I've been sitting on this quote for some time, as I tend to do, with the intention of posting something on the topic. Let's hear from Mr. Madison, courtesy of the Patriot Post:
"Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks-no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea, if there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them."
-- James Madison (speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, 20 June 1788)
I find it natural that the Founding Generation was as concerned with virtue as they were; yet, sad that we seem to have departed so starkly from their example. Can you imagine a leading politician of our time exhorting the people on virtue? How soon would he or she be chastised? Or denounced as a "hypocrite" (one of the Left's favorite smears) because of something he or she had done in their life?
Another Founder famous for his opinion on the necessity of virtue is the second cousin of our second President. Says Samuel (from the FQD at the Patriot Post):
A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.
Reference: The Writings of Samuel Adams, Cushing, ed., vol. 4 (124)
Note that he mentions "external or internal" threats. It is no secret to any of the regular readers here that I see the two biggest threats facing us to be the march of Liberalism and Islam; I wonder if we were as virtuous a society as the founding generation how we'd be handling these threats. Cowering in fear? Appeasing? Bowing before the commissars of political correctness?
Here's my take on that indispensable quality, virtue. We've discussed in prior posts what self-government is. I generally distill it to the dual virtues of self-restraint and self-sufficiency. Read the Founders and you'll realize that our form of government is created for a self-governing people. And that it's wholly inappropriate for a dependent people. Any wonder we're facing the problems governmental that we are?
But virtue isn't lost, and in fact, it may be making a comeback. Imagine my delight at this story from the Tribune about purity dances. Where families are strong and God is a part of the family, virtue seems to survive. Notwithstanding the usual sniping of the Left, such as this:
In this new counterculture, trouble-prone pop stars such as Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan are outcasts. In their place, 1 in 6 teens are signing virginity pledges, though 88 percent of them break that vow before they marry, according to a federally funded national longitudinal study of adolescent health.(emphasis mine)
Well, why bother, goes the logic of the Left, if they're just going to fail? Here's why: maybe aiming for purity doesn't guarantee success, but maybe young girls will enter marriage with fewer partners.
"Girls are going into marriage with 12 sexual relationships. That brings so much baggage and regret that it breaks down the marriage," said Janet Hellige, a volunteer who organizes the biannual Father-Daughter Purity Ball sponsored by The Christian Center in Peoria. "Girls have a wonderful gift to give, and we don't want them to give all of themselves away. What we want them to do is present themselves as a rose to their husband with no blemishes."
Virtue is indeed indispensable for healthy families and a free Republic. But don't count on your children hearing that from anybody other than you, their parent (or Aunt, Uncle, or other relative). It's incumbent upon us to ensure that our children have a moral, as well as an intellectual foundation before they go out into the world. I would submit that a child with no moral foundation is at a greater risk than a child who cannot read, yet you'll never see a "program" designed to correct the former deficiency.