A Public Order of Human Dignity for All

James L. Robertson

Article by James L. Robertson Featured Author


In the CABA Newsletter, September of 2018, we explained that “The Vision of Myres (Smith) McDougal Is Needed Now More Than Ever.” 1 It is still so, only more so.

Mac was born in November of 1906 in the rural Burton community in Prentiss County, east of Booneville. In early May of 1998, he passed into history. 2 By that time, Mac had lit and illuminated “the guiding light of a preferred future world public order of human dignity.” 3

A fortiori each man and woman who walks planet Earth — cull none — is worthy (his or her sins or other inadequacies notwithstanding) of having his or her personhood respected — enriched — cherished by the rest of us, by one’s community, state and country, and by organized society as a whole.

Of course, Myres McDougal did not labor alone. Prolific social science prodigy Harold D. Lasswell was Mac’s professional colleague for close to forty years. The Yale Law School was their home, providing platform and pulpit for McDougal and Lasswell. In 1943 they reformed and enriched legal education, the way would-be lawyers should be taught to think and reason and act — and to lead, 4 but that was only the beginning.

Three quarters of a century later, “The New Haven School” remains. 5 Through the years, it has included disciples, acolytes, students and so many more who would come, stay for a while and learn, then elaborate, practice and spread the word and the imperative, the idea of a world public order of human dignity in which each person — every person — might participate, his and her being enriched, honored, as optimally practicable.

Nor did Mac forget his Mississippi roots. For decades many marveled at the number of professors at the University of Mississippi School of Law who received Sterling Fellowships at Yale Law School, took a year off from teaching in Oxford, spent that year in New Haven earning an LL.M., and — from that point forward — enjoyed an enhancement of the otherwise scandalously modest compensation that Ole Miss provided its law faculty. Chancellor-to-be Robert C. Khayat is believed to have been the last such. Guess who was dean of the graduate legal education program at Yale during these years?

In March of 1996, Mac made his last visit to that special part of the world where he’d been born and raised. Highlights of the tribute to one of the state’s favorite sons are chronicled in the Mississippi Law Journal, Vol. 66, pages 1–36 (Fall 1996), pages that will reward a periodic perusal by Mississippi lawyers and leaders, and by others as well.

Eight Value-Institution Corner Stones of Human Dignity

“A public order of human dignity is defined as one which approximates the optimum access by all human beings to all things they cherish.” 6 For further context, “we characterize the social process as human beings interacting with one another and with resources.” 7

In the universe of human aspirations where Mac and his colleague labored, 8 eight corner stones of human dignity still come in two inter-related dimensions. Each has a value component, and each also has a practice or institutional component. Each of the eight has evolved with society, its processes, their stratagems and their yield. Of course, each overlaps and interacts with the other seven, more or less. These evolutions will continue, as the social processes and their yields evolve. Each has outlived its progenitors and will continue to do so. As time goes by.

The irreducible “eight” that Mac, his colleague and their acolytes saw, studied, preached — and practiced, were, are and will remain, more or less:

  1. Power, viz., “government, law, politics.” 9 Men and women value having a say-so in government, individually and collectively. Front and center is the right and practice of voting, the a priori “political pre-condition of human hope.” 10 Then there is access to public officials, the right to seek office, as we slide into those treasured highlights of bills of rights, including freedoms of speech, of the press and of faith, due process of law, the right to counsel, privacy rights vis-a-vis government, among others. Then there are legislative bodies, executive officers, administrators and regulatory agencies, courts, judges, and lawyers as officers of the court, each an exemplar of the practice or institutional corner stone of that dimension of human existence that Mac and Lasswell labeled power.
  2. Wealth, viz., “production, distribution, consumption.” 11 Not just a flush bank account, a nice middle class home and accouterments, but freedom from want, given the draw one has made in the lottery of human existence, a value that enriches human dignity. People cherish the fruits of the cycle of socio-economic activity that yields goods and services that they reasonably need, and the markets that gather and distribute. The technology that Mac’s generation never knew is a major corner stone today, one that has opened opportunities once beyond belief, that make human dignity possible for all, if only we will let it, or just won’t fight it, or fear it.
  3. Respect, viz., “social class and caste.” 12 People value their active participation within and among their gender, race, nationality, geography, language, religion, and other classes and castes. Interest groupings, such as business associations, economic councils, classmates, clubs, and of the other more natural classes and castes are exemplars of the practice or institutional corner stones, that enable human and mutual respect, that in turn enables human dignity. A touch or two of humility would enrich the practice and experience of respect and self-respect in most any context, one on one and in culturally mixed mass settings as well. Turning one’s other cheek a time or ten would add to the mix as well.
  4. Well-being, viz., “health, safety, comfort arrangements.” 13 Well-being is valued because it makes so much more possible within a person’s time in this humanity, this existence. Protection of life, liberty and property are three prominent and invaluable exemplars. Hospitals, medical clinics, health-plexes, retirement homes and other facilities are practice and institutional corner stones than enable well-being and longevity, as are criminal justice, including law enforcement, police, public safety and fire protection enablers of well-being and thus human dignity. Indeed, each of these enablers generates its own challenges and opportunities for practicing and cherishing human dignity.
  5. Affection, viz., “family, friendship, circles, loyalty.” 14 Family speaks for itself, along with the fortuity of how much of a family, its humanity and longevity one is privileged and fated to enjoy. One values friendship both received and given, experiences circles of colleagues, acquaintances and passers-by, and each of us cherishes loyalty given and experienced. Practical and institutional corner stones make each more tangible, enriching each, that reciprocal affections may enhance the capacity of connection as progenitor of “a public order of human dignity on the widest possible scale.” 15 Of course, the McDougal-Lasswell relationship said it all until Harold Lasswell’s untimely death in December of 1978. 16
  6. Skill, viz., “artistic, vocational, professional training and activity.” 17 Perhaps more so than the other seven, skill is luck-of-the-draw. That having a skill enhances one’s chances for enjoying human dignity is cherished — valued — cannot be doubted. Still, developing and learning to apply one’s skill in turning a phrase, playing the violin or painting a picture, in belting a baseball or in writing novels or sprinting down a track — or as leading a people or opening new vistas for thought — are as important as having the skill in the first place. The stories, the lives, the legends of Rembrandt, Tennyson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., J. W. M. Turner, Luisa May Alcott, Mohandas K. Gandhi, Joe Louis, Albert Einstein, Ted Williams, Leontyne Price, Isaac Stern, and Usain Bolt — to name but a few — are as much a function of practice and the availability of institutions that have enabled them and so many others to endure and flourish, as of the raw inner stuff of skill standing alone. These help light the way to a world public order of human dignity.
  7. Rectitude, viz., “churches and related articulators and appliers of standards of responsible conduct.” 18 Most people have a fair sense of “right and wrong” and even shades of gray, and how these inform and nourish the other seven corner stones of human dignity itemized herein. As “a public order of human dignity on the widest possible scale” 19 is our goal, little more need be said. I posted discussion of a few exemplars in September of 2018. 20 Back in Mac’s era, I took a shot at this one largely for the benefit of soon-to-be rookie lawyers. Hardly a year passes without a former student or two commenting that he or she recalls “The Lawyer As Hero,” 21 which began as a last-day-of-class discussion, evolved into a commencement address and then the piece published in the Mississippi Law Journal. Of course, I have had — earned — detractors and shortcomings as most everyone has, each in his or her own way. 22 As it should be.
  8. Enlightenment, viz., “mass media, research.” 23 Education is quickly added here, as a value and a prime exemplar of the practice or institutional corner stone of the dimension of human existence that Mac and Lasswell labeled Enlightenment. And that all cherish. Resources and opportunities for practice and availability of institutions have expanded enormously since Mac’s salad days half a century ago. The Internet, today’s information highway, or is it the Information Super Highway, also speaks for itself. Formal education is accessible as never before. Perhaps more than any of the other seven, enlightenment enables our way to a world public order of human dignity.

