep End. There Is a Way Out,” NYT, 4/28/24, David French writes:

I had my head in a law book when I heard the drums. That was the sound of the first campus protest I’d ever experienced. I’d come to Harvard Law School in the fall of 1991 as a graduate of a small, very conservative Christian college in Nashville. Many of my college classmates had passionate religious and political commitments, but street protest was utterly alien to the Christian culture of the school. We were rule followers, and public protest looked a bit too much like anarchy for our tastes.

But Harvard was different. The law school was every bit as progressive as my college was conservative, and protest was part of the fabric of student life, especially then. This is the era when a writer for GQ magazine, John Sedgwick, called the law school “Beirut on the Charles” because it was torn apart by disputes over race and sex. There were days when campus protests were festive, almost celebratory. There were other days when the campus was seething with rage and fury.

That first protest was in support of faculty diversity, and it was relatively benign. I walked outside and followed the sound of the drums. A group of roughly 100 protesters were marching in front of the law school library, and soon they were joined by an allied group of similar size from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. I watched as they danced, sang and listened to speeches by student activists and sympathetic professors. That first protest had an angry edge, but it was also completely peaceful and endlessly fascinating to a kid from a small town in Kentucky who’d never seen a drum circle before.

But things soon got worse, much worse. Protests got more unruly, and student activists got more aggressive. The entire campus was in a state of conflict. In Sedgwick’s words, students were “waging holy war on one another.” Small groups of students occupied administrative offices, and angry activists shouted down their political opponents in class and often attempted to intimidate them outside of class. I was shouted down repeatedly, and twice I received disturbing handwritten notes in my campus mailbox in response to my anti-abortion advocacy. My student peers told me to “go die.”

Watching the protests and experiencing the shout-downs changed the course of my career. I was both enthralled by the power of protest and repulsed by the efforts to silence dissenters. Given the immense cultural influence of American higher education, I agreed with the Supreme Court’s famous words in the 1957 case Sweezy v. New Hampshire: “Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilization will stagnate and die.” Those words, combined with my own negative encounters at Harvard, helped define my legal career. From that point forward, I would defend free speech.


Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored “Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel.” He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.

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