Thursday, November 15, 2007

On civic virtue

From Thomas Paine by Craig Nelson

What heaven is for Christians, virture was for those educated in the values of the Enlightenment. With its origin in vir, the latin word for man, and considered the ultimate goal of every meritocrat, virtu` was originally translated as "public spirit," for, as described by a line of philosophers from Aristotle to Montesquieu, it referred to someone so devoted to civic service that he became famous in his lifetime, and after death was remembered by history for his great and generous work. Machiavelli had warned that democratic states depended on the virtue of their citizens, for if a love of power inspired "factions" to pursue private interests in lieu of the greater good, or if fortuna (an epicene lust for riches and luxury) defeated virtu`, corruption and tyranny would be the inevitable result.

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