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Prudence: The Stolen Virtue
It has been said that the actions of a virtuous man flow like a great river towards the sea, naturally, following accustomed routes, unimpeded — but when that river is controlled by dams, forced through turbines and pipes that natural quality is snatched away. Following that analogy, all acts considered to be virtuous must be chosen rather than be forced and controlled.
The four classical Western cardinal virtues are temperance, prudence, courage and justice, but it is the virtue of prudence that has been under severe attack by the political left to the extent that it is difficult to identify how a person can be truly prudent. The dictionary definition of prudence is “that moral quality arising from wisdom, judiciousness and circumspection” but the essential underlying component is that of intent and choice. No person can be judged to be prudent if he is forced to take prudent actions.
The laws and regulations enacted to enforce and encourage “prudence” are manifold. Commonly accepted regulations are: anti-smoking laws, seat belt laws, crash helmet laws, prescription drug laws, anti-trans-fatty acid laws, FDIC bank protection, OSHA regulations, tax deferment schemes such as IRAs, and on, and on, to control the actions of all the people who are thought by their moral superiors to be too stupid or lazy to decide and act for themselves. An individual has the capability to choose not to smoke, use seat belts, etc. but if he is forced then his actions are not those of a prudent person — he is an automaton in this respect. His free will has been taken away from him. He is not allowed to make a mistake — and the elite governing authority of the day determines what is a “mistake.”
Of course, it all depends on the current, prevalent opinion of what is a “prudent” course of action. It has been said that all commonly accepted knowledge will eventually be found to be false. I don’t know whether this is one of the commonly accepted beliefs that will be found to be false but the authorities that initiate and make the laws that ostensibly protect people from themselves have no absolute insight for judging what is prudent for a particular individual. One man’s derring-do and spice-of-life is another man’s folly — it all depends on one’s personality and tolerance for risk — and it isn't up to anyone else to proscribe what is acceptable behavior. A motorcycle enthusiast may live for the feeling of the wind in his hair and the freedom that goes with the absence of a helmet. A tobacco smoker may get a high degree of stress relief from his habit without resorting to harder drugs.
There is no good reason to believe that the do-gooders will not continue in their quest for more regulations. What about rock and climbers who take risks? There has been a movement to require them to post a bond before entering national parks for that purpose in case they have to be rescued at public expense, but there has been no discussion of allowing them to sign a waiver that they will not be rescued if they get into trouble. People can get into financial difficulties, become homeless or otherwise become wards of the state. Will the do-gooders want to justify restrictions on what kinds of investments are prudent?
All the regulations and controls are designed to provide a so-called “social safety net” but there are some who would say, “Where is the challenge in living life with a safety net?” They relish taking risks and reaping the rewards — and accepting the consequences if, or when, they fail. America has no shortage of these entrepreneurs and it is at the heart of the (former) economic success of our country.
William E. Henley in his poem, Invictus, finishes with the magnificent assertion, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” All the forces that surround us make it more and more difficult to achieve that admirable mental state. Instead of a person being able to have a legitimate sense of pride in using good judgment society substitutes the dubious pride of being obedient. It’s subtle, but real, and is detrimental to the psyche of the country and everybody in it.
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