Revolution 250 Podcast

The Pursuit of Happiness with Jeffrey Rosen

July 04, 2023 Jeffrey Rosen Season 4 Episode 27
Revolution 250 Podcast
The Pursuit of Happiness with Jeffrey Rosen
Show Notes Transcript

For this 4th of July - Iconic words.  Life.  Liberty.  Pursuit of Happiness. Life and Liberty may be self explanatory, but what, to the minds of the Founders, was the Happiness to be Pursued? In his new book Pursuit of Happiness . President and CEO of the National Constitution Center chases down the meaning of happiness according to the men who wrote those immortal words.


WEBVTT
 
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 I'm Bob Allison.
 
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 I chair the Rev 250 Advisory Group, teach history at Suffolk University.
 
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 And Rev 250 is a collaboration among groups in Massachusetts looking at ways to commemorate the beginnings of the American Revolution.
 
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 And our guest today is Jeffrey Rosen.
 
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 Jeff Rosen is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
 
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 Jeff, welcome to the podcast.
 
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 Thank you.
 
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 Great to be here.
 
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 Great to have you.
 
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 And the National Constitution Center is a great place.
 
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 I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about it.
 
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 Absolutely.
 
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 So before all of our programs, I recite the National Constitution Center's mission statement, which is so inspiring that I'll do that now.
 
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 Here we go.
 
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 Okay, very good.
 
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 The National Constitution Center is the only institution in America chartered by Congress to increase awareness and understanding of the U.S.
 
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 Constitution among the American people on a nonpartisan basis.
 
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 And that last...
 
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 resonant phrase is so important because it is urgently necessary for there to be at least one place in these polarized times that is nonpartisan and that brings together citizens and scholars of all perspectives, liberal and conservative and everything in between, to explore areas of agreement and disagreement about the US Constitution.
 
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 The Constitution Center was founded during the bicentennial of the Constitution.
 
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 It was indeed chartered by Congress,
 
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 but it's a private nonprofit that receives little government funding.
 
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 In a sense, we have this grand building on Independence Mall across from Independence Hall, the most inspiring constitutional land in America.
 
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 And with a government charter, but without government support, I don't know if that's the best or worst of all worlds, but the Constitution Center itself is definitely the best of all worlds.
 
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 It's a kind of constitutional heaven, as we'd like to say.
 
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 Right now, the chairs of the Constitution Center are Justices Neil Gorsuch and Stephen Breyer.
 
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 They've both joined together to signal their commitment to nonpartisan constitutional education.
 
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 On all of our programs and podcasts and on the amazing
 
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 platform that we created called the Interactive Constitution.
 
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 We bring together liberals and conservatives for constitutional education and debate.
 
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 We have become America's leading platform for nonpartisan constitutional education.
 
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 And I'll tell you about some of the really exciting things that listeners can find on
 
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 website when they visit because i hope they will so the the core of the educational offerings is called the interactive constitution and we launched in 2015 um it's now among the most googled constitutions in the world it's received more than uh 70 million hits since we launched in 2015 and when you go there you can click on any clause of the constitution the first amendment or the second amendment or anything you like and you'll find leading liberal and conservative scholars
 
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 exploring areas of agreement and disagreement with a thousand words about what they agree the provision means, then separate statement about what they disagree.
 
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 And it's so inspiring to see how much agreement there really is.
 
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 And it's like a Supreme Court majority opinion.
 
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 And in these polarized times, citizens can read this material and be completely confident that it represents consensus.
 
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 Now, building on that great platform,
 
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 We've launched an amazing series of Constitution 101 classes that citizens can take as lifelong learners.
 
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 And we're doing a high school version, which is now online and has materials for teachers.
 
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 And we've just launched a great collaboration with Khan Academy, which is the leading online course provider, to create their first...
 
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 civics class and the Khan National Constitution Center, Khan 101 class.
 
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 There's a lot of Khans in there that will launch next year.
 
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 And it's just going to be this amazing free resource for anyone to learn civics.
 
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 And in particular, we're really expecting it'll reach hundreds of thousands of high school students across America.
 
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 Then finally online, there's just a series of public programs, a podcast called We the People I host every week, town hall programs.
 
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 These are all really wonderful discussions about historic and current constitutional issues in the news.
 
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 Again, they bring together liberal and conservative scholars.
 
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 It's just thrilling to be able to learn from great thoughtful minds about the Constitution.
 
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 So that's all this wonderful online material.
 
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 And then I'll just end this tour of the resources of the Constitution Center by returning to our inspiring headquarters in Philadelphia, which I hope visitors will visit if they can.
 
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 It's right on Independence Mall, this sort of shining...
 
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 I use the word temple because I can't think of a better word.
 
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 It's a temple to the Constitution.
 
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 It's a superb learning center that has rare copies of the Constitution, an original copy of the Bill of Rights, James Wilson's first handwritten notes of the Constitution, statues of the framers, live theater that inspire visitors, new exhibits on the Civil War and Reconstruction, a new exhibit we're opening in September on the First Amendment, and a great way for
 
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 Learners only just to learn about the Constitution.
 
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 So that's the National Constitution Center.
 
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 And it's such an honor to be part of it.
 
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 It really is.
 
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 And you say it's a temple, but I want to make it clear, it's really not a static shrine.
 
