I have a set of rotating quotes for my desktop and lock screen images on my computer. For most of them, they're just quotes I like. This one, though, is there because the idea is hard to hold on to -- it's a slippery understanding and repeatedly seeing it pop up on my desktop is helping me slowly start to clamp down on it.
"Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. ... The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war." --Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)
Looking at this quote, I think about the theater of the American government -- of rallies and debates, of the performance of congresspeople -- I remember a Jon Stewart clip where he showed a US House Representative using a giant pair of scissors to cut up a giant credit card meant to represent the United States' borrowing.
And I think about the first amendment -- about the idea that's so pervasive in America that our single greatest achievement as a country is Freedom of Speech and Expression. That having the first amendment vouchsafes all other freedoms, all other rights, all other moral obligations, automatically -- that the fact that we can freely criticize the system automatically means the system is reshaped in the face of those criticisms.
I'm not saying that freedom of expression is bad. But I am saying that there's something scary about the superficial, iconic freedoms we hold up in America as proof we're a functional and moral country.