The American Founding Fathers knew which rights their republic was intended to protect: "...the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". Many of this month's articles are variations on these themes: Nigel Lawson's defence of free markets and free trade; Nick Cohen's indictment of artistic censorship in the name of religion; Douglas Murray's warning that free societies, such as the US, must stop appeasing political Islam. In their Dialogue, Necla Kelek and Karen Horn consider how Germans of Turkish origin can be liberated from the petty tyrants of their communities to pursue happiness as individuals in a Western democracy. And in his Cosmos column, Neil Scolding reflects on the preservation of life: how our preoccupation with the prevention of suffering has led us to neglect the rights of the unborn and the dying.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: these are our Western values in a nutshell. They are framed to include those of all faiths and none, and they presuppose the separation of church and state, to preclude any attempt to deny individuals the freedom to pursue happiness in their own ways. But the notion of "happiness" should not be interpreted as hedonism or materialism: it should, rather, be seen as closer to what the Bible means by "blessedness".
In one of the most justly celebrated passages of St Matthew's Gospel, Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by invoking God's blessings upon those who are righteous but not self-righteous: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus was speaking here in the Jewish prophetic tradition; his sermon is saturated with scriptural references. The Hebrew term for "blessed" is "Baruch" — also used as a name. The Greeks had no exact equivalent for the Jewish concept of blessing, so the evangelists used the word "makarios", meaning divine favour. In the Latin Vulgate, the term is "beati", hence "Beatitudes", the term by which this passage is still known. Tyndale's translation of the Beatitudes published in 1526 was adopted verbatim by the authors of the King James Bible. Modern translators usually substitute "happy" for "blessed", perhaps because a secular vocabulary seems to suit a secularised world. But we need to rediscover the deeper meaning of "happiness". The word implies good fortune, in contrast to its synonym "bliss", which conveys something sublime, even divine. The Judaeo-Christian God is not the pagan Fortuna or Fate.
All this is by way of a reminder that the pursuit of happiness is by no means identical with materialism or hedonism, but is intimately bound up with the other two inalienable rights, life and liberty. Enlightenment figures certainly saw happiness as something more than materialism. In one of their favourite books, Spinoza's Ethics, the philosopher (whose given name was Baruch, or Benedict in Latin, both meaning "blessed") proposes that "our salvation, blessedness or liberty" consists in the "intellectual love of God". In some ways, modern Western culture is closer to Spinoza, who identified God with Nature, than to the Biblical tradition, which emphasises our individual relationship with a personal Creator. Spinoza, however, is clear that "blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself". Happiness consists in doing as we would be done by. Judaeo-Christian morality is integral to Enlightenment ethics.