Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Does this sound at all familiar?

Finished reading Sagan’s book (The Demon-Haunted World). I was very glad to see that he was very much aware of and valued the political significance of scepticism. Pity he isn’t around any more. Among other things, he looks at Thomas Jefferson, showing how Jefferson’s scientific frame of mind was related to his political actions. In the course, Sagan writes about what Jefferson was up against:

The ink was barely dry on the Bill of Rights before politicians found a way to subvert it – by cashing in on fear and patriotic hysteria. In 1798, the ruling Federalist Party knew that the button to push was ethnic and cultural prejudice. Exploiting tensions between France and the U.S., and a widespread fear that the French and Irish immigrants were somehow intrinsically unfit to be Americans, the Federalists passed a set of laws that have come to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. [...]

From across two centuries, it’s hard to recapture the frenzied mood that made the French and the “wild Irish” seem so grave a threat that we were willing to surrender our most precious freedoms. Giving credit for French and Irish cultural triumphs, advocating equal rights for them, was in effect decried in conservative circles as sentimental – unrealistic political correctness. But that’s how it always works. It always seems an aberration later. But by then we’re in the grip of the next hysteria.



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