Thursday, April 2, 2009

Happiness and Freedom

Rabbi Hillel, the famous Jewish leader who lived around the time of Christ, is credited with the saying, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary." Hillel supposedly said this to a gentile who asked him for a summary of the Torah in the time he could stand on one leg.
To a similarly impatient outsider looking to understand the creed of the United States of America, I would respond, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The rest is commentary."
The nation's founders did not harbor the godlike chutzpah that today's liberals, (progressives, socialists, whatever) do in presuming to prescribe their vision of happiness for the rest of us. The founders did not believe that it was a proper function of government to provide happiness to its citizens, happiness being a totally private and personal goal. (a subjective objective?) Governments were said to be instituted only to secure the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Or, in other words, to protect the freedom to live one's life without the tyranny of government infingement.

In his book, "Liberal Fascism", Jonah Goldberg writes about the liberal catchphrase, 'The Politics of Meaning' and includes this excerpt of a speech Hillary Clinton gave in 1993.

"We need a new politics of meaning. We need a new ethos of individual responsibility and caring. We need a new definition of social society which answers the unanswerable questions posed by both the market forces and the governmental ones, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves."

Goldberg correctly points out the totalitarian tone of this - that all of us need to do these things, or we will remain empty, hollow, instead of being "filled up". There are innumerable ways that we try to achieve "meaning" and fullness to our lives - religion, family, work, gardening, following the Lakers, etc. Attempting to influence society through political action is another, though it's one, I think, that attracts considerably less people than Hillary would like it to or hopes it would. Those inalienable rights are inconvenient things for liberals.
On his National Review Online "Liberal Fascism" blog, Goldberg today (4/2), posted a response to someone who had brought up the subject of "meaning". Goldberg himself believes that the terms happiness and meaning are interchangeable. A couple of his points.

"Once someone becomes disillusioned with the cause they've signed up for, it's axiomatic that the cause no longer provides happiness or meaning. That's my chief problem with Barack Obama's "we're all in it together" philosophy. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention he tried to redefine the invidualistic pursuit of the "American dream" into a more collective, Crolyite*, endeavor to achieve "America's promise." But for many of us, America's promise is not what we all do together via the government, but what we're all capable of achieving on our own when government gets out of the way."

"Again, the problem is when governments, or political movements seeking to take control of the government, seek to provide meaning to people. Hillary Clinton, recall, wanted to use her politics of meaning to redefine what it means to be a human being. Such an effort, by definition, becomes oppressive because one person's or one government's definition of happiness will inevitably be someone else's idea of Hell."

Jefferson, Adams, et al, understood all this very well. Obama, Clinton, et al, don't or don't care. Their collectivist vision is paramount, just as it was for Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao. No, we won't become a totalitarian, terrorist state like Nazi Germany or Communist China but there is the danger of regression into the "smiley-face fascism" that Goldberg describes so well in his book.

*Herbert Croly was an early 20th century 'progressive' and founder of "The New Republic". A typical quote, "An individual has no meaning apart from the society in which his individuality has been formed." Right. It's Beethoven's civic virtues we remember most about him.

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