excerpts from the book
Points of Rebellion
by William O. Douglas
(former Supreme Court Justice)
Random House, 1969
How Americans view dissent
The continuing episodes of protest and dissent in the United States
have their basis in the First Amendment to the Constitution, a
great safety valve that is lacking in most other nations of the
world. The First Amendment creates a sanctuary around the citizen's
beliefs. His ideas, his conscience, his convictions are his _
own concern, not the government's.
After an American has been in a totalitarian country for several
months, he is greatly relieved when he reaches home. He feels
that bonds have been released and that he is free. He can speak
above a whisper, and he walks relaxed and unguarded as though
he were no longer being followed. After a recent trip I said to
a neighbor, "It's wonderful to be back in a nation where
even a riot may be tolerated."
All dissenters are protected by the First Amendment. A "communist"
can be prosecuted for actions against society, but not for expressing
his views as to what the world order should be. Although television
and radio time as well as newspaper space is available to the
affluent members of this society to disseminate their views, most
people cannot afford that space. Hence, the means of protest,
and the customary manner of dissent in America, from the days
of the American Revolution, has been pamphleteering.
Other methods of expression, however, are also protected by
the First Amendment-from picketing, to marching on the city streets,
to walking to the State Capital or to Congress, to assembling
in parks and the like.
It was historically the practice of state police to use such
labels as "breach of the peace" or "disorderly
conduct" to break up groups of minorities who were protesting
in these unorthodox ways. The real crime of the dissenters was
that they were out of favor with the Establishment, and breach
of the peace or disorderly conduct was used merely as a cloak
to conceal the true nature of the prosecution.
In 1931 the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice
Charles Evans Hughes, held that the First Amendment was applicable
to the States by reason of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. That Clause provides that no State shall deny any person
"liberty" without "due process." The Hughes
Court held that the right to dissent, protest, and march for that
purpose was within the purview of the First Amendment. Breach
of the peace and disorderly conduct could, therefore, no longer
be used as an excuse for the prosecution of minorities.
Parades, of course, can be regulated to avoid traffic problems
and to allow for easy access to public offices by other people.
Pickets may be regulated as to numbers and times and places. But
the basic right of public protest may not be abridged.
While violence is not protected by the Constitution, lawful
conduct, such as marching and picketing, often boils over into
unlawful conduct because people are emotional, not rational, beings.
So are the police; and very often they arrest the wrong people.
For the police are an arm of the Establishment and view protesters
with suspicion. Yet American protesters need not be submissive.
A speaker who resists arrest is acting as a free man. The police
do not have carte blanche to interfere with his freedom. They
do not have the license to arrest at will or to silence people
This is one of the many instances showing how the Constitution
was designed to keep government off the backs of the people.
Military strategy has indeed become dominant in our thinking;
and the dominance of the military attitude has had a sad effect
There have always been grievances and youth has always been the
Forces too numerous to catalogue have produced a decade of protests
that is in many ways unique:
1 ) It comes during a time of prolonged affluence, not of
2) It is not ideological in its orientation, but is essentially
3 ) It is led by the young people who, though not unanimous
in tactics or in objectives, have given these protests a revolutionary
tone. The goal of their revolution is not to destroy the regime
of technology. It is to make the existing system more human, to
make the machine subservient to man, to allow for the flowering
of a society where all the idiosyncrasies of man can be honored
The interests of the corporation state are to convert all the
riches of the earth into dollars. Its techniques, fashioned mainly
on Madison Avenue and followed in Washington, D. C., are to produce
climates of conformity that make any competing idea practically
un-American. The older generation has in the main become mindless
when it comes to criticism of the system. For it, perpetuation
of the corporation state and its glorification represent the true
Americanism. "If only the world were like us, everything
would be perfect."
