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The Hollowness Of The Harm Principle, Steven D. Smith Dec 2011

The Hollowness Of The Harm Principle, Steven D. Smith

Steven D. Smith

Among the various instruments in the toolbox of liberalism, the so-called “harm principle,” presented as the central thesis of John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, has been one of the most popular. The harm principle has been widely embraced and invoked in both academic and popular debate about a variety of issues ranging from obscenity to drug regulation to abortion to same-sex marriage, and its influence is discernible in legal arguments and judicial opinions as well. Despite the principle’s apparent irresistibility, this essay argues that the principle is hollow. It is an empty vessel, alluring but without any ...


Justice Douglas, Justice O'Connor, And George Orwell: Does The Constitution Compel Us To Disown Our Past, Steven D. Smith Dec 2011

Justice Douglas, Justice O'Connor, And George Orwell: Does The Constitution Compel Us To Disown Our Past, Steven D. Smith

Steven D. Smith

Justice William O. Douglas's majority opinion in Zorach v. Clauson famously asserted that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." What did Douglas mean, and was he right? More recently, in cases involving the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance and other public expressions and symbols, the Supreme Court has said that the Constitution prohibits government from endorsing religion. Can Douglas's "Supreme Being" assertion be reconciled with the "no endorsement" prohibition? And does the more modern doctrine demand that we forget, falsify, or forswear our pervasively religious political heritage? This essay, presented as ...


The Tenuous Case For Conscience, Steven D. Smith Dec 2011

The Tenuous Case For Conscience, Steven D. Smith

Steven D. Smith

If there is any single theme that has provided the foundation of modern liberalism and has infused our more specific constitutional commitments to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, that theme is probably “freedom of conscience.” But some observers also perceive a progressive cheapening of conscience– even a sort of degradation. Such criticisms suggest the need for a contemporary rethinking of conscience. When we reverently invoke “conscience,” do we have any idea what we are talking about? Or are we just exploiting a venerable theme for rhetorical purposes without any clear sense of what “conscience” is or why it ...