Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

The fourth of July of a couple of centuries ago, some men gathered to declare the independence of the thirteen British colonies on the American soil. Since then a grand turmoil invaded the West, spreading ideals of liberty and equality. Within this ideological frame national states started to come to life as they are known today, with the explicit purpose of becoming the guarantor of theirs citizens personal liberties. The pursuit of happiness was the cornerstone of such principles, being both the interpretative basis for any other human right, and the true goal of life in this philosophical prospective. Does this still hold true today?

Let us proceed in order. In the above mentioned Declaration of Independence, it is possible to read the following extract: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness“. Many year later, something similar was written in the post-war Italian Constiution, hereby translated:”It is the Duty of the Republic to remove all the social and economical obstacles that, de facto constraining the equality and liberty of all citizens, prevent the full development of the human being and the effective participation of all workers to the social, economical, and political organization of the Country“. This very concept is repeated in numerous constitutional documents of various countries, edited between these two documents and even beyond that time.

It was therefore a well known principle that the government ought to help citizens to full develop their own human nature in every situation embedded in the public life of the country. Schools were instituted, health care was soon provided (at least for some), every statesman had clear in his own mind that they were elected not only to promote the public good, but also to guarantee individual benefits for every citizen living in the country in the forms expressed above.

Nowadays we listen to radio and television broadcasts in which the government representatives solemnly talk about GDP, growth, pensions, and grand construction projects. These speeches rely on the principle that these measures, even though very far apart from the individual citizen, can be in fact beneficial for his or her full personal development. There is a fundamental logical fallacy here, namely that the economic development coincides with the pursuit of happiness. The mythical growth that imposes its benefits on the crowd as Midas’ hand is not necessarily the engine for the true individual benefit. This is becoming clearer and clear in this very historical period, when people are battered by plunging wages, rising costs for transports and vital goods, services dramatically decline in quality, the crisis eroded savings of common people enriching the dominant plutocratic elites. This after at least three decades of unprecedented economic growth.

At the bottom of the crisis we can see governments above, far away. They prognosticate social benefits that are not to be seen at the end of the rope. Drugged by the growth dogma, the population is sadly deceived, while suffering. Now read again the Declaration of Independence, the Italian Constitution, the French Revolutionary Constitutions and Declarations and look at our own countries. Compare.

A local political arena is missing. A place where these void principles can be brought back to life. A participatory democracy to restate the right of every human being to her own happiness. It is self-evident that we possess everything in this world, but our tranquility.