Fundamental political moral battleground: Earned success vs learned hopelessness.

“Anyone who reads the words of the Founders,” Mr. Brooks writes, “cannot miss their keen emphasis on the morality of the systems they intended to create. Our ideas about free enterprise and liberty were born from a sense of what is right and what helps us to thrive as people, not from a monomaniacal obsession with what makes us rich.”

Historian Matthew Spalding echoes this theme in his 2009 book, “We Still Hold These Truths”: “As the Founders saw it, the right to property was not simply an economic concept, and was much more than owning a bit of land. It was a first principle of liberty. The essence of liberty is the freedom to develop one’s talents, pursue opportunity, and generally take responsibility for one’s own life and well-being.”

Mr. Brooks calls that “earned success,” and he’s got plenty of social science research that shows people are happier when they have a chance to earn their success. That doesn’t mean equality of outcome, however. Some people are always going to do better than others, and Americans understand and accept that.

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