Op-Ed: Our Founding Virtues

By Larsen, Rick | Deseret News (Salt Lake City), March 29, 2018 | Go to article overview

Op-Ed: Our Founding Virtues


Larsen, Rick, Deseret News (Salt Lake City)


Society is shaped by our collective choices, the demands we make of elected representatives and the laws that result. Today, demands for societal change are rampant. Movements like #MeToo and #NeverAgain reflect the strongest of public sentiment. But the real question is: Are solutions to be found primarily in new laws and policy, or by changing our own behaviors?

While the inciting incidents seem contemporary, our reactions are firmly grounded in historic tradition. It was a citizenry tired of taxes and social behaviors they could no longer accept that created the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known.

As we face the unacceptable behaviors of our generation, how will we create change?

There are lessons from history, but also a growing skepticism toward the remarkable vision of freedom articulated in the Constitution. What if it is not the vision that is flawed, but rather — more and more — the virtues of “we the people”? For all of our discussion of the Founding Fathers, we talk far less about the immutable and vital founding virtues, those behaviors — even restraints — they considered necessary to our freedoms.

It may seem contradictory to connect freedom and restraint, but as societal behavior worsens, the more we look to lawmakers to protect us. And here is the truth: Even as we ask government to enact more social guardrails through lawmaking, those guardrails are useless if ignored by a majority of we the people.” We can, however, create change at a community level by reintroducing each generation to the founding virtues.

Charles Murray explains them this way: “Two are virtues in themselves — industriousness and honesty — and two of them refer to institutions through which right behavior is nurtured — marriage and religion.” These are the virtues that sparked the American Revolution and inspired the authors of the Constitution, who knew that freedom works only given certain voluntary restraints among its people.

As we consider these virtues, industriousness tops the list. In America, work has always been about more than income — it provides dignity and purpose. Direct connections can be made between a voluntary decline in work and increases in crime and poverty — both of which place a strain on the social safety net and society at large.

Work is also connected to marriage and family. Families create bonds and obligations — in the very best sense. …

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