FREEDOM SPENT by Richard Harris
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Are Americans secure in their homes? Free to speak? To remain silent? The Bill of Rights says yes; Harris, wrapping three case histories around three constitutional law lectures, says no. The stories trace familiar idealist-vs.-rednecks and little guy-vs.-Big Brother patterns: Al and Margaret McSurely, Marxist poverty workers in Appalachia, tangle with a US Senator, the Justice Department, and Kentucky officialdom in an effort to retain possession of private papers illegally seized; a smalltown schoolteacher loses his livelihood and six years of living after wearing a black armband into class on Vietnam Moratorium Day, 1969; a lesbian couple, unwilling to perform the Judas role for an over-stepping grand jury, opts for incarceration. Each scenario's intermission is devoted to colorful legal history (often reaching back to the infamous Court of Star Chamber), to the voices of right-thinking professors and judges, and to a case-by-case attack on the Supreme Court's tortuous wordplay--sometimes amounting to ""judicial perjury""--with the Founding Fathers' legacies. Non-lawyers capable of close concentration will find no sharper or surer navigation through legalese (a rule or a principle? transactional immunity or use immunity?), and the Harris narratives and arguments supply models of lean, dramatic prose. Why then does the whole of Freedom Spent leave a paler impression than any of its muscular segments? Blame first the feeling that someone's stacking the deck--the uniformly innocent and courageous protagonists, their sympathetic causes and loathsome adversaries. (How much stronger Harris' expose would be if he could make us indignant over the denial of constitutional rights to a neo-Nazi or mass murderer!) Add the spoon-fed postulates (""even if a state is benevolent, its interests are always opposed to those of the individual"") and the slightly virulent rhetoric, and one thinks twice before being swept along by the anti-""statist,"" reverse-patriotic appeal. Still, it would take far more than overzealousness to negate the truth and power in Harris' anger. Read cautiously, but read.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown