The 2016 Jefferson Lecture by Ken Burns

‘Liberty,’ Judge Learned Hand once said—and can there be a better name for a jurist than Learned Hand—‘Liberty,’ he said, ‘is never being too sure you’re right.’ Doubt—healthy, questioning, experimenting, perfecting doubt—is critical to the humanities and the health of our still fragile Republic.

But in our media and political culture, we don’t disagree, we demonize, condemning us to a kind of partisan purgatory. Our trade is now tirade, but that righteous indignation only lasts until the next drug commercial for diseases we didn’t know we could have or even get—restless leg syndrome? Dry eyes? The humanities provide us high ground and perspective to see with clear eyes these fads and trends and unnecessary conflicts for what they are. Yet we still seem allergic to civil discourse—and just plain civility—which could lift us out of our dyspeptic tantrums.
— Ken Burns