A later realization – I suppose I have sensed it most of my life, but I have understood it philosophically only during the preparation of this talk – has been the beauty of the idea of the pursuit of happiness. Familiar words, easy to take for granted; easy to misconstrue. The idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery. I find it marvelous to contemplate to what an extent, after two centuries, and after the terrible history of the earlier part of this century, the idea has come to a kind of fruition. It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don’t imagine my father’s parents would have been able to understand this idea. So much is contained in it; the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of a vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.
V.S. Naipaul, “Our Universal Civilization” (1992) in The Writer and the World.
2 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”
This reminds me of Hayek’s discussion of value and its importance to the individual. While one individual may highly value a large and diverse collection of musical recordings, another may value a similar collection of books, still another sufficient extra money for gasoline and supplies to allow them to travel to remote places to hike and kayak.
When socialist government, or any controlling authority, decides for you what you need and how your wants are best met by allocating your money and resources for you, it (they?) have eliminated your ability to allocate that money or those resources in a way that best makes you happy.
In the name of the greater good, all individuals, odd shaped pegs that they all are, are forever being pounded into the round hole the socialist government has allocated for them. It’s sees as the greatest good a time when all pegs are pounded into precisely the same size hole. Perfect equality, complete misery.
It should be remembered also that the authors of this phrase were classically educated, and their use of the term “happiness” is in the Aristotelian sense, not simply some form of mindless enjoyment.
As the comenter above notes, interests, and ways of obtaining intellectual, spiritual, and physical satisfaction may take any number of various forms, and the path to one person’s happiness might be markedly different from that of another.
The pursuit of happiness means the right to engage in a series of choices, both major and minor, the ultimate goal of which is the development of one’s natural gifts and talents to their fullest extent within a rational moral framework.
Such a path requires the greatest range of personal autonomy and creative freedom. It is exactly the form of liberty which would most appeal to a man of multi-faceted interests such as Jefferson.
It is, by definition, therefore, anathema to the collectivist mentality, whose highest value is stability, to the point of stasis, to be reached by the obedient conformity of all members of the group.
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