The dissenter is always most loyal

Sep 11, 2017

“Dissent” is one of the more difficult dimensions of public discourse to define. It’s not the same as the political sparring that is expected of political parties—even required at some level—if a republic is to be a republic. And yet, dissent is easy to recognize. Dissent comes out of the depth of the heart and exists only in service to what both sides say they are committed to preserving.

It comes out of a soul in anguish over life that must be bartered in the process of saving it.

Most of all, dissent always has a place and a time and a face we do not expect to see in this place at this time. It has the character of exactly what the institution wants most to produce: total loyalty and complete identification. The problem is that both sides define their one same loyalty differently. The establishment is always loyal to the very institutionalism of the institution in question. The dissenter is always most loyal instead to what the institution itself claims to be about.

As a result, loneliness is at the very heart of dissent. Loneliness is its character and isolation is its cost: it is one young man facing a row of tanks in Tiananmen Square. It is the pacifist Dorothy Day on a hunger strike in a Washington jail for having the temerity to protest on behalf of women’s suffrage at the gates of the White House. It is Rosa Parks refusing to get out of her seat on a public bus. It is the few who hold out against total dissolution of the highest ideals of any institution.

—from “The Woman Who Wouldn’t: When Vision Gives Voice to Dissent,” by Joan Chittister, in Not Less than Everything, edited by Catherine Wolff (HarperCollins)

“The Woman Who Wouldn’t: When Vision Gives Voice to Dissent,” by Joan Chittister, in Not Less than Everything, edited by Catherine Wolff (HarperCollins)

The Benetvision Store offers many of Joan’s books for sale. Purchasing them through Benetvision directly supports Joan’s work. When the book isn’t available from Benetvision, Buy Book links directly to the publisher where your purchase can help keep the publishing marketplace more equitable.