The First Amendment was designed so as to permit a flowering of
man and his idiosyncrasies, but we have greatly diluted it. Although
the Amendment says that Congress shall make "no law"
abridging freedom of speech and press, this has been construed
to mean that Congress may make "some laws" that abridge
The courts have written some astonishing decisions in that
area. Here are a few examples:
A person may not be punished for believing a so-called noxious
or communist doctrine; but he may be punished for being an "active"
advocate of that ideology.
A person may not be prosecuted for reading or teaching Karl
Marx; but he may be sent to prison for "conspiring"
with others to conduct classes or seminars on the Marxist creed.
A person may be convicted for making a speech or for pamphleteering
if a judge rules ex post facto that the speaker or publisher created
a "clear and present danger" that his forbidden or revolutionary
thesis would be accepted by at least some of the audience.
A person may be convicted of publishing a book if the highest
Court, in time, decides that the book has no "socially redeeming
In these and in many other respects we have fostered a climate
The great rewards are in the Establishment and in work for the
Establishment. While the Establishment welcomes inventive genius
at the scientific level ... it does not welcome dissent on the
great racial, ideological, and social issues that face our people:
Our colleges and universities reflect primarily the interests
of the Establishment and the status quo. Heavy infiltration of
CIA funds has stilled critical thought in some areas. The use
of Pentagon funds for classified research has developed enclaves
within our universities for favored professors, excluding research
participation by students. The Pentagon now has, for example,
contracts with forty-eight universities for research on how to
make birds useful in aerial photography, gunnery, steering of
missiles, detection of mines, and search-and-destroy operations.
The University of California has been up to its ears in research
on nuclear explosives with huge grants from the Atomic Energy
Commission. MIT and Johns Hopkins-in terms of the dollar volume
of their contracts-have been among the hundred major military-aerospace
corporations. Stanford, Columbia, and Michigan have been rich
with defense contracts. And so the list grows.
Only revolutionary-minded faculties would provide a curriculum
relevant to either domestic or foreign political problems. Very
few faculty members have a revolutionary fervor or insight.
Our private universities are self-perpetuating. As Kenneth
Galbraith has said, the trustees are drawn from such a "narrow
spectrum of social and political opinion" as to make them
insensitive to issues of the real world. Even their faculties
are subordinate to the orthodoxy of the trustees and the students
have little voice in affairs that vitally affect their interests.
For example, much of modern education fills young, tender minds
with information that is utterly irrelevant to modern problems
of the nation or to ,the critical conditions of the world...
... the case against the university is that it is chiefly a handmaiden
of the state or of industry or, worse yet, of the military-industrial
complex. In this connection Dr. Robert M. Hutchins recently stated:
It seems probable that we are entering a post industrial
age in which the issue is not how to produce or even distribute
goods, but how to live human lives, not how to strengthen and
enrich the nation state, but how to make the world a decent habitation
for mankind. The causes of the present unrest among students are
of course very complicated, but one of them is a feeling among
young people that contemporary institutions, and particularly
the university, cannot in their present form deal with the dangers
and opportunities of the coming age.
The dangers are obvious enough, and the opportunities, though
less often referred to, are equally great. The chance is there
to have what Julian Huxley has called the 'fulfillment society'
and what others have called the learning society, or simply a
human society. We have no very clear conception of what such a
society would be like. But we have all learned from 1984 and Brave
New World what some other possibilities are.
Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government
and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records
high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security,
to law and order, to efficiency of operations, to scientific advancement,
and the like. The cause of privacy will be won or lost essentially
in legislative halls and in constitutional assemblies. If it is
won, this pluralistic society of ours will experience a spiritual
renewal. If it is lost we will have written our own prescription
for mediocrity and conformity.
The tendency of these mounting invasions of privacy is the
creation of a creeping conformity that makes us timid in our thinking
at a time when the problems which envelop us demand bold and adventuresome
Electronic surveillance, as well as old-fashioned wire tapping,
has brought Big Brother closer to everyone and has produced a
like leveling effect. In 1968 Congress made wiretapping and electronic
surveillance lawful provided it was done with a warrant, as provided
in the Fourth Amendment, issued by a judge on a showing of probable
cause that certain specified crimes had been or were being committed.
