Friday, February 1, 2013

Essay Contest Submission by Doug Smith

"How do Conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans?"

By Doug Smith

When considering how conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans, one might first ask the question, what are conservative principles?  I suppose that if you asked ten different people what they believe conservative principles are, you are likely to get ten different answers.  Conservative principles to a conservative person are different than conservative principles to a liberal person. One definition of conservative principles is: “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.”  What is considered traditional or conservative today is not what was considered traditional or conservative fifty years ago.  One thing that I consider a conservative (or traditional principle) is virtue.  Virtue may be considered a number of things; ethics, honesty, integrity, morality, valor, loyalty and courage.  I think a virtuous person has all these attributes and more.  This essay will address how conservative principles, namely virtue, and consequently it antithesis, unchecked self interest, impacts the happiness and prosperity of all Americans. 

I am not an academic, politician, or intellectual.  I am not a student of political science nor do I consider myself widely read.  I am however an American.  I am an average person with limited abilities who happened to be born in this country in a less than perfect situation.  However, because I was born in America I had a great advantage over much of the worlds population.  While we may not all be equal, we as Americans, are equal under the law with the opportunity to pursue happiness.   I worked, saved, somehow got accepted into a great university, received several grants and worked my way through undergraduate and graduate school.  Isn’t that the American dream?  Or is it?  There are certainly an infinite number of examples of people who have achieved or are achieving the American dream whose stories are much more compelling than mine. However, the ingredients of the American dream seems to be consistent; hard work, initiative, free market opportunities, thrift, maybe some luck and virtue.  The protagonist in the stories of Horatio Alger was always a virtuous person. I don’t think any of the mobsters that profited during the days of prohibition could ever be considered the embodiment of the American dream although many of them may have gone from rags to riches. 

If virtue is one of the ingredients necessary to realize the American dream, has the American dream changed in recent decades into something that is unsustainable, unrealistic and not quite so virtuous? The American dream does not entitle anyone to anything other than freedom, equality under law and opportunity.  How would the founders define the American dream?  What were their beliefs between the seemingly opposite traits of self interest and virtue.   The founders knew that a free society must be virtuous.  The experiment that is America was a case for a balance between virtue and self interest.       

The founding fathers understood that there would always be self interest which needed to be tempered by virtue.  Without virtue, self interest and greed would run unchecked.  With only virtue and no self interest the opposite end of the spectrum would be realized which is no free market and no motivation to succeed.  Our society requires both, and it seems that at this critical time in the history of our country the “traditional values” that have been held in high regard in decades past are being replaced with unbridled self interest.  A prosperous free society without self interest is as improbable as wealth and happiness without virtue.  With so many people having discordant opinions of conservative principles and a decline of societies collective virtue one might ask what can be done?  Teaching our children conservative values, including virtue by word and deed is a step in the right direction.      

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