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 It's an exciting place where you are participating in this really discussion that's been going on for several hundred years now about self-government, which is really it's an inspiring place in all the right ways.
 
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 Absolutely right.
 
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 You're so right to emphasize the fact that it's an opportunity to engage with
 
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 living debates about the meaning of the Constitution, its relevance to contemporary life, and its centrality in preserving the Republic.
 
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 The founders thought that without constitutional education, citizens would be unable to muster the thoughtful deliberation and willingness to listen to different points of view that
 
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 was necessary if the Republic were to survive.
 
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 And when George Washington stepped down, he expressed hope that Congress would create a national university for people from around the country to come and learn about civics.
 
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 Now, Congress didn't because there were concerns about federalism and we're not in favor of centralized, publicly funded educational initiatives in America.
 
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 But the Constitution Center aspires to be that third place that fulfills Washington's vision on a voluntary basis.
 
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 And you can do that by visiting us online or in person.
 
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 Yeah, constitutioncenter.org.
 
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 That's the website.
 
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 We want to get to the pursuits of happiness, but first, you just did a wonderful program at the Constitution Center where you asked scholars, left, right, and libertarian, about how they would amend the Constitution if they were to rewrite it today.
 
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 And it was really interesting, the consensus they had about what
 
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 is essential to preserve in the system, as well as some things.
 
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 I think it was more tweaks than, hey, let's start over, which was really an interesting commentary, I think, on the framework that was set up in 1787.
 
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 It was fascinating.
 
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 I'm so glad you saw that exciting project.
 
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 And it started when we convened those scholars, as you say, conservative, liberal, and libertarian
 
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 to draft a constitution from scratch in a state of nature or a state of Zoom or whatever it was.
 
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 And they each had their separate discussions.
 
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 And when they came back, we were surprised that there were areas of overlap that we hadn't expected in particular
 
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 Several of them were open to term limits for Supreme Court justices and even to amending the electoral college.
 
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 So with that in mind, we brought them all together for a virtual convention.
 
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 And I have to say, I listened in and it just blew me away how high level the discussions were.
 
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 I felt like I were listening to modern frameworks because they were so...
 
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 Thoughtful, deeply learned in law and history and willing to take the long view, not to get caught up on partisan advantage in the short term, but to think about structural issues in the long term.
 
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 So in the space of just about three meetings on Zoom, they were able to agree on five constitutional amendments.
 
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 And here's where the subject of the amendments.
 
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 First, 18-year term limits for justices.
 
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 Second, eliminating the natural born citizenship requirement for president.
 
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 Third, making it a little easier to amend the Constitution.
 
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 Fourth, making it a little harder to impeach in the House, but easier to convict in the Senate to avoid partisan impeachments, but to make meaningful.
 
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 Finally, and interestingly, to resurrect the legislative veto, that was the mechanism Congress had from the 30s until the Supreme Court struck it down in the Chata case in 80, basically to repudiate presidential actions by majority vote.
 
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 All of our scholars thought that empowering Congress to assert its prerogatives and to repudiate executive orders that it disagreed with by majority vote would reinstate the balance of powers that's gotten out of whack.
 
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 Those were the amendments.
 
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 good government amendments generally that have more to do with structures than about rights.
 
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 But I think it's a marvelous reminder that in these polarized times, there's surprising agreement about first principles, in particular, the first principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
 
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 As America's 250 approaches and you are doing such important work in Massachusetts to focus us on that, the Constitution Center wants to put those ideals of the Declaration and the Constitution front and center.
 
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 Great, thanks.
 
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 So that brings us then to the pursuit of happiness, which is another thing we're focusing on, that fundamental right that the Declaration says all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with a certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and what that means.
 
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 So can you tell us a bit about the Constitution Center and how you got started on studying
 
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 I should tell you, a couple of years ago, I was invited to come to Armenia.
 
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 Jack Ryakov and I went to a number of different colleges in Armenia.
 
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 And there's one that focuses every year on a great document.
 
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 And this year was the declaration.
 
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 And the students were really interested to hear that in America, people are guaranteed happiness.
 
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 And we had to disabuse them of that.
 
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 But it is something else.
 
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 It's really a profound idea, the pursuit of happiness.
 
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 It is indeed.
 
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 I'm so excited to tell you about it because I have a new book coming out on this topic.
 
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 It's coming out in February and it's called The Pursuit of Happiness.
 
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 How classical writers on virtue inspired the lives of the founders and defined America.
 
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 And during the COVID quarantine, I set out to rediscover what the founders had in mind when they talked about the pursuit of happiness.
 
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 And what I learned came as a revelation.
 
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 I used as my reading list a list that Thomas Jefferson would send out to kids who were going to law school, who wrote to him when he was old.
 
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 And he would always send back a quotation, first of all, from Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, saying the happy man is he who is tranquil in his mind, who's not
 
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 suffering from undue elation or undue despondency.
 
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 He is the wise man of whom we request.
 
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 He is the happy man.
 
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 So I was intrigued by the Cicero quotation, and I decided to read more of the classical moral literature.
 
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 Now, I have had a wonderful liberal arts education.
 
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 I've studied English literature and philosophy and history and politics.
 
