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The theme identified for this lecture series is the subject of responsibility. I assume Washington and Lee has selected that topic out of a sense that it has not received sufficient attention, as compared, for example, to the subject of "rights." I select "rights" as the counter-example because we often hear of the two in tandem – "rights and responsibilities." As such, the concept of responsibility connotes a sense of obligation as to what is due from us to others and to the community. It is, in that sense, easier to be in favor of rights than it is of responsibility. Rights give us freedom to do as we wish, while responsibilities impose limits or affirmative burdens on us that accompany privileges or benefits we have at our disposal.

I wish to discuss the responsibility side of the ledger, though I think it is described more accurately as the formation of character, of our public intellectual character, to be more precise. Although public life, just like private life, certainly is not made up solely of liberty, or freedom, or rights, public life poses a dilemma of the first order to describe of what that life consists. Many have stumbled when they moved from an analysis of negative liberty into the realm of public duties, and many have stumbled even more in analyzing the intellectual and emotional capacities needed by the democratic citizenry. It is commonplace to say that one may far more easily define the limits of power than to prescribe the nature of its exercise.


First Amendment | Law


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