Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Never Again Should a People Starve in a World of Plenty

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Never Again Should a People Starve in a World of Plenty

Article excerpt

Harvard University is the richest university on the planet, with an endowment of over $34.9 billion and a campus of almost 5000 acres throughout Cambridge, Massachusetts, and surrounding areas. (1) Amidst the oldest college campus in America sits a public park, called Cambridge Common, which is surrounded on all sides by Harvard's glorious history. To the west of the park is the Radcliffe campus, where the university educated its female students for 120 years. (2) To the north of the park sit several undergraduate dormitories that bear the names of some of the university's richest benefactors: Pforzheimer, Cabot, and Currier. To the east of the park is Harvard Law School--the oldest law school in the country and the birthplace of the teaching method that has dominated the approach to law throughout much of this country's storied legal history. To the south of the park is the undergraduate campus and the famous Harvard Yard where, on June 5 of this year, the university's seven thousand graduating students will end their time at Harvard and begin what promise to be seven thousand successful careers.

In contrast to the undeniably prestigious institution that literally surrounds Cambridge Common, in the middle of this park is a statue reminding Harvard students that not everyone can be so fortunate. The statue is composed of two figures. On the left is a wealthy man, dressed in the clothes of a nineteenth-century aristocrat. He is standing upright, holding in his left arm a child resting peacefully on his shoulder. With his right arm, the man is reaching out--grasping in the direction of the figure on the other side of the statue.

Across from the man, on the right side of the statue, a woman sits in poverty. She is dressed in torn rags, hunched over on the edge of a rock. The woman has a child of her own, but she is too weak to stand and lacks even the strength to hold her child close to her. The mother and her child are both starving, in search of food or money to get them through the next day, the next hour, or, with any luck, the next meal. The woman's right arm, like the man's, is stretched outward. From above, he reaches down toward her. From below, she reaches up toward him. But their hands fail to grasp--she is inches too far away and the statue has frozen them in that pose forever.

The statue is an intergenerational depiction of inequality. As the poverty of the woman is cast in stark contrast to the wealth of the man, the children of each are chilling prophesies of the unequal future that is certain to come. At the base of the statue is an inscription that forms the title of this Note: NEVER AGAIN SHOULD A PEOPLE STARVE IN A WORLD OF PLENTY.

* * * *

This Note explores two important concepts inspired by the statue in Cambridge Common: morality and justice. In its vivid depiction of a wealthy individual who finds himself in a position to help a poor individual, the statue raises fundamental questions of morality and obligation toward others. In its reminder of the impoverishment of some groups relative to other groups in society, the statue also draws on deep conceptions of justice and inequality between classes. This Note investigates how morality and justice affect the choice of legal professions, arguing that legal career choices should involve good faith efforts to serve both of these noble goals.


Before scrutinizing the concepts of morality and justice in close detail, it is first important to offer definitions of the two terms. For the purposes of this Note, consider the following definitions:

   Morality: a prescriptive set of rules, principles, and propositions 
   that should guide actions by individuals with respect to their 
   effects on other people. 
   Justice: a prescriptive set of rules, principles, and propositions 
   that should guide actions by institutions with respect to their 
   effects on the relative status of people in society. … 
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