Alan Dershowitz at Restoration Weekend

Why conservative and liberal centrists should ally to save American liberty.

Editor's note: Below are the video and transcript of remarks given by Alan Dershowitz at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's 2018 Restoration Weekend. The event was held Nov. 15th-18th at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida.


David Horowitz: Okay.  Thank you.  I have admired Alan Dershowitz ever since I opened his first book, The Best Defense, over 30 years ago, and read its opening words.  The difference he wrote between Perry Mason, Perry Mason's clients and mine is that mine are guilty, and then he explained why it was important to provide the guilty the best defense.  It was to keep the prosecution, the government, honest.  Although Alan is a liberal and he and I would probably disagree over many issues, when you think about it, this idea is the bedrock of the conservative outlook.  As conservatives, we believe that the root cause of social problems is not society, which is a reflection of us, but us, our flawed human nature as human beings.  The people who are in government have the same impulses to lie, cheat, steal and destroy as those they are prosecuting, but because they have the power of the state behind them, they are potentially even more dangerous than their targets, and that is why keeping them honest and holding them to the rules, to the process and the law is such a vital task in our democracy.  And it is why Alan Dershowitz, a liberal and a lifelong Democrat, is such an important figure to our nature in its present political crisis.  It is a tragedy for our nation that the Democrat party itself is no longer a liberal party committed to due process and individual rights.  It has been taken over by a progressive cohort and etiology that does not believe the root cause of our social problems is the flawed nature of individuals but instead it is the oppressive nature of groups based on race, gender and sexual orientation.  The disgraceful witch hunts of President Donald Trump and Judge Brett Kavanaugh reveal a party that does not believe in due process or innocent until proven guilty but is comfortable with guilty by race and gender and guilt by accusation.  If these beliefs that inspire these attitudes prevail, our still young republic is over.  That is why I believe Alan Dershowitz is an iconic figure, even the iconic figure in the battle to preserve this great democracy and restore its founding principles of equality, fairness and respect for the rule of law. 

Alan is both a liberal and a democrat.  The two are no longer synonymous.  Today, he is respected by political conservatives and vilified by progressives as the chief defender of President Trump who was the target of a sadistic attempt by the leaders of Alan's own party to impeach and overthrow him.  So disrespectful of due process by these democratic leaders, that they have constantly invoked the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as grounds for impeaching him.  This is an amendment that was specifically designed to remove presidents incapacitated by strokes and similar catastrophic events.  No one in his right mind can think that Donald Trump, who has accomplished more in the first 2 years in office than any president in the memory, is a stroke victim.  Because Alan is a lifelong democrat and his community of lifetime friends reflect the progressive currents that have overtaken his party, he has been shunned and attacked by the circles he moves in.  To be Alan Dershowitz requires remarkable courage, integrity and commitment to principle and dedication to the ingenious design of the American Founders.  In this time of national crisis, Alan Dershowitz is an American hero and a beacon for a hopeful American future.  We are deeply honored by his presence at our weekend.  The way—finally--I see him, can be summed up in this thought:  If the leaders of the Democratic Party were to become liberals like Alan Dershowitz, we would still have a two‑party system but our nation's crisis would be over and democracy restored.  Alan Dershowitz. 

Alan Dershowitz: Thank you, David.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate the warm welcome.  This is not the kind of venue I'm used to speaking at.  I usually speak at meetings of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Democrat party, liberal organizations, liberal universities, but I'm not getting that many invitations from them these days.  I'm here today not because I am lonely.  I'm here today because I think it's so important for liberals and conservatives to speak to each other and not to shout, threaten, intimidate.  I'm here today because true liberals and true conservatives share many, many values, and I want to speak about how these core values are under attack today.  Our core constitutional and political values are being challenged in many places by many people, but most dangerously, by students and faculty at many of our leading universities.  Why is that so dangerous?  Because our current students are our future leaders.  When I used to teach at Harvard, I would look out at my first-year class, and I would see 150 frightened students.  They were frightened because I was a tough Socratic teacher.  There was no such thing as a right answer in my class, and they looked at each other and were scared, but when I saw the 150 students, I saw the next president of the United States, the next chief justice, the next publisher of various newspapers, the next senior managing partner of Goldman Sachs.  Why?  Because all of those students had been in my classes, and I realized the responsibility that a teacher has to students who are going to be our future leaders, and I worry so much about the distortion of values today on college campuses. 

