Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part VII, Final.

Last month I ran a series of posts which reproduced the first half of this article by Robert P. Kraynak about Roman Catholicism and the Declaration of Independence, with minor edits (omission of footnotes and a few ellipses [...]) and my sparse commentary.

I stopped somewhere in the middle of page 17 out of 30. This will be my final post on the matter. Those interested in a careful reading can read the entire article. These pages are where the article goes deep into the philosophical weeds to explain why the natural law the Roman Catholic Church endorses is not the same thing as the natural rights encapsulated in the Declaration and the tension between the two. I'm just going to post one short excerpt from the rest of the article.
Applied to the American situation, Thomistic natural law requires one to judge the work of the American founding fathers by the objective hierarchy of ends which God has ordained for man. Here, the decisive question would seem to be whether the natural law doctrine of the Declaration of Independence which guided the Americans contains some of the elements of a true natural law found in original Thomism~ The answer, we now must admit, is that the Declaration contains only a partial or incomplete version of true natural law, because it does not provide sufficiently for the perfection of the rational soul. The Declaration of Independence asserts a right to pursue happiness, but does not provide sufficiently for the higher goods of temporal and eternal happiness, ·leaving them more to personal choice than to corporate responsibility or leaving them to the larger culture which surrounded the Declaration and the Constitution that still contained vital remnants of classical and Christian culture and of the English common law tradition. Yet, if the American founders had been more attentive to preserving these traditional elements, they might have been Tories rather than revolutionaries. Or, since they themselves were gentlemen politicians of quasi-aristocratic character, they might have waged a war of independence on less sweeping principles than natural rights and established a more hierarchical regime than a constitutional republic.

However, a Thomistic approach to politics requires prudence, which counsels statesmen to seek the best approximation of the true hierarchy of goods in the given circumstances. After the American Revolution occurred and the regime was settled in favor of republicanism, Catholic Thomists could be American republicans-they could have acted like Alexander Hamilton, who favored constitutional monarchy while accepting constitutional democracy or republicanism as the only practical option in the circumstances. Within that basic acceptance and loyalty to of the American natural rights republic, Catholic Thomists could hold reservations about the natural rights basis of the regime and hope to move it in a ·more hierarchically ordered and less individualistic and less materialistic direction. ... 
 As I mentioned in an earlier post, Kraynak would later write an entire book on this topic entitled "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy." Those who enjoyed books such as "The Search For Christian America," "Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction," and "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution" will surely enjoy this book.

And I especially recommend Kraynak's book for those who enjoyed Patrick Deneen's current best seller "Why Liberalism Failed" as the two make similar arguments.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part VI

Parts IIIIIIIV, and VThe original article. On to Part VI:

II Catholicism and Natural Rights 

What has Catholicism to do with these six sources of the American political tradition and with developments in that tradition since the colonial and founding periods? Not a great deal, as far as I can tell. Of the six elements mentioned above, only English common law could be said to have a direct Catholic connection. In its origins, common law is part of the Christian "higher law" tradition; it arose sometime during the feudal period of Catholic England, as Stanton Evans shows in his book, The Theme is Freedom. But I doubt if one could say that English common law is Catholic per se, since it did not arise in other Catholic nations (although some scholars such as Kenneth Farrington argue that a jus commune or common law tradition, including certain protections for liberty, emerged in the late middle ages on the European continent as well). As for the other strands of the American tradition, one would be hard-pressed to find a direct Catholic connection ....

In other areas of America, one can find historical Catholic influences-for example, in colonial Maryland (under Lord Baltimore's Catholic proprietorship, until the end of the seventeenth century, with its briefexperiment with religious liberty), in education (in the many distinguished. Jesuit universities and parochial schools), in trade unionism and social work (endorsed by Pope Leo XIII and promoted by Dorothy Day's Catholic Workers Movement), in the ethnic-Catholic neighborhoods of urban America, in New Orleans' Mardi Gras, and in today's pro-life movement. One can also point out, as Michael Novak does in his book on religion at the American founding, On Two Wings, that some prominent American Catholic families such as the Carroll family of Maryland had members who were personal friends of George Washington, as well as signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And, of course, the remarkable Orestes Brownson converted to Catholicism in the nineteenth century and wrote The American Republic. But this is not the same thing as claiming that their Catholic thought directly influenced the colonial or founding periods, or the civil war period, or the great periods of Progressive reform in America.

The crucial questions, then, pertain to indirect connections between Catholicism and American principles. One question is whether Catholicism has its own natural rights tradition beginning in the Middle Ages and flowing from its canon law or natural law traditions. This is the claim of Brian Tierney, who maintains that natural rights emerged from the notion of "subjective right" in medieval canon law. A similar claim is made by John Finnis, who argues in his new book on Aquinas that human rights are implicit in Thomistic natural law and its conception of the dignity of the person. A second and more general question is whether natural rights are implicit in the Christian idea of human dignity arising from the Biblical teaching that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by Christ. Assuming the answers are "yes" to these questions, the third and final question is whether the Catholic conception of the rights and dignity of the person is the same as the God-given natural rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. Let me approach these questions slowly by looking first at scholarly claims about a longstanding Catholic natural or human rights tradition.

At first glance, it would seem that Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular could not easily develop a conception of natural or human rights. There are several weighty reasons why it could not do so easily. In the first place, Christianity places duties to God and to neighbor before claims of rights and cannot accept the proposition that a right to pursue happiness as one sees fit takes precedence over duties to God and man. After all, the Bible uses the language of divine law rather than the language of rights to express morality and justice: It gives us the Ten Commandments rather than the Ten Bill of Rights, and the commands not to kill and not to steal do not necessarily mean that others have a right to life or to own property. Even the command to love one's neighbor as one's self is not necessarily the same as respecting the rights of others-if, for example, loving others means imposing on them for their own good (to save their souls or to steer them away from sin).

