The framework for the pursuit of happiness

Charles Murray – author of several books including the recent Coming Apart – was interviewed on Uncommon Knowledge this week.  The entire interview is worth your time, here are two choice excerpts:

[Five centuries before the fall], Rome took its initial downward step… its loss of the republic when Caesar became the first emperor… Was that loss important?  Not in material terms.  [Rome, of course, remained an empire for five centuries – it grew, it got richer. ]  But for Romans who treasured their republic it was a tragedy that no amount of imperials splendor could redeem.  The United States faces a similar prospect: remaining as wealthy and powerful as ever, but leaving its heritage behind.

A man who is holding down a menial job, and thereby supporting a wife and children, is doing something authentically important with his life.  He should take deep satisfaction from that and be praised by his community for doing so.  If that same man lives under a system that says the children of the women he sleeps with will be taking care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away.  Taking the trouble out of life strips people of major ways in which human beings look back on their lives and say, “I made a difference.”  Raising a family, supporting yourself, being a good friend and a good neighbor, learning what you can do well and then doing it as well as you possibly can, providing the best possible framework for doing those things is what the American project is all about.  When I say the American project is in danger, that’s the nature of the loss I have in mind.  The loss of the framework through which people can best pursue happiness.

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One Response to The framework for the pursuit of happiness

  1. Paul Marks says:

    There are two important non Roman elements to the current situation, which mean that the United States does NOT face of prospect of losing freedom but remaining as “rich and powerful as before”.

    Firstly, in spite of all the talk of “bread and games”, only a tiny minority of Romans (those living in Rome and a few other cities) actually had their material needs provided for them by the state. The vast majority of people lived on the land and were certainly not “tax eaters”.

    The modern Welfare States (in the United States and other Western countries) are fundementally different – they attempt to provide education, health care, income support, old age maintainence (and so on), for the majority of the population,

    This is a situation that can not be sustained. It is not some moral decline among ordinary people that have caused the growth of these schemes – the very existance of such extensive schemes was bound to utterly undermine civil society. So claims that the wealthy should go out among ordinary people and improve their (the ordinary people’s) behaviour, miss the fundemental point and are absurd.

    The other fundemental difference between the Roman world and our world is as follows….

    Lending (borrowning) without real savings. The Roman world did not have a credit bubble financial system or very large numbers of people (mostly rather wealthy people) connected to such as credit bubble financial system.

    Like the Wefare State for ordinary people, the credit bubble financial system (the doctrine of “credit expansion”) is unsustainable. The rich may think they stand on their own two feet – but, in reality, they are often also dependent on an unsustainble system (in their case the banking and financial system – rather than than the Welfare State).

    The idea that the present system (resting as it does on the twin pillars of the Welfare State and the credit bubble financial/banking system) can last for “centuries” is absurd.

    On the contrary it will become obvious as early as next year (2013) that this system is falling apart.

    And its collapse will be nothing to do with a decline in moral behaviour among the population (that reverses the true cause and effect), and can not be prevented by a change in moral behaviour by the population.

    It is the fundemental factors themselves, the Welfare State and the credit bubble financial system, that will destroy the present system – they are basically insane.

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