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 But for all my wonderful teachers and wonderful universities,
 
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 I'd never read the moral philosophy that it was at the core of the original understanding.
 
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 I looked at Thomas Jefferson's reading list to Robert Skipwith, and in the section on natural religion, which is what he surprisingly calls his moral philosophy section, he has Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, Seneca's essays, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus,
 
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 These are all, of course, classical Stoic writers.
 
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 And then he has a series of the Enlightenment writers, Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Francis Hutchison, and the Scottish Enlightenment folks, Keynes.
 
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 I read these works and was very struck that almost all of them contain the phrase, the pursuit of happiness, with the help of word searches, I could discover it.
 
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 And then what I learned was that they had in mind the classical understanding of happiness was not feeling good, but being good.
 
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 It was virtue, not pleasure.
 
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 And in particular, they had a distinctive understanding of how to pursue virtue by using your powers of reason to temper or moderate your unreasonable passions like envy, jealousy, anger, fear.
 
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 And this is the way they thought that we could achieve the calm tranquility that was necessary to achieve eudaimonia or happiness.
 
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 Aristotle famously defined happiness as an activity of the soul and conformity with excellence or virtue.
 
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 But because virtue isn't self-defining, I needed to read these texts to understand it.
 
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 And the most concrete
 
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 example of it is Ben Franklin's famous 13 Virtues Project, where he decides to achieve moral perfection and makes a list of 13 virtues, temperance, sincerity, prudence, and so forth.
 
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 Tries to put little X's next to his self when he's falling short every night, finds it daunting and gives up the project, but thinks he's a better man for having tried.
 
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 What struck me, and this will bring all this home,
 
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 Franklin also chooses as the motto for his virtue project, a passage from Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, this book I'd never heard of before, and uses this as his touchdown.
 
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 So having read all these wonderful books during COVID, I developed an unusual practice during the COVID year.
 
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 I'd wake up in the morning, watch the sunrise, and then take notes on the morning reading, and then write a brief, basically a sonnet to sum up
 
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 reading and it was kind of unusual to say the least until I found a bunch of folks in the founding era from Hamilton to John Quincy Adams to the great poet Phillis Wheatley would do the same thing.
 
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 They'd read the classical literature and write these sonnets on virtues.
 
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 There's something very inspiring about the text.
 
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 I did that and then I set out to write the book and what the book does, there are 12 chapters for each of Franklin's 12 virtues.
 
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 We left out Chastity, which he was the one he had the most trouble with.
 
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 And each chapter focuses on a different founder and their efforts to live up to the virtue in question.
 
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 And it's so striking how...
 
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 Frequently, they talked about their efforts to master their unreasonable passions, basically to achieve self-mastery, self-control, to improve their character because that's really what the classical definition meant, a lifelong devotion to the habits and temper of mind that's necessary for character improvement.
 
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 Of course, they fell short in so many ways, which is as we all do, they were human.
 
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 most notoriously and most importantly about slavery, which they found impossible to reconcile with the ideals of the Declaration.
 
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 But what's so striking is that the framers recognized this hypocrisy.
 
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 Patrick Henry said, is it not amazing that I, who myself,
 
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 believe that slavery violates the declaration, I myself own slaves.
 
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 I will not attempt to justify it or even try.
 
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 It is because of the avarice that makes it impossible for me to do with the inconvenience of living otherwise.
 
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 He basically confessed that he thought it was immoral, but didn't want to give up a lifestyle.
 
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 The system of enslavement made possible and using that word avarice, which is of course a classical advice, shows that he thought he was unable to practice the self-mastery and virtue that would have allowed him to forgive it.
 
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 This is just one important example of the many ways in which they self-consciously talked all the time about
 
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 their psychological struggles because they are in ultimately psychological struggles to be good people.
 
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 The one one of the many things that impressed me and changed the way I thought about the founders from this exciting project was that for all their
 
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 failings, there's one virtue that many of them continued to practice into their old age, and that was industry.
 
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 They were incredibly industrious, and the beautiful image of Adams and Jefferson in their old age, writing those letters, trading tips about books on virtue, and Adams gets all excited when he learns that Pythagoras, though, who'd really come up with the reason passion distinction,
 
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 had traveled among the ancient Indian authorities and had been inspired by the Hindu Vedas, legendarily.
 
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 And he saw connections between the wisdom literature of the East, like the Bhagavad Gita and the Stoic wisdom, and Jefferson declaring himself to be an Epicurean in his old age, by which he means not pleasure seeking, but the contraction of desire so that you can lead a rational life.
 
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 It's just,
 
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 really moving to see how until the end, all of them continue to try to learn and grow and write and read.
 
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 And my book ends with just reflecting about how there are many challenges that social media poses to the founders' conception of the pursuit of happiness, in particular, the temptations we all have to browse rather than
 
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 read and to engage in posts based on passion which travel further and faster than those based on reason but at the same time we have in our pockets on our iphones access to all the books of the world it's so thrilling that i was able to write this book i could read john adams actual copies of joseph priestley in the massachusetts historical society with his marginalia in the margins or just the basically free copies of all these great works that are free and online
 
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 So we have access to vast light that the framers could only dream of.
 
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 All we need is the self-discipline to read it.
 
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 And I end with an exhortation about the pleasures of reading.
 
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 So that is the happiness.
 
