Offering an Alternative

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you,” said Peter Dinklage’s character, a clever dwarf in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Sage advice for complex times. But what might it be like to wear your identity like armor?

One might consider translating that into advice for three great institutions facing great challenges—one in business, one in religion, and one in politics.

In Silicon Valley, Apple Inc. struggles to compete with Samsung. As its stock has fallen over 30% in the last six months, Apple wonders whether to submit to growing shareholder demands that it reduce its huge cash pile and start paying out bigger dividends.

In the Vatican, the Catholic Church struggles with much of the Western world. Led by a new pope, the Church finds itself in sharp contradiction with popular secular positions on contraception, abortion, female clergy, and other issues.

Finally, in Washington, the Republican Party struggles to compete with a confident Democratic Party. As the GOP strives to recover from its 2012 defeats, it must decide whether to modify its political positions on limited government, social issues, and immigration.

Will these groups need to evolve over time? Inevitably, yes. Apple must launch new products, the Catholic Church must grow its flock, and the Republican Party must find a way to broaden its appeal to younger voters and minorities.

Yet, through it all, my sense is that there’s something to be said for sticking to one’s core principles through thick and thin.

What might that mean for these institutions?

In Apple’s case, it might mean adhering to the philosophy of the late Steve Jobs: to focus on building high-quality products that integrate services, software, and hardware to create a terrific user experience. Although there is something to be said for giving slight discounts on the MacBook Pro and the iPad, the average Apple fan believes that he (or she) is paying a premium price for a premium product. In a sense, Apple’s purpose isn’t merely to make lots of money, but also to offer people an alternative to what Samsung, Microsoft, or Google have to offer.

All things considered, it would be a sad day for Apple fans if CEO Tim Cook refocuses his company away from producing great Apple innovations and onto short-term accounting tricks to prop up Apple’s stock price—or worse still, to sacrifice the quality of Apple products in order to make them cheap. After all, if consumers want a $200 laptop with minimal functions, why not let them buy PCs instead of Macs?

Stock prices inevitably fluctuate with speculators’ whims. But building a great company might involve taking the view of the original founding genius.

What about the Catholic Church? In Pope Francis’s case, sticking to core principles would mean adhering to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. To some extent, it might be risky, because some of those teachings contradict popular secular positions. But although the Church might have to adapt its message to a modern world, there is is something to be said for the idea that the Catholic Church’s purpose isn’t merely to be popular, but also to offer people an alternative to what Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, or atheists might propose.

Why? Because people seek fulfillment, and they will inevitably test out different philosophies and religions. One of the purposes of the Catholic Church, as I see it, might be to offer an alternative conception of the Good Life, so that if people find other approaches wanting, they can consider an alternative path.

If your predecessors stuck to their principles at the cost of crucifixion, being fed to lions, or having their heads impaled on spikes, then the least the modern Church can do is uphold the principles that came at so bloody a cost. After all, if your stock is down, would it make more sense to follow the suggestions of speculators—or the original founder’s insights?

In the Republican Party’s case, sticking to core principles might mean adhering to the philosophy of Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge: to fight for limited government, traditional social policies, and a strong military. Although some political positions might have to be moderated, there is something to be said for the idea that the GOP’s purpose isn’t merely to win elections, but more importantly, to offer America an alternative political vision from what the Democrats or the Green Party offer.

Of course, this is risky, because the future is unpredictable: nobody really knows whether President Obama’s governing philosophy will work spectacularly or fail dismally. On one hand, the Dow has passed a 14,500 record, unemployment has inched down to 7.7 percent, and the housing market is healing. It is possible that the Obama economy of the 2010s might end up looking like the prosperous Clinton economy of the 1990s. But on the flip side, one might express concerns over potential risks posed by tax increases, our $16 trillion debt, and Obamacare’s remaking of one-sixth of the economy.

Is the progress real—or is our prosperity hollow? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, one might argue that the Republican Party would serve America best by offering an alternative agenda as a principled opposition party, just like the UMP in France, the New Democrats in Canada, or the Workers’ Party in Singapore. This might mean fighting for further budget cuts, lower taxes, a strong military, and pro-life positions, not on the grounds that GOP positions are necessarily infallible, but on the grounds that the incumbent government’s philosophy might be fallible and that Americans might someday consider an alternative.

Chris Seck is a 3L.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

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