Exempted altogether from any supervision were national security
cases where the President was given large authority to proceed
against suspected spies and subversives. But the Administration
soon broadened that category to include domestic groups who attempt
to use unlawful means to "attack the existing structure of
government." The Wall Street Journal sounded the alarm that
such broad surveillance "could lead to the harassment of
lawful dissenters." And the New York Times, in reply to the
claim that Presidential power extends to surveillance of groups
which threaten the government, observed that that was the theory
behind the oppressive search warrants authorized by George III
and they were the reason we got the Fourth Amendment.
The FBI and the CIA are the most notorious offenders, but
lesser lights also participate: Every phone in every federal or
state agency is suspect. Every conference room in government buildings
is assumed to be bugged. Every Embassy phone is an open transmitter.
Certain hotels in Washington have allotments of rooms that are
wired for sound and even contain two-way mirrors, so that the
occupants can be taped or filmed.
It is safe to assume that in the federal capital, as well
as in each state capital, there is no such thing as secret classified
The leveling effect of the numerous influences I have discussed
is appalling. The tense and perilous times in which we live demand
an invigorating dialogue. Yet we seem largely incapable of conducting
one because of the growing rightist tendencies in the nation that
demand conformity-or else. We are inhibited when we should be
unrestrained. We are hesitant when we should be bold. It is not
enough to be anti-communist. We need the irrepressible urge to
rejoin the human race. We need to contribute moral and political
leadership-as well as technical and financial help-to rebuilding
a new world order controlled by Law rather than by Force.
This, in summary, is the mood in which America has viewed
the forces of real "revolution" that have been sweeping
But what about the forces of dissent?
There are many facets to that problem, but they all lead,
I think, to what has been called "the diminished man."
There is more knowledge and information than ever before: the
experts have so multiplied that man has a new sense of impotence;
man is indeed about to be delivered over to them. Man is about
to be an automaton; he is identifiable only in the computer. As
a person of worth and creativity, as a being with an infinite
potential, he retreats and battles the forces that make him inhuman.
The dissent we witness is a reaffirmation of faith in man;
it is protest against living under rules and prejudices and attitudes
that produce the extremes of wealth and poverty and that make
us dedicated to the destruction of people through arms, bombs,
and gases, and that prepare us to think alike and be submissive
objects for the regime of the computer.
The dissent we witness is a protest against the belittling
of man, against his debasement, against a society that makes "lawful"
the exploitation of humans.
This period of dissent based on belief in man will indeed
be our great renaissance.
The Legions of Dissent
Students in West Germany are denouncing NATO because NATO is supposed
to defend freedom, yet Greece, a cruel dictatorship, is a member.
German students are inflamed at our use of napalm in Vietnam,
putting to us the embarrassing question, "It's a war crime,
There is I believe , a common suspicion among youth around the
world that the design for living, fashioned for them by their
politically bankrupt elders, destines them either to the nuclear
incinerator or to a life filled with a constant fear of it.
The Pentagon has a fantastic budget that enables it to dream of
putting down the much-needed revolutions which will arise in Peru,
in the Philippines, and in other benighted countries.
Where is the force that will restrain the Pentagon?
Would a President dare face it down?
The strength of a center of power like the Pentagon is measured
in part by the billions of dollars it commands. Its present budget
is indeed greater than the total federal budget in 1957.
In the fiscal year beginning July 1, 1969, the Pentagon will
spend about 82 billion dollars, or 40 per cent of the federal
budget. Health and welfare will spend about 5.5 billion, or 27.2
percent, while community development and housing will spend 2.8
billion, or 1.4 per cent.
Beyond that inequity is the self-perpetuating character of
the Pentagon. Its officer elite is of course subject to some controls;
but those controls are mostly formal.