A Closing Perspective

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite which soon began to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path every 98 minutes or so. This was a game changer. In 1963, the Yale University Press published the massive 1147 page work, Law and Public Order in Space, authored by Myres S. McDougal, Harold D. Lasswell and a new colleague, Ivan A. Vlasic. Mac and his followers were not known for letting grass grow under them.

In short order, the University of Mississippi School of Law opened what has become the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, with encouragement and support from you know who. Today the nation’s leading — and only — law school program for the study of air and space law. 24

Suffice it to say that the vision of Myres Smith McDougal — and those he recruited, worked with and inspired — for a public order of human dignity for all, was never limited to Planet Earth.

  1. More formally, that effort is labeled “Where have all the Lawyers Gone? The Vision of Myres McDougal is Needed Now More Than Ever,” Posted September 2018, https://caba.ms/articles/features/where-have-all-the-lawyers-gone.
  2. Byron S. (“Whizzer”) White, a McDougal student and acolyte at Yale Law School, later a long serving Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, told of Myres McDougal with affection and respect in his Tribute to Myres S. McDougal, 66 Miss. L.J. 1–8 (Fall 1996).
  3. W. Michael Reisman, et al., “The New Haven School: A Brief Introduction,” 32 Yale Journal of International Law 575, 576 (2007).
  4. Legal Education and Public Policy: Professional Training in the Public Interest, 52 Yale L. J. 203 (1943).
  5. Ibid., fn. 3.
  6. See, e.g., Harold D. Laswell and Myres S. McDougal, Jurisprudence in Policy-Oriented Perspective, 19 U. of Fla. L. Rev. 468, 506 (1966); W. Michael Reisman, et al., “The New Haven School: A Brief Introduction,” 32 Yale J. Int’l L. 575, 576 (2007).
  7. Harold D. Lasswell and Myres S. McDougal, Jurisprudence in Policy-Oriented Perspective, 19 Fla. L. Rev. 468, 506 (1966–67).
  8. Reisman, et al., at 580.
  9. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506. After setting out each of their eight building blocks for experiencing a world order of human dignity, Mac and his colleague supplied several further illustrations, one of which is quoted above, with others at the outset of each subsequent part.
  10. Wilbourn v. Hobson, 608 So.2d 1187, 1196 (Miss. 1992) (concurring opinion, to quote myself a generation ago).
  11. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  12. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  13. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  14. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  15. Lasswell/McDougal, at 508.
  16. McDougal and Lasswell’s two volume magnum opus, Jurisprudence for a Free Society; Studies in Law, Science and Policy was a work in process at the time of Lasswell’s passing. The work was published in 1992, albeit some of the parts Lasswell had been developing were never fully completed.
  17. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506. It is surprising that Mac appears not to have mentioned athletic prowess or skill, given his two years of playing college football at Ole Miss. Of course, for Mac this was a means to an end, viz., in those days two years of college athletics were a pre-requisite — one of many — to eligibility for a Rhodes Scholarship, and two years of study at THE Oxford.
  18. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  19. Lasswell/McDougal, at 508.
  20. “Where have all the Lawyers Gone? The Vision of Myres McDougal is Needed Now More Than Ever,” Posted September 2018, https://caba.ms/articles/features/where-have-all-the-lawyers-gone.
  21. The Lawyer as Hero, 53 Miss. L. J. 431–469 (1983).
  22. Not sure Mac ever forgave me for attending the Harvard Law School, or approved altogether of its influence on me to this day.
  23. Lasswell/McDougal, at 506.
  24. https://law.olemiss.edu/academics-programs/concentration-programs/remote-sensing-air-space-law-concentration/