In the second place, Christianity's foundation on divine revelation implies a duty to accept transcendent truth; and Catholicism requires acceptance of authoritative pronouncements about truth by the hierarchical Church. This is crucial for Catholics, but even Protestants who allow individuals to interpret Scripture for themselves have developed means for promoting orthodoxy and suppressing heresy. It is not easy for any devout Christian to accept a blanket right of individual conscience, especially if it leads to a society indifferent to God or to a society in which bizarre New Age cults proliferate and the true faith is marginalized. While orthodoxy does not automatically imply theocracy or a confessional state, it is not easy to square with religious liberty, either.

Third, the Christian notion of original sin implies distrust of weak and fallible human beings to use their rights properly. Belief in original sin instills in Christians a keen sense of how freedom can go awry and seems to imply that any notion of political freedom must be a conditional good, rather than an absolute good and could not be an abstract principle of political legitimacy. Original sin means weak and corruptible human beings need curbs on freedom by social and political institutions, including the legislation of morality by the state. Of course, Catholics have always maintained that the corruption of man by original sin does not obliterate his rational nature; but this implies even greater responsibilities for the state-not only suppressing vice and sin, but also perfecting the rational souls of citizens by inculcating moral and intellectual virtues. Such political responsibilities are hard to reconcile with protections for rights. And they indicate why Christians and Catholics have put more emphasis on "inner freedom"-the freedom of the soul from sinful desires or self-mastery-rather than "external freedom"-the freedom from external political controls, including the controls of a repressive state or the institution of slavery. When St. Paul spoke of Christian freedom, he meant inner freedom, not the external freedom proclaimed by natural rights. Thus, Paul could say without contradicting himself, "For freedom Christ has set us free ... do not submit to the yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1) and "slaves, obey ... your earthly masters" (Col. 3:22).

Fourth, Christianity, and especially the Catholic tradition, elevates the common good above the rights of individuals and even above the rights of separate groups. Catholic teaching about the family and man's social nature also conflict with the individualism and privacy of rights. Traditionally, Catholicism did not define the common good as simply the condition for individual development (as it does today somewhat naively in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, see par. 1906-09). Rather, it viewed the common good in corporate fashion, embodied in corporate groups and upholding "unity in peace" that promotes the harmony of social classes and inculcates moral virtues that perfect the rational soul and promote civic friendship ("solidarity," in today's terms), as well as civic piety. The Catholic conception of the common good is best captured by the concept of corporate hierarchy, rather than by conditions for the exercise of individual or group rights.

Fifth, the Christian teaching about charity-whose essence is sacrificial love-makes the whole notion of rights seem selfish. The culture of rights, when deeply entrenched, seems to create a society in which people feel the world owes them something when they declare, "I have my rights!" As Alexander Solzhenitsyn has said critically of Western rights: '"Human rights' are a fine thing, but how can we be sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of others?" More precisely, rights are a two-edged sword: They are noble and glorious when used against real tyranny and real oppression, but they are base, selfish, and destructive when used against legitimate authority and traditional morality, as they often are in modern society. Although rights have practical or horizontal limits ("my rights end, where your rights begin"), there is no clear guideline within rights themselves to distinguish between the legitimate and illegitimate use of rights-for example, between the rights of Christian marriage vs. the rights of gay marriage, between the right to choose abortion vs. the right to life, between true vs. false rights. This distinction cannot be found in rights themselves, but in an objective hierarchy of goods that explains how rights must be properly used in order to be legitimate. Hence, from a Catholic perspective, it seems that rights are conditional goods-their value depends on the ends for which they are used, which means that rights are not properly speaking rights, but conditional goods subservient to higher goods.

Finally, Christians and especially Catholics cannot accept the premise of the natural freedom of the autonomous self that underlies most doctrines of rights. The most influential doctrines of rights emerged from the philosophers of Enlightenment Liberalism (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Dewey, and Rawls). They argue that human beings are "born free," and they posit the existence·of a state of nature or an "original position" which proclaims personal autonomy at the expense of human dependence on God or on fellow human beings and which denies natural sociality, as well as naturally given or divinely ordained hierarchies. Natural freedom and equality are antithetical to the notion of divinely ordained religious hierarchy in the church or a natural hierarchy in the family or claims that those who are more wise and virtuous have some legitimate title to rule over those who are less wise and virtuous. Since these notions are inherent in Catholic teachings, a Catholic doctrine of human rights cannot begin from the assumption of an autonomous self in a state of nature or an original position. The rights must be derivative from duties, hierarchies, and prior human goods, which raises the question if they are still rights at all, rather than conditional grants from a higher authority to use one's freedom for specified ends and goods.

These objections to Christian theories of human rights are weighty objections. They make one wonder how Catholics today can embrace human rights so readily and incorporate them into Catholic social teaching; they also make one doubt if Catholic natural law has had, all along, an implicit or embryonic idea of natural rights that gradually came to be recognized in the modern age. What is the basis of these claims?

The answer, I think, is the development within Catholicism of a new anthropological doctrine-"the dignity of the human person"-that has enabled Catholics to claim that it has a conception of the person that includes the possession of human rights. The philosophical and theological label for this doctrine is "personalism," the most influential movement in Catholic thought over the last century and the main reason why human rights are now a central feature of Catholic social teaching.  
Let me note that much of what Dr. Kraynak wrote above also arguably applies to traditional forms of orthodox Protestant Christianity, as he intimated. Kraynak would go on to detail these claims in his book, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy. I first became familiar with Kraynak's claims when I read the work of orthodox Protestant Dr. Gregg Frazer which further details why orthodox Christians generally (whether Protestant OR Catholic) ought to view these issues similarly.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part V

Parts IIIIII, and IVThe original article. On to Part V:
In summary, the American political tradition arose from several elements mixed together over three or four centuries-Puritanism, English common law, classical republicanism, gentleman statesmanship, God-given natural rights, and the Madisonian constitutional republic. In large measure, the history of the American way of life consists in the playing out of these various traditions, with one or another predominating at different periods.