These values include free and open exchange of ideas, and hold and express views that offend some listeners, the marketplace of ideas as a means of discerning truth.  These values also include truth itself and the need for diversity and ideas.  Challenges as well are being directed at due process and the presumption of innocence for those accused of misconduct.  They also challenge individual versus identity accountability and other traditional hallmarks of liberal democracy and barriers to tyranny.  In place of these proven protections, many students and faculty today are insisting that freedom of speech, and I'm quoting now, is part of a patriarchal privilege designed to preserve the status quo, that truth is identity based and variable and that evidence is in the eye and the experience of the beholder.  I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's famous statement.  Who are you going to believe?  Me or your lying eyes?  They insist that they know the truth, capital T, capital T, and do not need to hear other points of view.  They argue that due process is a tactic for requiring the oppressed to prove their victimization.  They argue that identity politics must displace individual responsibility and that the academic construct of intersectionality that teaches us that all oppressed groups share common oppressors demand group accountability.  If you're a man, if you're white, if you're heterosexual, you're guilty.  It doesn't matter what the facts may be.  And that democracy and liberty are themselves constructs of a hegemonic white male aristocracy.  This is the language one hears today on university campuses.  Most frightening is the fact that some faculty members and some students today believe that if they cannot get their way through democratic means that violence is a viable and legitimate alternative.  This is a throwback to the 1970s when the Weathermen blew up college campuses, engaged in violence against individuals, engaged in threats and we're seeing that today as well. 

These attacks on our traditional values are now spreading beyond university campuses.  We're already seeing the first manifestations of that by the election of several young extremists, Democrats, to Congress in the most recent election, and that is a frightening phenomenon.  Much as I love diversity and think it's important to have diverse representation in Congress, to have the kind of people in Congress that do not support free speech and support boycotts against Israel and support other repressive measures in the name of being progressives is a frightening phenomenon.  Centrist liberalism which is stand for conservatism share a commitment to the core values under attack.  We are being marginalized by extremists who used to dwell on the fringes of society.  The political center is shrinking as many on the left move from liberalism toward misnamed progressivism that often espouses some of the most repressive, intolerant and reactionary elements and some of the right are moving toward hyper nationalism and outright white supremacy.  This is a worldwide trend manifested both on the right and on the left.  Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain represents the hard left in this trend.  He is a bigot, an anti-Semite, an intolerant person and he may yet become the next prime minister of America's closest ally.  And who is supporting him?  Bernie Sanders.  Can you imagine?  Bernie Sanders goes to England to show support for an anti-Semite, an anti-American, like this man, Corbin.  We are seeing as I mentioned some democratic politicians in our own country.  The trend toward the hard right is represented by nationalist leaders in Hungary, Poland, Greece, Austria and Holland and other European countries as well as by a small number of extremist Republican politicians in this country. 

