. . . What it is that we say political science aims at and what is the highest of all goods achievable by action[?] Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise.
I’m no great thinker — I don’t have a philosophical intelligence or frame of mind — but I can relate to Aristotle’s rueful (well, rueful if Aristotle were an American politician) “the many do not give the same account as the wise.”
I’m not up for Aristotle’s class-structured government, and Aristotle’s teleological understanding of happiness is a tough sell in a democracy dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. But I agree with his teleological understanding of happiness, and I agree that, usually, “the many do not give the same account as the wise.”
I think Lincoln agreed with both, too. In fact, I think he lived out this paradox. A democracy is blessed if its leaders, during a critical time such as our Civil War, demonstrate wisdom consistent with a high notion of what Jefferson called “societal happiness.” Lincoln is the last United States president, I think, who was critical of his nation’s spiritual condition and got away with it, at least in the eyes of history. (See his Peoria speech and his Second Inaugural.)
The quote, and some further thoughts about it, added a new #15 to the (now) 26 reasons why I’m a Whig.