Every morning scrolling through my Facebook feed, I notice all the new political news. Donald Trump says something with absurd rhetoric; Hilary Clinton is a liar; Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer; Bernie Sander’s hair is a mess. All these politicians, whether or not they are considered sincere, offer some version of achieving the “good life,” or the “pursuit of happiness,” as coined by Thomas Jefferson in the Constitution. For Donald Trump, it is fortifying our country against competing nations and “giving America back to the people”. For Clinton, it is giving the people what they want. For Ted Cruz, it is revitalizing the country in the Christian religion and reinstated old fashioned moral values. For Bernie Sanders, it is removing corruption from politics and creating a government that works for the people. It seems that our country and by extension, our government, is built on the idea that it can provide people with the means to achieve a good life, such is the purpose of governments. But, in our current political mess of a government, it is questionable whether achieving a good life is a reality for many Americans. How can citizens achieve a good life given these circumstances and is today’s definition of such even a possibility?
In the past few decades there has been a complete 180 turn in what America believes the purpose of government is. Only fifty years ago did John F Kennedy stated in his inaugural address, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”1 Today on the other hand, voters, notably millennials, feel that the opposite is true: that people do not work for the government, but the government works for its people. This change in opinion has caused a complete shift in the way politicians campaign and voters vote. Voters want what is best for them, the individual as opposed to what is best for the country.
Each candidate promises the same thing: helping the citizens of the United States achieve a good life. But what can we make of a “good life;” what even is it? Throughout history, philosophers, economists, politicians, historians have all made the attempt to answer that same question. According to Greek philosophy, the idea of the good life comes from the Greek word Eudaimonia, which consists of the words “eu,” meaning “good” and “daimōn,” meaning “spirit.”2 This idea of Eudaimonia was explored by several philosophers. Both Socrates and Plato argued that virtue is essential to Eudaimonia. Virtue, according to Socrates, is a form of knowledge that determines the difference between what is moral and immoral. Plato believed that committing acts that go against one’s virtue is detrimental to Eudaimonia, as guilt makes one miserable. Plato argued that reason must govern all of a person’s desires. Aristotle states that a good life is living “in accordance to reason.” Aristotle’s idea in Nichomachean Ethics was that the purpose of mankind is “to live a certain kind of life, and this activity implies a rational principle, and the function of a good man is the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed it is performed in accord with the appropriate excellence: if this is the case, then happiness turns out to be an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” 3 Some people think that Aristotle believes that the best way to live is to sit on a rock and think all day; however, this is not the case. Aristotle is saying that the way to achieve happiness is to use your sense of morality and reason to make decisions. However, it seems impossible to not live in accordance to reason. Using reason and other specifically human skills are essential to everyday life. The pursuit of a good life must mean more than Aristotle’s definition. In Liberty and Property, Ludwig Von Mises believes that free trade is essential to achieving a good life. Mises idea is to achieve a good life would mean to make work as efficient as possible, removing tedious tasks.4 His ideas do coincide with Aristotle in the sense that one removing excess work in order to live out a good life.
If the definition of the good life is constantly changing, what does the good life equate to today? Today society argues that achieving the good life means that you are successful. And the path to success is quite narrow: Go to school. Get good grades. Get into a good college. Get good scholarships. Find a good job. Get married. Have kids. Retire. It seems from birth we all have our lives completely sketched out for us. Our society is set up so that our destinies are decided for us if we choose to follow the path set up for us. Now, the peculiarities and the specifics are not yet decided, and, of course, it is not to say that following such a defined path has no difficulties or challenges. It is simply that such a path is mundane, and completely ordinary. Within this regular path there are certainly variations of ordinary and peculiar; for example to be an artist is much rarer than to be a business man. Both are equally valid and necessary for the society we have set up. But how can such a perfectly simple and plain life be the “correct” way to live? Why do we have to follow such a path and are shunned if we choose differently? Why does a society that values free will and liberty retain the right to choose what one’s life must be?
Success tends to be a problem in today’s society: to achieve a good life is to achieve success, but to achieve success is not to achieve a good life. Success is determined by society, not by the individual. Success is, however, a subjective idea treated like an objective entity. There is an unspoken checklist when it comes to success. I do not believe that there is a set list of items on that list, but rather a certain combination of items that determines whether or not your life as a whole is successful. If you are married with a good job you are successful; if you are in a happy marriage with kids, but only an average job, you are still successful. If you are a single, corporate tycoon with a vast amount of wealth, you are still considered successful. Of course, there are differences of success between men and women, and people of different races etc., but the concept still remains the same. The concept of success in the real world also only really starts in high school. The easiest way of collecting a proper combination is by following a pre-determined path that is viewed a successful. You might be asking what success has to do with the 2016 presidential elections. Success has to do with everything. You want to vote for the candidate that will not only be successful him/ her self in office, but a candidate who will help make you more successful in life.
Well then, who should I vote for? Voters tend to vote in their own self-interest. A rich person does not want to be taxed “too much,” but everyone else is fine if the rich are taxed. Young voters will more likely vote for Bernie Sanders because of his college tuition plan. Today, potential voters state that they may not even vote in this election because they do like any of them. That is an unfortunate mistake as that is essentially saying one’s vote does not matter. It also leaves the decision up to those who are either radical in their opinion or corrupt.
The reason that the United States is currently so divided when it comes to politics is because different groups need vastly different things. America is one of the most ethnically, racially, economically diverse nations in the world. Each presidential candidate appeals to a certain percentage of the population. It is obvious that the United States government is long overdue for a makeover. The only way to achieve this is to change the status quo and the only way one can do that is to vote for someone who will.
- Kennedy, John F. “Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy.” – John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Accessed May 01, 2016.
- Mastin, Luke. “Eudaimonism – By Branch / Doctrine – The Basics of Philosophy.” Eudaimonism – By Branch / Doctrine – The Basics of Philosophy. 2008. Accessed May 01, 2016.
- Aristotle, and W. D. Ross. The Nichomachean Ethics. London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
- Mises, Ludwig Von. Liberty and Property. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Auburn University, 1988.