March 10, 2006


Our Dissidents And Their Discontents: In America "dissidents" like Lewis H. Lapham are widely published. (BRET STEPHENS, March 10, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Is the Prince of Wales a "dissident"?

When the story broke a few weeks back that this is what Prince Charles considers himself to be--"a 'dissident' working against the prevailing political consensus," according to his former private secretary--the tut-tutting could be heard round the world. "Prince Charles is not exactly Aung San Suu Kyi," wrote Mark Oliver in the Guardian, referring to the Burmese opposition leader. "He might burn his tongue on a particularly hot crumpet, but he's hardly likely to be spirited away in the middle of the night and be held under indefinite house arrest."

But here's a question: If by "dissident" we mean a person who, against his wishes, is legally or practically barred from participating freely and fully in the political life of his country, how then is the prince not a dissident? Charles--by many accounts a man of strong political views--cannot vote, cannot join a political party, cannot take sides in political debates and cannot express himself on political subjects except discreetly and with the prior approval of the government. Perhaps he could forgo his titles in favor of ordinary citizenship, as Edward VIII did in 1936. But who, except a dissident, must renounce his inheritance in order to gain his rights?

I don't mean to get weepy for a man whose handcuffs are made of 24-karat gold. Still, the prince looks positively Mandela-esque next to some of America's self-styled "dissenters": people like MIT's Noam Chomsky, Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation and Harper's magazine editor Lewis H. Lapham.

In fairness, Mr. Lapham did just dissent from orthodoxy in a way that has infuriated the Left and, within his social milieu, probably made him feel like Trotsky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2006 7:54 AM

Does obnoxiously defending your own right to hyperbolic overstatement but calling for the forcible suppression of opposing speech make you a dissenter (as Lapham did a couple months ago with evangelical Christians)?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at March 10, 2006 1:29 PM

Yes, well, there's "dissenting from orthodoxy" and there's being a fool. The "AIDS dissenter" Lapham published is the latter sort. There can be intelligent dissent from orthodoxy on AIDS (see Michael Fumento), but the "HIV doesn't cause AIDS, drug use does" idea is silly. Unless you think those various nuns and kids who got HIV from blood transfusions and later died of AIDS where all secret amyl nitrate users.

Posted by: PapayaSF at March 10, 2006 4:55 PM