Wealth and Idealism

In a speech given to the American Society of Newspaper editors in 1925, President Calvin Coolidge said,  “The chief business of the American people is business,” but he was only warming up to his main point—a message at considerable variance from what he has been charged with saying and meaning.  Here is what Calvin Coolidge also said:

“So long as wealth is made the means and not the end, we need not greatly fear
it.  And there never was a time when wealth was so generally regarded as a
means, or so little regarded as an end, as today.
It is only those who do not understand our people who believe that our
national life is entirely absorbed by material motives.  We make no conceal-
meant of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things we
want very much more (emphasis added).  We want peace and honor, and that charity
which is so strong an element of all civilization.  The chief ideal of the American people
is idealism.  I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists.”
S. Adam Seagrave has an article in The Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse today in which he talks about the current culture, the fact that both Sanders and Trump see money as the root of all good and evil, how they are related, and why we, as a society, are no longer idealists.  From the article:

Trump and Sanders both focus predominantly on economic issues; both make no attempt to hide the fact that they see money as the root of all things good and evil. And both draw their support primarily from citizens who consider economic issues to be the single most important ones facing our country.
To some extent, of course, economic issues have always played a prominent role in elections and national politics—not only throughout US history but also throughout human history in general. But usually—and certainly in earlier periods of our own history—these issues have been counterbalanced by others of a different nature… People and politicians always care about the economy, as they should, but they also care about what we should do as human beings living in society together, beyond toiling for our ongoing material comfort. The American founders, for example, cared deeply about economic issues… They also cared about natural rights, republicanism, virtue, the common good, and other less narrowly material issues…Americans today no longer have a common framework within which to discuss and appreciate these non-material political goods. The “American mind” is, in short, in the gutter, and Trump and Sanders are taking full advantage of this unfortunate fact.


The Coolidge quote was taken from Silent Cal’s Almanac: The Wit and Wisdom of Vermont’s Calvin Coolidge, edited by David Pietrusza.


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