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The politics of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Politics of the American Civil Liberties Union. William A. Donohue. Transaction Books. In this ponderous diatribe against the ACLU, William Donohue argues that rather than serving as a nonparisan watchdog of individual freedoms, the organization instead pursues a liberal political agenda. This, Donohue apparently assumes, will dismay his readers.

It would seem obvious that no individual or group can claim possession of an abstract standard of pure civil liberty. Liberties are often in conflict: a defendant's right to a fair trial may threaten a reporter's right of free inquiry. Workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively may be rendered meaningless by management's right to speak freely in opposition. My right to be treated as an individual may conflict with your right to be free of the effects of race discrimination. The resolution of such deadlocks clearly hinges on one's political values.

Nevertheless, Donohue proceeds in numbing detail to set out the ACLU's deviation from the norm of absolute disinterestedness. He chronicles the organization's entanglement with progressive causes over the past 60 years, from its support of labor's right to organize in the twenties to its support for abortion rights and affirmative action in the eighties. When the ACLU failed to assume a liberal stance-- its tentative support for employer free speech, for example, or its relative quiescence in the McCarthy era--Donohue characterizes such activity as hypocritical. In other words, the organization is either a "left liberal' cabal with "radical proclivities' or a group of political cowards.

Donohue's real beef is that the ACLU is liberal and not libertarian. For all his fulminating over the group's "partisan agenda,' Donohue actually seems to resent the ACLU because it disagrees with his idea of civil liberty: entrepreneurism coupled with social and spiritual discipline. He is outraged because to him the ACLU's idea of liberty leads to license and ultimately libertinism. He concludes by stating, "It is sad but true that civil libertarians are more concerned about the right of a 14-year-old girl to buy a dildo from the corner drugstore than they are in the quality of her religious training.' Such hyperbole, which permeates this polemic, ultimately demonstrates the fallacy of Donohue's central thesis. Donohue's quarrel with the ACLU is not that it deviates from some dispassionate norm that he embraces. His analysis is a smokescreen for a fundamental ideological disagreement about the meaning of liberty.
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Author:Lewis, Eric
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1985
Words:402
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