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And beneath those false ideas of freedom and law lies another error that is putting our democracy in jeopardy: the idea that there is only your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as truth” — by which we can settle our differences?What happens is that you impose your power on me, or I impose my power on you — sometimes through cultural bullying and shaming, but more often these days through the distortion of the law.We are where we are not by accident but because the ideas of freedom and law that shape our public life have become severely distorted.The moral and cultural foundations of our republic need not just shoring up but deep and fundamental renewal.True law reflects moral judgment, and its power comes from its moral persuasiveness.Law, rightly understood, appeals to conscience — to that often-fragile but nonetheless real human instinct for the good and the true — not just to fear.You will be helping rebuild the foundations of American democracy.
So permit me to reflect briefly with you on the meaning of law, on law and the renewal of American democracy, and on the practice of law as a vocation. King was not a perfect man; but he died a martyr in the cause of justice and reconciliation, and in defense of the noble ideas that are the moral bedrock of our country. King is best remembered today for his stirring speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.The men and women who bend the curve of history in a more humane direction live vocationally.That’s true of the great figures I’ve mentioned here.If we’re disturbed, as we should be, by the condition of American politics today, we should look beneath the headlines, the sound bites, and the Twitter feeds and ponder the state of our public moral culture.In the 21st-century United States, the law is too often understood as a codification of willfulness rather than a precept of reason, as freedom is too often understood to be a matter of unbridled choice — or as the famous moral philosopher Frank Sinatra would put it, freedom is “I did it .