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Quotes of the day: Louis Brandeis

Published Wednesday, November 12, 2014 @ 6:51 PM EST
Nov 12 2014

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (November 13, 1856 - October 5, 1941) was an American lawyer and associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the 'greatest defenses' of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


Arguments seem futile to me, for behind every argument I have ever heard lies the astounding ignorance of someone.

Behind every argument is someone's ignorance.

Constitutional rights should not be frittered away by arguments so technical and unsubstantial.

Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.

Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.

If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously.

It is, as a rule, far more important how men pursue their occupation than what the occupation is which they select.

Low wages are not cheap wages.

No people ever did or ever can attain a worthy civilization by the satisfaction merely of material needs...

Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

That which is man-made can be unmade.

The most important political office is that of private citizen.

The prevalence of the corporation in America has led men of this generation to act, at times, as if the privilege of doing business in corporate form were inherent in the citizen; and has led them to accept the evils attendant upon the free and unrestricted use of the corporate mechanism as if these evils were the inescapable price of civilized life, and, hence to be borne with resignation.

The progress of science in furnishing the government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire tapping. Ways may some day be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home. Advances in the psychic and related sciences may bring means of exploring unexpressed beliefs, thoughts and emotions. 'That places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer' was said by James Otis of much lesser intrusions than these. 1 To Lord Camden a far slighter intrusion seemed 'subversive of all the comforts of society.' Can it be that the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions of individual security?

There is in most Americans some spark of idealism, which can be fanned into a flame. It takes sometimes a divining rod to find what it is; but when found, and that means often, when disclosed to the owners, the results are often extraordinary.

Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Through size, corporations, once merely an efficient tool employed by individuals in the conduct of private business have become an institution- an institution which has brought such concentration of economic power that so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state.

To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means- to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal- would bring terrible retribution.

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.

What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty, and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.

When a man feels that he cannot leave his work, it is a sure sign of an impending collapse.

Categories: Louis Brandeis, Quotes of the day


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