A Collective Sigh
By Richard Girard
"Men are to be guided only by their self-interests. Good government is a good balancing of these; and, except a keen eye and appetite for self-interest, requires no virtue in any quarter. To both parties it is emphatically a machine: to the discontented, a 'taxing-machine'; to the contented, a 'machine for securing property.' Its duties and its faults are not those of a father, but of an active parish-constable."
Thomas Carlyle; Signs of the Times, 1829; first published in Edinburgh Review, No. 98.
"Good government is the outcome of private virtue."
John Jay Chapman; Practical Agitation, chapter 2, 1898.
I start this article with these two strong and seemingly contrary statements. Carlyle states that good government is the balancing of self-interest, requiring "no virtue in any quarter." Chapman contradicts this statement, stating outright that "Good government is the outcome of private virtue." Both of these statements cannot be correct.
Or can they?
The great physicist Niels Bohr once stated (and I'll paraphrase here) that while the opposite of a trivial truth is a falsehood, the opposite of a "great truth" is another "great truth." At that moment, Dr. Bohr was speaking of the seeming contradictions that existed in physics in the study of relativistic and quantum mechanics. However, there are times when his statement is equally true when studying mankind and its institutions.
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