I am an admirer of Charles Murray, a good man whose extraordinary political courage captures what is best in the Quaker tradition. His recent essay, The Europe Syndrome and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism, makes a case for American exceptionalism based upon the idea that the purpose of government is to facilitate the pursuit of happiness — as understood in the Aristotelian sense:
My argument is drawn from Federalist Paper No. 62, probably written by James Madison: “A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.” Note the word: happiness. Not prosperity. Not security. Not equality. Happiness, which the Founders used in its Aristotelian sense of lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.
Murray observes that there are only four “institutions” in society within which human beings can achieve this kind of deep satisfaction: family, community, vocation, and faith.
The stuff of life — the elemental events surrounding birth, death, raising children, fulfilling one’s personal potential, dealing with adversity, intimate relationships — coping with life as it exists around us in all its richness — occurs within those four institutions.
The goal of social policy, according to Murray, should be to ensure the robustness and vitality of these four institutions. He argues that the European model of the state does not do this — that despite its material successes, “it is not suited to the way that human beings flourish — it does not conduce to Aristotelian happiness.”
Murray predicts that science in the 21st century will reinforce these observations. He cites Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience in support of the idea that “social sciences are increasingly going to be shaped by the findings of biology; specifically, the findings of the neuroscientists and the geneticists.”
Finally, Murray suggests that America needs another political Great Awakening, a rediscovery “in the gut” of what is most valuable in life.
There are some big ideas in this essay. Read it for yourself.