Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Actually Maybe It STARTED Going Downhill WITH John Witherspoon

This is according to Gary North's thesis. For some time I've noted Gary North's book on America's Founding and Religion. 

I have three reactions to his thesis.

1. According to Christian Reconstructionist premises, Dr. North is right: The American Founding is not consistent with "Christian Reconstructionism" and was driven by a different political theology.

2. What Dr. North identifies as small u unitarianism was that political theology.

3. Isaac Newton played an important role in establishing that "worldview" -- the principles on which America's Founders built.

Every thesis I've seen, in my opinion, overemphasizes certain thinkers as key to the American Founding and under-emphasizes others. Dr. Gregg Frazer probably overemphasizes Joseph Priestley while under-emphasizing Richard Price and others. John Locke certainly was important, but has been overemphasized to the exclusion of others.

But an overemphasis, taken in context, still may shine a much needed light on an otherwise much neglected source. Dr. North's thesis does this with Newton's influence on America's Founders worldview.

I just found Dr. North's "position paper" from 1991 which defends his thesis against critics. Like much of what North writes, it entertains while providing useful ideas.

On reviewing books:
The art of book reviewing is no longer taught. In the 1950’s, college-bound students wrote book reports throughout high school. Book reviews were common in college. In graduate school, they were mandatory. They are basic to any academic specialty. Scholarly journals rely on them. 
Every review must summarize a book’s thesis. A scholarly review must do the following: (1) identify the author’s “school of thought”; (2) present any unique features of the book; (3) note any serious errors; (4) evaluate the author’s performance in presenting his thesis; and (5) assess the book’s importance, especially in the academic field. A “plain vanilla” review ends here. 
Then there is the hatchet review. The reviewer has several tasks in addition to what we have already covered: (1) concentrate on the book’s weaknesses and errors; (2) show how these errors undermine the book’s general thesis; (3) show that the author ignored an alternative interpretation of the facts that he did get correctly; (4) show how he ignored other books or literature that point out the alternative interpretation; (5) show what the author should have concluded. The master of the hatchet review in the field of modern history was the late A. J. P. Taylor, the most prolific historian in modern times, whose books fill a large bookcase. 
Then there is the smear review. This is the critic’s substitute for a hatchet job. Writing a smear review is thought to be necessary in the eyes of some critics when they are unable to produce an acceptable hatchet job. The marks of a smear review are these: (1) it accents minor errors, or possible minor errors; (2) it implies that these minor errors are representative of the author’s scholarship and the book generally (3) it presents completely bogus errors as if they were real – imputed arguments which make the author look like a fool or a charlatan; (4) it ignores anything in the book that reveals the invented arguments as fakes. 
A lot of critics write smear reviews, thinking they are mere hatchet jobs. What I find is that virtually all of the reviews published about Christian Reconstruction are either plain vanilla reviews (not too many of these) or smear reviews. I never see a well-executed hatchet job. This saddens me. I regard a well-executed hatchet book review as one of the high- arts of modern civilization. It is fast becoming a lost art.
Here is the money quote of the paper that ties it to the above title on John Witherspoon:
The thesis of the third section of my book is very, very clear: it was what Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, and Madison did with natural law theory that mattered politically. They transformed the colonies into an apostate civil society. They got Christian legislators to vote for, and Christian leaders to approve, a halfway covenant (the Declaration of Independence) and then an apostate covenant (the U.S. Constitution). My book discusses how Witherspoon and the other Christian advocates of natural law theory were suckered: first, into a halfway covenant by Jefferson; and second, into Madison’s apostate covenant.

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