Here in the United States we have been blessed with a constitutional system of checks and balances that constrain the excesses of either extreme, but the most important and the most powerful check has always remained within the hearts and minds of individuals.  As the great Judge Learned Hand once wisely reminded us, liberty lies in the hearts of men and women and when it dies there no constitution, no law, no court can ever save it.  Our democratic system of checks and balances transcends what we learned in high school civics.  In addition to the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch, we have non‑government checks.  We have the media.  We have the academy.  We have churches.  We have business.  We have so many other elements, and a perfect example was this.  When the president of the United States decided to separate families at the border, the checks and balances came into operation.  Not necessarily in the courts or in the legislature, but business leaders objected to it, academic leaders, church leaders objected to it, and ultimately it became clear this was not the American way, and the president withdrew that ill-advised suggestion.  Some of the media as well have prioritized ideology over truth.  Opinion over reporting.  The New York Times now, it's subtle, sometimes you can't notice it, has on the front page something called News Analysis.  It's simply a disguised editorial.  Their headlines are disguised editorials.  And it's very hard today, oh for the good old days of Walter Cronkite.  Walter Cronkite never voted in elections because he didn't want to appear to be biased or be biased.  At the end of his life, I knew Walter Cronkite.  He came to Martha's Vineyard.  I sailed with him on his boat.  He actually had some strong political views.  You would never had known that from his reporting.  He was trusted to report not to opine, and he represented the best of the media; something we don't have today. 

The great concerning question is where the current trends toward extremism and intolerance are wounding liberty to the extent that they will not be able to recover.  Do we have the capacity to treat these wounds before they fester and become fatal?  History has generally blessed this country with an absence of powerful and influential extremes.  We never had the kind of large fascist or communist parties that plagued Europe in the 1920s and the 1930s.  To be sure, we had regional extremists such as the Ku Klux Klan and the communist party, but they never had a major impact on American politics.  When Europe responded to the depression after World War II with Nazism and communism, America responded in its way.  We had the New Deal, we had President Roosevelt who saved us from extremism and saved capitalism.  You might disagree with him, but he prevented the United States from moving toward either communism or fascism.  President Trump was justly criticized for not condemning more forcefully the white supremacists who falsely claimed to be speaking in his name, so too must Democrats be criticized for not condemning more forcefully those who distort liberalism and turn it into intolerant radicalism.  So too should educational leaders condemn those who misuse the academic license to propagandize rather than to teach and who tell their students what to think rather than how to think for themselves. 

When I taught at Harvard, for 50 years, I never expressed a personal view in the classroom.  Students did not know whether I supported or opposed the death penalty.  I had devoted much of my professional life to opposing it.  Students didn't know because I took the devil's advocate position in the classroom and defended every possible position.  Students didn't know my views on Israel unless they read my material outside the classroom.  I think it's an abuse of the lectern for teachers to try to propagandize their students and yet it's going on all over the academy.  Too many mainstream Democrats have remained silent even some complicit with the anti-Semitic and anti-gay incitements of Louis Farrakhan along with his bigoted followers on campus.  I want you all to imagine the following scenario.  Imagine that President Bill Clinton, who I liked and voted for twice and I regard as a personal friend, imagine if he had been invited to the memorial service for a white country and western singer who he liked, and he came to the memorial service and he saw sitting in a place of honor two places away from him David Duke.  He wouldn't have stayed on that platform for 10 seconds.  He would have been furious for having been duped into standing on the same platform as David Duke.  But that happened.  He went to the memorial for Aretha Franklin and who was sitting two seats away from him?  Louis Farrakhan.  Did President Clinton get up and leave?  No.  He stayed there, and he shook hands with that horrible bigot.  Shame on President Clinton for not applying the same standard he would have applied to David Duke. 

It's so easy for people on the left to condemn the extremism on the right.  So easy.  You don't have to lose any friends or anything, and it's also easy for people on the right to condemn the extremism of the left.  What is hard to do and what I call on everybody to do, my liberal friends and my conservative friends, if you're a liberal, if you're a person of the left, you must prioritize condemning the extremism of the hard left and the bigotry of the hard left.  That's your responsibility.  And if you're a person of the right, if you're a conservative, you must go out of your way to condemn the extremism of those on the hard right.  That's where President Trump made his mistake.  When at Charlottesville, he did condemn both.  He condemned them equally, but as a person of the right and as a person who some of the people in Charlottesville claimed to speak in his own name, he had a special obligation to single out people of the extreme right who purported to speak in his name.  They weren't speaking in his name.  He doesn't support any of that.  There isn't an ounce of anti-Semitism or bigotry in President Trump, but he has a special obligation to condemn those on the extreme right. 

