July 19, 2012 9:30AM

Lincoln, Lawsuits, and Humility

The Templeton Foundation's Big Questions Online invited me to write a short essay leading a discussion on the topic, "Does a Litigious Culture Undermine Our Capacity for Humility?"

I cite a couple of references to the costs of litigation that may be familiar to many readers, such as Charles Dickens' Bleak House, as well as others that may be less familiar, such as Abraham Lincoln's Notes on a Law Lecture. Excerpt:

What comes naturally to Lincoln, as it does not to most of us, is a frankly moral critique. A lawsuit, to him, is a war, and a settlement a peace. Who are the belligerents in these small wars? Our “neighbors” -- a term by which he includes the adversary. ...

By the 1970s law school literature had begun to describe the older view of litigiousness as a vice as something quaint, even “medieval”. In 1985 the U.S. Supreme Court broke explicitly with the earlier view: “We cannot endorse the proposition that a lawsuit, as such, is an evil.”

The reader discussion will be open for several more days. You can read and join in here.