"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke
In classical Greece, "speaking truth to power" was called "parrhesia" or "to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking". And according to Michel Foucault, 20th century French philosopher, "only the courageous may pursue the truth to power course, as they risk losing their friends, their liberty, even their lives."
When a society becomes totalitarian, it is guided by hypocrisy and lies, the working class is enslaved, the individual becomes invisible, citizens are deprived of information, power is used to manipulate, abuse of power undermines the Courts and legal system, expansion of influence by the wealthy, elections become a farce, and the government is held captive of its own lies. Hence, the powerful in society falsify the past, present, and future.
How will this kind of totalitarian system be liberated?
According to Paulo Friere, a Brazilian educator, "The powerless in society can be frightened of freedom. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man...indispensable condition for the quest for human completion."
Americans have embraced Speaking Truth to Power in order to resist loss of freedom.
After the Declaration of Independence was sent to George III, the signers "pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor". Some of them were captured as traitors, twelve homes were burned, and nine died in the War.
Accordingly, Americans were asked, "What is the most important Amendment to the US Constitution", that may thwart totalitarianism?
The YouGov, a UK global public opinion firm, latest research shows that 41% of Americans say that the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, free speech, assemble, press, and petition is most important. 15% say that the Second Amendment is most important.
In our U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights, our framers wrote in the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
This means that:
The US government cannot establish a certain religion for all citizens and citizens have the right to choose and practice what faith they want to follow
The US government cannot subject its citizens to rules and laws that prohibit free speech with some exceptions
The press can print and circulate news without fear of reprisal
US citizens have the right to gather for common interests without interference from government or authorities
US citizens can petition the government to voice concerns
Interestingly, last week in the Kentucky legislature, experts were called to testify about House Bill 67, and many voices were silenced. So much for the freedom of speech in Frankfort.
The Bill amends the state constitution to remove protections and funding for a women's right to choose. You would think that such a serious change would be fully vetted with lots of expert witness testimony on all sides of the issue. Unconstitutional?
Also, in KY Senate Bill 90, health care employees would get legal protections for those who declined to participate in actions contrary to "religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical beliefs." If passed, this would be the most extreme law like this in the country.
Could there be a denial of services during an emergency, denial of a prescription that could be life or death, or a receptionist's refusal of admittance because of a belief? Freedom of religion?
Whether it is a local issue like a library renovation project, a state law change, or a national security issue, good American citizens need to speak truth to power.
The First Amendment remains the single most powerful instrument for protecting the sacred freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition for our US Democratic Republic.
Without the First Amendment, someone could rise to power to subvert the law, undermine our institutions of government thereby eliminating environmental protections, health and safety standards, funding for any common good projects, from libraries to student loans.