The Pentagon has a magnetism and energy of its own. It exercises,
moreover, a powerful impact on the public mind. A phone call or
a personal visit by the Pentagon propels its numerous public spokesmen
into action. On Capitol Hill it maintains one public relations
man for every two or three Congressmen and Senators. The mass
media-essentially the voice of the Establishment-much of the time
reflects the mood of the Pentagon and the causes which the military-industrial
complex espouses. So, we the people are relentlessly pushed in
the direction that the Pentagon desires.
The push in that direction is increased by powerful foreign
interests. The China Lobby, financed by the millions extorted
and extracted from America by the Kuomintang, uses vast sums to
brainwash us about Asia. The Shah of Iran hires Madison Avenue
advertising houses to give a democratic luster to his military,
repressive dictatorship. And so it goes.
Secrecy about the crucial facts concerning Soviet or Chinese
plans is the Pentagon's most powerful weapon. No one without that
knowledge is qualified to speak. That knowledge cannot be made
public, as it involves matters of national security. Senior members
of the armed services are in the know; so are their industrial
allies and their scientific allies; so are members of the Armed
Services Committee of Congress. This is indeed a small club that
holds all the secrets and therefore has the only qualifications
to make the crucial decisions. This kind of prestigious club exerts
a powerful influence. Its members are so potent that they can-and
do-exclude critics or skeptics as security risks. So we sail off
into the nuclear sunset under orders of those who think only in
terms of death.
We have perhaps put into words the worries and concerns of
modern youth. Their wisdom is often instinctive; or they may acquire
a revealing insight from gross statements made by their elders.
But part of their overwhelming fear is the prospect of the military
regime that has ruled us since the Truman administrations and
of the ominous threat that the picture holds.
Is our destiny to kill Russians? to kill Chinese?
Why cannot we work at cooperative schemes and search for the
common ground binding all | mankind together?
Yet another major source of disaffection among our youth stems
from the reckless way in which the Establishment has despoiled
At the present rate of the use of oxygen in the air, it may
not be long until there is not enough for people to breathe. The
percentage of carbon dioxide in some areas is already dangerously
high. Sunshine and the green leaves may not be able to make up
the growing deficiency of oxygen which exists only in a thin belt
around the earth.
Everyone knows-including the youthful dissenters-that Lake
Erie is now only a tub filled with stinking sewage and wastes.
Many of our rivers are open sewers.
Our estuaries are fast being either destroyed by construction
projects or poisoned by pollution. Yet these estuaries are essential
breeding grounds for marine life: eighty per cent of the fish,
shrimp, crabs, and the like spend a critical period of their lives
in some estuary.
Virgin stands of timber are virtually gone.
Only remnants of the once immortal redwoods remain.
Pesticides have killed millions of birds, putting some of
them in line for extinction.
DDT, now in dangerous solution in our oceans, causes birds
to produce eggs with shells too fragile for nesting. That is why
the Bermuda petrel, peregrine osprey and brown pelican are doomed
DDT makes female fish sterile. Along the Atlantic coast commercial
fish are reproducing at an alarmingly low rate.
Hundreds of trout streams have been destroyed by highway engineers
and their faulty plans.
The wilderness disappears each year under the ravages of bulldozers,
highway builders, and men in search of metals that will make them
Our coastlines are being ruined by men who search for oil
yet have not mastered the technology enough to know how to protect
the public interest in the process.
Youthful dissenters are not experts in these matters. But
when they see all the wonders of nature being ruined they ask,
"What natural law gives the Establishment the right to ruin
the rivers, the lakes, the ocean, the beaches, and even the air?"
And if one tells them that the important thing is making money
and increasing the Gross National Product they turn away in disgust.
Their protest is not only against what the Establishment is
doing to the earth but against the callous attitude of those who
claim the God-given right to wreak that damage on the nation without
rectifying the wrong.
