"Arete" is a Greek word that is most frequently translated as "virtue" or "moral excellence" in English, and in fact was the name given to the Greek goddess of virtue, excellence and goodness. Although this sounds like something that would be reserved for discussions in graduate school classrooms or seminaries in 21st century America, arete was actually one of the most common values in ancient Greek culture. Homer, Socrates and Plato all wrote about the pursuit of arete, but it was Aristotle who challenged his audience to consistently acquire more knowledge about what it means to be virtuous and to dedicate themselves to the infusion of arete into the public square.
I love the United States of America. It's a wonderful country with an extraordinary history that is rooted in some very basic but brilliant principles laid down in its founding document, the Declaration of Independence. That revolutionary manuscript -- drafted by the remarkable Thomas Jefferson, one of the most important voices of political philosophy in world history -- makes the startling assertion that individuals are endowed by God with certain "inalienable" rights, notably the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the heart of Jefferson's world view was the notion that human beings ought to be free to think for themselves and govern themselves in a way that reflects the values of their unique generation.
My desire is to fuse the guiding principles of these two brilliant thinkers -- Aristotle and Jefferson -- by exploring the daily "pursuit" of "arete" in American public life. What are the political values that reflect the kind of people we want to be in this generation? What are the kinds of public policies that best promote these values? And perhaps most importantly, what does the civility of our public discourse and the performance of our democratic institutions say about how successful we are as a society in the pursuit of arete?
Of course, the public square isn't the exclusive domain of arete. I also intend to provide occasional commentary on timely subjects related to culture, religion and the fabric of the American experience. After all, virtue is more often found in the laughter of a child, the beauty of nature or the kindness of friends than it is in the outcome of a Congressional debate.