We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Founding Myth

This is a writing that I did for the Fourth of July in 2015 on Facebook, with some added emphasis since Facebook doesn’t allow italics. It is followed by an update of my views in 2016.

Most significant institutions are the result of Fate in one way or another, and usually result from some stronger party dominating some weaker party. So, humans have always developed Founding Myths to explain the origins of their institutions. This wasn’t always done in ignorance of the actual circumstances of the given founding, but rather to make the institution more palatable and therefore more attractive to its members. After all, being attractive to its members is the virtue that enables the institution to exist.

One of America’s particular virtues is exactly that it’s Founding was so great that it hardly needs any myth at all. We see w/ America exactly what was meant by Aristotle and Plato when they said that a founding represents the highest opportunity for virtue. Our Founders were not great in every way, but they did the right things at the right times, and many of them for the right reasons.

But today we have a different Founding Myth. We have to accept that these great men were just self-interested bourgeois dill-holes in order to accept the historical narrative of ‘progress’ that is promoted by the Left. After all, those men were generally superior to us in almost every way, so they don’t really recommend the future. We also have to accept that the ‘New Deal’ ended the Great Depression, that the Republicans opposed the Civil Rights movement, that the 2008 housing crisis was caused by ‘deregulation’ and ‘the banks’, and on and on. These are the Founding Myths that we have to believe in order to tell ourselves that our country wasn’t great until modern times when we started believing that freedom consists in license.

Freedom, properly understood, is the result of virtue. Virtue is the particular excellence of a thing. Freedom doesn’t consist in license, i.e. acting on the desire to do whatever you want. Someone that lives that way is living off of someone else’s virtue. And, the essential virtue for an institution is that its members love it. Today, many people love ‘the future’ (or ‘the now’) and mistake it for loving their country. America is not about loving the future. It is about doing the right thing at the right time. It is about loving history, and it is able to be that b/c it doesn’t need a Founding Myth.

Update for 2016

I still have essentially the same view of the Founding that I did last year, but, in putting everything together for the debut writing of this website, Classical Philosophy > Classical Liberalism, I have settled on particular formulations of criticisms of modern philosophy that I’ve had for a while, including the philosophy of our Founders, which we can call Classical Liberalism.

I say that my views of the Founding are still essentially the same, because I still believe the Founding is admirable even when illuminated by the full light of judgment. If the political philosophy that followed the Renaissance is, as I believe, merely a rationalization of the societies that were to come, it may be that any particular formulation of it was a desirable formulation. As I noted a year ago, in the case of the Founders, they still believed that freedom was a result of virtue. Along with that, it suffices to say, as I did a year ago, that they generally did the right things at the right times. Our Founding may have required a Noble Lie, but we don’t need no stinkin’ Founding Myths.

Categories: commentary

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