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Affluent Christian Investor | December 2, 2023

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Is Virtue More Important For The Leaders Or For The People?

American Exceptionalism rejects handing virtue over to its leaders.  The citizens of the United States certainly demand it from its leaders, as they should.  But the real virtue resides personally in each citizen, and only then can virtue shine from the leadership of the Great Experiment.   Alexis de Tocqueville clearly comprehended this during his visits to the United States – that God and liberty were completely intertwined in ideas and behaviors of Americans creating an ever presence of and demand for virtue, and this transcended into the leadership at all levels.  Tocqueville noted that this self-reliance was inherent to the American culture.  “The citizen of the United States is taught from his earliest infancy to rely upon his own exertions in order to resist the evils and the difficulties of life,” observes Tocqueville, “he looks upon social authority with an eye of mistrust and anxiety.”[1]  James Madison agreed, stating that:

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.[2]

American Exceptionalism is secured through self-virtue and self-reliance.  This is an underpinning key to the Great Experiment – man (and specifically Americans) can rule himself.   Collectivism is the polar opposite of this; and, as economist Thomas Sowell often terms, collectivist believe man must be ruled by their “betters.”

The virtue of self-reliance is also greatly strengthened and underpinned by the free market.  To trade your labor, ideas, goods and services creates an environment of virtuous commerce and abundance.  The promotion of virtue through the free market of exchange is the essence of prosperity and character.  As Enlightenment philosopher Charles Montesquieu writes:

True is it that when a democracy is founded on commerce, private people may acquire vast riches without corruption of morals.  This is because the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of frugality, economy, moderation, labor, prudence, tranquility, order, and rule.   So long as this spirit subsists, the riches it produces have no bad effect.  The mischief is, when excessive wealth destroys the spirit of commerce, then it is that the inconveniences of inequality begin to be felt.[3]

Montesquieu’s comment parallels much of Biblical reference to wealth.  It is not wealth that is, in and of itself, evil, but how the heart of the individuals deals and behaves with their lawfully acquired wealth; in a word, virtue.

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, 2007 (originally published in 1835 and 1840), Democracy in America, Volumes 1 and 2, Unabridged, (Stilwell, KS: Publishing), p. 142.

[2] W. Cleon Skousen, 2006 (originally published in 1981), The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle that Changed the World, (United States of America: National Center for Constitutional Studies), p. 254.  Referring Jonathan Elliot, ed., 1901, The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Vol. 3, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company), pp. 536-537.

[3] Charles de Montesquieu, 2010 (originally published in 1748), The Spirit of the Laws, “Book V: That the Laws given by the Legislator ought to be in Relation to the Principle of Government,” ( Book), p. 60.



Originally published on Townhall Finance.


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