The following is my transcription of a brief Rand Paul speech which, although delivered almost one year ago, still has been circulating the internet in video form. Along with the transcription, I’ve included notes and online links which highlight certain lines that Paul quotes as well as the authors of those quotes.
The result should be a full understanding of this interesting speech, which not only links Ray Bradbury’s ideas in his book Fahrenheit 451 to the libertarian ideas of Rand Paul but appears almost prophetically alongside this week’s revelations regarding the governmental tapping of phones and possibly emails by the NSA, according to whistleblower Edward Snowden. –SB
Senator Rand Paul
Fahrenheit 451 and the Flame of Liberty
Freedomfest 2012, Las Vegas, Nevada
July 14, 2012
In the opening pages of Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag asks: “Wasn’t there a time when firemen used to put out fires?” They laugh at him, and they rebuke him and say: “Everybody knows firemen start fires.” (*1)
Now, Montag knew this. Montag’s father and his grandfather had been firemen. It had been his duty for many years to start fires. He knew it was his duty to burn books, but this day was a little bit different.
He showed up, and the woman wouldn’t leave. He said: “The woman’s on the porch; she won’t leave. She has all of her books, and she won’t leave. So, as they’re dousing her books, and her, with kerosene, she shouts out, and she goads them. She is indignant that they would touch her books at all, and she won’t leave, and she says: “Play the man, Master Ridley; today we will light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, that it won’t be forgotten.
They keep dousing her with kerosene, and she says it again: “Play the man, Master Ridley. Today we will light such a candle.” (*2)
And, the reference is lost on the fireman in the book, and they continue to do their job.
The reference is to Hugh Latimer [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Latimer], who became a human candle. He was burned at the stake in 1555 for heresy. His heresy was to oppose the state religion. His heresy was to oppose the state. His heresy was to promote that the Bible be translated into English.
Now, we’re not yet burning folks at the stake, fortunately. We’re not burning books, but your government is interested in what books you read. They’re interested in what you say in your phone calls. They’re interested in what you write in your emails. This has been going on for a while now.
Last week, I asked for a report on this, and I was given a classified briefing. I wanted to know to what extent is your privacy being invaded. To what extent are they reading your emails, reading and listening to your phone conversations without a judge’s warrant, and I can’t tell you the answer because it’s classified. It’s classified how many times they’re doing it, but I think what I can get away with saying is that when the government says it’s a few hundred, it’s closer to a gazillion, alright.
And, a gazillion’s a fictitious number, but it’s a very large number, and that is close to the number of the communications that are being looked at by the federal government.
We are giving up our privacy. We are trading our liberty for some sort of sense or some sort of ostensible security. We’ve traded our personal privacy and our personal dignity when we travel. I mentioned the other night a couple of stories about the TSA. I’ll mention two quickly.
There was a man transporting the ashes of his parents, of his father in an urn. The TSA made him open it. They swirled their fingers in the human ashes. It fell to the floor, and the ashes fell out and they laughed.
Another young man who’s deaf was with a deaf group. He comes through with candy in his luggage, and they say, you can’t take the candy, you have to donate it, or you don’t travel. He donates the candy, and as he walks off, they’re laughing at him and saying, you “f’ng deafy” and eating his candy. This is what we’ve come to.
There’s a Harvard Law School professor by the name of Noah Feldman [http://www.bloomberg.com/view/bios/noah-feldman/], and he wrote recently. He said the next time the TSA asks you to put your hands above your head, a little bit higher, no “hon,” just a little bit higher, and hold this pose for seven vulnerable seconds; the next time they ask you this, ask yourself, is this the pose of a free man? (*3)
It’s slipping away from us. Hugh Latimer was a human candle, and when he said that—let not this episode be forgotten; let this be an episode that will not soon be forgotten—when he became a human candle, he was a human candle against tyranny and intolerance. We still have a torch that’s burning. The liberty torch is burning, figuratively or otherwise in New York Harbor, but I exhort you all not to let the flame of liberty go out.
Thank you very much.
*1: [NOTE: 17-year-old Clarisse McClellan first asks Montag: “Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead of going to start them?” Montag responds: “No. Houses have always been fireproof, take my word for it.” Clarisse continues: “Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they needed firemen to stop the flames.”
Later in the book, Montag, subconsciously recalling Clarisse’s question, asks Captain Beatty: “What—was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a time. . . . in the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed–. . . Didn’t firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?”]
*2: [NOTE: The actual quote from the woman is: ”’Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’” Captain Beatty later explains to the inquisitive Montag: “A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Ridley_(martyr)], as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555.”]
*3: [NOTE: Actual quote: “The next time airport security tells you to put your hands over your head and hold that vulnerable position for seven seconds, ask yourself: Is this the posture of a free man?” From: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-08/strip-search-case-reflects-death-of-american-privacy.html.]
Finally, please see my previous post, In honor of Ray Bradbury, in which Bradbury relates twisted attempts toward censorship of his own books over the years by those who believed he was not politically correct enough in his stories.