Life Is Infinitely Worthwhile

Birkett, Norman Birkett, Baron


  • Lord Birkett explains that, despite his firsthand experiences at the Nuremberg Trials, he still has faith in the inherent goodness of people and their ability to progress towards a peaceful future.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Sir Norman Birkett is an eminent judge and member of the Privy Council of Great Britain. He left school at the age of 16 to work in his father’s dry goods store and did not begin his legal education until in his twenties. Over the years he achieved brilliance as a criminal lawyer. In 1941 he was appointed a judge of the King’s Bench in the High Court of Justice, and he is now the lord justice of appeal. Sir Norman, who is nearing 70, has a dry sense of humor and an extraordinary command of voice and language. Here now the beliefs of Sir Norman Birkett.
In the Parable of the Sower, it is the grain that has no depth of root that flourishes for a while and then withers away. So it is with what we fondly call “beliefs.” Unless they are firmly rooted, the grim test of experience will destroy them. But those that survive the ordeal will go from strength to strength.
In a pretty full life, nearly 40 years of it spent in the Low Courts, I reckon to have seen human nature at its best and at its worst, and every shade of behavior in between. And I believe, with a deepening intensity, in the essential worth and dignity of the individual; and what is more, in his essential goodness too. And in these things I believe there lies the best hope of the world.
I know what is said on the other side. I was a judge at Nuremberg for twelve months and listened, among other things, to the story of the wholesale massacre of the Jews. And I know something of the horrible depths to which mankind can fall. But my belief in man’s essential worth and goodness, nevertheless, remains firm and unshakable. I am with Robert Louis Stevenson in his view of humanity:
They may seek to escape
And yet they cannot
They are condemned
To some nobility
All their lives long
The desire of good
Is at their heels
The implacable hunter
Now if these beliefs are well founded, there are no limits to what mankind can do. Look at what man has already done. His upward climb has been a continual conquest:
the advance of knowledge in every sphere, the growing triumph over disease, the continuous enlargement of man’s opportunity, the increasing recognition of man’s inherent dignity. All these things are witnesses to man’s unconquerable mind. Apply that to the future. Take just one supremely important matter out of many.
I believe that sovereign states, now so jealous of their sovereignty, will one day willingly defer to an international authority they have, themselves, created, and thus usher in the truly golden age of peace. “Blessed was it in that dawn to be alive.” And equally firmly do I believe in the value of each individual life.
I believe that a happy and a useful life is what I may call “the dedicated life;” not dedicated in the sense of what Kipling once called “the plaster saints,” no; but brave, blithe, courageous and true lives, dedicated to the “things that are honorable and of good report” among men. It follows that I believe in freedom for the full flowering of human personality, for the ceaseless extension of the frontiers of knowledge, and for the growth of human happiness.
The time isn’t long enough for me to expand these beliefs that have stood the test of time.
But in a word, I believe that life is infinitely worthwhile, that each individual has the power to make it so, and so to contribute to the heritage the generations transmit, and to cooperate in the eternal and triumphant advance of mankind. All this, I believe.
Those were the beliefs of the Right Honorable Sir Norman Birkett, Lord Justice of Appeal of Britain.