Look, we've experienced shooting in places of worship.  We've experienced targeting lawmakers playing baseball.  We've experienced pipe bombs being sent to people.  These are all symptoms of a deeper underlying sickness in our system.  The root causes include a growing intolerance on both sides of the political spectrum, that such intolerance is being taught to our future leaders makes it even more dangerous than the rare manifestations of actual violence.  Now there's good news.  The good news is that students, many students on our university campuses are finally standing up to the intolerance of the hard left and are fighting back.  They're fighting back against faculty members.  I'll give you an example.  Recently at the University of Michigan, a young woman decided she wanted to take a year leave and study abroad, so she went to her professor and said I'd like you to write me a recommendation, and the professor said great, you're a terrific student.  It would be an honor to write you a recommendation.  By the way, where do you want to study in your year abroad?  She said Israel.  He said oh no,  I can't write you a recommendation to Israel.  I'm part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement against Israel, so I refuse to write.  She fought back.  She fought back and she got the teacher punished, and the University of Michigan is now setting up standards by which professors cannot express their bigotry in the way they treat students.  The best response to hatred, the best response to hate speech is to fight back.  Fight back and use every legal remedy at your disposal. 

Sigmund Freud once said that civilization began the day the first person hurled an insult instead of a spear, and there's some truth to that, but we also have to stop hurling insults.  We have to start talking to each other.  Start listening to each other.  I listen to my conservative friends.  Recently, I introduced at an event of the Zionist Organization of America, the head of the organization, a man named Morton Klein, and people said to me why are you introducing him?  You don't agree with any of his views.  And in the introduction, I said but I learn from him.  I listen to him.  He even on occasion persuades me, and he did persuade me to change my mind on some issues, and I persuaded him to change his mind.  That's the way dialogue must operate.  It's impossible to know which is cause and which is effect.  The growing extremist on both sides of the political spectrum make nuance conversation difficult.  The extreme left and the extreme right share a common tactic.  Shutting down their opponents without listening to them.  True believers do not need to hear opposing arguments.  They know their right, and they understand that there's no reason to listen to wrong arguments.  Neither the extreme, and I'm talking about the extreme, extreme right, the David Duke right, or the extreme left support free speech as a principal, equally applicable to themselves as their opponents.  Free speech for me but not for them is what extremists believe in.  Many observers have noted that the extreme left is now on the forefront of seeking censorship on university campuses.  They asked me when did the change occur, and they're deeply surprised by my answer.  There has been no change.  The hard left has never supported free speech.  They have never supported it as a principle.  They employ freedom of speech as a tactic to help themselves. 

I grew up during the McCarthy period, when the hard left was being censored so of course they advocated free speech because they were the victims of censorship.  Even the famous free speech movement, those of you who are old enough to remember it, Mario Savio at Berkeley, that was not free speech for everybody.  That was free speech for the hard left and no one else.  The hard left has never ever supported free speech from Stalin to the American Communist Party, and we can't count on the hard left ever supporting the free speech of conservatives.  I'm sure we can’t count on the hard, hard right supporting the free speech of liberals.  Freedom of speech has always been a centrist principle supported by both authentic centrist liberals and by authentic centrist conservatives.  Liberal centrists generally support free speech for conservative centrists as well as radicals on both sides.  Centrist conservatives also generally support free speech for liberals as well as for radicals on both sides.  Some of you may remember that about 20 years ago I was regularly on television debating my friend, Bill Buckley, William Buckley.  He called me his favorite liberal.  I called him my favorite conservative.  We would have these great arguments.  We agreed about nothing, but we agreed to talk to each other, and we agreed to try to persuade each other.  Those days are long gone. 

