A Principle of The Traditional American Philosophy


8. Life and the Pursuit of Happiness

". . . unalienable Rights, that among these are Life . . . and the pursuit of Happiness." (Declaration of Independence)

The Principle

1. The traditional American philosophy teaches that the words "Life" and "the pursuit of Happiness," as used in the Declaration of Independence, are so inclusive as to defy precise definition.

Ever Changing Nature of Goals, etc.

2. This is because they mean the right to Life to be lived, and Happiness to be sought, in keeping with the fundamentals of Man's Liberty against Government-over-Man, according to each Individual's own goals, tastes, aspirations and ideals which are themselves in an ever-changing state of development--from childhood to life's end.

Definition Emphasizes Self-development, Self-discipline

3. "Life" thus means infinitely more than mere continued physical existence. "Happiness" lies in freedom of opportunity of The Individual--chiefly Freedom from Government-over-Man--to strive to realize to the full his own highest potential with regard to all aspects of life. "Happiness" is not a condition but an ideal of ever-changing aspirations, of an ever-expanding vision of self-fulfillment through self-realization and through self-development spiritually, morally, intellectually, in every respect. This ideal and vision are incapable of ever being fully defined, much less completely realized. It is a never-ending process of inner growth, not something external to be pursued and possessed. It is comparable to the horizon--ever-widening, as viewed from peak to higher peak of attainment with heightened understanding. As the sages of all ages have taught, true happiness--as distinguished from mere satisfaction of desires--is to be achieved primarily through such self-development and growth, with each Individual's progress depending on his own state of being and capacity. This can come mainly through service of lofty goals, whether subjective and personal or objective in character, which are conducive to broadening vision and unceasing effort toward achievement. Each Individual's standard of happiness to be sought for self is fundamentally subjective--not subject to external pressures or controls of any sort from any source, least of all by government, and not subject to being judged by others on any comparative basis, however seemingly eccentric or inadequate in their opinion.

The particular rights to "Life" and to "the pursuit of Happiness," like all of the others among Man's God-given, unalienable rights, are subject to the requirements of the duty factor of Individual Liberty-Responsibility under constitutionally limited government, including especially the observance of due respect for the equal rights of others. This involves self-discipline under self-government's system of Rule-by-Law (basically the people's fundamental law, the Constitution). Self-discipline is the alternative to being disciplined.

Innumerable Things of Limitless Scope

4. The things embraced by these words of the Declaration of Independence: "Life" and "the pursuit of Happiness," are innumerable and limitless in scope. They are as incapable of being fully listed and bounded as are the things embraced by that basic freedom: freedom of choice--the freedom to do or not to do--among life's innumerable possibilities hour by hour, day by day, life-long.

The Key: Voluntary Cooperation Based on Spiritual Unity

5. According to the American philosophy, voluntary cooperation among Individuals and groups of Individuals is the key to expression, in the multitudinous ways of Free Men, of the spirit of harmonious and progressive community life in the ethical environment of a sound society, as part of the enjoyment of the right to "Life" and to "the pursuit of happiness." This means, of course, so long as their aims are not violative of the equal rights of others or of just laws expressive of "just powers" (to quote the term of the Declaration of Independence) designed to safeguard the equal rights of all Individuals. Such cooperation is, in truth, an outgrowth of inner unity and harmony among Men born of Man's spiritual nature--of spiritual brotherhood in the light of the common Fatherhood of God. This is a part of equal freedom for each and every Individual in the separate enjoyment of Life and the pursuit of Happiness, with each one responding voluntarily, from unfettered personal choice only, in any associative or cooperative activity socially, economically, religiously, or politically. Here "voluntary" highlights the key element.

The Practical Application Typical of Americans

6. The American philosophy teaches that in practice this pertains, for example, to charitable, philanthropic, educational, religious, fraternal and other community activities--local, regional, and national. Among such activities by Individuals, illustrations of traditional American practices in neighborhood and community are providing help on the local level for the needy (who are incapable of self-help) as an expression of the benevolent spirit of charity, as well as providing aid to Individuals and institutions in the fields of education, medicine (health), religion and child welfare. The American scene has traditionally been characterized by such a free, generously full, self-fulfilling and unceasing display of this practical idealism of voluntary cooperation for group and community welfare--on such a massive scale within, as well as among, communities generally on a country-wide basis--as to be a highly distinctive feature of American life which elevates its moral tone and, when understood, causes admiration throughout the civilized world. It constitutes, in practice, a vital part of the American concept of Individual Liberty-Responsibility, expressive of The Individual's self-defined duty based on a personal moral code founded on religious-moral considerations and also stemming from the fundamental American idealism of Free Man. The prime motive here is one of Man's loftiest attainments morally and spiritually: compassion for his fellow-man, which ennobles the concept of charity--aid given by the Individual to others.

