Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sandoz at Princeton:

On Monday I saw Ellis Sandoz, Hermann Moyse, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies, Louisiana State University, speak at the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He presented this paper and has a new book out entitled Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America. I somewhat disagree with Sandoz's take on the American Founding & Religion. I've long noted I believe, after Bernard Bailyn and many others, that America's Founding synthesized a number of different ideological sources including Greco-Roman, Common Law, Christian, Whig, and Enlightenment. Most historians and political scientists, regardless of bias, likewise believe in the synthesis but disagree on which ideological sources dominated (perhaps that's where bias clouds our analysis). I think Sandoz gives too much credence to the classical and Christian sources, and people like Edmund Burke. However, given the academy is all too likely to de-emphasize those sources, and over-emphasize the secular-Enlightenment ones, his scholarship serves as a useful corrective.

Also, when blogging, I often quote from political sermons of the Founding era. And when I do, usually I use sermons of which Sandoz is the editor, reproduced by the Liberty Fund.

Moreover, Sandoz was nice enough to answer a number of my emails before the event. I let him know that I see America's political-theological heart as more theologically liberal, heretical and less orthodox Christian than he does.

The best part of the lecture, by far, was the Q&A where almost all of the questions were asked by Princeton professors. He really had his hands full answering their questions. Among others, Robert George, Maurizio Viroli, and Paul Sigmund asked questions. Afterwards I briefly chatted with Sandoz, Viroli and Sigmund. After discussing Locke with Sigmund he asked me what department I was with (I think he probably meant as student, grad-student or TA) and I told him I taught at Mercer County Community College, just down the road from Princeton (Princeton is in Mercer County). He praised our classical music station. As a Locke scholar, Sigmund, I think seemed impressed by my knowledge of the dispute over Locke's personal theology (a few years earlier Sigmund moderated a debate between Michael Zuckert and Jeremy Waldron over Locke & Christianity, which I also attended). We seemed to be on the same page regarding Locke. He noted he didn't believe in the Straussian position that Locke was a secret atheist, but does believe there is something to the notion that Locke was a closet heretic/unitarian Christian, most likely of the Arian variety. He advised that I check out John Marshall's work on Locke which concludes Locke was a closet Arian.

The themes of republicanism, human rights, the Founding, liberalism (liberty & equality), religion & God were stressed during the event. As such, it was inevitable that Locke, and how to properly understand him, would be brought up. I was struck by the way in which Sigmund and Viroli, politically left-liberals, noted they believed (after Locke) that God was arguably necessary or at least a very helpful part of the equation in establishing human rights and political liberty. Imago Dei.

Though, Sigmund and Viroli, during their Q&A with Sandoz noted it was "the right kind of God" -- one that grants political liberty and equality -- who necessary fills the equation. When chatting with them I asked whether this God was the Biblical God and they answered arguably not, but in some way, perhaps. They understood the Biblical God doesn't directly reveal that men possess an unalienable right to liberty; and in fact, many parts of the Bible seem to belie this. We ended the brief conversation agreeing that it was the God of a "selective" reading of the Bible, arguably a theologically liberal, cafeteria religion that best serves the needed, ultimate guarantees of political liberalism and human rights.


Jay said...

Isn't it nice when reasonable people can disagree reasonably?

Jonathan said...