Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Second Kind of Loyalty

A while ago, Skelly had a post about why people go into public defense; from a profound belief in the fundamentals of the Constitution and/or a strong anti-authoritarian streak. This post is about people who are stirred to act on that profound belief, and the price they pay for it.

Beginning in the 1960's one of the many slogan/propaganda programs going on in China was to "Emulate Lei Feng." To emulate Lei Feng was to show obedient, unquestioning loyalty to the Party. Not heroism, not brilliance, not standing out in any way. In Feng's words, to aspire to be nothing more than "a revolutionary screw that never rusts."

Beginning in the 1950's a journalist named Liu Binyan began writing literary reportage pieces, exposing corruption, bureaucratism and incompetence in China. As part of the crackdown after the Hundred flowers movement, Binyan was "sent to the countryside" for "reeducation through labor."

He was rehabilitated in the early 1960's but kept writing. In the late 1960's he was again sent to the countryside, but for "reform through labor" i.e. a prison labor camp

He was rehabilitated again in the late 1970's and wrote into the 1980's about the same problems of corruption, incompetence and the suffering and injustices of the regular citizen. In 1988 he came to the US to teach, and was forced to remain here in exile after speaking out against the Tiananmen Square massacre and the following crackdown. He died in 2005.

One of the pieces he wrote in the 1980's was called "A Second Kind of Loyalty." It was a response to the "Emulate Lei Feng" movement, who represented the first kind of loyalty. The person who showed the second kind of loyalty loved China or the Party no less than Lei Feng, but acted out of love and loyalty to tell the nation or Party when it had betrayed its ideals.

This second kind of loyalty is the kind that Binyan himself lived. His autobiography is called "A Higher Kind of Loyalty" and it fits him. He remained a committed Communist all of his adult life. He grieved for what had become of the Communism he believed in, sacrificed for, worked in prison camps for, and tried to point out its errors, without avail. I had the honor to meet him in 1990 after Tiananmen, after he'd been exiled. He still believed. He still struggled, honorably and with total loyalty, the get the Party to see the error of its ways - to return it to that ideal that Binyan kept in his heart of hearts.

One of the reasons people become public defenders that that they have a second kind, the higher kind of loyalty. They believe that the Constitution and the Founding Fathers contemplated something better than what we're doing now; that in order to be worthy of being called "American" we must try to do better; that the ends don't justify the means; that as Americans we're the good guys, even when the other guys play dirty; that we're a nation of laws, and those laws apply equally to all. We know how and why the Constitution should work; and those with the higher kind of loyalty are trying to get the way it does work as close as possible to the way it should work.

The second kind of loyalty is rarely popular; people don't like to hear that what they hold dear has been corrupted or perverted. The tendency is to kill or at best resent the messenger, even the loyal one. For both Lei Feng and Liu Binyan, their personal comfort was secondary to their loyalty. Feng merely honored the letter of the law of loyalty, which won't save what you're fighting for if it's gone astray; Binyan honored the spirit of the law of loyalty and tried to save what he believed in.



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