LET US BEGIN by referring to the new thinking of some civil libertarians. Classic threats to civil liberties from legal and illegal government repression are easily recognized. The threat to civil liberties from nihilistic eruptions of pseudopolitical groups are also not difficult to perceive. But what is usually overlooked is the impact of the current social crisis on civil libertarians themselves and on their concept of civil liberties. In response to some imperative of “relevance,” the very essence of civil libertarianism is now in the process of redefinition. A little later I will turn to this new thinking in the NYCLU, because it too is a product of our social crisis and of the turbulence of confrontation politics. For what civil libertarians think about the nature of civil liberties is itself an important factor in the survival of those liberties.
First, however, to some aspects of confrontation politics and civil liberties. Without getting lost in philosophic intricacies, we must define, at least roughly, the central terms of our topic. We need to distinguish between confrontations, demonstrations, and breaking the law. Sufficient for our purpose is to define confrontation politics which affects civil...
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