Over the long term, however, the natural rights principles of the Declaration of Independence have become the dominant tradition. Whether that predominance is for good or for ill is a matter of heated debate. While some scholars like Michael Zuckert and Thomas West think that it is a moral triumph, and others think it creates moral problems (I include· myself in this latter group), one cannot deny the correctness of Zuckert's historical analysis demonstrating the dominance of natural rights over the other traditions, creating a hegemonic Natural Rights Republic. Zuckert's proof is simple, but powerful: All of the other traditions have absorbed natural rights principles (often unaware) and have been transformed and overpowered by them. 
For example, the Puritans of colonial America, who began as staunch theocrats led by "visible Saints," gradually incorporated natural rights-social contract language and principles into their political theology. By 1744, a minister such as Elisha Williams could write a lengthy pamphlet on "The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants" in which he simply equates the Protestant idea of sola scriptura with Locke's right of conscience, affirming "a Christian's natural and unalienable right of private judgment in matters of religion." In similar fashion, William Blackstone's new codification of the English common law in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, which appeared in four volumes from 1765 and 1769, incorporated Lockean ideas into a common law framework. Blackstone defended traditional powers of king-in-parliament (the sovereign legislative power) and the protection of the "absolute rights" of individuals. Following along the same lines, the American founding fathers, who were quasi-aristocratic gentlemen politicians in their personal lives, dedicated themselves to regime principles based on natural rights and republicanism, rather than on aristocratic exclusivity ("the aristocrat as democrat" is how the American historian Richard Hofstadter describes Thomas Jefferson, with both accuracy and irony). Similarly, the opponents of the U.S. Constitution, the anti-Federalists, used the rhetoric of classical republicanism to state their case, appealing to the small, virtuous, participatory republics of the ancient world against the idea of the large, more centralized republic of the Federalists. Yet, the anti-Federalists finally settled on the promise of a Bill of Rights attached to the Constitution as the price of their support, indicating that their highest priority was the protection of rights. 
One may therefore conclude that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution together ·produced the natural rights republic; and this combination of ideas has predominated over the other strands of the American political tradition (although the Lockean conception of natural rights was transformed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by statesmen such as Abraham Lincoln and by modern, mainly German, philosophy into the neo-Kantian human rights of present-day America).  
Note above that Dr. Kraynak told us he and others think that America's natural rights republic "creates moral problems." One of the most notable "others" includes Professor Patrick Deneen who has a new book out that touches the matter entitled, "Why Liberalism Failed." The book caught the attention of President Obama who said, "I don't agree with most of the author's conclusions, but the book offers cogent insights into the loss of meaning and community that many in the West feel, issues that liberal democracies ignore at their own peril." Likewise I don't fully share Dr. Deneen's worldview or prescriptions, but agree the book contains valuable insights.

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part IV

Parts I, II, and III. The original article. On to Part IV:
A fourth source of the American political tradition is the classical republican tradition-the inheritance of Greece and Rome. ... [T]here were considerable rhetorical appeals to classical themes, especially to comparisons between the ancient Roman republic and the modern American republic. For example, the founders spoke repeatedly of republican virtue and classical moral virtues; George Washington was depicted in the image of Cinncinatus (the Roman farmer-general who served his country in war and returned to his farm); the anti-Federalists appealed to the small republic model for their idea of liberty and referred to themselves as Brutus and Cato; the authors of The Federalist called themselves Publius (after Publius Publicola, a Roman freedom fighter who helped to overthrow kingship and establish the Roman republic); and the architectural style of Washington, D.C. was modeled on classical Rome, with Capitol Hill named after Capitoline Hill and the Supreme Court building modeled on a pagan temple.  
[O]ne must also recognize the fundamental difference between ancient and modern republicanism-the Roman republic was governed by a Senate made up of a hereditary aristocracy of patricians or "enrolled fathers" whose primary occupations were politics, war, and imperial conquest. The American republic drew its authority from the sovereign people and was intended to be a commercial republic rather than a military republic. The contrast with ancient Rome becomes even clearer when the fifth and sixth elements of the American tradition are described.   
The fifth element is the natural rights-social contract theory, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence as well as in other writings before and after the American Revolution. The basic idea of natural rights is that all men are created equal in the sense of being endowed by the Creator with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are natural and inalienable because they were put into human nature by God ("Nature's God") and cannot be taken away by other men or by states. Governments exist to secure those rights, and they do this best when they are based on the consent of the people. Revolution is justified when natural rights are violated by a series of abuses or when the consent of the governed is thwarted by serious usurpations of power. This is essentially Lockean social contract theory, and some of the language in the second paragraph of the Declaration referring to "a long train of abuses" is directly copied from chapter nineteen of john Locke's Second Treatise of Government, "Of the Dissolution of Government." 
The reliance on Locke, of course, does not mean that the Declaration is exclusively Lockean. As Walter Nicgorski points out, there are nonLockean features in the Declaration drawn from the classical and Christian traditions. Jefferson himself referred to a mixture of elements when he described the document as "an expression of the American mind" drawn from common ideas of the time as well as from "the elementary books of public right [by] Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc." (Letter of Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825). This mixture can be seen in the three main sections of the Declaration: I, The statement of general principles, based on the law of nature aad nature's God; II, The statement of 27 grievances against the King and British Parliament; and III, The proclamation of freedom and independence from Great Britain.  
In the famous first section, Locke's influence predominates in the general principles of God-given natural rights, government by consent, and the right to revolution that I summarized above. Some scholars have also detected the influence of Emer de Vattel's The Law of Nations in the opening lines, where the principles are applied to relations among nations ("when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another ... "). The suggestion is that the Declaration is primarily a document of international law, asserting the corporate right of one people or nation to self-determination like the other peoples and nations of the world. This insight, of course, does not negate the Lockean features of the document; it merely qualifies them by bringing out the concern for national self-determination or corporate self-government in addition to individual rights.  
Locke's influence is also qualified in the central section of the Declaration where the grievances against the King and British Parliament are listed to justify the Revolution. ... Many of these grievances (as noted above) were based on the traditional rights and privileges of Englishmen derived from English common law, although many also overlap with Locke's list of legitimate grievances against tyrannical government found in chapter nineteen of The Second Treatise of Government .... The list of grievances in the Declaration thus appears to be a blend of Lockean and English common law principles.  
The third and last section of the Declaration insists on the necessity of the colonies to become free and independent states-to be selfgoverning peoples who legislate for themselves-despite the ties of kinship and blood ("consanguinity") between American colonists and Englishmen. This section of the Declaration ends with appeals to divine Providence and with pledges of honor to aid in the success of their revolutionary cause. Like other parts of the document, these sentiments also seem to be a blend of the English heritage, the Christian notion of a providential God, the gentlemen's code of honor, and classical republican ideas of patriotic duty to participate in politics and even to sacrifice one's life for one's country. The Declaration is thus a subtle and complex weaving of the Lockean and non-Lockean elements in the American political tradition.  
The main omission in the Declaration of Independence is any reference to the new form of government that the Americans should adopt-the assumption being that it is a matter left open for deliberation and trial and error after the Revolution. As we know, this decision was settled a decade later when Americans adopted the U.S. Constitution and became a Federal Republic or a "natural rights republic" (to use Michael Zuckert's apt phrase). As James Madison argued, the social basis of the American republic would be a multiplicity of interest groups arising in a large or extensive commercial society in which property rights would be protected from an overbearing majority. Madison also argued that the protections for liberty and the common good could not be based on the assumption that "enlightened statesmen will always be at the helm." While recognizing the need for virtue and patriotism, he specifically said that the surest protection for liberty would be a set of checks and balances that divided the powers of government into many competing centers. The separation of powers and a multiplicity of economic interest groups would thus be the main features of Madisonian constitutionalism, rather than reliance on the wisdom and patriotism of leaders and citizens.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part III

