American Mind–Civics Class–Part 4

Civic And Moral Virture

GSFP has been giving an on-line civics class……the first three parts can be read on this post…..

It is sometimes said that the Founding Fathers created a “procedural republic” that was indifferent to what Americans did with their freedom. But this is to confuse a forthright defense of liberty with moral relativism that cannot distinguish right from wrong, virtue from vice. In a thoughtful and penetrating essay, Will Morrisey demonstrates that “the American way” was intended from the beginning to link rights and responsibilities, political freedom with civic virtue. The old “cardinal virtues” lauded by Aristotle and Cicero—prudence, courage, justice, and moderation—still spoke to the American people in a way that respected human freedom and individual conscience. Americans were both “humble” before God, and proud or “magnanimous” in asserting their independence and freedoms. As Morrisey shows, Americans aim to be neither haughty nor servile but rather participants in “a great and good shared action, the establishment of just self-government in their country.” As demonstrated by George Washington and other illustrious founders, Americans never severed liberty from their “sacred honor” or their allegiance to “Nature and Nature’s God.”

n declaring their independence from Great Britain, Americans famously asserted their unalienable rights. Much less conspicuously, but no less tellingly, they listed ten moral responsibilities consonant with those rights.

In announcing their political separation, they begin by acknowledging a duty to observe “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind” by stating the causes for their decision. 1). “Decent” means fitting, appropriate; the opinions of mankind are fittingly respected because human beings possess the capacity for sociality, for understanding one another, for giving reasons for their conduct. Any important public action entails the responsibility to explain oneself, to justify that action before the bar of reasoning men and women.

To justify oneself, in turn, requires Americans to state their standard of justice. That standard is unalienable natural rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 2). Justice numbers among the four cardinal classical virtues, defined and elaborated by Plato, Cicero, and other philosophers well known to the Declaration’s signers. Just conduct consists of actions defending natural rights in a civil society; to assert those rights, to separate oneself from those who would violate them, logically entails respecting those rights in all other persons, inasmuch as “all men are created equal,” all equally entitled to enjoy their natural rights undisturbed by tyrants.

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