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The Ethical Ground on Which We Stand: Francis Lieber on Free Speech, Liberty, and Community


Barry Sharpe

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Francis Lieber was an enormously influential nineteenth century legal scholar who, like many of his contemporaries, wrote very little on free speech. Yet, what he wrote more generally on civil liberty and democracy, combined with the details of his life as a teacher, invites an examination of his work and life as part of a general investigation of basic issues of free speech. Although Lieber does not talk about free speech with today's familiar rights-vocabulary or utilize the doctrinal tools of the modern Supreme Court, his analysis of the political and moral dimensions of civil liberty and the relationship between rights and duties is familiar to us and is echoed in recent debates over free speech. What is less familiar to us— his treatment of character, self-restraint, and the internal dimensions of liberty—may be even more helpful to us as part of a general examination of free speech.

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