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The Public Good

Again from Wood’s The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (p. 55):

To make the people’s welfare—the public good—the exclusive end of government became for the Americans, as one general put it, their “Polar Star,” the central tenet of the Whig faith, shared not only by Hamilton and Paine at opposite ends of the Whig spectrum, but by any American bitterly opposed to a system which held “that a Part is greater than its Whole; or, in other Words, that some Individuals oughtt o be considered, even to the Destruction of the Community, which they compose.” No phrase except “liberty” was invoked more often by the Revolutionaries than “the public good.” It expressed the colonists’ deepest hatreds of the old order and their most visionary hopes for the new….

From the logic of belief that “all government… is or ought to be, calculated for the general good and safety of the community,” for which end “the most effectual means that human wisdom hath ever been able to devis, is frequently appealing to the body of the people,” followed the Americans’ unhesitating adoption of republicanism in 1776. THe peculiar excellence of republican government was that it was “wholly characteristical of the purport, matter, or object for which government ought to be instituted.” By definition it had no other end than the welfare of the people: res publica, the public affairs, or the public good. “The word republic,” said Thomas Paine, “means the public good, or the good of the whole, in contradistinction to the despotic form, which makes the good of the sovereign or of one man, the only object of the government.”

I don’t know why, perhaps due to my reading of Wood alongside a few things happening at work, but I began to wonder today what a nation would look like if it were structured and had similar goals to a modern corporation. Have a board of directors appoint a CEO who then structures the nation as she wishes with as many vice presidents and managers as she wishes; charge her to maximize efficiency and profit. Warn her to eschew all ideals of “public good”—which anyway have already been largely left behind. What would the world look like in such a place? (Total Recall, maybe?) How would most people live?