The Constitution and Public Virtue: Silence by Design

JVF Conference Papers

Public virtue is lauded by a spectrum of eighteenth-century Americans as the foundation for self-government.

In the eighteenth century, public virtue commonly denoted the willingness of individuals to sacrifice private interest for the common good or for the good of the community in the name of patriotism or out of love of country. While the best structural arrangements of republican government might temper the necessity for virtue, no government could afford to dispense with it altogether.

The Founders further agreed that public virtue could not be considered apart from organized religion, eschewing the argument made famous by Bernard Mandeville that “private vices make public virtues.”...

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