An American GI in Vietnam wrote me in early 1969, stating that
"Somewhere I in our history-though not intentionally-we
slowly moved from a government of the people to a government of
a chosen few . . . who, either by birth, family tradition or social
standing-a minority possessing all the wealth and power- now .
. . control the destiny of mankind."
This GI ended by saying, "You see, Mr. Douglas, the greatest
cause of alienation is that my generation has no one to turn to."
And he added, "With all the hatred and violence that exist
throughout the world it is time someone, regardless of personal
risk, must stand up and represent the feelings, the hopes, the
dreams, the visions and desires of the hundreds of thousands of
Americans who died, are dying, and will die in the search of truth."
As the President of Amherst, Dr. Calvin H. Plimpton, wrote President
Nixon on May 2, 1969:
"The pervasive and insistent disquiet on many campuses
throughout the nation indicates that unrest results, not from
a conspiracy by a few, but from a shared sense that the nation
has no adequate plans for meeting the crises of our society....
We do not say that all of the problems faced by colleges and universities
are a reflection of the malaise of the larger society. That is
not true. But we do say that until political leadership addresses
itself to the major problems of our society-the huge expenditure
of national resources for military purposes ... the critical needs
of America's ... poor, the unequal division of our life on racial
issues - until this happens, the concern and energy of those who
know the need for change will seek outlets for their frustration."
The truth is that a vast restructuring of our society is needed
if remedies are to become available to the average person. Without
that restructuring the good will that holds society together will
be slowly dissipated.
We are witnessing, I think, a new American phenomenon. The
two parties have become almost indistinguishable; and each is
controlled by the Establishment. The modern day dissenters and
protesters are functioning as the loyal opposition functions in
England. They are the mounting voice of political opposition to
the status quo, calling for revolutionary changes in our institutions.
Yet the powers-that-be faintly echo Adolf Hitler, who said in
The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities
are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are
seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with
her might and the republic is in danger. Yes, danger from within
and without. We need law and order.
A Start Toward Reconstructing Our Society
General David M. Shoup of the Marines has called the Pentagon
and the defense industry "a powerful public opinion lobby."
War has become to American civilians "an exciting adventure,
a competitive game, and an escape from the dull routine of peacetime."
If history is a guide, the powers-that-be will not respond until
there are great crises, for those in power are blind devotees
to private enterprise. They accept that degree of socialism implicit
in the vast subsidies to the military-industrial complex, but
not that type of socialism which maintains public projects for
the disemployed and the unemployed alike.
I believe it was Charles Adams who described our upside down
welfare state as "socialism for the rich, free enterprise
for the poor." The great welfare scandal of the age concerns
the dole we give rich people. Percentage depletion for oil interests
is, of course, the most notorious. But there are others. Any tax
deduction is in reality a "tax expenditure," for it
means that on the average the Treasury pays 52 per cent of the
deduction. When we get deeply into the subject we learn that the
cost of public housing for the poorest twenty per cent of the
people is picayune compared to federal subsidy of the housing
costs of the wealthiest twenty per cent. Thus, for 1962, Alvin
Schoor in Explorations in Social Policy, computed that, while
we spent 870 million dollars on housing for the poor, the tax
deductions for the top twenty per cent amounted to 1.7 billion
And the 1968 Report of the National Commission on Civil Disorder
tells us that during a thirty-year period when the federal government
was subsidizing 650,000 units of low-cost housing, it provided
invisible supports, such as cheap credit and tax deductions, for
the construction of more than 10 million units of middle- and
The big corporate farmer who has varied business interests
has a large advantage over the small farmer. The farm corporation
can write off profits from non-farm enterprises against farm losses.
Moreover, it gets a low capital gains rate of tax in situations
such as the following: a corporation buys cattle and keeps them
for several years, taking the maintenance costs as a farming loss
and thereby reducing its profits from other sources. Then it sells
the herd and any profit on the sale is taxed at 25 per cent.
Like examples are numerous in our tax laws, each marking a
victory for some powerful lobby.
