"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… What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the 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 on 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 other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias..."
by:
Learned Hand
(1872-1961), Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals
Source:
Learned Hand, in "The Spirit of Liberty" - a speech at "I Am an American Day" ceremony, Central Park, New York City (21 May 1944)
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Reader comments about this quote:
kinda
 -- Mike, Norwalk     
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     -- Jim Rodkey, Lebanon      
    Good deep, honest thinking and causes thinking in others. Thinking freely is liberty to me.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    A judge who can not define liberty need not sit on the bench.
     -- Ron, Salem     
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    this quote is from a man who is insane, liberty is liberty. give me liberty\ or give me death.
     -- patriot, USA     
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    Me thinks nobama has gotten in the quote buss
     -- patriot, USA     
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    I completely reject Hands dismally lacking description of liberty.
     -- Justin, Elkland     
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    He says we must have liberty in our hearts and not worry about it in practice-what kind of liberty is this??????
     -- cal, lewisville, tx     
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    My error this morning-it deserves no stars
     -- cal, lewisville, tx     
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    Sounds like a lawyers definition.
     -- jim k, Austin,Tx     
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    Our Constitution is the only HOPE we have!
     -- Janice, Livingston, TX     
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     -- jb, Corpus Christi, TX      
    A real life version of Orwell's "Doublespeak"
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
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    Editor, on a re-think, can you drop my rating to a 1 star.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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     -- Anonymous      
    Fabulous. Quis costodiet ipsos custodies? Liberty starts in the heart until you find there there is no Liberty.
     -- RBESRQ     
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    Talk about double speak or double rating schizo, Mike goes from a four to a one. Don't know your own mind eh Mikey? The thumbs down folks above who claim to know what liberty is and claim it was discovered exactly on July 2 or 4th or which ever it was 1776 are all a lost crowd. If you you can not think for yourself you have not liberty. If Janice really knew our Constitution it says that we can change it any time we wish to. Now that is a great Constitution and that is Liberty.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    To be stuck to a Constitution written over 225 years ago is not liberty at all.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    The thumbs down folks are probably also against the concept "free thinker" the concept "new world order". If you are against free thinking and against new then you are agaisnt LIBERTY.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    Waffler, are you really that stupid or just so pridefully ignorant that you would deny humanity's nature. You obviously have no concept of law, inalienable rights, or that he who forgets history is doomed to relive it. Waffler, I am a little ambiguous on this one, freedom and liberty are in the heart, that is why you don't get it, its not part of you (you think freely within the Borg collective - nothing exist outside thereof); but, there is a viewable action to which those of a thumbs down have an excellent point. By the way, some new is good, some new is not. To abandon freedom and liberty to join a one world tyranny is not good. The over all of the comment is a thumbs down while there is a certain saving grace about segments thereof. Sooo, ah, yes, a bit ambiguous.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    He was a Progressive, which is just as bad as a liberal socialist?
     -- anonymouse     
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    Wow, interesting dialogue. Obviously a thought-provoking quote -- I like it! Rather than judge the man, the quote itself brings up some excellent points: "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." I think that is true -- in fact, if there is any freedom in America at all it is proof of this point, because the Constitution is not even adhered to. "A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few" -- again, true. The 'check' upon freedom is respecting the rights of the other guy, too. So the Golden Rule still applies. I also like, "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 other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias..." -- yes, admitting that we don't know frees us from holding on to superstitions and prejudices which so often result in the oppression of others and even ourselves. Though-provoking indeed.
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Waffler, your take on this denies everyone all freedoms except thinking! That is about all anyone in a dictatorship can do. They cannot speak, they cannot write, they cannot do anything, but think. And guaranteed, anyone under the oppressive thumb of a dictator will think, but those thoughts would almost certainly be for rebellion. Until I got to the following line in this quote I was wondering just what he meant. "A society in which men recognize no check on 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?" His being a judge gave me pause so that I continued to read and then began to understand, this is an activist judge! What is Liberty? It is the freedom to live our lives without dictates from a King, a tyrant, or dictator. It is the freedom to own property, to work and keep our earnings, a right to vote in order to elect acceptable candidates to do the business of caring for and defending our country. There should be no check on our freedoms other than what is enumerated in the Constitution. How can you possibly reconcile his comment that "only a savage few" would have liberty? Or are you referring to the Founders that rebelled and forged freedom for all Americans? The Constitution tells us what we and the government cannot do. It is necessarily a negative document, setting only the limits needed to maintain a civilized society.Our freedoms i.e., liberties, come from God, not man.
     -- Carol, Georgia     
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    Archer and Carol, said well.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Good for you Mike, I am glad to see you can be ambiguous at times. To be ambiguous is to be free and to ponder. Carol I think what Judge Hand is getting at is that we are not so free that we can ignore each other or that a small savage group can lord it over the rest. It is not ruthless unbridled will (ala Hitler). For example in the old west who were the freedom loving people, the cowboys and outlaws that rode into town once a monthg and shot the place up or the towns people who passed laws limiting the guns in town and in the bars. The cowboys savagely took away the towns sense of decorum, peace and tranquility, while the towns people took away the cowboys free spirit. I think this is what Hand is getting too, that freedom and liberty weighs every ones interests not just your own.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    As our freedom is a gift from "Nature's God," its check is Natural Law. All the rest is just man playing god...
     -- E Archer, NYC     
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    Waffler your'e advocation of the New World (slave) Order proves once and for all that you are a communist and an anti Patriot. The best place to see those is in the cross hairs.
     -- J Carlton, Calgary     
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    Carlton the New World Order was when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and the Soviet Empire collapsed. So it had nothing to do with the success of communism but with its demise. Now will there be future events that will change the course of history and relationships among nations, of course there will be. When radical Islam collapses and the Middle East finds peace that will be a new world order. Get a grip man get a grip and hold on tight. The times they are a changing and with them the world order. This ain't for wimps and the faint of heart.
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    As being creatures old and some new.The spirit of liberty having its own natural gifts, nine of them, love, joy, peace,longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. This liberty is to be granted to and garded for your children, our constitution being this new age document stands strong in one accord with the Lord God Almighty who gives us the knowledge of his will. To the natural man, natal agent. He that formed the ear, shall it not hear. The very ring of freedom resonates throughout the words written on the page of our constitution. Let freedom ring, being at liberty to do so.
     -- Ron, Salem     
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    Yes July 4th, 1776 was the beginning of a New World Order and may new world orders continue to come as long as they are as good as 1776 and 1989 (the collapse of the Berlin Wall). Happy fourth!
     -- Waffler, Smith     
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    Waffler, you can keep giving flippant, frivolous, and off topic ridiculous definitions to the term 'new world order'. Every one here knows you are not that stupid. Yes, everything you've said is true but has absolutely nothing what so ever to do with what everyone else is talking about. Its reasonable to believe that you think your comments are cleaver bu,t they only demonstrate a lying attempt to cover-up a most heinous usurpation, a rise of anti-law, injustice, and elimination of inalienable rights. The new world order which everyone speaks of is an oligarchy of ruthless malefactors using financial and otherwise means to enslave the world. The statist theocracy that infests this land is only part of that new world order and has absolutely nothing to do with what happened on the 4th of July, 1776. And, a Happy 4th to you, yours, and all.
     -- Mike, Norwalk     
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    Thank you for quoting this highly esteemed federal judge. His statement is sublime and true but not perfect. Those to whom freedom is precious also must be prepared to fight to preserve the limitations upon the power of government to protect from interference our rights to speak, write, assemble, pray or refrain from praying, and confer with legal counsel when threatened with conviction for crimes of which we are accused. We must never forget that our founding fathers and the framers of our Constitution were profoundly committed to protect our ability to live our lives as we chose so long as we refrain from invading the rights of others, pay our taxes, and accept reasonable limitations on our conduct in order to make possible life within civilized society.
     -- Timothy Ray, Gainesville, FL     
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    This is a great quote - that liberty is a concept we must keep in our hearts. It cannot be contained simply in the law, but must be carried by the people. And its character is one that weighs interests equally, without bias. Beautiful words from a brilliant jurist, spoken at a difficult time in the world's history.
     -- Rick, Cleveland, OH     
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    The vitality of the Constitution, the Life Force of Liberty, is the Virtue of the People.

