Saturday, May 23, 2009

Principles and Expediency

It is easy to stand for principles when you are not the one involved.

It is ...
... easy to be for war when you are not draftable.
... easy to be for a process that is producing the outcomes you want.
... easy to condemn homosexuals when you don't know any.
... easy to demonize flag burners when nobody is telling you to take down your signs.
... easy to be for academic freedom as long as the professors don't deign to teach something you don't like.
... easy to be for variety until the show includes a song you despise.

And, I would add, it is easy to be for "principles" and to denounce those who make choices based on "expediency" until your principle does not produce the consequence you intend.

I am speaking to my fellow conservatives here (using the term "conservative" in the broad sense of political philosophy, not in the sense of identifying anyone as a listener to certain radio stations). If you are for freedom, you are for freedom, even when it is abused. If you are for love and grace, you are for love and grace even when extended to those you don't like. If you are for proper process, then you are for proper process even when the result is one that you would not have chosen. If you are for principle, then you are for principle even when expediency would lead you to a different result.

The same admonitions could go to our liberal friends. After all, it is easy to attack the hard choices of government when the other side is in control. It is easy to accept all sorts of behavior in the name of tolerance when your child is not the one being victimized. It is easy to be open-minded until you have to welcome and include the views of straight-laced conservatives as quickly as you include everybody else's.

It is easy to do what is easy. It is expedient to scream to get the short-term result you want. It is a convenience to keep what you know is right private.

Know what you believe. Understand that what you believe does not always produce perfection in this fallen world. Don't decide to change your principles when the immediate result is not to your liking.

I know that Ralph Waldo Emerson said that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but writing essays and leading the Transcendentalist movement didn't make him a philosophical master. I'll stick with Polonius' advice: "To thine own self be true."

Or, better even than Shakespeare, I like this quote, from Martin Niemoller, a friend of one of my heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in fact, the quote is often attributed to Bonhoeffer): “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

When it comes to principle, let's all show a little foolish consistency.

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