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From "The Common Law" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1881)

Reader comment on item: Conservatism's Hidden History

Submitted by Robert (United States), Sep 4, 2018 at 13:20

Dear Daniel Pipes,

In 2004 the classic work by our American jurist, OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, JR., was re-published with a new introduction by Thomas A. Schweich. As you well know, Holmes, Jr. is ranked among America's greatest jurist. And like you, he had an accomplished father who didn't initially exactly support his choices. He eventually became our great Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. I propose that we can learn more about the American distinction between Conservatism and Liberalism by exploring his views.

I think we can all agree that whatever restriction on our Political, Civil, or Religious Freedom exist, or are imposed on us by Law, the basis or source of such limits on our Liberty must come either from our federal or state Constitutions, or from that original other British phenomena known to us as the Common Law (of England) with arrived in New England with the founding Pilgrims.

So here is an excerpt of a summary from the Introduction (of the above 2004 book republication):

"1. the foundations of certain time-honored principles of law rests in human experience;"

"2. legal change is effected through the progressive manipulation of formality until a new principle appears and the old formality is lost; and'

"3. jurists must carefully balance sound public policy with the fear of an overreaching government - foreshadowing of the sweeping but carefully constructed opinions that Justice Holmes would write decades later. And there is one more lesson, unrelated to the text itself: an individual can triumph in realizing his own American dream."

In the 1st paragraph I see British Empiricism, beginning with John Locke, embodied in the word "experience."

In the 2nd paragraph is Progress, perhaps even Dialectical chance as conceived by Hegel (Marx having died 2 years later). I hope that no one is distracted by what happened in 1917 thanks to Lenin. The issue here is understanding Change in Laws as American Justice Holmes conceived the notion.

Finally, in the 3rd paragraph we see African & White American realizing his dream as President of the United States.

"Conservatism" entered our vocabulary at the end of Napoleon Bonaparte's Reign in 1815: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conservatism

"Liberalism" came into our vocabulary a year later in 1816: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liberalism

These two terms, I hypothesize, are un-American (excuse the negative connotation). I rather suggest that they reflect the British views regarding the reactions to the French Revolution and First Empire (1789-1815).

These terms, as far as I'm concerned, carry no more philosophical depth than "Left" and "Right" do and originate from the (Third Estate) Assembly during the French Revolution, when "Left" meant the more radical position at a given moment.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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