I Six Sources of the American Political Tradition 
[...] 
One important source is Protestant Christianity, ... The political creed of the American Puritans ... was "covenantal theology"-a sort of Old Testament Christianity that saw the American Puritans as New Israelites whom God had chosen to build a godly nation in this new land that would be "a city upon a hill" or a New Jerusalem. Their polity was a theocracy governed by a spiritual elite of "visible Saints" who were bound by a covenant with God to implement His divine law and by a covenant with the people to respect their consent. Other dissenting Protestants, such as Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites, were not tolerated by the Puritans, but the dissenting sects have outlived the Puritans in later centuries because they have been less theocratic than the Puritans and more willing to accept religious liberty. Though the old Puritans are gone, a pale reflection of their original covenantal theology remains today in the vision of a divinely chosen Christian America among certain Protestants of the Christian Coalition (but rarely among Catholics, for whom America has never been a chosen land or New Jerusalem in the Biblical sense). Protestant Christianity has profoundly shaped American political culture, providing the inspiration for many social movements (including intense antiCatholicism at times), and continues today in various diluted and embattled forms. 
This is the kernel of truth in the "Christian America" thesis. However, orthodox Protestant scholars have rejected this thesis in part because it's bad theology. We continue:
A second source of the American political tradition is English common law. Unlike natural law or constitutional law, common law is loosely codified customary law-a compendium of practices, statutes, and judicial decisions that together make up the historic rights and privileges of Englishmen. ... 
... In a recent book, The Theme is Freedom: Religion, Politics, andthe American Tradition, M. Stanton Evans argues that notions of freedom and consent in America owe more to common law and feudal contracts than to Enlightenment theories of individual rights. James R. Stoner also notes the influence of common law on America's "unwritten constitutionalism." Stoner argues that the long list of grievances in the central part of the Declaration of Independence (largely unread today) were taken from traditional English common law principles, such as trial by jury, opposition to the quartering of troops without consent, and opposition to taxation without consent. Robert L. Clinton also argues in God and Man in the Law that many provisions of the U. S. Constitution were specifically taken from English common law (a traditional, particularistic claim) and to the natural rights of all mankind (a rational, universalistic claim) in justifying their actions.

A third element of the American political tradition is also part of the English heritage, namely, an aristocratic notion of gentleman statesmanship. Some of the great Puritan leaders, such as John Winthrop, were gentleman rulers who appealed to social hierarchy as well as to covenant theology for their authority. Many leaders of the American Revolution, as well as many framers of the U. S. Constitution, were members of Virginia and Massachusetts dynasties of political families and social elites. Though not possessing hereditary titles or noble birth in the feudal sense, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and others were not simply men of the people, either. They were gentlemen politicians-members of the social aristocracy (some possessing landed estates) who constituted an educated and cultivated elite enjoying the leisure to devote their lives to politics, manners, war, and scholarship.  
The reference to "sacred honor" at the end of the Declaration of Independence is undoubtedly a reflection of the gentlemen's code of honor-a pledge to dedicate their lives, fortunes, and honor to the cause of the Revolution. ... For the first generation of the American republic, they stood as a quasi-aristocratic counterweight to the democratic revolution that they fostered; and even those among them who were completely selfmade men, such as Benjamin Franklin, were molded by the manners of courts and aspired to some of the social distinctions of gentlemen. They were (somewhat inconsistently) gentlemen politicians dedicated to republican government. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Robert Kraynak: "Catholicism and the Declaration ..." Part II

