Justice William O. DouglasJustice William O. Douglas, (1898-1980), U. S. Supreme Court Justice

Justice William O. Douglas Quote

“The struggle is always between the individual and his sacred right to express himself and…the power structure that seeks conformity, suppression and obedience.”

Justice William O. DouglasJustice William O. Douglas
~ Justice William O. Douglas

Ratings and Comments

David L Rosenthal

"Always" tends to disqualify the statement, as it does here. An oversimplification, not worthy of a justice of the Supreme Court. Often true, but not always.

Mike, Norwalk

adding to what David said, the sentiment of the quote is absolutely true and in America's face.

Joe, Rochester, MI

Leave it to liberal socialists to quibble over a definition ... always, often, usually, mostly, etc.

E Archer, NYC

This is nothing new to the individualist -- collectivists are generally unaware of how their shoe doesn't fit everyone.

David L Rosenthal

For those who have no imagination or are unaware of other significant struggles, beside the type mentioned in this quote as being the only type with respect to the freedom of expression, there is a struggle going on between parents groups and school boards, having to do with the continued use in schools of certain textbooks that have been demonstrated to be very inaccurate, erroneous, misleading, and inadequate. Now, which is the power structure and which the individual in such cases? It does not conform to the quotes inadequate rule, does it?

Mike, Norwalk

David, I think you missed the point here, you and the other parents are the individuals that are struggling to exprees your sacred right to truth and the morality thereof. The power structure that seeks conformity, suppression and obedience are following after the admonition of Lenin "A lie told often enough becomes the truth".

David L. Rosenthal

The school board is elected by the voters, a great many of who are the parents that oppose the board. Who are the individuals and who the power structure? It is not a clearly defined distinction, and not comparable to what Justice Douglas comprehended in his quote. The group of parents, having formed a coalition against the school board, have become an association, or a power group, and must be considered as such. The school board, each member representing a separate district within the larger school district, collaborate as a commission, but are also at odds with one another on various issues. Each is vulnerable to the will of the community that opposes them, and each is accountable in case the community wishes to replace or impeach them. Altogether they are nine individuals, while the association that opposes them number many more. Perhaps, as you say, I am missing the point, but I would say that the case is not so clear that it harmonizes well with the meaning of the quote. In any case, the quote refers to the individual in opposition to the power structure, while I see here a power group in opposition to a commission of limited authority, susceptible to the common will. I am not trying to complicate this; I just see it this way.

John Shuttleworth, New York City

A statement about individual expression in contrast with one that reflects palatable conformity with popular or political acceptability enforced by social standards is most definitely not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, whoever occupies the seat of power usually does so reinforcing the overriding moral myths which characterize a given society at a given time. This, then, becomes the official story doled out in whatever educational system instituted to perpetuate that (those) myths. Most people want to, simultaneously, blend in and stand out: to be the perfect example of everybody else; not divergent individuals. I say, most people. The work of Michelangelo epitomized the anthropomorphic projections of the newly endowed middle class of his day, running afoul, somewhat, of the more conservative clergy. The objections were not too strong; we still see his work. Many more "individualistic" artists suffered the ultimate price for their singularity: they were ignored. Those who cry singularity very often are disguising their conformity with a false protestation; or, screaming one thing and selling another. It is up to the individual, who apprehends that which is expressed, to evaluate its value (truth ?) for him or her self. My mother had a saying: "If you believe all you read, you'll eat all you see."

E Archer, NYC

The seduction of power overwhelms de jure governance.  People willing to sell the lives and liberty of their fellows for a place in the Royal Court.


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