Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Santorum's Bad History

I'm trying to swear off the Santorum bashing, but I couldn't resist this story because of its broader ramifications. In a recent speech in Gerogia, Santorum expressed the false view, common among Religious conservatives, the America's founding fathers were Christian fanatics:
America and our founders understood that if we were just a bunch of folks that cared about stuff, we have a very, very narrow view of freedom. We have a very, very narrow view of what God’s call is in our lives. Because that’s why He gave us these rights. To pursue happiness.

…..‘Happiness’ actually had a different definition, way back at the time of our founders. Like many words in our lexicon, they evolve and change over time. ‘Happiness’ was one of them. Go back and look it up. You’ll see one of the principal definitions of happiness is ‘to do the morally right thing.’ God gave us rights to life and to freedom to pursue His will. That’s what the moral foundation of our country is.
Setting aside the creepy notion that "pursuing happiness" means "doing God's will," this is simply wrong. Will Wilkinson:
As a matter of historical fact, the dominant conception of happiness at the time of the founding was the empiricist hedonism of John Locke. Locke had it that we are moved by our beliefs and desires, and that the master desire is to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain. As for happiness, Locke said, "Happiness then in its full extent is the utmost Pleasure we are capable of..." "Property" almost took the place of "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration precisely because the founders' notion of happiness was so materialistic. Happiness is pleasure, and property or "stuff" is such an indispensable source of pleasure and bulwark against misery that the pursuit of property and the pursuit of happiness almost come to the same thing. For Christians such as Locke, and many of the founders, it was so important to heed God's will not so much because divine commands are inherently authoritative, but because Heaven's promise of infinite pleasure made Christian virtue a prudent bet.
I don't how we are going to convince American conservatives that Santorum's view of the founding is wrong, but it seems to me very important that we do it somehow.

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