After discussing the sources of the American political tradition, I will turn to the Catholic "connection" and suggest that the contribution of Catholicism to any of the sources has been minimal, and the Declaration of Independence in particular betrays no direct Catholic influence. Yet, Catholicism shares the Declaration's affirmation of natural law, which means, ironically, that Catholicism is closer to the Declaration than Protestantism (which has generally rejected natural law theory). Thus, Catholicism and Americanism have natural law in common, as John Courtney Murray pointed out. But Catholic natural law is traditionally derived from St. Thomas Aquinas who has a different version of natural law than the Declaration of Independence and John Locke. The Thomistic-Catholic version of natural law emphasizes the perfection of the rational creature through virtue and favors constitutional monarchy, while the LockeanAmerican version emphasizes inalienable natural rights and favors constitutional democracy or republicanism.  
The new twist in the relation is the incorporation of natural rights into the Catholic natural law teaching over the last century. This development has been accompanied by the scholarly claim that natural rights actually began in the Middle Ages and were a discovery of Catholicism rather than of the Enlightenment. If this is so, then Catholicism anticipated natural rights and may now be seen as compatible with the Declaration, even though it did not contribute historically to the Declaration and was often hostile to the rights of man in the eighteenth century. According to this revisionist view, Catholicism provides the authentic grounding of the natural rights principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and may further imply, as John Courtney Murray was wont to argue, that only Catholic natural law could save America. 
In judging these various claims, I will argue that the Catholic revisionists of the twentieth century have exaggerated the similarities between Catholicism and the Anglo-American natural rights tradition: Catholic natural law is not primarily about natural rights and government by consent of the people; but about the natural ends of man as a rational creature and the use of prudence to apply these ends to politics. The prudent application of natural law, however, does not automatically point to democracy and natural rights as the best regime, because the natural ends of man are often best realized in a mixed regime that includes hierarchical or undemocratic elements. From this perspective, constitutional monarchy is the first choice and constitutional democracy a second choice. 
The conclusion I shall draw is that Catholics can endorse the American version of natural law expressed in the Declaration of Independence as a partial version of Thomistic natural law. They can also embrace the American constitutional order as a decent second choice compared to more hierarchical regimes and support it with a high degree of loyalty and patriotism. But prudence also counsels Catholics to be wary of the abstract rights flowing from the Declaration of Independence (especially the sweeping right to pursue happiness as one sees fit) and to nurture instead those strands of the American political tradition outside of natural rights principles which direct citizens to a notion of "ordered liberty" that contains the whole truth about God and man.  
Yes it's true that Protestantism has generally rejected the natural law. But not all orthodox Protestants, indeed, not all notable orthodox Protestants have been "fideists" like Francis Schaeffer was. See this article by J. Daryl Charles on reformed natural law.

Robert Kraynak: "CATHOLICISM AND THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: AN AMERICAN DILEMMA ABOUT NATURAL RIGHTS"

I found this nifty 30 page article here, by Robert P. Kraynak. There is a lot to it. I think I am going to reproduce small portions in several posts with commentary.

A taste:
Roman Catholics have never been entirely "at home" in America. As we know from history, the first settlers were mainly Protestant Reformers and restless adventurers, along with a few Jesuit missionaries from neighboring colonies. The American Founding Fathers were mostly Protestant by background and often Deists or Masons by conviction; and the only truly American religion is probably Mormonism. The Catholic immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century from Ireland, Germany, and Italy often faced intense antiCatholicism and took several generations to become mainstream Americans; and they frequently paid the price of admission by diluting their faith and practice. Pope Leo XIII even referred to "Americanism" in a public letter of 1899 (Testem Benevolentiae) as the heretical tendency to trim the faith to fit modern culture .... 
Some ... imply[] that the relation of Catholicism and Americanism is essentially a marriage of convenience or at best a prudent alliance between a medieval, hierarchical church and a modern, democratic, capitalistic society. Others argue that an inner affinity or principled harmony can be found, even if it was not always recognized by past generations. The case for finding a principled harmony between Catholicism and Americanism has been strengthened by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which specifically endorsed religious liberty, constitutional democracy, and a qualified version of human rights for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church. ...  
In this paper, I will try to untangle the relation by sorting out areas of agreement and disagreement. I will begin by describing six sources from which the American political tradition is derived-namely, Protestant Christianity, English common law, classical republicanism, the natural rights theory of the Declaration of Independence (drawn mostly from john Locke), the ideal of gentleman statesmanship, and James Madison's modern republicanism. I will then argue that, of the six sources, the natural rights theory of the Declaration has become the predominant one, transforming and incorporating the others so that we now measure political legitimacy by the protection and expansion of natural rights.
Yes, Dr. Kraynak, like others, seems to endorse the amalgam theory. Though he breaks down the different ideologies into six sources.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Arnhart, Zuckert & West on the Ideological Makeup of the American Founding

Thomas West has a new book out on the ideological makeup of the American Founding. The issue has been tackled before by many scholars, including Michael Zuckert whom West challenges. This is Dr. West's new book. Larry Arnhart discusses the book in among other posts here.

This is from Arnhart:
Thomas West recognizes that his account of the American founding as based on the theory of natural rights resembles Michael Zuckert's interpretation of the founding as establishing a "natural rights republic" (Zuckert 1996).  And yet West insists that he rejects Zuckert's "amalgam thesis"--the idea that while the theory of natural rights is the primary element in the political thought of the founding, the tradition of natural rights thinking is combined with other traditions--such as civic republicanism, Protestant Christianity, British constitutionalism, and perhaps others--that are in tension with the tradition of natural rights.   
In recent decades, West observes, this idea of the political thought of the founding as mixture of different and sometimes conflicting intellectual traditions has become the predominant scholarly consensus, which Zuckert shares with scholars like William Galston, Thomas Pangle, and Paul Rahe.  But West complains that this makes the founders appear to be confused or incoherent in their thinking.  Against this, he proposes to explain the natural rights theory of the founders as a theoretically coherent understanding of politics without any tension or contradictions.
This is an original quote from Zuckert:
". . . what made America was the way these four elements--Old Whig constitutionalism, political religion, republicanism, and the natural rights philosophy--come together.  The amalgamation that occurred in America was unique in the world, and led America to a unique path of political development and to a particularly tense existence as these four different and, in some dimensions, incompatible elements fell in and out of harmony with each other.  In that amalgam, however, the four elements did not all enjoy an equal status; the natural rights philosophy remains America's deepest and so far most abiding commitment, and the others could enter the amalgam only so far as they were compatible, or could be made so, with natural rights.  The truly remarkable thing is the demonstrated capacity of the natural rights philosophy to assimilate the other three and hold them all together in a coherent if not always easily subsisting whole" (Zuckert 1996, 95). 
I'm sympathetic to Zuckert's thesis. Though from what I am familiar with about his work, he may, as per custom for East Coast Straussians, overstate the "esoteric Locke" thesis.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Mark Deforrest, RIP

