My boss and I had gotten into another argument. This time we disagreed about what politics was. However, as we were continually discussing campaigning and political strategies we never talked about it like that. Politics, to him, was what your party needed to do in order to win, not what was good or just. I always sought to move the conversation towards justice, but he never saw the value in this. We were here to find people and train them in organizing a political event and hopefully, eventually a movement. He wanted more marketing, more e-mails, and more phone calls. This is how we would win the next election.
I always responded to this with, “It is not how many times you talk to them. It is what you say when you talk to them that matters. We need something substantive to say. This is the problem with the Republican Party; we don’t even know what we are trying to do. We simply want to win, and then we’ll figure out what’s good for the country.” I frequently suggested that this was how our organization was also running. We would take anyone who might vote for us. “Make the tent bigger,” he would say. “We need more fighting in the tent.” It was never about changing minds for the better or leading to what is good. It was about getting the votes we needed. Once we were elected we could talk about what we wanted to do.
I was nearing the end of my internship, and I had become increasingly frustrated with our discussions. I had decided this next one would be on my terms. We would discuss the things I knew and had studied – the ideals that I thought should be our nation’s guides. We would not use Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich for our examples. We would use James Madison. I printed off a copy of Federalists 51 and brought it to our meeting.
I asked him, “What do you think the purpose of government should be?”
At first, he dodged the question by answering, “Some people will tell you it is so you can get as much power as possible.” I smiled. This was how I understood him. Then, after much thought, he answered, “Its main purpose should be to protect its people from enemies.”
I suggested that we look at what James Madison said. He, after all, was one of the best to argue for the virtue of our new nation. I read from the Federalist Papers, “Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” Throughout my education, I had been fascinated by this idea. It seemed to be the best understanding of government I had heard. It was so self-evidently good that I had never considered anyone truly rejecting it. If it were true, and my nation had dedicated itself to this end, I could love it.
However, much to my shock, he scoffed, “Justice is for Sotomayor. It is that ’give me everything I want attitude’ that is ruining this country.”
I did not even know how to respond to this. I sat for a moment, stuttering and completely taken aback. How could this highest principle be laughed out of the room without consideration? My heart sank. If we could not even agree that our nation should seek justice, I did not know how I could discuss anything with him. Justice, to him, was the idea that the idle should be given the money of those who earned it. It meant letting our nation’s enemies go without harm. It meant sacrificing our security for those who hated us. It meant making everyone equal in every way possible. It was what men sought when they did not understand that government needed strength and power to protect its people from evil. My boss conceded the argument that this was the definition of justice. To him, it was the liberal platform, and he wanted no part of it.
When I began my college education, the first question asked of me was, “What is justice?” Until that moment in my life, justice meant nothing to me. It was, at best, a goal for our courts pursued only because many before us had suggested it was good. However, as I studied more and struggled to understand it, I became more attached to justice. It must have something to do with each man receiving what he is due.
Our founders said that we all have natural rights inherent to human beings. They cannot be taken by a just government or we will no longer have what we are due. It is this nation’s understanding of justice that each man receive his natural rights, understood as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was the justice I had fallen in love with. This was the principle I wanted every American to understand.
However, if we are never asked, “What is justice?” we never question when someone asserts that they have found it. Because he had never considered the true nature of justice, my boss believed that justice was ensuring that those who have less get more. Not by their own virtue, but rather by the force of their government. Liberty must be surrendered in this improper understanding of justice. This is not, as my boss had been persuaded, justice; this is equality of results. This type of equality cannot coexist with the justice of giving each man the natural rights he is due. True equality exists in that it requires government to recognize the same natural rights among all men. When equality is improperly understood, it becomes, as my boss had known it, a threat to liberty.
When equality is improperly pursued all men become equal in every way. To do this government must control every aspect of a man’s life. He no longer has liberty. If liberty, on the other hand, is improperly pursed it leads to men taking and acquiring in any way they can. Men will destroy anything that gets in their way, and government has no power to stop them. Justice determines how these must be mixed. It is the role of government to ensure that liberty and equality serve the natural rights of men not their own ends. We must never, as my boss had, concede the argument of justice. We must ensure that it always gives us what we are rightly due. It cannot be locked away in a court room or used as the means to obtain lustful desires. It must be the culmination of everything we are. When we no longer pursue it, we will lose what we are; we will lose America.
Stacey Sadowski is a senior from Copley, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.