“The spirit of freedom is the spirit which is not too sure of being right”
Learned hand: “The spirit of freedom is the spirit which is not too sure of being right”
Learned Hand is often on the short list of America’s greatest judges to ever reach the United States Supreme Court.
In 1944, during World War II, he delivered a speech on “The Spirit of Liberty” before a huge crowd in Central Park in New York City– with particular attention to the approximately 150,000 newly naturalized Americans participating in the event.
His speech contains one of my favorite comments: “The spirit of freedom is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right…” Hand saw freedom in an orderly society not as freedom to isolated individuals as part of a shared concern for others. He also saw freedom as an ideal America continually strives for. He said:
What do we mean when we say we seek freedom first? I often wonder if we are not basing our hopes too much on constitutions, laws and courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Freedom is in the hearts of men and women; when he dies there, no constitution, no law, no tribunal can save him; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. As long as he’s there, he doesn’t need any constitution, law, court to save him. And what is this freedom that must reside in the hearts of men and women? It is not ruthless, unbridled will; it’s not the freedom to do what you want. It is the denial of freedom, and this leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no restraint on their freedom soon becomes a society in which freedom is the possession of only a small number of savages; as we have learned to our chagrin.
What then is the spirit of freedom? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of freedom is the spirit which is not too sure of being right; the spirit of freedom is the spirit that seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of freedom is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of freedom remembers that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without paying attention; the spirit of freedom is the spirit of Him who nearly 2000 years ago taught mankind this lesson which they never learned, but never quite forgot ; that there is a kingdom where the smallest will be heard and considered alongside the greatest.
And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America that never was, and maybe never will be; no, which will never be except as the conscience and the courage of the Americans create it; yet in the spirit of this America which is hidden in one way or another in our common aspirations; in the spirit of this America for which our young people are fighting and dying at this time; in this spirit of freedom and America, I ask you to stand up and pledge with me our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.