A year or two ago MacLeishs Brave New World, published in 1948, might have seemed rather dated, unless, of course, you gave it more thought than most of us are apt to what our country really believes in, at least as shown by our actions.
Of course, those of us who have supported the ACLU for years realize that America is not quite the land of the free that most of us have been taught to imagine. If we learned nothing else from history, we should have learned that the McCarthys of the world, the FBI, at least as envisioned by J Edgar Hoover, and the Nixon Administration often doesnt trust people to be too free.
Now, though, with the recent enactment of The Patriot Act and its many restrictions, our attempts to corral Muslims in California, and recent suggestions that we might turn captives over to countries who are more willing to use torture than we are, it seems downright newsworthy:
Brave New World
But you, Thomas Jefferson,
You could not lie so still,
You could not bear the weight of stone
On the quiet hill,
You could not keep your green grown peace
Nor hold your folded hand
If you could see your new world now,
Your new sweet land.
There was a time, Tom Jefferson,
When freedom made free men.
The new found earth and the new freed mind
Were brothers then.
There was a time when tyrants feared
The new world of the free.
Now freedom is afraid and shrieks
Words have not changed their sense so soon
Nor tyranny grown new.
The truths you held, Tom Jefferson,
Will still hold true.
What’s changed is freedom in this age.
What great men dared to choose
Small men now dare neither win
Freedom, when men fear freedom’s use
But love its useful name,
Has cause and cause enough for fear
And cause for shame.
We fought a war in freedom’s name
And won it in our own.
We fought to free a world and raised
A wall of stone.
Your countrymen who could have built
The hill fires of the free
To set the dry world all ablaze
With liberty –
To burn the brutal thorn in Spain
Of bigotry and hate
And the dead lie and the brittle weed
Beyond the Plate:
Who could have heaped the bloody straw,
The dung of time, to light
The Danube in a sudden flame
Of hope by night –
Your countrymen who could have hurled
Their freedom like a brand
Have cupped it to a candle spark
In a frightened hand.
Freedom that was a thing to use
They’ve made a thing to save
And staked it in and fenced it round
Like a dead man’s grave.
Thomas Jefferson, of course, is used as a symbol of all those freedoms found in our Bill of Rights that we too often take for granted. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson stated his belief that "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences." Do you suppose that those were the kinds of governments he would have chosen to support rather than supporting those who can provide us with cheap oil or one that has more potential consumers than the rest of the world combined and can cheaply produce Christmas ornaments for American companies?
Perhaps, though, Jefferson expected the gradual erosion of mens rights, as suggested by the following statement made in 1788 to William Stephens Smith:
It astonishes me to find… [that so many] of our countrymen… should be contented to live under a system which leaves to their governors the power of taking from them the trial by jury in civil cases, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce, the habeas corpus laws, and of yoking them with a standing army. This is a degeneracy in the principles of liberty… which I [would not have expected for at least] four centuries.
Ill have to admit that there are some historical references here that I cant tie to a particular event or country (I’m not sure I ever had a class that covered the 40’s and 50’s), but that doesnt mean that I cant appreciate the overall truth of the poem, or take delight in the images conveyed in the last two stanzas.
Im particularly fond of the contrasting image of our forefathers who hurled/ Their freedom like a brand contrasted with the image of contemporaries who cupped it to a candle spark/ In a frightened hand. In our early years our nations freedom threatened the European monarchies, but, once we were threatened by communism we seemed more than willing to support any monarch, no matter how insignificant, if only he would oppose that evil empire, communism. Is there any doubt that were still willing to make that sacrifice for capitalism?
Instead of actively promoting freedom around the world, though it certainly remains a propaganda device to be used against those countries we oppose, we are content with preserving it in our own country where it is safely fenced in.