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A call to arms

Jonathan Klinger | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

As college students, most of us have taken classes or participated in activities which open our eyes to previously unknown issues. Notre Dame students are very blessed to have the opportunity to go to school here and have been given tremendous advantages as we start our lives. The combination of education and resources (particularly time) that college students possess leads many to commit themselves to rectifying the widespread injustices which we find in the world around us. There is a definite temptation, which I have experienced myself and witnessed in others, to view a social/political agenda as the path towards renewal, but the Christian faith which is integral to Notre Dame points instead to individual change as the surest method of improving our world.

Progressives and conservatives hold two very different blueprints for the construction of a better, brighter society. As far as I understand it, progressives believe that people are, for the most part, good and can be relied upon to do the right thing in the absence of overwhelming external pressures. Progressivism’s objective is to restructure the institutions and culture of our society in order to remove those ancient obstacles which hinder the flowering of mankind’s natural goodness.

In general, conservatives believe that we cannot be counted on to make the right choices all the time, and that we are all capable of, and prone to, committing evil acts. Based on this belief, the goal of conservatism is to encourage spiritual transformation and virtue and build and preserve social institutions and traditions which help foster individual enlightenment.

Conservatism and progressivism have great numbers of followers, and barring mass deception or blind adherence, there must be elements of both which are true and yet not contradictory. At a university like Notre Dame, it is particularly useful to look to our faith for insight in finding the truth in all things. As the living Truth, Christ cannot be pigeonholed as an ideologue of any stripe, and on the question of the nature of mankind He is quite clear.

In Mark 10:18, Jesus says to the rich young ruler, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Christ builds on this in Mark 7:20, when he states, “Far from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” These two passages show that according to Christ, no person is good, and that evil proceeds from within men and is not imposed on men from the outside.

We need to work tirelessly to reform institutions which tempt and pressure individuals to act unjustly, but this is not enough. Those who follow Christ’s word as truth must accept His assertions on the fallen nature of mankind. This revelation is extremely important to the approach we take in righting the wrongs we see in the world. On the subject of human nature, conservatives – not progressives – are truer to the words of Christ, and the strength of this view of human nature is buttressed by the horrors caused by utopian regimes which have ignored this truth at their peril.

If men cannot be counted on to act justly, rearranging our society through government, activity or revolution is at best a formal endorsement of previous individual enlightenment, or at worst, dangerous window dressing. As long as there are people who seek to commit injustice, those people will find a way to do so. This principle has been demonstrated in our nation’s failed attempts at campaign finance reform, efforts to regulate the lobbying industry and the countless numbers of communal settlements which have failed.

Any lasting and true revolution must be one of the heart, a transformation within every human being which recognizes the inherent dignity which lies within each one of us as an image of our Creator. When men attempt to resolve the complex problems of the human condition with inhuman institutions and bureaucracies, the result is a progression of oppressive systems, each more brutal than the last. Any political or social revolution will fail if it is not preceded by a greater transformation of individual minds, without which the bold designs of leaders will collapse under the weight of fallen men.

We are all called upon to participate in such a revolution in our own lives. Our efforts in fighting poverty, violence, racism and numerous other evils will only be effective when we take responsibility for the struggle in every action we take during every moment of the day. The opposite side of this coin is that all of us must work to lift each other up in the struggle against human weakness and temptation. When this is accomplished, enlightened business owners will treat workers with dignity, enlightened parents will refrain from domestic violence, and enlightened servicemen will act as agents of justice. Together, we can accomplish the radical change we all so desire by first altering our own behavior and then edifying our neighbors. The revolution begins with you.

Jonathan Klinger is a senior management consulting major and the President of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He currently resides in Keenan Hall and enjoys Tolstoy and Matlock. He can be contacted via e-mail at jklinge@nd.edu

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.