For the past few weeks RealClearPublicAffairs has been running what they are calling the 1776 series. I recommend reading them all. Here’s the description:
The 1776 Series is a collection of original essays that explain the foundational themes of the American experience. Commissioned from distinguished historians and scholars, these essays contribute to the broader goal of the American Civics project: providing an education in the principles and practices that every patriotic citizen should know.
This week I’ll be providing some commentary on Civic and Moral Virtues, the American Way, by Will Morrisey. Excerpts follow, with my comments:
In declaring their independence from Great Britain, Americans famously asserted their unalienable rights. Much less conspicuously, but no less tellingly, they listed ten moral responsibilities consonant with those rights.
In announcing their political separation, they begin by acknowledging a duty to observe “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” by stating the causes for their decision. 1). “Decent” means fitting, appropriate; the opinions of mankind are fittingly respected because human beings possess the capacity for sociality, for understanding one another, for giving reasons for their conduct. Any important public action entails the responsibility to explain oneself, to justify that action before the bar of reasoning men and women.
To justify oneself, in turn, requires Americans to state their standard of justice. That standard is unalienable natural rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 2). Justice numbers among the four cardinal classical virtues, defined and elaborated by Plato, Cicero, and other philosophers well known to the Declaration’s signers. Just conduct consists of actions defending natural rights in a civil society; to assert those rights, to separate oneself from those who would violate them, logically entails respecting those rights in all other persons, inasmuch as “all men are created equal,” all equally entitled to enjoy their natural rights undisturbed by tyrants.
Justice should indeed ranked high, if not first, among moral virtues; the concepts of individual rights, liberty and property are impossible to maintain without it. Here:
Governments that secure such rights are established by the consent of the governed. This means that consent cannot mean mere assent or willingness. It can only mean reasoned assent. 3). Reasoned assent to natural right implies a modest degree of another classical virtue, wisdom. In this case, it is what Aristotle calls “theoretical” wisdom, understanding general or abstract principles. Americans recognize their duty to understand what human nature is—not only the nature of Americans, or the English, or the French, but of human beings as such.
And in this lies my concern.
Look at the last few election cycles – for Congress or for any of your local elections – and ask yourself, seriously, given the tenure of the campaign ads and the rhetoric of the candidates, how “wise” the voters these people are aiming at really are.
It’s not just the endless boasting of how much Free Shit the candidates will give away. Most of the voters couldn’t find the First or Fourth Amendments with written instructions, partly because the basic education system has degraded into a series of leftist indoctrination seminars, our popular entertainment is composed of gladiatorial games and an endless parade of morons posing as “reality” programming. One can hardly expect wisdom from a population when a plurality of that population is more concerned with who one of the Kardashians is fucking in any given week than what their Congressman is doing to our wallets that week in the Imperial City.
Is there hope for us? Well, I’m inclined to think so:
The fourth classical virtue is courage. Without it, wisdom, justice, and moderation by themselves will leave you high and dry. As a baseball manager once said of a rival, “Nice guys finish last.” Accordingly, Americans announce their intention to defend their rights with “manly firmness.” It should be noted that manliness in their minds had no “gender.” Abigail Adams was no less “manly” in her firmness than her husband, John. He knew that and said it. Looking back on the American Revolution, he wrote that those were times that tried women’s souls as well as those of men, and that American women had exhibited no less courage than their husbands and sons.
I think we still have courage, as a people. I recall President Reagan’s speech about “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc,” and I also recall some talking head interviewing a journalist who had been embedded with some of our troops in Iraq in 2003. The talk-droid referenced that speech by President Reagan, (correctly) lauded the courage of those men that stormed the beaches of Normandy, and asked the journalist “…where are young men like that today? Are there any?”
“Yes,” the journalist replied. “We have many of them, and a lot of them are there, today, in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
And that’s what might just save us as a people. It won’t be the professional grievance-mongers, the race hustlers, the permanently “offended” that make America work – not ever. It’s the courage and moral fortitude of the regular workers and business-people of America who, once the autistic screeching of the previous types has finally tapered off, will spit on their hands and get on with the job.
That’s courage, True Believers. The courage to keep on.
Read the whole article, of course. It’s worth the time. It’s about us.