“Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
No one who has witnessed the outpouring of love and respect for the late Antonin Scalia can say that this man did not in the words of William Wallace, “really live.” The witty, vivacious and opinionated Supreme Court justice truly lived a remarkable life, one that will endure far beyond his 79 years on this earth.
The outpouring of sentiment for this powerful figure was beyond the three-hour wait to pay respects while he lay in repose at the Supreme Court last week and beyond that five television networks covering his funeral.
Indeed, the measure of a man is not what is said about him by his friends and supporters, but the comments made by his adversaries. In the last week, we have heard remarkable praise from even those who faced his harsh words in court.
Commentators like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow effusively praising him for standing on principle even it differed from their own views of the law. One writer for Slate even suggested Scalia was a “progressive” in some of his opinions (to which he is probably laughing aloud about).
Justice Scalia’s life and death should be an example to all of those in Washington who have made politics one of the most despised professions. Americans now view politicians as a career less respectful than of a used car salesman, their unfavorable opinion for members of Congress at an all-time low.
Americans are looking for truth. They are looking for honesty and integrity and someone who does what he says he will do. They want someone who believes in principles that are unwavering. They want elected officials to be faithful to the promises they made in their campaign and not change their position after the next focus group tells them it is not popular.
Scalia did not hide his opinions, did not shrink from loudly proclaiming his disdain for many opinions of his colleagues and the court. He did not live in fear that the next poll from MSNBC or The Wall Street Journal would say that 85 percent of the American people would disagree with him.
He did not back away from a disagreement or relent in his opinion, even when he knew the media would crucify him or make fun of him.
As many have learned in the last week, he was a Washington creature, attending Washington cocktail parties, and Georgetown dinners. He knew what was being said about him on the blogs and in the news, and any person, who only wants to be loved, would think twice before espousing his opinion when vilified in the media.
Justice Scalia brought to this life deep conviction and an understanding of absolute truth from which he did not waver or change with the latest fad. He viewed the law as he viewed his faith, a strong foundation in absolutes. Not wavering or acquiescing to personal opinion, but only interpreting what he saw in the writings of those who had gone before him. This took tremendous discipline and study of not just the law, but his faith and a Catholic worldview.
In his deep understanding of truth, Scalia realized that his minute time in the world would be about absolutes, concrete, a tangible belief that was reinforced by his deep faith.
Many see a disconnect between faith and the public square, indeed it was in the Middle Ages that scholars and philosophers began pushing the notion that there is no absolute truth. Nominalism, a philosophy that views everything as subjective to the individual, infiltrated universities and even churches in the late thirteenth century and thus began the decline of the belief that that faith and reason are closely aligned.
From that point on, the belief that there were absolute moral truths began to fade from the public square and faith was diminished in favor of science and the new renaissance philosophies.
A man devoted to absolutes is unfortunately a rarity in Washington which is why Scalia received such praise from all fronts.
Politicians can examine how the Supreme Court was honored and commemorated last week and reflect on their own mortality. How will they be remembered? Many say it is more important to be respected than loved. Justice Scalia was both.
To quote another famous individual (Jesus Christ) “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Because Justice Scalia knew the truth, he was free, free from the concern over the opinions of man because he valued the opinion of his creator more than all of these.
This is the example Justice Scalia leaves for all.
Diana L. Banister is president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, an Alexandria, VA based firm that works with many issues-based and political campaigns.