From The Vaults

Suppose Gort — From Outer Space — Returns And Demands A Big Increase In Public Virtue, Or Else!

Suppose Gort — the big alien — demanded a huge increase in public virtue.

Suppose Gort — the big alien — demanded a huge increase in public virtue.

Ronald Reagan’s favorite movie was, “When The Earth Stood Still,” and in a speech at the UN Reagan mused about what would happen if, as in that movie, an alien force of insurmountable power demanded that the world work together peacefully.  Reagan said, “I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

Gort — the big alien shown in the movie ad — gives this warning, “Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration”

I’ve been reading a little of John Adams and I’d like to see a remake of that movie where Gort makes a more specific demand:  “Your choice is simple — within five years show a big increase in public virtue— or else!”

Public virtue! You can imagine the committees of experts who would scurry about trying to decide how to respond. First, they would try to understand what exactly public virtue is.

Our founding fathers emphasized that for a republic to survive and flourish, it must have a citizenry that is virtuous. Virtue, they noted, has two aspects: private and public. Private virtue is demonstrated in character traits like frugality, honesty, temperance, personal responsibility, etc. Religion was seen as having an important role to play in developing those traits, as was education.

Public virtue was defined as actions motivated by a desire to advance the public good. These are the words of John Adams:

Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics. There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honor, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superior to all private passions. (John Adams, letter to Mercy Warren, April 16, 1776)

What would a society look like that took Adams’ warning to heart — that public virtue in the essential foundation needed for republics? What would its educational system look like if one of its big goals was to establish in the minds of youth a positive passion for the public good? What would its TV programs look like?



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