I was shocked and saddened to hear former American Creation blogger Mark Deforrest passed away, way too soon for this world. We had an online friendship, both through social media and email. We had a lot of interests in common (notably, the content of our blogging; he blogged at The New Reform Club too); we didn't always see eye to eye; but he was always gracious with his time and interest in engaging me and others in lively discussions.

A devout Catholic with an unshakable faith, he was the kind of man who would want you to pray for his family at this time (and, in the Catholic tradition, for him too, for any imperfections he needed purged before he could experience the beatific vision).

He will be missed by many.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Samuel Langdon & the Revolutionary Zeitgeist

Samuel Langdon was probably the most notable 18th Century American preacher who taught the ancient Hebrews had a "republic." You can tell by the title of his sermon -- The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States -- what he was getting at. He sent the sermon to George Washington who replied with a thanks. Langdon's 1789 letter, where he notes the enclosed aforementioned sermon, does a number of other interesting things:

1. It praises Washington as Christian in the context of crediting Providence for the American victory. Washington's response is devoid of explicitly Christian language, though it days say:
The man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf.... 
2. It harshly criticizes one General Lee (Richard Henry Lee?).
As soon as I was honored with an acquaintance with you at Cambridge, upon your arrival at my house with your Suite, I was ready to look up to heaven, & say, “Blessed be God; who hath given us a General who will not rashly throw away the lives of his Soldiers, or hazard the fate of his Country unnecessarily upon a single Battle, but will proceed with all wisdom & caution”! I plainly saw, even the very first day, that General Lee was disappointed, & affected to turn the eyes of the army upon himself. But how happy was it for the country, that a man void of all principles, both religious & moral, notwithstanding all his military accomplishments, was not entrusted with the chief command.
3. Lastly, it invokes prophecy:
But I view what God hath done, not as if he had a partial regard for us, Who, like Israel, have shewed ourselves an unworthy people, by growing more regardless of his gospel in the enjoyment of the multitude of his mercies; but as tending to bring forward some grand revolutions in the civil & ecclesiastical polity of the nations, agreable to the Prophecies of the new Testament, which now approach to their fulfilment.
Like his fellow orthodox colleague Ezra Stiles, Langdon was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution. And like the heterodox unitarians Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, Langdon apparently prophesized that the success of the French Revolution would usher in some kind of global republican reforms in matters of religion and politics.

Langdon again wrote to Washington in 1791; though I don't think Washington responded to this letter (if he did, I couldn't find it). Langdon wrote:
If I have proved from that divine prophecy that we live in the very times precisely marked out for the beginning of surprizing Revolutions in the world, it may serve greatly to confirm the truth of the holy Scriptures; & the honours which divine Providence has conferred on you will afford double satisfaction.
Langdon noted he enclosed another sermon which articulated his argument. It was probably the one entitled "Observations on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John. Which Comprehend the Most Approved Sentiments of the Celebrated Mr. Mede, Mr. Lowman, Bishop Newton, and Other Noted Writers on This Book; and Cast Much Additional Light on the More Obscure Prophesies; Especially Those Which Point Out the Time of the Rise and Fall of Antichrist . . ." You can find large parts of it online from the embedded search.

This link in particular has generous portions. The zeitgeist about which I write and find fascinating demonstrates how Protestantism and Enlightenment categories (like the "deism" that is arguably inconsistent with Christianity) have blurred lines, hence the categorization of this spirit as some kind of hybrid of Protestantism and Enlightenment, Christianity and Deism.

Men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin and ministers like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price took cover under the umbrella of "Protestant Christianity" while keeping their guard up against the "orthodox" who would deny them the "Christian" label. One area that drew together both wings of Protestantism was anti-Catholicism.

We see that evident in Langdon's sermon. 1. anti-Catholicism; in the context of 2. enthusiastic support for the French Revolution; and 3. a prophesying on the success of the FR where we would both see the taking down of the Catholic Church and a consequent universal establishment of republican politics and religion. (Paragraphs added by me for clarity.)
"The capital of the empire of Antichrist is repeatedly called Babylon in the Revelation. The name is figurative and mystical; Rome is the city really meant. * * * We are plainly informed in the 17th chapter what kings are to be employed in destroying the great harlot, the city and church of Rome; the very kings who at first agreed in one creed and gave their power to the beast. These kings will at length entirely change their minds and become the most zealous enemies to that ecclesiastical empire which they themselves had established. They will find out that Rome has caused insurrections against them and fomented rebellions and seditions; and that the religion they have promoted has drained away their wealth, encouraged and multiplied drones in society and impoverished and diminished their subjects. 
In the execution of vengeance, the river of wealth, which was continually flowing through Rome and the church, will be dried up. Vast revenues which the Popes formerly received have been greatly diminished bv the Protestant Reformation. Moreover, when the church of Rome is no longer mixed with the civil polity of the kingdoms, her sources of strength as well as wealth will be cut off and the way prepared for her utter ruin. Likewise, the dissolution of the numerous orders of ecclesiastics in the several kingdoms, which have been the gates and bars of Rome, will leave her exposed to a sudden assault which may at once bring down all her power. Of this we have already seen some approaches in the total suppression of the order of Jesuits and the methods taken in several Roman Catholic kingdoms for the abolition of convents. 
The banishment of the Jesuits, * * * with the suppression of convents, may naturally be considered among the things signified by the Sixth Vial. * * * The bishops of Rome had obtained a grant of supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction over all the western churches, A. D. 379, and immediately began to exercise it. Of this jurisdiction the illustrious Sir Isaac Newton has produced abundant proof in his observations on the power of the eleventh horn of Daniel's fourth beast."
Langdon also said:
The world is roused to a sense of civil and religious liberty by the spirit of America. France is searching the foundations of despotism and establishing on its ruins the freedom of a great nation; and God has given them a king; to be the restorer of liberty, and a second Washington to command their national troops. May we not look for events more and more remarkable until all the nations of Europe shake off the yoke of ecclesiastical tyranny and assert the rights of nations and of conscience?
The above, again, was written in 1791.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

