Quote for Discussion: Judge Learned Hand

(@ noon – promoted by NLinStPaul)

Spirit of Liberty, 1944

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion.

…What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.

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 which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of those men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be – nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it – yet in the spirit of America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America so prosperous, and safe, and contented, we shall have failed to grasp its meaning, and shall have been truant to its promise, except as we strive to make it a signal, a beacon, a standard to which the best hopes of mankind will ever turn; In confidence that you share that belief, I now ask you to raise your hand and repeat with me this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands–One nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Judge Learned Hand


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  1. I miss Jay.

    Secondly, I’d never heard of this speech or Judge Learned Hand before today. But I’m so glad to have found it!!

  2. will see this as this essay scrolls off the page. But I wanted to add something here that’s tangentially related to the quote.

    There is an amazing discussion going on over at Black Kos, Week in Review about the issue of the photo release. Towards the end is this comment by Deoliver47.

    I am not surprised that many Americans don’t give a shit about torture, according to a variety of polls.  

    This is a nation founded on torture.  Oh yeah – folks fled here from Europe seeking “freedom of religion”.  Didn’t stop em from scalping Native Americans, massacring villages, raping children, spreading smallpox…

    Then millions of Africans died being dragged here in chains.  Tortured and branded, raped and subjugated, it didn’t stop after “slavery” ended.  We were then gifted with Jim Crow injustice, Klan terrorism, Dixiecrat supremacy, and a Criminal Injustice system that continues to devastate communities of color.

    Why am I disgusted with the faux outrage here on DKos re Obama’s decision to withhold pics of tortured souls?  

    Because this so-called left-liberal- progressive community screams in rage over its issue of the month, yet is virtually blind to the daily torture that takes place within our borders.

    I don’t need to see photos of what was done under GWB/Cheney to know – yup, there was torture.  

    Sadly, it’s the American M.O.  

    I am suspicious of those who are screaming outrage – today, but who have remained silent for as many years as I have been on this planet<…>  

    Growing up in Amerikkka made me sensitive to terror.  Daily.  

    Losing two, no three, partners to police murder made me sensitive to terror.

    Living through life here – whether in the “ghetto’s” of New York City or on a rez in South Dakota, or in the rural South made it clear that torture, death, killing and raping are as American as apple pie…

    So yeah, that spirit of liberty is something we’re still needing to work on.


    • kj on May 16, 2009 at 14:08

    • kj on May 16, 2009 at 14:24

    in my mind, this song is about a soldier that is dying in the field.

    just to listen to this every day during the Kerry campaign.

    • kj on May 16, 2009 at 16:01

    because i tend to go off-topic in your essays, NL, i’m going to park this story here.

    we have what we semi-fondly, semi-fearfully refer to as ‘gang-bangers’ a couple of houses down.  pretty sure they’re drug dealers, at any rate. they even have the pitbull. and there has been a ‘wave’ of home invasions, the latest just a few blocks away.

    so, you know, stereotypical typecasting going on.

    i woke up early, as usual, and opened the windows to the cool air to enjoy those lovely hours with the birds before the rest of the world gets up.  

    i hear this sort of “slap!” sound, and then a chorus of ‘mutherfucker…. then slap, then mutherfucker… ” etc.  on and on and on, so i creep over to the window to see if anyone is in trouble, because as bad as the sounds are, i don’t sense anything really destructive.  so, i listen.  soon someone starts yelling about “mutherfucking hybrids”  “i gotta get me a mutherfucking hybrid for the highway.”   i crept back to my chair and tried not to laugh out loud.

    yep, our gangbangers were hanging with the hippie kids next door who seem to do nothing but play hacky sack (that was the ‘slap!’ sound) arguing about cars at god knows what time of the morning.

    jbk got up and i told him the story.

    he said oh yeah, those guys talk about cars all the time, they’re really into them.

    culture.  🙂

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