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Leaping Back to the Founding Part 6: What is Virtue? And How Can We Promote It?

November 8, 2009

5000-year-leap

Editor’s Note: Click here for the previous installments in this ongoing series.

There were many experiences that transformed me from a leftist into conservative. At the forefront, though, was my year and a half working as a debt collector (and later an assistant manager of a team of collectors) for a student loan company.

Spending 40+ hours a week on the phone talking to people on the verge of defaulting I learned a key lesson in human nature: many people cannot handle their finances. The same message even repeated itself in the mini-economy of the call center as I say amongst my co-workers a wide-range of levels of achievement at the job. The observations go further, though, to arrive at an often painful conservative reality: vast numbers of people cannot handle freedom.

Given the opportunity to create their life many people are unable to rise to the occasion. It’s here where W. Cleon Skousen’s second principle of the founders offers an answer:

Second Principle: A free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong.

In other words, people cannot handle freedom without virtue and morality.

So often these concepts — virtue and morality — are thought of in a purely sexual context. The term “moral” when used in politics conjures up images of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and a politics driven by anti-gay, anti-pornography, sexual prudishness. This casts the concept in an overly narrow fashion.

In my experience as a debt collector the ideas bring about a far different context. It’s moral to pay one’s debts and take them seriously. It’s virtuous to work hard and not waste one’s money when there are obligations that must be met first. Those who are possessed of such a mentality can handle the challenge of freedom and navigate the traps of personal finances.

The founders knew this and Skousen cites several examples.

Benjamin Franklin:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

James Madison:

“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men; so that we do not depend upon their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Finally Skousen summarizes:

Virtue has to be earned and it has to be learned. Neither is virtue a permanent quality in human nature. It has to be cultivated continually and exercised from hour to hour and from day to day. The Founders looked to the home, the school, and the churches to fuel the fires of virtue from generation to generation.

In the third value that we’ll discuss we’ll see the founder’s view for how virtue could be instilled in a society.

But first, would anyone else like to elaborate on this concept?

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5 Comments
  1. Jack Hampton permalink
    November 9, 2009 4:39 am

    I believe moral encompasses many things including paying just debts, keeping your word, and being honest in all matters possible. Now if I am asked and I am sure you have probably had this happen to you when someone says “Doesn’t aunt Hilda look nice you are not going to say well no really she looks like the running gears of hell” You make a polite response. The majority of people see homosexuality and hardcore pornography as immoral.I remember my grandmother used the word gay often to describe events but somehow the word got hijacked by the left and homosexuals to substitute for the correct term which is homosexual. I do not believe those are prudish concepts. The left also used it to attack Falwell who I believe would have been better served to use another descriptive word for his organization.

  2. Michael van der Galien permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:02 am

    This really is a great post. Thank you David. It’s incredibly good food for thought; a great Sundaypost.

  3. Gordon Carson permalink
    November 9, 2009 5:52 am

    It stands to reason that if people are given freedom to manage their own affairs but they lack morality, honesty and other virtues, the society as a whole will crumble from within. Anarchy will be the result. When this has happened in history, as in the Roman Empire, other nations will come into play and restore order. The re-establishment of order, though, necessitates the usurping of the original powers-that-were in the anarchical nation. This is how one culture overshadows another; great nations are never conquered, they collapse from within. The new government promotes their own culture in the society of the self-defeated people. It is usually seen as superior. This is happening right now in Russia and its satellite states. Corruption is rampant and there is a yearning for the old Soviet system. The people have forgotten about the Gulag death-camps, only wishing for some kind of order that they are unable to establish themselves.

  4. John Davidson permalink
    November 9, 2009 7:44 am

    We can talk about how it was, but how it is is significant.

    Thanks, David

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