Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice who died recently, labeled his brand of jurisprudence “originalism,” meaning he imagined he could go back hundreds of years and peer into the minds of our founding fathers as they drafted our Constitution. (Click) For Scalia to perform as mind reader, historian and master of legalese, both past and present, is a remarkable feat, particularly as the thoughts of the men who outlined our basic freedoms were complex, being capable of ignoring the rights of women and the infamy of slavery while they drafted their social contract declaring universal equality.
Most remarkable was the Supreme Court Justice’s capacity, and those of like mind, to ignore the obvious: times change. A good thing, too. Otherwise we might still be living in caves with no science, art or medical advances to sustain us. One of those changes, fortunately, is that women have been accepted as members of the human race along with African Americans and other racial minorities. What hasn’t changed is our decision to leave the image of George Washington, a slave owner, on our dollar bill.
Let that last contradiction stand. George Washington was the father of this nation. We honor him for that. Millennials, tasked with moving us into the future, can handle the cognitive dissonance that arises when different epochs collide. They can be trusted because, as Henry Alford says, they are imbued with a “thoughtful and passionate commitment to equality and civil rights.” (TownandCountry, April 2016, pg. 126)
Nonetheless, the young of the 21st Century look upon an age like no other. In terms of past societies, theirs is a dystopian world where disruption and constant change is the “organizing” principle. In their struggle to hold this brave new world together, they have chosen the path of inclusion. That is a good choice, but not without its dangers. Like orginalism, political correctness mustn’t be allowed to ossify and emerge as an opponent to free speech, as it has on some college campuses.
As they march toward the future, I hope Millennials will see that history, observed through the fog of time, is a fragile guide. Life moves in a spiral not a circle. The past suggests points of similarity, but time is the distorting factor. Each rotation of the earth brings us to a different place in human history. We can never go home again.