Saturday, March 11, 2006

Founding Fathers: Geniuses, or knaves?

Several months ago a book group I'm sporadically a part of read and reviewed "The Empire of Wealth." One of the discussion topics was around what we valued most as U.S. citizens. Someone said something about the foresight of our founding fathers.

During that discussion I speculated that most of them were likely not much different than you or me, and that we shouldn't put them up on pedestals. I was grilled by everyone else in the review for holding this position.

I felt somewhat vindicated earlier today while reading Ron Chernow's "Alexander Hamilton" biography, which read: "Clearly Hamilton was reading the skeptical Scottish philosopher David Hume, and he quoted his view that in framing a government 'every man ought to be supposed a knave and to have no other end in all his actions but private interests.' The task of government was not to stop selfish striving - a hopeless task - but to harness it for the public good. In starting to outline the contours of his own vision of government, Hamilton was spurred by Hume's dark vision of human nature, which corresponded to his own."

Such a powerful quotation... touching on the mortality of all of us, and that the best we can do is try to harness our selfishness for the greater good. Kind of ironic that Hamilton himself, a founding father, had a similar thought.

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