• The Honorable Charles Fried Lectures on Modern Liberty


The Honorable Charles Fried, former associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, held a lecture and open discussion for several classes in philosophy and human rights on March 6, 2008.

"Active liberty, as discussed with Justice Breyer earlier this week, is an exercise of joint authority in making government," said Fried. "Modern liberty is a different concept. It is liberty before you get to government--who are we, what are our claims?"

Drawing on the examples of four different legal cases, including the Charter of the French Language in Quebec, which states that business in Quebec must be carried out in French, Fried raised a series of provocative questions. "Is liberty even possible in a modern administered democratic state? Not just practically possible, but conceptually possible? Is there a coherent concept of liberty available?"

"Liberty is self-expression--the projection of ourselves outward," he said. "The release of creative energy is liberty."

He elaborated, "Liberty expresses who we are: thinking, judging and choosing individuals. Liberty is that individuality. Is that liberty possible?"

"If it is, so it is with speech, and expression. Yet we must somehow draw boundaries," said Fried. "Who draws those boundaries, what we call law? The city, state, federal government. We need government to provide the chance for people to exercise liberty. But do we give government power so people can exercise liberty or do we give government power so government controls that liberty?"

There are things that we need and want government to do, said Fried, like drawing lines for the betterment of the community. But does government limit liberty, or put a floor under it?

"I don't think it's possible to come up with an algorithm for this," he said. "I know it when I see it. I know a law which is designed to suppress liberty, and I can tell when the purpose of a law is to let a thousand flowers bloom."

While serving on the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1995-1999, Fried taught Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School as a distinguished lecturer. Following his tenure on the Court, Fried returned to Harvard Law School as a full-time member of the faculty and Beneficial Professor of Law. Fried was appointed Solicitor General of the United States in 1985, after serving as Deputy Solicitor General and Acting Solicitor General. He represented the Reagan Administration before the US Supreme Court in 25 cases.

Fried is the author of eight books, including Modern Liberty and the Limits of Government (2006); Saying What the Law Is: The Constitution in the Supreme Court (2004); and Making Tort Law: What Should Be Done and Who Should Do It (with David Rosenberg, 2003). Fried was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971– 72.

Fried’s visit is the third in the 2008 line-up of Distinguished Visiting Scholars at the College of Arts & Sciences, a program launched in 2005 to bring nationally and internationally renowned scholars, artists, and intellectuals to the Boston campus for stays ranging from one week to a month.

Suffolk’s Distinguished Visiting Scholars contribute to the creative and intellectual vitality of the entire University by teaching courses, leading workshops and roundtables, and delivering public lectures. The scholars also have numerous informal opportunities to interact, consult, and collaborate with members of the Suffolk community during their residency.

Additional information about the program, as well as the schedule of speakers for spring 2008, is available online. Click here for the Distinguished Visiting Scholars web page.

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