Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, On Liberty
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, On Liberty
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

On Liberty

Background Information:
The following excerpt is taken from H. L. Mencken’s article entitled “On Liberty,” published in the December 5, 1923 edition of the Nation Magazine. Mencken’s work is highly acclaimed by scholars for its literary, social and political critique. Mencken is arguably the most distinguished journalist in United States history.

I believe in liberty. And when I say liberty, I mean the thing in its widest imaginable sense — liberty up to the extreme limits of the feasible and tolerable. I am against forbidding anybody to do anything, or say anything, or think anything so long as it is at all possible to imagine a habitable world in which he would be free to do, say, and think it. The burden of proof, as I see it, is always upon the policeman, which is to say, upon the lawmaker, the theologian, the right-thinker. He must prove his case doubly, triply, quadruply, and then he must start all over and prove it again. The eye through which I view him is watery and jaundiced. I do not pretend to be “just” to him — any more than a Christian pretends to be just to the devil. He is the enemy of everything I admire and respect in this world — of everything that makes it various and amusing and charming. He impedes every honest search for the truth. He stands against every sort of good-will and common decency. His ideal is that of an animal trainer, an archbishop, a major general in the army. I am against him until the last galoot’s ashore (pp. 193–194).

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


I believe in liberty. And when I say liberty, I mean the thing in its widest imaginable sense — liberty up to the extreme limits of the feasible and tolerable.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: I believe in freedom. By this I mean that people should be absolutely as free as possible to do what they want, to live life as they choose. The only freedoms people shouldn’t have are those that cannot be supported by a civil society (because they deny someone else a fundamental right).




I am against forbidding anybody to do anything, or say anything, or think anything so long as it is at all possible to imagine a habitable world in which he would be free to do, say, and think it.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: I believe that people should be given the right to say what they choose, to think what they choose, to do what they choose as long as people can at all get along while they have these rights.




The burden of proof, as I see it, is always upon the policeman, which is to say, upon the lawmaker, the theologian, the right-thinker. He must prove his case doubly, triply, quadruply, and then he must start all over and prove it again.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Anyone arguing against the fundamental rights to say, think, and do as one chooses, must prove beyond any doubt that these rights must be denied someone for unquestionable reasons. The burden of proof falls, not on those accused of some wrong-doing, but on accusers, on police officers, politicians who create laws, religious leaders, and righteous people (i.e., people who see them-selves as possessing the truth). These accusers must prove unequivocally that one deserves to be denied one’s fundamental rights, and they must prove it not only once, but twice, three times, four times, and then yet another time. In other words, they must prove it beyond any doubt whatsoever.




The eye through which I view him is watery and jaundiced. I do not pretend to be “just” to him — any more than a Christian pretends to be just to the devil.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: I am cynical, pessimistic, and skeptical about people who see themselves as possessing the truth and who inflict their righteous views on others. Because they deny people their rights to think and do as they choose, I see them as unjust. Therefore I openly refuse to treat their views equal to views that support fundamental human rights.




He is the enemy of everything I admire and respect in this world — of everything that makes it various and amusing and charming.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Righteous thinking that would deny someone their basic rights goes against everything that is good in the world, everything I hold in high esteem, everything that is honorable. Without differing views and differing ways of living, life would be boring, uninteresting, dull.




He impedes every honest search for the truth. He stands against every sort of good-will and common decency. His ideal is that of an animal trainer, an archbishop, a major general in the army.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Because they see themselves as possessing the truth, righteous thinkers get in the way of figuring out what is actually going on in a situation or what makes sense to believe. They don’t seek the truth, but rather distort the truth according to their belief systems. They routinely act in bad-faith. They lack integrity and are, in sum, unethical. They want to rule and dominate people, and they expect people to accept their domination submissively.




I am against him until the last galoot’s ashore.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: I am absolutely against these righteous, holier-than-thou thinkers until the last foolish or uncouth person comes to this country (which will be never, because some foolish and uncouth people will always be arriving).