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Learned Hand
1872 - 1961

U.S. Federal Court judge, co-founder of The American Law Institute


We may win when we lose, if we have done what we can; for by so doing we have made real at least some part of that finished product in whose fabrication we are most concerned: ourselves.

1955 - from "A Fanfare for Prometheus" in The Spirit of Liberty
Nothing is more commendable, and more fair, than that a man should lay aside all else, and seek truth; not to preach what he might find; and surely not to try to make his views prevail; but... to find his satisfaction in the search itself.

1939 - from a speech upon receiving an honourable degree, quoted in The Spirit of Liberty
When I hear so much impatient and irritable complaint, so much readiness to replace what we have by guardians for us all, those supermen, evoked somewhere from the clouds, whom none have seen and none are ready to name, I lapse into a dream... I see children playing on the grass... they are restive and quarrelsome; they cannot agree to any common plan; their play annoys them; it goes poorly. And one says, let us make Jack the master; Jack knows all about it; Jack will tell us what each is to do and we shall all agree. But Jack is like all the rest; Helen is discontented with her part and Henry with his, and soon they fall again into their old state. No, the children must learn to play by themselves; there is no Jack the master. And in the end slowly and with infinite disappointment they do learn a little; they learn to forbear, to reckon with anther, accept a little where they wanted much, to live and let live, to yield when they must yield; perhaps, we may hope, not to take all they can. But the condition is that they shall be willing at least to listen to one another, to get the habit of pooling their wishes. Somehow or other they must do this, if the play is to go on; maybe it will not, but there is no Jack, in or out of the box, who can come to straighten the game.

1932 - from "Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities" in The Spirit of Liberty
... even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern, at least it is better than breaking them.

1932 - from "Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities" in The Spirit of Liberty
The condition of our survival in any but the meagerest existence is our willingness to accommodate ourselves to the conflicting interests of others, to learn to live in a social world.

1931 - from "To Yale Law Graduates" in The Spirit of Liberty
Our dangers, as it seems to me, are not from the outrageous but from the conforming; not from those who rarely and under the lurid glare of obloquy upset our moral complaisance, or shock us with unaccustomed conduct, but from those, the mass of us, who take their virtues and tastes, like their shirts and their furniture, from the limited patterns which the market offers.

1927 - from "The Preservation of Personality" in The Spirit of Liberty
Convention is like the shell to the chick, a protection till he is strong enough to break it through.

1927 - quoting "a wise man" in his essay "The Preservation of Personality", found in The Spirit of Liberty
The law, being an inherited accumulation, imposes itself on each generation willy-nilly. Any society whose members enter and leave it severally must for very convenience, to say nothing of deeper reasons, proceed by tradition...

1926 - from "Mr. Justice Holmes at 85" in The Spirit of Liberty
The law must have an authority supreme over the will of the individual, and such an authority can arise only from a background of social acquiescence, which gives it the voice of indefinitely greater numbers than those of its expositors. Thus, the law surpasses the deliverances of even the most exalted of its prophets... The pious traditionalism of the law has its roots in a sound conviction of this necessity; it must be content to lag behind the best inspiration of its time until it feels behind it the weight of such general acceptance as will give sanction to its pretension to unquestioned dictation.

1916 - from "The Speech of Justice" in The Spirit of Liberty
The language of the law must not be foreign to the ears of those who are to obey it.

1959 - from The Spirit of Liberty
Life is made up of constant calls to action, and we seldom have time for more than hastily contrived answers.

Jan. 27, 1952 - from a speech delivered in New York
That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where dununciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists, to win or lose.

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. 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.

1944 - from The Spirit of Liberty
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.

May 20, 1945 - from a public speech delivered in New York's Central Park, quoted by William Safire in Lend Me Your Ears
The art of publicity is a black art.

quoted in The Fitzhenry and Whiteside Book of Quotations (1993) by Robert I. Fitzhenry
Anyone may so arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible. He is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes.

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right...

May 20, 1945 - from a public speech delivered in New York's Central Park, quoted by William Safire in Lend Me Your Ears