“The Surest Basis of Publick Happiness”


From George Washington’s First State of the Union Address before Congress (Jan 8, 1790):

“Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness. In one, in which the measures of government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the community, as in our’s, it is proportionately essential. To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways: By convincing those who are entrusted with the publick administration, that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people: And by teaching the people themselves to know, and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience, and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.”

It’s debatable whether knowledge is a path to individual happiness. There are plenty of miserable scholars, for example. But for collective well-being, knowledge will surely take us farther than ignorance can, at least if paired with humanity.

Washington’s promotion of science and literature stands in contrast to what Isaac Asimov called “the strain of anti-intellectualism” seen in many of parts of U.S. public life. Recent examples include: rejection of evolution (at least in certain demographics), attacks on NSF autonomy, while spending (bleeding?) perhaps $4 to 6 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and — more importantly — costing hundreds of thousands of lives

It makes one wonder: is publick happiness really a priority?

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Related Posts

The Modern Scourge of Civilized Men (Dec 25, 2013)

On Finding Optimism (July 14, 2013)

War and Opportunity Costs (Dec 22, 2011)

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