    In the absence of Virtue, Liberty, in its most sublime rendering, cannot exist.

    Liberty, unconstrained by Virtue, devolves apace to become licentiousness.

     -- Patrick Henry, Red Hill     
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    Noticing Hand's lack of defining the term Liberty, what it is, where it is from, to what degree it is granted. Treason hides behind the gifted tongue of an attorney, who frames mischief in a law. What is oppression. What are the desires of the humble ? The King is served by the field, let the labor eat first, for they serve the King. " Lord, thou has heard the desire of the humble: thou will prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress." Considering society today, its regress, and those who would make it so. " The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted." The term " vile" refers to a "tyrant" a harsh taskmaster who demands to be feed first, though he labored not in the field. Money does no have a conscience, nor do the greedy at heart. Hand a Calvinist of no faith, a follower of Herbert Croly, thought leader of the progressive socialistic theories and new nationalism. Very subversive indeed. " United States Constitution does not empowers courts to overrule the legislation of elected bodies" Billings Learned Hand's sentiments are treasonous. Praise among fools is no praise at all. Drain the Swamp ! Liberty is contained in the law but rarely adhered to, for that would Free men from oppression !! The quote has a thread of truth covered with subversive rhetoric !
     -- Ronw13, Oregon     
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    The founders knew that man is basically sinful and in need of a savior. They new that liberty could not long exist without virtue. Following God's natural law is the only way to maintain virtue and liberty. Today very few (probably only a couple) of law schools in the country even teach about natural law and most young attorneys don't have a clue what it is. Is there any long term hope for a constitutional republic based on natural law when the courts use evolutionary law and not natural law? I think there is a lot of truth in what Judge Hand said and liberty must exist in the hearts of the people if it is to exist at all. Otherwise our system will be survival of the fittest. Too many people don't know what liberty is, that God created it, or that his natural law is necessary to sustain it. I think a third Great Awakening is our only hope.
     -- Tim, Garnett     
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