Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2011 / 14 Adar I, 5771
Censor the Constitution, Too
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It's not enough that the professoriate has decided it can improve on Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," which is not only a great American novel but a popular nominee for The Great American Novel.
This latest act of literary vandalism was committed out of regard for the tender sensibilities of a politically correct age, which can be brutal when it comes to suppressing language, that is, ideas. Especially any that come dangerously close to truly representing the past.
Instead, that past must be sanitized, cosmeticized and generally politicized. If it doesn't adhere to current standards, it's got to be altered. Otherwise we might learn too much from it, and ours is an era that can't stand too much reality. Vulgarity we're big on; reality we'd just as soon airbrush.
So, quick, hide the past. Or at least soften it. Even if that means distorting it. Much the way Victorians bowdlerized everything from the King James to Shakespeare. Lest we be astounded, shocked and, worst of all, educated. Can't have that.
Americans must be protected from our past. And practice civility, the watchword of the day. But what the censors seem to mean by civility is something closer to a false gentility, to
The language police never rest from their labors. Next on the list for a little discreet editing, aka thought control, comes another great work -- indeed, "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man," to quote
When the new Republican majority in the
But then, in a move proper Victorians would have understood, the stage managers in
The reason, or rather excuse, for this crude act of censorship by the new
The three-fifths clause is perhaps the most widely cited and widely misunderstood of the Constitution's provisions, at least by rhetoricians more interested in agitation than thought. Since it is said to reduce black Americans to a status only three-fifths human. (For further insights into this general approach to language as propaganda, look under Agitprop in George Orwell's dictionary of newspeak in 1984.)
Actually, the three-fifths clause was a compromise between the slave states, which would have preferred to count all their slaves in the Census in order to augment their representation in
It was the believers in freedom who objected to counting the slaves for purposes of representation. Wasn't it enough that they were deprived of liberty? Would their numbers now be used to empower their masters and seal their chains?
The three-fifths clause had nothing to do with how human or less than human or 60-percent human men were deemed to be. But that kind of nicety tends to get in the way of those who care less for historical perspective than historical misrepresentation. And by deferring to them, the Republican impresarios at this reading of the Constitution have only reinforced an ugly myth.
But isn't that what all censors do in the end, whether they're fiddling with "Huckleberry Finn" or the Constitution of
What they also do, thank goodness, is send inquisitive minds back to the original words, and in the end inspire thought rather than suppress it. The way kids -- or adults who have never read "Huckleberry Finn" in the original, unexpurgated version may now be sufficiently curious about what all the fuss is about to read the real thing.
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