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 And I can't wait to share it with you when it comes out.
 
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 I can't wait to read it.
 
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 We're talking with Jeff Rosen.
 
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 Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and we're talking about his new book, Pursuit of Happiness.
 
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 I'm always struck by that, that we have on our phone and on a tablet all of these tremendous resources, and we actually spend much of our time just scrolling through Twitter and other things, these distractions.
 
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 I'm always reminded of Thoreau when he walks on Cape Cod and going up to the lighthouse and seeing this wonderful illumination and then saying there's the light keeper reading the newspaper by it.
 
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 He said, shouldn't he be
 
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 reading something else.
 
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 Shouldn't he be reading Cicero or Francis Hutcheson or someone else rather than the day's news?
 
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 Again, what you've been saying really makes me think that on the one hand,
 
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 We think of the framers, the founders living in this very different world, but you've just made it clear.
 
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 It's a world easily accessible to us.
 
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 That is, we can recover this mental world they inhabited.
 
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 And the issues they saw as troubling still trouble us.
 
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 And the compromises they made, we still can see.
 
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 So it's not really that distant.
 
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 And I know the National Constitution Center makes it clear that it's really vital that we understand this world because it really much is our world.
 
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 And that's really, I look forward to reading your book on the pursuit of happiness.
 
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 It is really one of those real puzzles, but it's a puzzle we can solve.
 
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 And they're creating this not simply for their time, but really it's a mark for human society.
 
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 It's the human condition they're really commenting on.
 
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 You're so right.
 
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 You put it so well when you say we have an opportunity to carry on their
 
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 the conversation they started.
 
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 And for them, pursuing happiness by improving our character, by achieving self-discipline, by being our best self and serving others is not only a right, it's a duty, it's a responsibility.
 
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 And they believe that the republic is going to collapse if we don't do it.
 
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 And at the end of their lives, many of them are uncertain about whether or not we, the people, their successors, will succeed or not.
 
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 They have different views on this.
 
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 Washington is despairing about
 
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 faction, Adams always had a dark view of human nature and thought only force and separation of powers could save us.
 
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 Only Madison among the founders is moderately optimistic, I think because he expected less of government to begin with and really
 
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 believe that compromise and deliberation were crucial.
 
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 But they thought it was up to us.
 
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 And far from being a remote exercise in antiquarianism, I felt like I was traveling into the minds of the founders.
 
 21:31.604 --> 21:34.546
 And their concerns, as you say, are our concerns.
 
 21:34.726 --> 21:44.693
 And it's just so elevating to accept the responsibility to be our best self every moment of the day.
 
 21:44.793 --> 21:45.934
 You know, that's the real...
 
 21:47.711 --> 21:57.974
 the really arduous but inspiring part of their challenge is that this is not just something for holidays.
 
 21:57.994 --> 21:59.875
 This is something you have to think about every hour.
 
 21:59.975 --> 22:01.916
 Am I using the time productively?
 
 22:01.976 --> 22:06.677
 Am I mastering myself, my learning?
 
 22:07.157 --> 22:09.078
 And of course, we'll fall short.
 
 22:09.358 --> 22:12.599
 But once you have this new framework, I found, well, I certainly
 
 22:14.164 --> 22:20.508
 been getting up earlier ever since this because you feel like you're being a slacker if you're not at the sunrise.
 
 22:21.568 --> 22:25.591
 Of course, this is the wisdom that has inspired people for thousands of years.
 
 22:25.971 --> 22:35.736
 It comes in all traditions, both the Greek and Roman philosophy, but it's central to Christianity and to Judaism and to all the traditions.
 
 22:36.617 --> 22:38.858
 But the founders show it can be
 
 22:39.508 --> 22:41.570
 imbibed in a non-sectarian way.
 
 22:42.490 --> 22:45.433
 You can approach it in any sort of way that you like.
 
 22:45.993 --> 22:53.359
 But I should also say, when I was in college in the 1980s, I remember yearning for this kind of guidance.
 
 22:53.559 --> 22:54.880
 I was studying Puritans.
 
 22:55.240 --> 23:00.184
 I'm convinced by the rigors of Puritan theology.
 
 23:01.085 --> 23:07.169
 This is at Harvard, sort of a focus of study of Puritanism in the New England mind.
 
 23:08.050 --> 23:08.650
 But I wondered if...
 
 23:09.810 --> 23:15.357
 Virtue, basically lessons about how to lead a good life could be achieved by reason rather than revelation.
 
 23:16.960 --> 23:23.969
 And what I didn't realize, because the answer was hiding in plain sight, was this is exactly the question the moral philosophers had set out to
 
 23:25.206 --> 23:39.958
 examine and this used to be central to the curriculum, not only of Harvard and there's a wonderful book by the historian Daniel Walker Howe about moral philosophy at Harvard, but to American high schools.
 
 23:42.099 --> 23:55.670
 From the 19th century through the 1950s, I talk in my book about how Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln get this wisdom from McGuffey readers or Murphy's English readers, which select all this great moral philosophy.
 
 23:56.290 --> 24:00.774
 My own mom got it in New York City public schools up to the 1950s.
 
 24:01.254 --> 24:03.456
 And it just kind of fell out of the...
 
 24:04.175 --> 24:04.675
 curriculum.
 
