In reading De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, I came across this pertinent excerpt from Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 71:
The Republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they entrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the public good. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate; by the artifices of men who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and of those who seek to possess rather than to deserve it. When occasions present themselves in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.
I especially like the last sentence. Many legislators are too short-sighted and lack the principle to do what is truly best for the long-term interests of our country. I would venture to say that this is equally true of how the populace-at-large operates on a daily basis, so it makes sense that this same myopic vision guides the leaders of our nation. We all need to embrace a quality that is often maligned as outdated in our day and age: Prudence.
Having spent some time studying prudence, I would define it primarily as “choosing not to do something because of where it may lead.” Instead of making rash decisions or pouring time, energy, and resources into digging ourselves out of pits that could have been avoided in the first place, it would behoove us to spend more time thinking, pondering the consequences that attend to a particular set of actions, and crying out for wisdom to the Almighty God who alone sees the “end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).
“A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” Proverbs 22:3.
“The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit” Proverbs 14:8.
“For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding” Proverbs 2:6.
Let us all aim to live more prudently and demand the same of those governing our nation!