Coercion Excluded

7. To be spiritual and moral, this cooperation--in the enjoyment of the right to "Life" and "the pursuit of Happiness"--must never be in any degree involuntary. It must be wholly free from any element of interference or coercion, direct or indirect, by government or by others. If not voluntary, it amounts to seeking a false goal such as "forced brotherly love"--a concept which is self-contradictory. If not voluntary, it can have no relationship to truly moral and spiritual values underlying the principle of Man's concern for the well-being of his fellow-man. The moral and the spiritual, as opposed to coercion, are mutually exclusive. Coerced unity, forced togetherness, can only be external and create increased conflict and separateness because true unity, which is inner or spiritual unity, is possible only among the free in spirit--among genuinely Free Men.

No Sacrifice of Any Right of Any Individual

8. In connection with the meaning of the right to "Life" and to "the pursuit of Happiness," the American philosophy defines the common good, or the general welfare, as being fundamentally and principally the sum of the well-being of all Individuals acting voluntarily--alone as well as cooperatively--in the separate and full enjoyment of their equal, unalienable rights, especially the right to freedom of choice. It cannot be saved by any sacrifice of any of these rights of any Individual--for example, by any subordination of any of them to any Government-over-Man philosophy's goals, or coercive system. Any sacrifice of any right of any Individual is morally wrong. It is also dangerous potentially to all rights of all Individuals and, therefore, threatens grave injury to the general welfare, to the common good, which depends basically upon observance of due respect for the equal rights of each and every Individual. Thus to victimize any Individual as to any of his rights--through either government coercion, or by pressures by other Individuals socially, economically, or otherwise--is to victimize potentially every Individual because this sets a precedent which is conducive to later disregard of the rights of others, to Individual Liberty's peril if not grave injury.

The End Does Not Justify the Means

9. No matter how "good" the end may seem to be, there could not possibly be any justification for the use of evil means in pursuing it. The precedent of doing so in one instance could not but be evil and breed evil. No action or pronouncement by government contrary to those guiding precepts could have any validity morally or constitutionally under the American philosophy and system of constitutionally limited government designed primarily to make and keep secure the equal rights of all Individuals.

What Is Not Meant

10. Among the things excluded by the word "Happiness" (of The Individual), under the traditional American philosophy, is any element of Government's providing economic support, or security, for the people--of Government's assuming the role, the authority and responsibility, of satisfying their material desires. Such a role for Government would have been considered by The Founders and their fellow Americans to be the very antithesis of, as utterly hostile to, the American philosophy of Man-over-Government. When they expressed ideas such as that "The Happiness of society is the first law of every government"--as stated, for example, by James Wilson--they contemplated primarily and mainly Government's fulfilling its assigned role, as the creature and instrument of the people, as defined and limited in the Declaration of Independence: to make and keep secure the God-given, unalienable rights of The Individual. This means, above all else, Government's operating strictly and invariably within the confines of its limited, enumerated powers as prescribed by the sovereign people in their fundamental law, the Constitution, through which they create their tool: Government. This is designed to serve the basic goal: of Government's being conducted by all public officials--within the prescribed limits of their respective spheres of constitutional authority and responsibility--so as to ensure to the maximum the people's freedom to enjoy their unalienable rights, notably their right to Liberty: The Individual's Freedom from Government-over-Man. The word "Happiness" and the term "pursuit of Happiness"--as used in the Declaration of Independence and by The Founders and their fellow Americans--exclude everything in conflict with the foregoing considerations.

The Conclusion

11. The American philosophy teaches that the conception of how best to enjoy the benefits of the right to "Life" and to "the pursuit of Happiness" is a strictly personal matter for each Individual as Free Man--free in mind and spirit as well as in body and acting consistently with the duties of Individual Liberty-Responsibility, including chiefly the duty of respecting the equal rights (basically the constitutional rights) of others--to the exclusion of any coercion by government or by others.

Quotes from The American Ideal of 1776 supporting this Principle.