Living and Dying by the Sword (or) The Autonomy and Responsibility of Paranoia
The question is a common one. "Does an individual have the right to yell, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater?" The implications are not as simple. If one answers, "no," then one is, in effect saying that the constitutional right to free speech is not entirely correct. If one answers, "yes," then one is saying that is perfectly O.K. to an individual to be delegated the power to create mass hysteria. However, there is another side to this question. If an individual is permitted to yell fire, as perhaps one would be in a Lockian state of nature, one is as likely to be trampled in the ensuing hysteria as everyone else is.
This situation, while quaint and hypothetical, does have its counterparts in history. The question of how much power ought an individual be allowed has been one that has been addressed by governments throughout the ages. The result of this power being abused has also been addressed throughout history, but not by governments, by the fates of those individuals who have abused that power. One result of power being abused is the creation of a kind of hysteria in a society that revolves around that individual who has created it. That hysteria also has the potential to turn on its progenitor and crush him in the ensuing stampede.
Historically, this is the case of Maximilien Robespierre and Joseph McCarthy. Both men, in their own rights, created a sort of social hysteria, a hysteria that for each resulted in a social stampede. These stampedes ended up crushing these men who created them in the chaos and confusion that ensued. The question of these two men faced is not one of, did they overstep their bounds of power with regards to their social responsibility. Their question is, did they get their just desserts in falling n the midst of the social climate they created.
The Rise to Power, or, Taking a Seat in the Theater
Maximilien Robespierre came from a family of moderate nobility and wealth who hailed from the small town of Arras, France. His education kept to that of a young man of his position, the political philosophies of Rousseau, the general studies of the philosophes, and the tactics of politics in a monarchical government such as France. By the time the first winds of revolution began to waft over the seas from the Americas, Robespierre was at Versailles. By the time the Estates General was to be called, the man was in a position to be appointed to it. Robespierre seemed to stay quiet, in the background; but his gradual involvement in the Estates slowly earned him greater and greater influence. Thus, by the time the revolution was out in full force, Maximilien Robespierre was recognized as an influential orator and a man of great potential. (1.)
Whereas Robespierre took a more subtle, almost "background player" approach to gaining influence...