 24:04.816 --> 24:06.337
 And the question is why in the 1960s?
 
 24:06.437 --> 24:15.845
 It's a tough question as we move from a world where happiness is seen as virtue to one where it's seen as seeking pleasure.
 
 24:15.865 --> 24:25.993
 It has to do with the me decade and the transformation of expectations about happiness that happened over the course of the 60s and 70s.
 
 24:26.373 --> 24:28.455
 But it's such a, I mean, it kind of
 
 24:29.662 --> 24:41.788
 I found it very striking, as you can tell, that for all the great reading and marvelous teachers I had, I just never encountered this wonderful moral philosophy because it had fallen out of the curriculum.
 
 24:42.349 --> 24:43.409
 It's fascinating.
 
 24:44.049 --> 24:51.453
 And I was just thinking of Franklin's, again, we can go back to Franklin and just very much his self-help book with his virtues.
 
 24:51.513 --> 24:53.034
 But then the morning question, what good
 
 24:56.169 --> 25:04.155
 got from Cotton Mather and Mather's essays to do good, which really made it had an impact on Franklin, a profound impact on Franklin.
 
 25:04.195 --> 25:05.716
 And Franklin does the work.
 
 25:05.736 --> 25:14.262
 You say he secularizes that and makes it into an achievement you're doing without the constraints of the Puritan ministry.
 
 25:14.989 --> 25:23.439
 And I was also just thinking as you were talking about what Franklin said to Elizabeth Willing Powell during the deliberations at the convention, is it a republic or is it a monarchy?
 
 25:23.519 --> 25:26.683
 And his answer, it's a republic if you can keep it.
 
 25:28.787 --> 25:29.268
 Absolutely.
 
 25:29.288 --> 25:31.769
 I'm so glad you picked up on the Cotton Mather.
 
 25:31.909 --> 25:37.013
 As you say, he's getting it from Mather's Bonifacius, an essay to do good.
 
 25:37.453 --> 25:47.840
 And Franklin is feeling a little abashed because he'd made fun of Cotton Mather as an overconfident kid and basically found that same question that stopped me up when I was studying Puritanism.
 
 25:48.540 --> 25:55.245
 How is it possible, according to the Puritans, you can only have justification or salvation by faith, not good works.
 
 25:55.265 --> 25:57.406
 And that means no matter how much virtue you do in this world, God,
 
 25:59.439 --> 26:03.681
 just to send you to heaven or hell before you're born, basically random.
 
 26:04.301 --> 26:07.122
 And then the question is, why then should you bother to be virtuous?
 
 26:07.182 --> 26:24.249
 And Cotton Mather's solution, which was that good works were a sign of justification, not a cause, wasn't very convincing to Franklin or anyone else that basically, if you did good works, that was a kind of good evidence that you'd already been picked for heaven.
 
 26:24.489 --> 26:27.791
 So Franklin was led to explore
 
 26:29.993 --> 26:39.136
 Briefly, the atheism actually, when we read a book by William Wollaston, the preacher who wrote The Religion of Nature.
 
 26:40.697 --> 26:50.880
 Wollaston essentially had said, you don't need revelation to do good because doing good just consists in following truth and that can be accessible by reason.
 
 26:51.481 --> 26:57.703
 Therefore, for Wollaston, reason and revelation were compatible and any thinking person.
 
 26:58.314 --> 27:02.836
 could choose to follow either empirical or religious roots.
 
 27:03.296 --> 27:05.517
 Franklin briefly is unconvinced with that.
 
 27:05.577 --> 27:24.126
 He has doubts about providence and eternal life, but then he repents and he attaches himself to one of Wollaston's major acolytes in America, Samuel Johnson, not the British dictionary writer, but another guy named Samuel Johnson.
 
 27:24.827 --> 27:34.143
 Samuel Johnson writes the first moral philosophy textbook in America that Franklin wants to put at the center of the new curriculum of the University of Pennsylvania, which he's founded.
 
 27:34.383 --> 27:38.510
 Franklin printed this book of moral philosophy and the book
 
 27:40.467 --> 27:44.249
 uses the same phrase that Wollaston did, the pursuit of happiness.
 
 27:44.489 --> 27:54.895
 Both Wollaston and Samuel Johnson define what they say, quote, the pursuit of happiness as conforming our thoughts and actions to truth and reason.
 
 27:55.735 --> 27:59.317
 That took a while to explain all that, but you follow the footnotes.
 
 27:59.577 --> 28:06.301
 You see that for the standard moral philosophy textbook of the 18th century, which
 
 28:07.254 --> 28:11.816
 which Franklin endorses, reason and revelation are not inconsistent.
 
 28:12.137 --> 28:18.860
 And anyone who follows right reason can align with the divine laws of the universe.
 
 28:18.960 --> 28:21.541
 In a sense, that's back to the Stoic wisdom.
 
 28:21.561 --> 28:31.286
 That really is Aristotle and the Stoics as well, that God is reason, which is truth, and that all are accessible to reason.
 
 28:32.381 --> 28:37.664
 our reasoning minds if we take the time to discern them.
 
 28:37.865 --> 28:39.466
 So that was Franklin's dream.
 
 28:39.986 --> 28:40.386
 Fascinating.
 
