August 25, 2013

A 332-page book about Justice Holmes's dissenting opinion in Abrams.

Reviewed here by Alan Dershowitz, who says:
In “The Great Dissent,” Thomas Healy, a professor of law at Seton Hall Law School... postulates that a chance encounter with Learned Hand — then a district court judge — on the train between New York and Boston planted the seed that eventually blossomed into Holmes’s full-blown defense of free speech. Hand attempted to convince the 77-year-old justice that tolerance of dissenting, even obnoxious and dangerous, views was essential to democratic governance, but his effort seemed at first to fall on deaf ears: Holmes insisted that the state could legitimately enforce what a majority accepted as the truth, which he defined as “the majority vote of that nation that can lick all the others.” He accused his younger judicial colleague of striking “at the sacred right to kill the other fellow when he disagrees,” and he later invoked an absurd analogy between the power of the state to vaccinate those who might spread dangerous diseases and to imprison those who might spread dangerous ideas.


hoyden said...

I did not know the concept of free speech was a relatively new phenomenon.

Are we evolving or devolving with the rise of campus speech codes and politically correctness? Perhaps the ebb and flow of free speech depends on which political party has power.

It seems like the increasing coercive power of the state gets a pass when Democrats rule.

Robert Pearson said...

A biography of Holmes was one of the few books I have ever quit on after a few chapters, not because of the quality of the writing but because of the loathsomeness of the subject.