A sharp examination of the idea of liberty in the modern, democratic state.
Fried (Constitutional Law/Harvard) begins his discussion by offering “three gentle challenges,” three seemingly benign, democratically approved modern laws—Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, Canada’s government-funded medical system, Vermont’s anti–Wal-Mart regulation—and asks whether they constitute objectionable impositions on liberty. Each of these examples offers an eminently defensible “vision of the good” to compensate for any liberties denied. All three provide excellent instances of the questions inherent in the author’s distinctively modern consideration of liberty. He first examines ideals that compete with liberty—beauty and equality—then widens the lens to include notions of liberty and rights, including contract, property, states’ and natural rights. A particularly arresting chapter discusses sex, an anarchic force that governments perennially try to regulate while people see such regulation as “an offense to liberty even greater than governments’ attempts to control what they think, say, and hear.” Fried fulfills his pledge to make this “a book not for lawyers or academics, but for human beings” by presenting with humor many contemporary examples that make difficult concepts easy to grasp. It’s a tribute to the author’s seriousness and good will that he makes a strong and vigorous case for both sides of each argument before finally finding all three cited laws offensive to our liberty. This conclusion will surprise few familiar with the politics of the former Solicitor General of the Reagan Justice Department, but even those predisposed to disagree will find it hard to counter his rigorous arguments.
Liberty is fortunate to have such a reasoned and persuasive voice as its champion.