First Things: "GODLY POLITICS"

By Curt Biren here. A taste:
Citing Midrash Rabbah - Devarim, John Milton argued against monarchy and for republican government. Milton insisted that “God did not order the Israelites to ask for a king … but ‘God was angry not only because they wanted a king in imitation of the gentiles … but clearly because they desired a king at all.’” 
Milton’s views resonated with many of his contemporaries, including the English politician Algernon Sidney. For Sidney, monarchy “was purely the people’s creature, the production of their own fancy, conceived in wickedness, and brought forth in iniquity, an idol set up by themselves to their own destruction, in imitation of their accursed neighbours.” 
In 1776, during the momentous debates leading up to the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense. Influenced by Milton, Paine argued against monarchy and for republican government. Referring to 1 Samuel, Paine wrote, “These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty has here entered his protest against monarchical government is true, or the scripture is false.” 
This history tells a story very different from the conventional Enlightenment account. The political institutions of America and throughout the West today reflect at least in part the Christian Hebraists’ careful study of the Bible and related texts and commentaries. Our republican form of government was not conceived in strict separation from religious discourse, but rather as part of an extensive deliberation concerning what godly politics requires of us.
As I noted in the comments,  one question to consider is whether this is sound theology. It doesn't seem apparent that the Bible as a whole condemns monarchy; likewise it doesn't seem, either, that the ancient Hebrews understood themselves as having a "republic" (which was an Ancient Greco-Roman institution).

The contemporary scholars the original piece sources (Eric Nelson and Yoram Hazony) admit that Christians didn't "see it" in the biblical texts until certain rabbinic commentaries were discovered. And then the usage of this understanding by 17th Century European republicans -- and then Thomas Paine in the 18th Century -- seemed entirely opportunistic.


Likewise, as it pertains to America, the line of thought mentioned above was no doubt influential; but it was of a number of different strains of influence others of which perhaps didn't view the concept of "republicanism" as an authentically Hebraic thing. 
Did "Publius" in the Federalist Papers have this understanding? Not from what I remember.

Further, I note Eric Nelson stresses that key to the thought of the Hebraic republicans was economic redistribution through a revised understanding of Agrarian laws that in principle limited how much wealth individuals could own and redistributed for the sake of balance. Just as the notion that the ancient Hebrews had a "republic" was part of a revised understanding of the Old Testament, so too was the notion that the Old Testament's redistribution of land constitute a type of "Agrarian law."

As I understand it, both the concepts of "republican" forms of government AND "agrarian laws" derive solely from the pagan Greco-Roman tradition and that such concepts were "read in" to the Old Testament. I could be wrong in my humble understanding. But, according to Dr. Nelson's research, the two rise and fall together: all of the notable 17th and 18th century figures who argued the ancient Hebrews had a "republic" also argued that God instituted an original agrarian law in the Old Testament. And that BOTH the ancient Hebrew's "republic" and "agrarian law" models could provide instruction for the then present in Europe and later in America.

Finally, I note that the more liberal republicans who didn't rely on the notion that the ancient Hebrews had a republic also didn't seem to buy into the present need for Agrarian laws. James Madison is instructive here. He was more classically liberal than republican. His views on property left no room for Agrarian laws. And he, as far as I know, like the other two authors of the Federalist Papers never indicated he thought the ancient Hebrews had a "republic." 

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Ezra Stiles to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794

I finally came across the entire letter from Ezra Stiles (President of Yale, 1778–1795) to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794. You can access that and another letter here. (I can access it through my institution.) You may be able to see a portion of the letter in Edmund Morgan's book that terms Stiles "A Gentle Puritan."

Stiles ironically doesn't come off so gentle in that letter. There Stiles, fervently supporting both, connects the American Revolution to the French Revolution and called for MORE use of the guillotine.

Stiles is interesting in that he was, as far as I can tell, a traditional orthodox Trinitarian Christian. The narrative with which we are familiar posits that it was enlightenment deists and unitarians -- many of whom understood themselves to be "Christians" as well (indeed, many of them ministers!) -- who posited the more cutting edge, controversial notions of the time.

With Stiles, though, it looks like we have a notable orthodox Trinitarian Christian who was like minded with Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, etc. I don't think he was alone in this regard (Samuel Miller of Princeton, for instance).

