Ethics Hero Emeritus, Sort of: Russell Means (1940-2012)

“Fly swift, like an arrow.”

Clarence Darrow, the greatest of all American criminal defense lawyers, admired more than one criminal. One he especially admired was John Brown, the radical, violent and possibly insane abolitionist whose deadly 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry, Maryland was a terrorist act by any definition. Brown was hung for it, but he became a martyr for the anti-slavery movement, and his raid a rallying point for its cause. Darrow believed that some societal wrongs were so resistant to law and democracy that their grip could only be loosened by violence, and so he extolled men like Brown, whom he regularly eulogized in public with a fiery speech that concluded,

“The earth needs and will always need its Browns; these poor, sensitive, prophetic souls, feeling the suffering of the world, and taking its sorrows on their burdened backs.  It sorely needs the prophets who look far out into the dark, and through the long and painful vigils of the night, wait for the coming day.  They wait and watch, while slow and cold and halting, the morning dawns, the sun rises and waxes to the noon, and wanes to the twilight and another night comes on.  The radical of today is the conservative of tomorrow, and other martyrs take up the work through other nights, and the dumb and stupid world plants its weary feet upon the slippery sand, soaked by their blood, and the world moves on.”

I immediately thought of Darrow’s words about Brown* when I learned that Russell Means had died this week at the age of 72. Clarence Darrow would have loved Russell Means. Continue reading