Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beck & Metaxas Made a Huge Mistake

Throwing their hat in with David Barton. And others should learn from their example. This is why I feature the criticisms on my blogs. 

Yet again John Fea and Warren Throckmorton have posts criticizing Eric Metaxas' new book, but this time connecting him to, you guessed it, David Barton. From Fea's:
  1.  Metaxas’s view of Winthrop’s use of the phrase “city on a hill” IS taken out of context.  I encourage you to take David Barton’s advice and read the original source– “A Modell on Christian Charity.”  You should also read Hillsdale College professor David Gamble’s  In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. And don’t forget the post by Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at evangelical Wheaton College. 
  2.  I am sure I have addressed this before, but it needs to be said again.  For years Barton has been telling the ordinary evangelicals who follow him that he is right about American history because he owns a lot of documents.  He claims that he reads the original documents and suggests that professional historians do not.  This is a completely absurd claim.  ALL professional historians read and interpret primary sources.  This is what we do.  Doing history–especially the history of political ideas– has very little to do with whether or not someone one can hold an original document in their hands.  For example, if Barton had a copy of the Declaration of Independence would he be in a better position to interpret the ideas in the document than someone who was merely reading the Declaration of Independence online or in a textbook?  I have never been to Wallbuilders or seen David Barton’s collection of documents, but I am pretty certain that most of the documents he possesses are easily accessible for historians in online and print collections.  Unless one is writing a history about these books, letter, and manuscripts as physical objects or pieces of material culture (which is not how Barton uses the documents–he peddles in ideas), the fact that Barton owns these documents ... does not make his interpretations of history any more right or wrong.
Yes, Barton's point that he "has" the documents is snake oil worse than the Afrocentric claim that Western Civilization "stole" documents and therefore the ideas from Africa, to the exclusion of Africa having those ideas.  As though cultures steal from one another like people steal cars (where the original possessor no longer has the actual object itself and its benefits).

In the modern age, almost any historical document a party physically owns can be viewed in some kind of copy. The same isn't true of antiquity.

While Fea and Throckmorton may be (?) Left leaning, I don't see either of them as hard Left. And another critic, Dr. Gregg Frazer is not a man of the Left in any sense. Likewise a number of other prominent Right leaning Christian intellectuals have criticized Barton.

I am a libertarian and will be voting for Gary Johnson this term. I don't consider myself either a man of the Left or the Right. And this may surprise some folks: I actually like both Glenn Beck and Eric Metaxas. Beck is going to be voting for Gary Johnson just like I am. Beck is not a scholar. He is an entertaining media presence. But when he picks scholars to endorse, he should pick good ones.

Metaxas has more intellectual credibility than Beck. And likewise he should throw his hat in with scholars with more credibility than David Barton. (And arguably, because of his intellectual background, should know better than Beck).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sandefur: "The Greeks and The Founding Fathers" Part III

Check out Timothy Sandefur's post here. A taste:
Yesterday, I delivered (live) the third and final talk in my three-part series for the Politismos Museum of Greek History on the influence of the Greeks on America's Founding Fathers. If you missed it, hold on--they'll be posting the finished video in a while. But if you'd rather listen to them, you can download all three talks in mp3 format here: ...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fea & Throckmorton on Metaxas Blowing Off Criticisms

Check out Drs. John Fea and Warren Throckmorton on Eric Metaxas' disregard for criticisms of his new book. This is a link to the audio-clip of Metaxas. A taste of Metaxas' words:
There are errors in my book and people have written ESSAYS–I’m not even kidding.  People have attacked my book so much. This never happened to me before. They take a sentence that I could just change that sentence and everything would be okay.  They have written ESSAYS about this sentence.  I said something about freedom in our early days, implying that it was universal, which of course it was not (we had a lot of problems with religious freedom) ....

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Rebellion in America's Blood?

