On the Need for Privacy

We are much occupied with public words these days. They often involve the need for privacy. Others focus on what is patriotic and nationalistic and whether you and I are one or both.

We think we understand the meaning of all these words, though some people express certainty about the interpretation of the U.S Constitution without having read it.

Not that such reading is time-consuming. I own a small paper-covered booklet of 38 pages containing every word. It is in the back pocket of my blue jeans right now, with room to spare.

I won’t go on at great length here. I am not an attorney, though I know the document just mentioned and studied it a bit with a gifted scholar on the subject.

What I will do instead is to provoke your thought with the brief and wise words of two people more knowledgeable than I am.

The first is Louis Brandeis, who offered an opinion on privacy in a 1928 Supreme Court Case: Olmstead v. United States. Brandeis was an Associate Justice of the Court at the time.

The second comment attempts to distinguish between the motivations of two different groups of people. The thoughts come from Jill Lepore’s short 2019 book, This America: The Case for the Nation. The author is a Professor of History at Harvard.

You can read these excerpted thoughts in a minute or two. I hope you think about them much longer.

1. Louis Brandeis:

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.

2. Jill Lepore:

Patriotism is animated by love, nationalism by hatred. To confuse the one for the other is to pretend that hate is love and fear is courage.

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The first photo is of Louis Brandeis by Harris & Ewing. It was sourced from Wikipedia Commons. The second one is Jill Lepore from Amazon.com/

6 thoughts on “On the Need for Privacy

  1. An Audience of One

    This! “Patriotism is animated by love, nationalism by hatred. To confuse the one for the other is to pretend that hate is love and fear is courage.” Very thought-provoking indeed!

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  2. I love your sentence, “You can read these excerpted thoughts in a minute or two. I hope you think about them much longer.” It speaks to me of the power of words.

    These excerpts are so powerful. I can take in Prof Lepore’s more easily. I will definitely have to ponder more on Justice Brandeis’. But I am grateful for this wonderful food for thought.

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    • Thanks, Wynne. To help with Brandeis, it is useful to read some of the Amendments to the Constitution. Rights to privacy are sometimes inferred, being perceived by some Constitutional scholars and Justices of the Supreme court as implied, in the belief that the writers did not want ot restrict privacy only to the rights specifically mentioned.

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  3. Thanks for sharing these excerpts, Dr. Stein. I was struck by Louis Brandeis’ opinion: “They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations.” I look forward to the day when all Americans — male, female, and other of all races and origin — can enjoy such protection.

    Liked by 1 person

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