 28:40.927 --> 28:44.389
 Now, we're talking with Jeff Rosen from the National Constitution Center.
 
 28:44.409 --> 28:46.470
 We're talking about your forthcoming book.
 
 28:46.550 --> 28:48.992
 I think it's at least your eighth book, I think.
 
 28:49.012 --> 28:51.013
 You've written about Justice Brandeis.
 
 28:51.073 --> 28:53.354
 You have conversations with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
 
 28:54.375 --> 28:58.559
 a book on the courts, The Most Democratic Branch, a number of other books.
 
 28:58.579 --> 29:05.786
 So this is really delving into an area of the 18th century, which you have so far left a little bit unexplored in your writings.
 
 29:05.867 --> 29:07.308
 Well, happy to see you getting there.
 
 29:07.328 --> 29:13.654
 And I'm really wondering, is this Samuel Johnson, the same one who was at the convention, or is this yet another Samuel Johnson?
 
 29:14.695 --> 29:15.756
 He is a different one.
 
 29:15.776 --> 29:17.618
 He was not at the convention.
 
 29:19.538 --> 29:42.539
 uh he wouldn't he was an american educator right okay yeah okay good so um so this phrase the pursuit of happiness is everywhere you're finding it and it's not in a lot you know locke has formulas like liberty and property or the pursuit of property so how is that how do we make that change
 
 29:43.437 --> 29:44.278
 It is in Locke.
 
 29:44.298 --> 29:45.539
 It's just not in the Second Treatise.
 
 29:45.599 --> 29:47.580
 It's in the Concerning Given Understanding.
 
 29:48.841 --> 30:03.331
 In Locke's essay, it's called On Power, chapter 51, about how to resist immediate pleasures for long-term interest.
 
 30:04.011 --> 30:11.156
 And amazingly, the British Samuel Johnson, the famous one, quotes the same Locke passage
 
 30:11.935 --> 30:40.853
 um that contains the phrase the pursuit of happiness in johnson's definition of happiness so it's this was hiding in plain sight now locke as you say famously used life liberty and property in the second treatise why did he switch it out um a simple reason because property unlike happiness is an alienable natural right remember that um nature we have unalienable and alien when we move to form governments we alienate or surrender to government certain rights
 
 30:41.229 --> 30:44.250
 in order to get greater security and safety of the rights we've retained.
 
 30:44.710 --> 30:50.772
 Obviously, property is animal because you can trade it and exchange it and regulate it in all sorts of ways.
 
 30:50.892 --> 30:52.632
 So property is an alienable right.
 
 30:52.972 --> 30:59.254
 But the pursuit of happiness, like the rights of conscience, are unalienable rights because they're rooted in our reason.
 
 30:59.374 --> 31:02.795
 And I can't alienate to you the power to control my thoughts.
 
 31:02.835 --> 31:03.335
 That's the right.
 
 31:04.236 --> 31:11.423
 or to prevent me from fulfilling my duty industriously to improve my character by cultivating my reason.
 
 31:11.924 --> 31:12.865
 That's the pursuit of happiness.
 
 31:13.065 --> 31:14.406
 Because my reason is unalienable.
 
 31:14.446 --> 31:17.389
 It's inherent to who I am as a sentient being.
 
 31:17.930 --> 31:20.472
 My reason is hardwired in my view.
 
 31:21.053 --> 31:21.654
 So that was the...
 
 31:23.480 --> 31:24.241
 That's the explanation.
 
 31:24.281 --> 31:29.384
 He was being technically precise and he was sticking to a phrase that Bach used elsewhere.
 
 31:29.665 --> 31:32.527
 So it's not like it was a significant substantive change.
 
 31:32.647 --> 31:34.328
 It was a technical change.
 
 31:34.468 --> 31:52.641
 And later, Jefferson in his first inaugural and the Supreme Court in its decisions talking about the pursuit of happiness, used it as a synonym for the industrious following of the occupations of ordinary life, that basically we can engage in all lawful pursuits of industry
 
 31:53.365 --> 31:58.487
 in order to cultivate our faculties and pursue happiness.
 
 31:59.867 --> 32:07.650
 Jefferson doesn't use a phrase that's in the Virginia Bill of Rights by George Mason, which he has at his side and which sounds a lot like the first paragraph of the Declaration.
 
 32:08.050 --> 32:12.432
 Mason talks about the unalienable right to pursue and obtain happiness and safety.
 
 32:12.452 --> 32:15.713
 And Jefferson, following the classical understanding, has the sense that
 
 32:16.562 --> 32:23.743
 Happiness is never anything that we entirely obtain because the whole quest is in the pursuit.
 
 32:23.763 --> 32:28.704
 It's each day we have to keep renewing our commitment to cultivate our faculties of reason.
 
 32:28.724 --> 32:30.845
 There's no ending point.
 
 32:30.885 --> 32:31.165
 Okay.
 
 32:32.345 --> 32:40.346
 So let me ask Jeff, since you are, the Constitution Center does deal with the framework of a government, then what is the role of the state?
 
 32:40.386 --> 32:44.327
 Can the state coerce people to pursue happiness or become virtuous?
 
 32:45.401 --> 32:46.121
 crucial question.
 
 32:47.322 --> 32:53.445
 There's a deep connection between what the framers called the pursuit of private and public happiness.
 
