From one of America’s most important voices of protest, an urgent polemic about the strangling of meaningful dissent—the lifeblood of our democracy—at the hands of a government and media increasingly beholden to the wealthy few.
Dissent is democracy. Democracy is in trouble. Never before, Lewis Lapham argues, had voices of protest been so locked out of the mainstream conversation, so marginalized and muted by a government that recklessly disregards civil liberties, and by an ever more concentrated and profit-driven media in which the safe and the selling sweep all uncomfortable truths from view.
In the midst of the “war on terror”—which made the hunt for communists in the 1950s look, in its clarity of aim and purpose, like the Normandy landings on D-Day—we faced a crisis of democracy as serious as any in our history. The Bush administration made no secret of its contempt for a cowed and largely silenced electorate, and without bothering to conceal its purpose the government coordinates, “not the defense of the American citizenry against a foreign enemy, but the protection of the American oligarchy from the American democracy.”
Gag Rule is a rousing and necessary call to action in defense of one of our most important liberties, the right to raise our voices in dissent and have those voices heard.
Lapham, editor of Harper's, plays the role of a modern-day Tom Paine, propelling stinging criticisms and scathing indictments at the Bush administration and its supporters for what he claims are their bald-faced deceptions about the justifications for the war in Iraq and for establishing policies especially the USA Patriot Act he sees as aimed at silencing dissent about its policies and the war in Iraq. Lapham argues that the muting of dissenting voices has contributed to the erosion of democracy, because policy disagreements form the heart of a democratic republic. Most disturbing, says Lapham, is the complicity of the media in its support of the steady erosion of individual civil liberties in the name of national security. Lapham also levels forceful criticism at our educational system: "An inept and insolent bureaucracy armed with badly written textbooks instills in the class the attitudes of passivity, compliance, and boredom." This, charges Lapham (30 Satires; Theater of War; etc.), results in schools producing citizens who blindly accept the pronouncements of their leaders. The United States, he points out in a strong historical sketch, has a deep history of quashing dissent when politicians have raised alarms over perceived threats to the well-being of the country, most notably with the Sedition Act of 1798, the Espionage Act of 1917 and, he asserts, the Patriot Act. Lapham's compelling book reminds us that "democracy is an uproar, and if we mean to engage the argument about the course of the American future let us hope that it proves to be loud, disorderly, bitter and fierce."