Friday, February 24, 2006

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness

George Will writes on why conservatives are happier than liberals:
"Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised -- they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong, they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes -- government -- they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity -- it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.

The right to pursue happiness is the essential right that government exists to protect. Liberals, taking their bearings, whether they know it or not, from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 State of the Union address, think the attainment of happiness itself, understood in terms of security and material well-being, is an entitlement that government has created and can deliver."
I think the contrast Will draws here is important. Many people today do seem to think that government's role in our lives is to do more than protect our individual and unalienable right to pursue happiness. Thomas Jefferson didn't. Recall the words he wrote in our country's Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . ."
I think government can be effective in protecting our individual rights to pursue happiness, as well as in protecting our individual rights to life and liberty. But government cannot create happiness or guarantee happiness for anyone. I think it is unfortunate that many today seem to believe it is the purpose of government to try to help us achieve happiness because government policies that seek such ends inevitably encroach on the very unalienable rights Jefferson wrote about.

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