 32:54.065 --> 32:59.147
 For the framers, personal self-government is necessary for political self-government.
 
 32:59.287 --> 33:09.092
 In other words, the Republican experiment will not succeed unless citizens find the virtuous self-mastery to constrain
 
 33:10.190 --> 33:20.537
 And that's why in the Federalist Papers, again and again, you see the phrase public happiness coming up and Madison talking about using our powers of reason to restrain our unreasonable passions.
 
 33:20.797 --> 33:32.244
 All of a sudden, we understand that the framers believe you have to achieve the same harmony in the state that people have a duty to achieve in their own minds and both require harmony.
 
 33:32.611 --> 33:33.232
 self-mastery.
 
 33:33.513 --> 33:36.038
 Now, can the government course virtue?
 
 33:36.558 --> 33:37.560
 Adams thought so.
 
 33:37.721 --> 33:43.151
 He endorsed sumptuary laws, which was the Roman laws that
 
 33:45.086 --> 33:54.110
 prohibited you from spending luxuriously or that the modern would be Sunday laws that didn't let you buy alcohol on Sundays.
 
 33:54.950 --> 34:04.014
 The mere mention of these sumptuary laws that basically course public virtue will bring a smile because they seem so antiquated to people, but he thought they were necessary for virtue.
 
 34:04.834 --> 34:05.575
 Others disagree.
 
 34:05.615 --> 34:08.316
 Jefferson, the great libertarian thought that
 
 34:09.245 --> 34:19.014
 the illimitable freedom of the human mind meant that people had to be free to pursue happiness and virtue or not, depending on their conscience.
 
 34:19.074 --> 34:23.177
 This, of course, also tied into debates about the scope of religious freedom.
 
 34:23.858 --> 34:29.583
 That was the debate, but none of them, although they might have disagreed about how activists the state could be in coercing virtue,
 
 34:30.303 --> 34:37.189
 none disagreed that citizens had to find that self-mastery in themselves in order for the whole thing to work.
 
 34:37.750 --> 34:44.316
 There's a wonderful rhetorical question in Jefferson's inaugural about something the man is not capable of governing himself.
 
 34:44.516 --> 34:46.778
 Can he then be trusted with the government of others?
 
 34:47.398 --> 34:47.899
 Exactly.
 
 34:48.559 --> 34:54.344
 That's exactly the phrase and that sums up their ideas about the connection between public and private happiness.
 
 34:54.625 --> 34:55.846
 I was really struck by how
 
 34:57.299 --> 35:02.160
 Central, the notion of the pursuit of happiness was throughout American history and how it evolved in surprising ways.
 
 35:02.180 --> 35:15.303
 So it starts in the ancient literature and then it's embodied in not only the Virginia Declaration of Rights, but James Wilson's reflections on the extent of legislative authority, whose footnotes are all to the classical sources.
 
 35:15.863 --> 35:20.004
 It shows up in the Federalist Papers about the promotion of public happiness.
 
 35:20.404 --> 35:24.985
 It's embraced by John Quincy Adams in his speeches denouncing the
 
 35:25.723 --> 35:26.363
 gag rule.
 
 35:26.744 --> 35:33.487
 Frederick Douglass praises Quincy Adams as the example of what he defines as the pursuit of happiness, self-reliance.
 
 35:33.587 --> 35:40.091
 And Douglass, channeling Quincy, used industry and self-reliance as the definition of the pursuit of happiness.
 
 35:40.271 --> 35:47.675
 Then Tocqueville, in his famous definition of self-interest properly understood, is talking about the classical wisdom that it's only through self-mastery
 
 35:48.235 --> 36:00.020
 through either virtue or what he calls the spirit of religion, that we can achieve the self-control necessary to rightly perceive our long-term self-interest rather than our short-term pleasure.
 
 36:00.040 --> 36:00.760
 Then it
 
 36:02.972 --> 36:04.753
 continues in the McGuffey reader.
 
 36:04.793 --> 36:06.774
 And then the philosophy of Emerson, of course.
 
 36:06.994 --> 36:20.340
 Emerson's idea of the oversoul, which is uniting explicitly the Indian traditions and the Bhagavad Gita with the Western ones is deeply rooted in the classics as well.
 
 36:20.360 --> 36:23.842
 And then it just falls out in the 1950s.
 
 36:23.882 --> 36:28.924
 But that unbroken line from Cicero all the way up through
 
 36:29.690 --> 36:31.352
 Tocqueville and Emerson is really striking.
 
 36:31.372 --> 36:32.372
 It's fascinating.
 
 36:32.893 --> 36:35.715
 So why do you suppose it falls out in the 1950s?
 
 36:35.815 --> 36:41.020
 I know we talked a little bit about this, and this is probably a subject of another book or another discussion.
 
 36:42.982 --> 36:50.929
 It is definitely another book, and I'm not going to write it, and I don't have a confident answer.
 
 36:50.949 --> 36:56.574
 There's a good book by James Davidson Hunter called The Death of Character that talks about
 
 36:57.853 --> 37:15.492
 The rise of critical theory in the academy that questions the enlightenment, faith in reason, and, of course, those cultural and sexual revolutions of the 60s, an increasing...
 
