Poets and Revolutionaries
The real test of a free society is the extent to which it allows within its borders the sometimes eccentric and often disturbing presence of poets and artists. That is what you notice if you read about totalitarian societies that want to clamp down on free speech and make everybody think the same way. The first areas to receive heavy censorship if not complete shut down are the arts, philosophy, theater and political, religious and philosophical dialog.
One of the many great things about America is that we don’t even think of censoring our poets, artists or even the revolutionaries who grow up in our society. In fact, we honor them and do all we can to help them find their voice, their audience and ways to get their message out. This is the hallmark of a truly great society. What if ancient Greece had shut down Aristophanes and forbade him from making plays? The whole arena of theater which arguably is the ancestor to movies and TV, would never have found it’s way. We would never be able to gather in parks all over the country to enjoy those wonderful Shakespeare plays. But we are able to do that and that aspect of a free society is something our founding fathers were careful to protect.
We go through an ongoing debate in our society about what is acceptable in art, music, and even free speech. But that is exactly what the founding fathers wanted to us to do as a free people. We need to be able to openly discuss what is true poetry and art and what is exploitative, pornographic or offensive. This is not “relative morality” as much as it is an ongoing living continuous re-creation of our culture in the context of a free society.
The fact that we do not want our government getting in the middle of this dialog is one of the hallmarks of what makes the American system of social discourse so terrific. In fact, at the governmental level, we even encourage what is often hard to understand art with the National Endowment for the Arts so those in our society who are struggling to create literature, paintings, plays or sculpture (to name just a few artistic genres) can do so and still afford to feed themselves. By keeping the arts alive and vibrant, we guarantee that our society will remain fresh and stimulating for many years to come.
The freedom of speech and of expression that extends to artists even applies to modern day revolutionaries that would introduce new concepts in government, social organization or philosophy to our public discussion if they can. It would be so easy for us to say, “We don’t allow that. We like our democracy so let’s shut that kind of dialog down.”
But we don’t do that. It is a sign of robust and self-confident society that we have even allowed alternative political parties to exist in America. These groups may be representing systems that are totally opposed to democracy and our way of life. And yet because we do not shut down free speech, thought or conversation, Americans can engage those systems of thought and see if they stand up against the shining example of democracy that has been proven over and over again in the great American experiment. And every time that happens, the new “revolutionary” idea has its day in the sun then fades away and our great American republic continues to thrive and prosper.
We can be proud when we see new artistic movements, new poets and revolutionaries get their chance to express themselves in our wonderful land. What tremendous talents have grown out of this rich creative setting that America fosters. From Ernest Hemmingway to Jackson Pollack to Neil Simon to Pablo Picasso to John Grissom, these geniuses were all able to find expression of their art in America because America is the home of the free and of free expression of thoughts and ideas.