Sir William Blackstone (July 10, 1723 – February 14, 1780)
“It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”
Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was considered the preeminent English scholar and the most authoritative speaker on common law. This quote is from his Commentaries on the Laws of England, which was highly influential in the development of U.S. law. It is comprised of four “books” divided into rights of persons, the rights of things, of private wrongs, and of public wrongs. Early American lawyers looked to the Commentaries as an authoritative source and it was used as a textbook in legal education in both England and America. It is still cited as a source of authority on the history of English law. The Anglo-American concept of “reasonable doubt” is reflected in this quote, which also known as “Blackstone’s ratio”. It is seen quoted in legal opinions and scholarship to this day. The quote acknowledges the tradeoff in a criminal justice system where one accepts a certain number of false acquittals compared to false convictions. Similar principles were suggested by predecessors such as Justice Hale, Fortescue and Voltaire with varying “ratios”.
Hannah Arendt (October 14, 1906 – December 4, 1975)
“To abolish the fences of laws between men – as tyranny does – means to take away man’s liberties and destroy freedom as a living political reality; for the space between men as it is hedged in by laws is the living space of freedom.”
Hannah Arendt fled Germany for Paris in 1933 after finishing her dissertation in philosophy and shortly after being interrogated by the Gestapo. While living in France, she helped Jewish refugee organizations until after the outbreak of World War II. In 1941, she left France for New York, after being briefly detained in Southern France as an “enemy alien”. In 1944, she began work on what would become her first major work as a political theorist on the nature of power and its potential for abuse. Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft) was published in 1951, the year after she became a U.S. citizen.
Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism was original in its efforts to analyze the philosophical and historical concept of totalitarianism through similarities, rather than differences in the regimes of German Nazism and Russian Stalinism. The book is divided into three parts: Antisemitism; Imperialism; and Totalitarianism. This quote comes from a chapter in part three, titled Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government. In dissecting the power structure of the Nazi and Stalinist regimes, Arendt identifies total terror as being the essence of totalitarian governments. In contrast to the benign “fences” created by law in a democratic society to govern the interactions of its people, totalitarian governments use terror to herd citizens into a powerless, cowed mass of humanity; the “One Man” into which individual freedom and dignity disappear.