Broadening the Public and Policy Discourse
Edited by Timo J. Hämäläinen and Juliet Michaelson
Chapter 10: The politics of consciousness
One of the outcomes of the Enlightenment in the West has been questioning the accountability of rulers and governments. Although most civilizations recognized that good rulers contributed to the welfare of their people while bad ones brought about misery and strife, until quite recently bad government was seen as a failure of rulers to live up to their responsibilities to a divine power, rather than to the people. Basically, the idea was that a good government should provide safety and prosperity; but, if it failed to do so, the duty of the people was to suffer through it and hope for the best. As common people began to acquire power in Europe, however, the questions began to be debated: 'What exactly should be expected of government? What justifies its existence?' One perspective was advanced by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who answered the question in his Codex Juris Gentium of 1693 by claiming that 'the careful and constant pursuit of happiness' was a 'natural right' of human beings, which governments had to protect. A little over 80 years later, Thomas Jefferson (who was influenced by many other sources, especially John Locke) wrote the fateful lines in the Declaration of Independence of the United States which claim that governments are instituted to secure certain inalienable rights, among which are 'Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness'.
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