You know I served on the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union for many years in the 1970s.  It was in those days my fellow board members were Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, all of whom shared a common commitment to free speech for me and for thee.  We defended the rights of Nazis to march through Skokie as well as the rights of communist to advocate their pernicious doctrines.  We defended the free speech rights of pornographers, perverts and other ne'er-do-wells because as H. L. Mencken once put it, the trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels, for it's against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it's to be stopped at all.  What has happened to the American Civil Liberties Union?  It's become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Would you believe that 2 days ago when the Trump administration finally and belated changed the rules regarding how young men who are on college campuses and who are accused of sexual misconduct, what rights they have to defend themselves.  Finally, the administration has said that people who are accused have the right to cross-examine.  You would think that would be the most basic thing of all.  They would have the presumption of innocence.  How would the ACLU respond to this?  Let me read you what they said.  The ACLU says these new proposals promote an unfair process improperly favoring the accused.  Can you imagine the old ACLU saying that?  The Fifth Amendment does the same thing.  It favors the accused.  The Fourth Amendment does the same thing.  The First Amendment does the same thing.  It favors all kinds of speech.  Is the ACLU now going to seek the abridgement of the Fourth, the Fifth, the Eighth amendments in the Bill of Rights because they favor the accused?  My god what has happened to the ACLU. 

The ACLU has now made a fortune.  They started out with the budget before the Trump administration of $20 million.  It went up to $120 million because they changed their policies.  They are no longer neutral advocates of everybody's civil liberties.  They are part of the get Trump at any cost campaign.  They will do anything, no matter what it does to civil liberties, if the end result is to get President Trump out of office.  That's what's happened to the American Civil Liberties Union.  They took positions on political candidates.  They opposed the Kavanaugh nomination, refused to stand up for his basic due process rights.  They have become a partisan extremist organization, part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  Let me tell you a story about how bad things have become.  So, some of you know I wrote a book called The Case against Impeaching Trump.  I didn't initially intend to write that book.  Why?  Because I believed like many others that my friend and the person who I supported, Hillary Clinton, would be elected president, and I watched as the Republicans said the day she becomes president we will move to impeach her.  You'll remember the cries of “lock her up”, “lock her up”.  So, the original book I was going to write and here's the cover, The Case against Impeaching Hillary Clinton.  But when Donald Trump got elected, I just changed the word Clinton to Trump.  It's the same exact argument.  What I argue is to impeach a president you need to have treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors and that when the framers of the constitution put those safeguards in, they meant it.  Now if I had written the book, The Case against Impeaching Hillary Clinton, they would have built a statue to me on Martha's Vineyard.  Instead, nobody will talk to me.  They even require trigger warnings.  If you're going to invite Dershowitz somewhere, you have to give us advanced notice so we don't come and sully ourselves by meeting him. 

As the result of that, I had my publisher come up with yet a third cover for the book.  This is a plain brown wrapper so people can read my book on the beach of Martha's Vineyard without being accused of being a Trump supporter.  So, what does the future hold?  The prophecy ended with the destruction of the Second Temple so I'm not going to be either a fool or naive to try to prophesy.  I do think that the spirit of liberty is deep in the American people.  I think it's going to be tough for the college students today who want to deny us liberty to prevail.  I think students get older, they mature, they understand the values of liberty, they understand the values of free speech.  In Israel, they say the difference between a pessimist and an optimist is a pessimist says:  things are so bad they can't possibly get any worse.  An optimist says: yes they can.  Now I'm an optimist.  I'm an optimist but not in that sense.  I think things are very bad on university campuses today.  I think the Democratic Party is destroying itself and shooting itself in the foot by pandering to the extreme left, by thinking that the future lies with people who are intolerant of differing points of view.  But we are fighting back.  We must form coalitions between centrist liberals and centrist conservatives.  We must form coalitions that fight for the basic values that we share in common, and I'm confident that if we join together in those coalitions, that American still is a country that values liberty.