f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

April 21, 2004

Encore: Learned Hand on Liberty

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 3:44 pm

crusade ship   Two days ago, I quoted from Learned Hand‘s famous 1944 remarks on The Spirit of Liberty as a small part of a lengthy post.  After heavy exposure the past few days to talk on tax liberty, bringing liberty to other nations, and preserving personal liberty here at home, I think Judge Hand’s vision deserves to be highlighted in a posting of its own.  


As Judge Kevin S. Burke noted in his excellent speech on the judiciary:

In his The Spirit of Liberty speech in 1944, Learned Hand articulated a vision of justice and liberty that — despite our healthy and legitimate differences about how justice should be delivered — calls to mind some of our highest aspirations.  On May 21, 1944, when the world faced many of the same kinds of challenges we face today, he asked: “What, then, is the spirit of liberty?  I cannot define it, I can only tell you my own faith”   

  • The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right;
  • The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women;
  • The spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

dem donkey gray . . .  . . . . .  prof yabut small prof yabut small flip . . . . .  rep elephant gray


These days, we can’t feel Learned Hand’s spirit of liberty coming from our politicians and their parties, nor from pundits and the public (or ourselves).  Until we do, the definition of liberty won’t be the lofty one we teach our children.  It will look in practice a lot more like the secondary meanings found in dictionaries, such as

  1. A right or immunity to engage in certain actions without control or interference;

  2. A breach or overstepping of propriety or social convention; or

  3. An unwarranted risk.  (The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Ed., 2000) 

Until we do, it will look like taking liberties instead of sharing and living liberty.


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