Review by Ryan Cysewski
"Brains, like muscle—you can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing not for sale is character."
- Antonin Scalia
Today more than ever, it seems that public service has become a narcissistic mockery of itself. Most prominent politicians only seem intent on doing what is politically expedient, principles be damned. Without diving into politics (this is the book review section, after all), I thought it would be fitting to highlight a man who was truly good and just, who served in the public sphere according to his conscience and principles.
Scalia Speaks is a collection of speeches given by the late Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, throughout his long and distinguished career. The speeches are funny, enlightening, and most of all, thought-provoking. At different points, I found myself challenged by some of the points made in Scalia's speeches (separation of church and state, the obligation of judges to uphold the law over their personal convictions in most cases, etc.). Many of the speeches are worth highlighting, but I will only discuss one in this review.
In his speech titled “Being Different”, Scalia points out that he “had the great good fortune” of growing up at a time where being Catholic was considered a little strange, and there was still a fair amount of prejudice in society against Catholics. This reality forced Scalia to realize that adopting the same values as the rest of society did not guarantee a virtuous life, and that sometimes you have to be willing to stand apart from the mainstream, whether that be in regard to Friday abstinence from meat, or sexual morality. We are just passing through as pilgrims during our short time on earth, and as such, we will always remain a little bit apart from others.
The only thing not for sale is character—this idea is repeated in several of Scalia’s speeches. Justice Scalia certainly acknowledged the value of the intellect, but he realized that in the end, it is moral character that makes the man. This recurring theme in his speeches speaks to the fundamental importance that he placed on not taking up just any cause that seems suitable, but having a true cause that is worth fighting for, on account of its veracity. I think this book would be a worthwhile read for anyone, but especially for those with an interest in politics or law.
Take a moment to consider how incredible it is that for thirty years, there was a devout Catholic sitting in our nation's highest court. If more of us aspired and worked towards being leaders in our communities and professions, maximizing our God-given gifts, the world might be a significantly different place. If nothing else, we would be significantly different, and that is where true change for the better begins.
books we are reading
My book right now:
The Art of War
by Sun Tzu
My book right now:
Heroism and Genius
by Fr. William Slattery