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88 Mich. L. Rev. 1142 (1989-1990)
Heritage Preservation as a Public Duty: The Abbe Gregoire and the Origins of an Idea

handle is hein.journals/mlr88 and id is 1164 raw text is: HERITAGE PRESERVATION AS A PUBLIC
Joseph L. Sax*
Public responsibility for the conservation of artifacts of historic or
aesthetic value is now acknowledged everywhere. One way or another
the state will ensure preservation of a Stonehenge or a Grand Canyon
as well as a great many lesser cultural icons. We have names for such
things - heritage and cultural property are two of them; patri-
mony is a European counterpart - but these words have no very
specific meaning. Many, but by no means all, of the objects we feel
constrained to protect are old. They include human artifacts as well
as natural objects or places. Though it is customary to say that no one
has a right to destroy those things comprising our heritage, many such
items, especially works of art, are held and enjoyed as ordinary private
goods without public access or regulation of any kind.
This inconsistency illustrates the paradox of historical preserva-
tion. As uncontroversial as heritage preservation may appear when
one thinks of historic monuments and artistic masterworks, the idea of
an officially designated culture seems greatly at odds with modern sen-
sibilities. The very idea of government involving itself in cultural life
raises the unwelcome specter of censorship on one side and official
propaganda on the other. In addition, there is the more general ques-
tion of cultural policy as a tool of a paternalistic state that aspires to
make its citizens good, a notion that has lost all cachet in our time. In
short, state cultural policies appear to be out of harmony with modern
ideas about the role of government. Nonetheless they flourish. Obvi-
ously there is some very strong attraction to the idea of a common
heritage: a people and a community bound together in some shared
enterprise with shared values.
How did protection of cultural values come to be viewed as a
proper public concern in a modern world centered on the liberty and
autonomy of the individual? The pages that follow trace out one his-
torical strand of the story in the hope of casting some light into this
t © 1990 by Joseph L. Sax.
* James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley.
A.B. 1957, Harvard; J.D. 1959, University of Chicago. - Ed.


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