A passage in Dr. Gregg Frazer's very thoughtful piece arguing that the American Revolution was not a just war brought something to mind. Below is the passage from pages 12-13 of the PDF. Again I added paragraph breaks but did not reproduce Frazer's added emphasis:
Unfortunately, American colonists during the Revolutionary era were far more likely to be subject to propaganda designed to stir up rebellion than to have impartial or fair accounts of events. The prime mover in this propaganda effort was Samuel Adams.1 Pauline Maier, one of the most respected historians of the period, characterizes Adams as a man who ‘evaded truth and mishandled the facts so glaringly that almost everything he wrote is a demand for refutation’ (Maier 1980: 10). Another said that Adams ‘preached hate to a degree without rival’ (Maier 1980: 11). Yet another scholar titled his Adams biography Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda (Miller 1966). In that work, 15 pages are devoted to the account of Adams’s propaganda efforts regarding the so-called Boston Massacre alone (Miller 1966: 178–192).
Labeling the accidental killing of five people a ‘massacre’ was an ingenious propaganda stroke to begin with. But the key to his efforts was to depict the event as a purposeful massacre – as a ‘deliberate plot by the British soldiers to murder innocent Whigs’ (Miller 1943: 297). That was necessary and effective for achieving Adams’s ultimate goal of increasing militancy; ‘to prove the necessity of fighting British troops before they had opportunity to gain a foothold in the country’ (Miller 1966: 190–191). ...
The fact that the soldiers involved were acquitted by a jury of Bostonians and the fact that with his dying breath, one of the ‘victims’ testified that the colonists were armed (Miller 1966: 189), baiting the soldiers, assaulting them with chunks of ice, and other inconvenient facts were lost in the barrage of propaganda promoting the conspiracy theory that the radicals needed the people to believe. The paranoia created by the ‘deliberate plot’ story contributed greatly to the citizens of Massachusetts arming themselves and drilling as militia in expectation of future British assaults. That led directly to the confrontation at Lexington.
Largely because of the blatantly false information and clever misinformation spread at every juncture from the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party, to wild rumors of random killings of Americans in September of 1774, thousands of colonists formed illegal militia units and stockpiled weapons. ...
And S. Adams was one of the "orthodox Christian" ones. 

The tenor of Dr. Frazer's article tends to portray the sentiments of the American Revolution as driven by lawless hooliganism. The thought that came to my mind when reading these passages was Australia. Another former English colony. Sam Adams, as portrayed, reminds me of a veritable Bon Scott. Whereas the Brits can seem rather stuffy, the Australians have more of a wild streak to them. And that could be explained because they were founded as a penal colony, as I learned in K-12 school.

Something I didn't learn in K-12: In researching that thought further, I discovered, though America didn't serve exclusively as a penal colony, it was in fact a dumping ground for British convicts and scoundrels.  If I understand the history right, the reason for Australia's needed existence as a such a dumping ground was because after 1783 Great Britain could no longer use America for that purpose.

Hence the "Australian Solution."

As Bon Scott sings, "all in the name of liberty."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Frazer on the AR as a Just War with a Focus on Lesser Magistrates

Last year we noted Dr. Gregg Frazer's article in The Journal of Military Ethics on whether the American Revolution was a just war. We didn't get to analyze the article in depth because although it was initially downloadable, it was soon put behind a paywall. It looks like it's now free to the public again (but you never know how these journals and their algorithms will behave).

Even though Frazer argues the American Revolution was not a just war, other points of view are also represented there (so check that out too).

I want to focus on a particular part of Frazer's article. In his book, he discusses at length Romans 13's prohibition on rebellion and John Calvin's writings on lesser magistrates being able to lawfully restrain tyrannical rulers. But he subsequently received criticism that his book did not adequately deal with the Calvinistic line of thought on interposition from figures like Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex"  and the anonymous "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos."

