The Corner

Re: Criminey

Thanks Jonah. I did, however, skip over one interesting point Sullivan makes. I was so busy earning brownie points with my boss that I omitted this parenthetical passage from Sullivan’s essay: “(The purpose of the Constitution was to preserve the Declaration of Independence’s right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ The word ‘virtue’ is not included in that phrase. Its omission is the single greatest innovation of the U.S. founding.)” Now it seems pretty clear that the Founders did not consider the promotion of virtue to be among the major tasks of the limited federal government they established–although I’d be interested in any argument to the contrary that anyone wanted to make. It also seems pretty clear that they had no great objection to the promotion of virtue by state governments. But the point I find interesting here is: What was the prevailing understanding (if there was one) of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” at the time of the Founding? There is a respectable view that happiness, properly considered, has a moral component–that it means, as Charles Murray put it in In Pursuit, “lasting and justified satisfaction.” (I believe that Murray goes on to suggest that a person who experiences constant pleasure as a result of drugs is not truly “happy.”) What, I wonder, was the Founders’ view of this matter? Someone must have done work on this subject–maybe the folks at the Claremont Institute?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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