After hitting the ground running in Berlin at the beginning of the new year on his “inaugural” Secretary of State trip, John Kerry told the world that “in America, you have a right to be stupid.” Given his legal education (and mine), I am troubled by that broad conclusion. I submit that he must have suffered a momentary lapse of legal history and reason.
Second-year law students are taught in a year-long class (known as torts) that each individual owes a duty of reasonable care to every person he or she encounters. That being the case, all of us (at least in British common law nations) are called to exercise reasonable caution and care so as not to expose others to unreasonable risks of harm. Failing to do so, one may be said to be negligent, especially if the behavior in question causes some measurable damage to the affected person.
Ponder for a moment, if you will, what Mr. Kerry’s remarks actually mean. There are multiple components to the accepted definition of “stupid”, one of which reads “showing or marked by a lack of good sense or judgment.” It is nearly impossible to ignore the obvious paradox here. Mr. Kerry’s utterance was unwittingly self-fulfilling as he exercised the very “right” he believes he shares with his fellow Americans.
If Americans, indeed any citizen of the world, are free to be or act stupidly, we are in more trouble than we think. Acting without good sense or judgment goes hand in hand with ignoring the tenets of natural law and reason. By ignoring what is inherently right and wrong or good and evil, one is instantly free to act in any number of ways, save for the intelligent one. Acting stupidly is no more of a right than requiring rational behavior as an obligation. Either is dictated by our God-given free will.
Proclaiming to the world that Americans have the right to be stupid is tantamount to apologizing for the alleged transgressions of the United States throughout history. Mistakes in judgment have undeniably begotten ill-advised results. But in nearly all cases, the judgment in question was deeply considered and thoroughly analyzed before implementing action. Granted, there are innumerable instances of federal legislation and executive orders that conveniently qualify as outright stupidity, along with an abdication of public duty. A failure to make good and purposeful laws is not a right, but a result, of our government structure.
The proclamation of the right to be stupid arose out of the Secretary’s off the cuff explanation of our constitutionally-protected right of free speech, which he connected to the “virtue” of tolerance. I don’t believe, however, that this most fundamental of American rights is much related to tolerance as to the free exchange of information. It is indeed unfortunate that a lawyer like Mr. Kerry, in an apparent effort to be hip, slick, and cool, made such a flippant and ignorant statement. But considering the source, along with his political leanings, there is an ironic and prophetic truth…perhaps Mr. Kerry was talking about himself and his party affiliates.