 37:18.492 --> 37:32.918
 constraint, an appropriate constraint about the role of religion in public life and Supreme Court decisions saying you can't teach texts that are religious, although they went out of their way to say you could teach it as part of a civilization course.
 
 37:35.439 --> 37:37.260
 These are partial descriptions.
 
 37:37.300 --> 37:41.462
 We know the bottom line that by the 70s,
 
 37:42.557 --> 37:44.839
 happiness had been redefined into pleasure seeking.
 
 37:45.259 --> 37:49.282
 Why exactly that is will be the subject of other scholars.
 
 37:49.642 --> 37:50.883
 Do you have any ideas?
 
 37:51.964 --> 37:58.768
 Well, similar to what you were thinking, I think it is a fear of teaching these religious ideas.
 
 37:58.808 --> 38:01.871
 But on the other hand, you pointed out Cicero was coming up with these.
 
 38:01.911 --> 38:04.953
 That is, in other eras, people of different
 
 38:05.652 --> 38:08.175
 religious traditions or not have seen the same thing.
 
 38:08.195 --> 38:15.322
 I remember when Franklin said, it's a wonder to him why bad people don't adopt the virtuous life because there's so much advantage to be gained by it.
 
 38:16.203 --> 38:18.966
 And it's, yeah, so I don't know.
 
 38:18.986 --> 38:21.669
 I suppose it is something we could talk about offline too with them.
 
 38:22.028 --> 38:25.833
 rather than we sound like a couple of old men complaining about the way the world has gone.
 
 38:26.414 --> 38:28.416
 Yes, absolutely.
 
 38:28.657 --> 38:36.327
 Although, remember, this was gone when I was in college, so I am getting on, but it's been out of the curriculum for a long time.
 
 38:36.846 --> 38:37.647
 It has, it has.
 
 38:37.687 --> 38:39.329
 So, well, thank you for rediscovering it.
 
 38:39.349 --> 38:48.999
 And again, I should have mentioned that you, after you got your undergraduate degree at Harvard, you spent a year or so at Oxford as a Marshall Fellow and then a law degree from Yale.
 
 38:49.139 --> 38:54.064
 So it's a, and you've been, you are still a professor of law at George Washington University.
 
 38:54.591 --> 38:54.831
 I am.
 
 38:54.851 --> 38:56.332
 And these were such wonderful schools.
 
 38:56.352 --> 38:57.473
 I was so privileged to go there.
 
 38:57.493 --> 38:58.993
 I had the most astonishing teachers.
 
 38:59.013 --> 39:16.702
 And I want to give a shout out, because this is a good Massachusetts podcast, to these great teachers of the humanities, Walter Jackson Bate, the great scholar of Samuel Johnson, Bernard Balin, the American historian, Sack Van Berkovich on the Puritans, Judith Spahr on the political theorists.
 
 39:16.843 --> 39:19.184
 What an extraordinary privilege to study with these
 
 39:20.004 --> 39:21.425
 marvelous teachers and great minds.
 
 39:21.946 --> 39:25.448
 Despite all that, we just didn't do the moral philosophy because it wasn't considered significant.
 
 39:25.628 --> 39:32.913
 But I'm so grateful to all of them for having set me down this path of reading and discovery that led to this great project and enriches me every day.
 
 39:33.353 --> 39:33.914
 That's great.
 
 39:34.094 --> 39:35.615
 Well, they would be proud.
 
 39:35.915 --> 39:39.277
 Well, pride is not one of the virtues.
 
 39:40.138 --> 39:41.379
 It's something we avoid.
 
 39:41.839 --> 39:45.542
 So Franklin says he would be proud of his humility if he were to achieve it.
 
 39:46.602 --> 39:47.183
 But anyway.
 
 39:47.591 --> 39:57.073
 We've been talking with Jeff Rosen, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center and author of the forthcoming Pursuit of Happiness, which is a good thing.
 
 39:57.113 --> 39:58.874
 This has been a great discussion of it.
 
 39:58.914 --> 40:11.396
 I look forward to reading it and thinking more about the moral virtues and how they are integral to the pursuit of happiness, which the Declaration speaks about and the Constitution allows us to achieve.
 
 40:11.436 --> 40:13.317
 So thanks so much for joining us, Jeff.
 
 40:14.107 --> 40:16.188
 Thank you for a great conversation.
 
 40:16.608 --> 40:18.608
 And I want to thank our many listeners out there.
 
 40:18.648 --> 40:27.571
 You know, as you said, this is a Massachusetts thing, but we have listeners actually all over the world in 2,500 cities and 84 different countries who have tuned in.
 
 40:27.631 --> 40:39.094
 And so this week I want to thank our friends in South Boston, Massachusetts, and in Burnham, which is in Somerset, and Bristol, which is in England, and Castle Rock, Colorado, and
 
 40:39.594 --> 40:42.016
 Florence and Easley in South Carolina.
 
 40:42.076 --> 40:50.143
 And if you're one of these places and you want to get one of our Rev 250 lapel pins, send Jonathan Lane an email, jlane at revolution250.org.
 
 40:50.824 --> 40:55.027
 And I thank you all for joining us and everyone in places in between and beyond.
 
 40:55.107 --> 40:58.350
 And now we will be piped out on the road to Boston.