The upside down welfare state helps the rich get richer and
the poor, poorer.
Other subsidies receive a greater reverence. Railroads, airlines,
shipping-these are all subsidized; and those companies' doors
are not kicked down by the police at night.
Publishers get a handsome subsidy in the form of low second-class
mail rates, and publishers' rights are meticulously honored.
The subsidies given farmers are treated, not as gratuities,
but as matters of entitlement.
The airspace used by radio and TV is public property. But
the permittees are not charged for the use of it.
Of all these only the welfare recipient is singled out for
degrading supervision and control.
In some parts of the world the choice is between peaceful revolution
and violent revolution to get rid of an unbearable yoke on the
backs of people, either religious, military, or economic. The
Melville account from Guatemala is in point. Thomas R. Melville
and Arthur Melville are twins and Marian P. Bradford, a nun, who
later married Thomas.
These three worked primarily among the Indians who make up
about 56 per cent of the population of Guatemala. They saw the
status quo, solidly aligned against the Indians, being financed
by our Alliance For Progress and endowed with secret intelligence
service to ferret out all "social disturbers." Between
1966 and 1967 they saw more than 2800 intellectuals, students,
labor leaders, and peasants assassinated by right-wing groups
because they were trying to combat the ills of Guatemalan society.
Men trying to organize unions were shot, as were men trying to
form cooperatives. The Melvilles helped the Indians get a truck
The Melvilles said
Having come to the conclusion that the actual state of violence,
composed of the malnutrition, ignorance, sickness and hunger of
the vast majority of the Guatemalan population, is the direct
result of a capitalistic system that makes the defenseless Indian
compete against the powerful and well-armed landowner, my brother
and I decided not to be silent accomplices of the mass murder
that this system generates.
We began teaching the Indians that no one will defend their
rights if they do not defend them themselves. If the government
and oligarchy are using arms to maintain them in their position
of misery, then they have the obligation to take up arms and defend
their God-given right to be men.
Their final conclusion was "Our response to the present
situation is not because we have read either Marx or Lenin, but
because we have read the New Testament."
That is also what Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife.
Brazil, was telling the world in 1969. "My vocation,"
he said, "is to argue, argue, argue for moral pressure upon
the lords." The "lords" are the "slave-masters"-the
Establishment in Brazil and the United States, now dedicated to
crushing any move towards violent upheaval. Though violence is
not open to Archbishop Camara, he said, "I respect the option
Guatemala and Brazil are token feudal situations characteristic
of the whole world. They represent a status quo that must be abolished.
We of the United States are not in that category. But the
risk of violence is a continuing one in our own society, because
the oncoming generation has two deep-seated convictions:
First: The welfare program works in reverse by siphoning off
billions of dollars to the rich and leaving millions of people
hungry and other millions feeling the sting of discrimination.
Second: The special interests that control government use
its powers to favor themselves and to perpetuate regimes of oppression,
exploitation, and discrimination against the many.
There are only two choices: A police state in which all dissent
is suppressed or rigidly controlled; or a society where law is
responsive to human needs.
If society is to be responsive to human needs, a vast restructuring
of our laws is essential.
We know by now that we make technology the predestined force in
our lives, man will walk to the measure of its demands. We know
how leveling that influence can be, how easy it is to computerize
man and make him a servile thing in a vast industrial complex.
This means we must subject the machine- technology-to control
and cease despoiling the earth and filling people with goodies
merely to make money. The search of the young today is more specific
than the ancient search for the Holy Grail. The search of the
youth today is for ways and means to make the machine-and the
vast bureaucracy of the corporation state and of government that
runs that machine-the servant of man.
That is the revolution that is coming.
That revolution-now that the people hold the residual powers
of government-need not be a repetition of 1776. It could be a
revolution in the nature of an explosive political regeneration.
It depends on how wise the Establishment is. If, with its stockpile
of arms, it resolves to suppress the dissenters, America will
face, I fear, an awful ordeal.