Frazer answers such criticism beginning on page 15 of the PDF. I am going to reproduce a section that starts on page 16: [I added paragraph breaks but didn't reproduce all of the emphasis added.]
Some readers might expect a discussion of appeals to the so-called ‘lesser magistrate’ or ‘interposition’ argument attributed to Calvin; that view says that lesser magistrates are similarly endowed by God with authority, that they may rebel against a higher magistrate (the King), and that the common people may then choose whether to support the higher or the lower magistrate. Such a discussion is not relevant, however, because neither Calvin nor the patriot preachers made such an argument. In my own study of dozens of the patriot sermons between 1750 and 1780, I could not find any that employed this argument (see Frazer 2012:69–106); and James Byrd (2013) makes no reference to it in his comprehensive look at the patriot sermons, either. Calvin himself did not make the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument; it was developed later by some of his disciples and their work had a degree of influence in Reformed circles.

There is not space here to fully demonstrate that Calvin would not have approved of it, but the distinction between Calvin’s statements and the ‘lesser magistrate’ notion can be briefly explained. Calvin does not say anything about ‘lesser’ magistrates in general, but addresses a particular type of magistrate (‘populares’) with legal authority to restrain the higher magistrate. The term ‘populares’ is ‘a term quite different in connotation from “inferior” or “lesser”’ (Skinner 1978: II: 230–234). The emphasis is not on the magistrate’s inferior or lesser position, but on the reason for its existence–its function in the political system. There are lesser magistrates in every political system, but Calvin specifies that his scheme only applies if this particular type of magistrate exists within a given political system. In those circumstances, Calvin urges the special ‘popular’ magistrates to act ‘in accordance with their duty’ to exercise lawful, systemic authority to veto or block executive actions (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991: 82).

An American parallel would be the power of Congress to impeach and remove a president. But there is no mention or implication or hint of rebellion or revolution or extra-constitutional action or of people choosing sides between magistrates in Calvin’s scheme. Calvin stresses that ‘the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord’s vengeance’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82, emphasis added), but that the people ‘are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991 :82). He further admonishes the people that ‘all that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82).

The notion of suffering is lost in the many interpretations of Calvin that promote rebellion. He actually provides three specific historical examples to try to ensure that his position would not be misunderstood– but to no avail. 2 Calvin did not cite examples of revolutions to overthrow tyrants; he cited offices and officers given legal authority within their regimes to restrain the ‘licentiousness and frenzy of kings’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991:82–83). Although some scholars and commentators interpret Calvin in such a way as to make him support rebellion or revolution by lesser magistrates, one must add to or change Calvin’s words in order to produce that result.

For those literate in political theory, one place that the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument could be found was in Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos, an anonymous sixteenth-century Huguenot essay. At least one of the Revolutionary leaders, John Adams, read it and called it influential. Vindiciae makes the King the creature of the people, makes the people the proper judge of the King, and presents the lesser magistrate option as a cure for tyranny (O’Donovan & O’Donovan1999: 714–722). Some of the patriots found the arguments of the Vindiciae useful.

The primary theoretical source for preachers and for politicians seeking to justify the Revolution was, of course, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Locke similarly makes the King the creature of the people and makes the people the judge of the King, but his solution to the King’s tyranny was even more attractive and valuable for the American revolutionaries because it allowed them to deny that they were revolutionaries. Locke famously argues that whoever uses force without right violates the social contract and becomes a ‘rebel’ to the community; if the King is a tyrant using unlawful force, he becomes a rebel and the people who seek to depose him are merely defending themselves (Second Treatise of Government, par. 226–243, in Locke 1988: 398–428). This scheme allows one to engage in revolution, but not suffer the label ‘revolutionary’.

The American people were fed Lockean thought and were heavily influenced by it because the patriot ministers preached it from the pulpits (Frazer 2012: 85–106). Jonathan Mayhew was particularly important in converting to the Revolutionary cause congregations raised on Calvin’s and the Bible’s teaching concerning submission and non-resistance. Mayhew (1750) turned the teaching of Romans 13 on its head and made it into an argument for revolution in his ‘Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers’. It was invaluable in convincing people raised in Calvinism to support rebellion. This sermon was so influential that it has been described as the ‘morning gun of the Revolution’ (Thornton 1860: 43). John Adams said that if anyone wants to understand ‘the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study ... Dr. Mayhew’s sermon’ (letter to William Tudor, 5 April 1818, in Adams 1856: 301); and he further remarked that it was ‘read by everybody’ (letter to H. Niles, 13 February 1818, in Adams 1856: 288). Subsequent preachers such as Samuel West followed Mayhew’s lead and Locke’s principles infiltrated the populace via the Revolutionary pulpit.

