“I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” ~Thomas Jefferson
The following is an Op-Ed from Francisco D’Anconia
This quote from Thomas Jefferson is the one chosen to adorn the uppermost place in the monument erected in his honor in Washington D.C. I’ve sat beneath it with regularity and awe all my life. Some of my earliest memories, in fact, are of craning my neck upward and feeling dizzy as I turned around to read the words encircling his great bronze statue. I often wondered why he chose to specify “tyranny over the mind of man” rather than just the tyranny fought against in the formation of our Republic. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the quote was not written about King George, but about the clergy in Philadelphia during his 1800 presidential campaign. It turns out, cancel culture is nothing new. The clergy in Pennsylvania disapproved of Thomas Jefferson’s presidential aspirations because they believed that he was not the proper Christian in his beliefs and would, as president, seek to use his executive powers in opposition to their agenda. To this, Jefferson told the voting public that if their agenda was to oppress and control the minds of men by means of religion or anything else, they were right to worry. He clarified elsewhere: “I have never conceived that having been in public life required me to belie my sentiments, or to conceal them. Opinion and the just maintenance of it shall never be a crime in my view, nor bring injury on the individual. I never will by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance. I never had an opinion in politics or religion which I was afraid to own; a reserve on these subjects might have procured me more esteem from some people, but less from myself.” Thankfully, reason was the greater factor in that election that partisanship and Thomas Jefferson became one of the greatest minds and most moral men ever to hold the Office of the Presidency. Interesting history, but why am I choosing this topic with which to return from a week-long writing hiatus? Glad you asked.
There is no greater tyranny than the use of power and authority to limit thought. Any conversation, any book you read or news broadcast you hear, any means of informing or persuasion whatsoever is, at its very most basic, an attempt to add to your thinking. Reading these journal entries, you are reading the words of an author committed to presenting a persuasive accounting of his own perceptions designed to influence the way you see the world around you. Every means of communication imaginable is in some way intended to add perspectives, information, insights and other subjective input to your mind and your thinking. But that is a very different thing from trying to control your thinking. Giving you new information, providing a persuasive argument for a case or a premise, even editorializing and spouting emotionally driven opinions is all just raw material for thought. You get to choose what to absorb or reject, you are free to entertain an idea or dismiss it, examine it in depth or pass it by. Discourse, however civilized or uncivilized, is an exercise in thought. Where it crosses the line into tyranny is the instant some governing body or authority determines that you are no longer free to absorb or reject, that you cannot entertain or dismiss. When someone decides that you can be punished for non-conformity of thought, that you can be penalized by them for saying or believing something of which they do not approve, that is tyranny over the mind of man. When someone with the ability to penalize you or punish you asserts “You can’t say that,” or tries to subject you to negative consequences for questioning their narrative, for expressing a non-conformist view, or for skepticism in the face of their beliefs and opinions, that is tyranny over the mind. When those in power seek to silence you because you do not agree with them, that is tyranny over the mind. When they seek to discredit you, to harm you, to fine you, to jail you, to force you to fight against their threats and consequences as a result of your dissent, you are facing the greatest form of tyranny over the mind of man. When those in power begin to turn the instruments of Justice into weapons formed against their political enemies or those expressing ideas that could threaten their hold on power, you are facing tyranny over the mind of man. When you see the combined majority of the political elite, the press, and social influencers attacking minority voices for speaking in their own interests and in their own defense, you’re witnessing tyranny over the mind of man. When you see those in power sparing no effort and going to any length to protect their own from the very offenses for which they seek to prosecute others, you are seeing tyranny over the mind of man.
It doesn’t take a great deal of intellectual honesty to see that this is what we’re facing today. It takes no real effort beyond opening one’s eyes to see that this tyranny is at the root of our present moral crisis. The forced censorship of thought is the first and most important step for any soft totalitarian to become an entrenched despot. It is beyond important to resist. It is beyond imperative that the smallest of all minorities – the individual – assert itself daily with renewed commitment to the one thing that defines us all: free thought. Free thought goes beyond quiet introspection. It means using reason to relate to the world around us. It means identifying and aligning our actions with truth. Free thought, if it is to matter even at the individual level, must precede free speech and freedom of action. Consider the portion of John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged:
“Man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch-or build a cyclotron-without a knowledge of his aim and of the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.
A living entity that regarded its means of survival as evil, would not survive. A plant that struggled to mangle its roots, a bird that fought to break its wings would not remain for long in the existence they affronted. But the history of man has been a struggle to deny and to destroy his mind.”
You have heard, no doubt, Descartes’ self-affirming basis for his philosophy of Rationalism: I think, therefore I am. If that is true, then the converse must at least be philosophically correct: If I do not think, I cease to be. Morality is not the suppression of the mind in favor of conforming to the prevailing agenda of the day. Morality isn’t doing what the majority demands of you without question. Morality isn’t any form of conformity without thought, even to social norms and standards held to be true by all. If that is the definition of morality according to the conformists, then John Galt is also correct when he states that what’s needed isn’t for the masses to return to morality, but for them to discover it. The morality which we need most is the realization that free thought and the individual pursuit of purpose is morality. Thinking for ourselves, acting in accordance with that thought and conducting our affairs with others in a manner consistent with acknowledging their freedom to do likewise – that is the true morality our current world is so sorely lacking. Such an approach defies extremism. The exaltation of the individual, the recognition of the importance of the minority of one, is the foundation of Liberty. If embraced, it is also a death sentence to bullying by the masses. It is the key to dislodging the entrenched totalitarians. It is the means by which we not only find ourselves as a society again, but the means by which we secure a future that is as prosperous as we choose to make it.
Years ago, I wrote a poem to my then-unborn eldest son. It was intended to be a lesson he might read someday and gain some inkling of how important it is to define oneself by what matters most to the individual soul, and to bring that into the world through action. I’ll close by sharing it here with hope that in this context, the same lesson resonates to each and every single one of you, and that though you might be all alone against the world, you’ll choose not to lie down and submit but rather to act your own meaning into existence by means of your character, courage, deeds, and will.
Strike out across the frozen wastes, the barren desert sands;
Strike out to peaceful colonies and war-torn distant lands.
Strike out, strike out ye wayward lad, and come to understand
The winter solstice of the Child – the equinox of Man.
Each of us is given first a spirit, blank and clean.
With good and evil at both ends and all that lies between
As undiscovered country – raw and naked, yet untamed
Mapped by character alone, and by our efforts named.
The name we give to what we find is not a conscious choice.
Our life is named for us instead by Spirit’s silent voice.
Its name is known by what we do and who we choose to be;
For action (not our best intent) is all the world can see.
Legacy is written not by hand with ink and quill,
But rather acted into life by courage, deeds, and will.
So stand ye firm against the odds and root thyself in Right
And though you might be all alone against the world – FIGHT!
Yes, go and leave your boyhood life behind where it belongs;
Go and hear the tribal drums, the Warrior’s Last Songs.
Go forth and find what matters most down deep within your soul
And pay with all your lessons back the debt to God you owe.
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