Saturday, July 01, 2006

The meaning of freedom while celebrating Independence Day

This Sunday, I'll be on Bruce DuMont's Beyond the Beltway radio show and the topic is the meaning of freedom.

I found this graduation speech by Geoffrey Stone for the University of Chicago Law School and thought I would share it.

His main point is:

Throughout American history, the most intense pressure for the sacrifice of liberty has come in time of war. This is only natural, for in wartime the national security is directly threatened. In such circumstances, it is inevitable that grave questions will arise about whether we can afford our freedoms. The challenge is to decide how much sacrifice of freedom is warranted.

One of the lessons of history is that in time of war we not only compromise our liberties, but we do so excessively and to a degree we almost always come to regret. As Justice Robert Jackson once observed, "it is easy, by giving way to the passion, intolerance, and suspicions of wartime to reduce our liberties to a shadow, often in answer to exaggerated claims of security." If we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must understand why this happens.

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It's worth reading, as he speaks to the meaning of freedom -- and the role of clear-eyed citizens to defend our freedoms against the reflexive suppression of dissent to policies of an invading President --eloquently and concisely.

3 comments:

MDS said...

One of the things I find fascinating about Bush is that he repeatedly says that ever human being on earth wants freedom, but he never really offers a definition of freedom (he's taken away freedom here in America), and he never offers any evidence that people elsewhere want freedom. I think that people want wealth, not freedom. The two usually go together because wealth is created by freedom to work how we want, sell what we want, do as we please with our own property, etc. But a government that could create wealth while dramatically restricting freedom of speech, of the press, the right to vote, etc., would probably run into little resistance.

Lazerlou said...

Koramatsu all over again.

Bill Baar said...

Justice Jackson not a great choice if you're defending a traditional intrepretation of the Geneva Conventions.

Rehenquist described other Justices, including William O. Douglas, opinions of Jackson's participation in the Nuremburg Trials in a speech at the American Law Institute Annual Meeting.

Chief Justice Stone, who once referred to the Nuremberg trials as a "high-grade lynching party," wrote privately in November 1945 that it would not disturb him greatly if the power of the Allied victors was "openly and frankly used to punish the German leaders for being a bad lot, but it disturbs me some to have it dressed up in the habiliments of the common law and the Constitutional safeguards to those charged with crime." Justice Jackson's response to this criticism says a great deal about how he viewed the Nuremberg Trials:

"When did it become a crime to be one of a 'bad lot'? What was the specific badness for which they should be openly and frankly punished? And how did he know what individuals were included in the bad lot? . . . . If it would have been right to punish the vanquished out-of-hand for being a bad lot, what made it wrong to have first a safeguarded hearing to make sure who was bad, and how bad, and of what his badness consisted?"

The administrations Mil Tribunals sound a lot like Jacksons attempts to sort out the bad from the really bad in the lots to me.