Conformity Reigns

Two conflicting analyses of American civil liberties appeared in newspaper articles this week. The first article, by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, warned of a drift in the direction of repressive orthodoxy. The second, by Boston political pundit W. E. Mullins, stated that civil liberties are not under serious attack here, and that there is no emphasis on conformity. If Mr. Mullins had opened any paper besides his own, he would have learned differently. For in the past two weeks alone, three organized conformist pressure groups have drawn blood.

In California, a group of 250,000 loyal citizens have set themselves up as a censor board for political unorthodoxy in movies. This group, Wage Earners of U.S.A. Inc., has drawn up a little list of 95 politically objectionable pictures and is planning to take action against 50 of them. As a kickoff, it is picketing "Death of a Salesman" because the author of the play on which the movie is based was alleged to have been connected with a Communist front at one time.

Then in New York last week an actor, who denies Communist sympathies or membership, was dropped from his job because his name had been mentioned in a privately published political blacklist called "Red Channels." This list, peddled by American Business Consultants, Inc. at high fees, serves as a political kangaroo court in the entertainment field; and actors that its publishers consider unsafe have a hard time finding employment.

Finally, another private pressure group--the Joint Committee against Communism--started circulating a list of eighteen college professors that it finds politically objectionable, and is calling for legislative action against them. In a new twist on the principle of "innocent until proved guilty," the Joint Committee declares that it is up to the professors to prove their fitness to teach in the face of its accusations.

These are current examples of the wave of repressive orthodoxy that Justice Douglas mentions. In answer he calls for a renaissance in freedom of thought and expression; but the danger is that people, including Mr. Mullins, will not recognize this need in time.