“A conservative is someone who believes nothing should be done for the first time.” -Anon
It foolish to use words like “conservative” or “liberal” as if they were objective descriptions. All of us are a mixture of both approaches. And we all begin to measure from our own subjective experience, not some external objective source of reference. Still, if we are to speak within our culture, we need to use the words of our culture and to understand we are painting caricatures not actual portraits.
The conservatism into which I was raised was much more than a political viewpoint. I was taught a kind of deference to the ancients that surrendered to them my most important decisions. The older a source, the more authority it was said to have. The Bible was presented as an authority, not so much because of it was reasonable, but because it was ancient.
When Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia said the other day that the Constitution is a “dead, dead, dead document” I shuddered. I heard him saying that our constitution is not a living work of the people but a finished work of the dead. Ever the dutiful conservative, Scalia seemed to say that reason died with our forebears. We may copy their words, but never their revolutionary spirit.
He had put in a nutshell why I am not a conservative. Like Paine I believe the dead should not outvote the living. I believe that none of us looks at an ancient text objectively. If the point of reading any ancient document were accessible on the face of it, why go to law school or seminary? Any rank amateur could read the plain meaning of a text. As Scalia must surely know, no text is self-explanatory. We all bring filters to the task of interpretation. Furthermore, our animal natures cannot help but slip our opposable thumbs onto the scale. If we do not bind ourselves to an extra-personal and extra-cultural reference point, we will all cheat. If we do not realize our own subjectivity and our culture’s, our prejudices set sail under the banner of conservative objectivity.
(FYI I’ll soon do a follow up blog on why I am not liberal)
As an authority on all things related to conservative and liberal ideology I have to vehemently disagree…JUST KIDDING! Thought provoking. Thanks for challenging my thinking.
Thanks Dwight, feel free to return the challenge. We have conservatives and liberals here. I think we’re all trying to find a depth beyond those two polarities.
Jon Meacham, who has written the fascinating new biography of Thomas Jefferson, says that Jefferson himself believed the Constitution was a creation of its time, vital for the country in its circumstances to achieve its aspirations. But, he thought, the Constitution would need to grow, change, adapt as a living document over time. Perhaps he knew that there could be such a thing as “a more perfect union” and that such a goal would require an organic document.