While listening to the shouting heads debate the merits of new Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, we heard a liberal operative accuse him of being an 'activist.' She went on to say that, since both sides are calling each other activists, the label doesn't mean anything anymore. It was refreshing to hear a liberal acknowledge that a lot of what passes for debate is just name-calling, but at the same time she was using the technique of equivalence so that the listening public would be lead to believe there was really no difference between one side and the other.
The rhetoric goes something like this: Wouldn't reversing some prior decisions of the Court be an activist move? Isn't any change an instance of activism? This is the old argument that all killing is murder; the cop killing to protect innocent lives is no different than the criminal wantonly taking lives. Relativism at its best.
Conservatism does not mean standing still. It is preserving (conserving) certain institutions or traditions. In Judge Alito's case, he will be charged with preserving the meaning of the Constitution. Activists think the Constitution is a 'living' document and 'needs' to be changed. Big difference.
How did this idea of changing the world instead of preserving institutions invade our society?
"What advice do you have for us who want to change the world?" This was the question asked by a 19 year old girl to the author of a new book. As the question and answer period progressed, it was revealed that this girl wanted to end war and suffering. We were watching Book TV on C-SPAN and were surprised the panelists took her question seriously. Of course, the lecture was at a notably liberal college in Baltimore; Goucher, known as the East Coast Berkeley. Students drawn to activism in the sense of "changing the world" are drawn to Goucher, so it shouldn't have been such a surprise to us.
The pervasive assumption was that, of course, everyone wants to change the world, make the world a better place, or at least end suffering and war. It's the now-institutionalized version of the Sixties mentality of Up the Establishment. It's become so well-established now that, during Constitution Day in public schools, instead of teaching about the constitution, one teacher asked the students "How would you improve it?"! Maybe they're all aspiring Supreme Court Justices!
No longer just armchair quarterbacks, we're becoming a nation of world changers. At least armchair quarterbacks know they aren't playing the game, and that it is only a game. No longer. These world changers are deadly serious and indeed some of their world changing ideas are deadly. Consider a 'new' idea to end suffering - by making euthanasia fully available. Read about this slippery slope in our prior article "http://peterandhelenevans.com/articles-legal-murder.html".
This might seem extreme, but just think about the child rearing methods in use today. Always give the child a choice; let them choose what is right or wrong "for them." If they don't like it, encourage them to believe they can change the world, the morals, the institutions, the rules. It's up to them, afterall. We've permitted the erosion of the moral structures that gave our society a firm foundation by allowing the presumption that people can create the world around them anew each and every day irrespective of past tradition or value. It's a very tempting proposition because it promotes total self indulgence as virtue.
Some people will counter that conservatives always seem to be changing the world too. Afte rall, we blog, we protest, we form committees, groups and even political parties. Yet, the aim is different than changing the world. Remember the phrase, "for God, Country and family"? Conservatives know the world cannot be changed, we must live, and work and play in it as it is. There are higher truths than one's own personal idea of how the world 'should' be. We didn't create the world, nor do we think we have enough knowledge to re-create it in another image. Instead, conservatives uphold certain time-tested ideals, standards and moral codes that are larger than our personal preferences.
If Judge Alito lives up to his promise to not legislate from the bench he will be bringing the Supreme Court back to what it was supposed to do; apply the Constitution, not erode it. Let's not confuse maintenance with activism.
Peter and Helen Evans, http://peterandhelenevans.com. This husband and wife team - freelance writers and speakers - teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. They are also real estate agents in the Washington, DC area.
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