It has been established that the American leaders at the time the war began (and even after) were, by their own admission, under the authority of Great Britain and were English subjects. Consequently, they were not sovereign authorities, they had a superior, and they were not properly authorized in their charters or anywhere else in British law to declare war. Locke provided a theoretical justification dependent on a fictitious base (state of nature and social contract). If Locke’s theory is correct – and if the British government was in fact tyrannical – then the American people had the right to create a new legislature with authority to use force to defend them. The American Revolution fails the ‘just war’ test by the first standard unless one considers revolutionaries to be legitimate authorities.
My thoughts: Frazer does make an important concession that John Adams, among others, was influenced by "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos," but still argues -- correctly as far as I can tell -- it was Locke who was much more important.

Elsewhere we have observed there is no connection we are aware of between Locke on the one hand and Samuel Rutherford and the other Calvinist "resisters" on the other. Frazer also points out the sermons with which he is familiar cited Locke and not the Calvinist resisters.

A problem exists in that era in that they didn't tend to credit their sources like academics do today. We know Thomas Jefferson cribbed parts of Locke's 2nd Treatise when writing the Declaration of Independence; but he doesn't cite him.

So one could argue, in the absence of a citation like "as Mr. Locke argues" or "in Lex Rex ...," where the ideas came from is debatable. Daniel Dreisbach noted to me, off the record, Jonathan Mayhew doesn't cite or name his influences in his sermon, so it's debatable where he got the ideas from.

Locke and the Calvinist resisters, though they had similar ideas, still had meaningful differences both conceptually and linguistically. If you hear a preacher talking about "state of nature" and "contract and rights," it's Locke, not the Calvinist resisters. The most famous Presbyterian American Revolutionary was John Witherspoon. And I know that he was influenced by Locke as he used the aforementioned Lockean terms.

Was he influenced by the Calvinist resisters? Where is the evidence? Can we find it here in Dr. Jeffrey Morrison's piece on the man? What about the other Presbyterian and Calvinist preachers in America? Did they cite the Calvinist resisters?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throckmorton: "Eric Metaxas Says His History of Religious Liberty Has Been Misrepresented"

Check it out here. A taste:
I’d like to know how his position has been misrepresented. Please, Mr. Metaxas enlighten us with passages from your book.  John Fea from Messiah College, Tracy McKenzie from Wheaton College and Greg Frazer from The Master’s College all represented you via passages from your book. Here are the passages we relied on.

Fea: "My Review Series on Metaxas’s 'If You Can Keep It': A Wrap-Up"

Check it out here. A taste:
Unfortunately, Metaxas does a very poor job of using American history to answer these questions. He manipulates the past to make it serve his political agenda. His entire argument is based on a weak and faulty intellectual foundation. He searches for continuity between Colonial America and the present that, for the most part, doesn’t exist. “If You Can Keep It” is an example of how not to use the past to make an argument in the present.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It: Part 6"

From Dr. Fea here. A taste:
It is worth noting that Metaxas has made the common mistake of taking Winthrop’s words, which were addressed to the inhabitants of one British-American colony, and applying them to the United States writ-large.  Winthrop, of course, was not applying his “city upon a hill” metaphor to the already-existing colonies of Virginia, Plymouth, and the Dutch colony of New Netherland (which became New York thirty-four years later).  Yet these colonies and several others–colonies in which the “city upon a hill” metaphor was not part of their founding ideal–would also be part of the United States of America in 1776.  Metaxas is in good company here.  John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, both fans of the “city upon a hill” metaphor, also made this mistake. (More on Reagan below).