Monday, March 07, 2005

Play it again Gary:

Here is an old post of mine, to which I refer new readers.

If you have the time or interest I recommend at least skimming, (I doubt you'll have time to get through the whole thing) this e-book by Gary North, the subject of my above post.

North is a Christian Reconstructionist who would, in an ideal world, like to see Biblical Law in its entirety made into the civil law, complete with all of the Old Testament punishments. Strangely enough, he associates with libertarians and they, with him.

North's book is interesting because he operates in the tradition of, (and hence reminds us of) that branch of Trinitarian Christianity that opposed the Constitution because of what they saw as its Godlessness and Secularism.

Many on the religious right have tried to co-opt the Constitution as a "Biblical" document -- very strange in that the document not only doesn't mention God, but only speaks about religion in a negative or prohibitory sense.

Many of the state constitutions on the other hand, explicitly made covenants with the Trinitarian Christian God. The federal constitution, by contrast, prohibits all religious tests for public office. Prominent fundamentalist back in the day recognized this and thundered that we would face God's wrath for passing such a "Godless" document which failed to invoke the Almighty.

North argues that the Constitution was a product of the Newtonian-unitarianism philosophy and attempted to and ultimately succeeded in overthrowing the state system of Trinitarian covenants, which explicitly required religious tests excluding all non-Trinitarian Christians. The US Constitution would have been an orthodox Christian document, according to North, if instead of prohibiting religious tests, it too covenanted with the Trinitarian-Christian God and imposed such a religious test for public office.

Here is the dedication of North's book:

This book is dedicated to the members, living and dead, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Covenanters), who for over two hundred years have smelled a rat in Philadelphia.

LOL. Funny. As I note in my original post, although he makes some good points and yokes impressive scholarship, he ultimately comes off as an anti-Masonic crackpot.

North's thesis importantly stresses that often there is a disconnect between what the intellectual elites and the common masses believe. While Trinitarian orthodox Christianity no doubt was the common sentiment among the populace, our Founders disproportionately believed in a deistic-unitarian philosophy (and most deist-unitarians were members of Christian Churches).

For instance -- take Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin. Now these are just five men; they aren't the entire "Founders." But these were some pretty damn important founders: They comprise the first 4 presidents, the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin), and the architect of the Constitution (Madison). All of these men certainly followed the deistic-unitarian philosophy (also called theistic rationalism) to which I refer.

North's point was that our founders secretly and unbeknownst to the general population helped to put a plan into motion -- a Newtonian Enlightenment plan -- that radically broke with the Trinitarian Christian ethos of the day. More reputable scholars have in fact, made similar points. I'm thinking of the Straussians, many of whom, North quotes to make his point -- that America was founded as the "vanguard of modernity." For instance, Michael Zuckert, one of the most distinguished scholars of Locke argues, after Leo Strauss, that [quoting Thomas West discussing Zuckert]:

the Founders were..."victims of bait-and-switch marketing." Zuckert means that the Founders were dupes of a radically modern project in which Locke, along with Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, and others, succeeded in overthrowing the classical understanding of man as a being whose perfection and happiness can only be found in moral and intellectual virtue.

Similarly, Thomas West in reviewing Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind notes:

As for politics, says Bloom, America was founded on modern principles of liberty and equality that we got from Hobbes and Locke. Liberty turned out to mean freedom from all self-restraint, and equality turned out to mean the destruction of all differences of rank and even of nature. Our Founders may have acted, or have pretended to act, "with a firm reliance on divine providence" (Declaration of Independence) but their natural-rights philosophy, says Bloom, came from the atheists Hobbes and Locke. (Bloom hedges on whether the Founders were self-conscious atheists or merely the dupes of clever and lying philosophers.)

North argues that the founders knew what they were doing, and that it was the Christian population who were the dupes.

Personally, I don't think anyone was duped. Many dissident evangelical Christians signed onto the natural rights regime of freedom and equality because they knew that it benefited them, protected them against their majoritarian persecutors. True, they did not appreciate how the principles of liberty and equality would grow or evolve into the 21st Century. But it's doubtful that any ordinary folks were thinking that far into the future back then.

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