It's no wonder that Ben Franklin trusted Stiles with his religious secrets.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Birzer: "Thomas Jefferson is America and America is Thomas Jefferson"

By BRADLEY J. BIRZER, writing in The American Conservative here. I'm going to give a taste of what I think is the most controversial part of the essay:
Chinard argued forcefully that when it came to the Declaration as well as to the laws of Virginia, Jefferson understood what would and would not work in America. “No greater mistake could be made than to look for his sources in Locke, Montesquieu, or Rousseau,” Chinard argued, most certainly exaggerating to make a point. “The Jeffersonian democracy was born under the sign of Hengist and Horsa, not of the Goddess Reason.” As proof of this, Chinard—himself, it should be remembered, of French birth and stock—drew upon John Adams’ description of Jefferson’s proposed seal of the United States in 1776. “Mr. Jefferson proposed, the children of Israel in the wilderness led by a cloud by day, and a pillar by night—and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.” Even if you’re an extremely intelligent reader—and, after all, you wouldn’t be here at The American Conservative if you weren’t—you might be scratching your head as you read this. Newton and Locke, certainly. You know them well. But Hengist and Horsa? Who on God’s green earth are these two? Unless you spend your time reading early Medieval Celtic or Anglo-Saxon poetry—such as Beowulf—or modern British fantasy by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Hengist and Horsa probably mean almost or even less than nothing. The two Saxon chiefs reside more accurately in myth than they do in history, at least as professional historians understand the term. 
For Jefferson, though, Hengist and Horsa represented the great republican tradition of the Germanic tribes sitting under the oak trees, deciding what was common law and what was not, speaking as representatives of their people in the Witan, and living as free men, bound to no emperor. To the American founding generation, Hengist and Horsa were as real as Cincinnatus, the Roman republican who threw down the sword, refused a permanent dictatorship of the city, and walked into the country to spend his life as a farmer. In the long scheme of things, the accuracy of the founders’ understanding of history matters little. They believed in Cincinnatus, Hengist, and Horsa, and they acted accordingly.
Many scholars, including myself, see the American Founding as a synthesis of competing ideologies. Jefferson for instance, self consciously tried to take "the best" from the different groups in forming his vision. (In the context of religion, he called it Apriarianism, where he analogized himself to a bee taking the "honey" from every sect.)

This could be seen as a larger project of Western civilization itself which has different ideologies in its makeup, some religious, some secular, some pagan. We have often heard about the "twin" foundings of Western Civilization: Athens and Jerusalem.

"Athens" is the noble pagan source. But it also has another pagan source whose nobility is more questionable than Athens': The Anglo Saxon. Remember, Thursday is Thor's Day.

The Norse gods, like the Greek's certainly have nobility embedded in their tales, along with some ignobility. But Anglo-Saxon paganism lacks one major thing that Greco-Romanism has that arguably is responsible for most of the latter's nobility: Philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, the Roman Stoics, etc.

In fact, my friend Wayne Dynes believes the Hengist and Horsa represent white ethnonationalism, something  many of us consider to be quite ignoble.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Chronicles on Patrick Deneen's New Book on Liberalism

Allan Carson authors a review on Patrick Deneen's new book on liberalism. Check it out here. A taste:
Most surprising, perhaps, is the author’s discussion of the original Constitution of the United States. The great majority of contemporary American conservatives admire or even worship this document; subsequent troubles are blamed on later innovations like judicial review or the 14th Amendment. Deneen is a contemporary Antifederalist, on steroids. He describes the Constitution of 1787 as an almost pure expression of liberal ideology, “the embodiment of a set of principles that sought to overturn ancient teachings and shape a distinctly different modern human.” He mobilizes quotations from The Federalist that demonstrate James Madison’s and Alexander Hamilton’s desire for a strong centralized government with “an indefinite power” that would weaken the states and localities, exploit natural resources, and deny democracy in favor of new economic and administrative elites. Particularly disturbing to the standard conservative narrative of our time is Deneen’s near equation of the Founders with the Progressives of the early 20th century:
[T]he Progressives were as much heirs as the Founders to the modern project of seeing politics as the means of mastering nature, expanding national power, and liberating the individual from interpersonal bonds and obligations.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jonah Goldberg on the Metaphysics of Liberal Democracy

That is small l "liberal," small d "democracy." Check it out here. A taste:
Let’s begin with some somewhat unusual assertions for these pages. Capitalism is unnatural. Democracy is unnatural. Human rights are unnatural. God didn’t give us these things, or anything else. We stumbled into modernity accidentally, not by any divine plan.  
When the Founders said “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, . . .” they cheated. It is not self-evident that our Creator endowed humans with unalienable rights. Something self-evident is, by definition, obvious, needing no demonstration. The existence of gravity is obvious. It is self-evident that fire burns. Yet it’s hardly obvious to everyone there’s even a Creator.  
And that brings me to another assertion: There is no God, at least not in this argument. I assert this not because I’m an atheist (I’m not), but because I don’t want God’s help for my case. “Because God says so” is the greatest appeal to authority, and the appeal to authority is a classic logical fallacy, effective only for those who are pre-committed to that authority. You can’t persuade an atheist that God’s on your side any more than you can persuade a Christian you’re right because Baal says so.  
Yet today’s political culture increasingly rejects persuasion, recognized as far back as Aristotle as the essence of politics. Everything noble about the Enlightenment assumes the possibility of persuasion, through reason, evidence, and argument. Our political system was designed to be deliberative. Deliberation is a waste of time if minds cannot be changed. But today, partisans left and right value purity and passion over persuasion. Opponents aren’t potential converts; they’re an abstract and unredeemable them, and their tears, we’re told, are delicious.  
William F. Buckley Jr. founded National Review to match the Left’s best arguments head-on with the Right’s best arguments. We didn’t win every battle (and some battles we didn’t deserve to win), but conservatism’s strength and success derived from a fearless desire to argue the merits. National Review has stayed loyal to that mission, but much of the conservative movement it helped create has resorted to assertion over argument, invective over reason. I want my argument to persuade those who don’t already agree with me — on the left and, increasingly, on the right.
This reminds me of a premise in Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History ...," shared by East Coast Straussians (and I would argue Leo Strauss, himself): Liberal democracy is laudable. But it's not because the Bible says so; it doesn't. Even though the Declaration of Independence is a theistic document, it is not a biblical one. The "unalienable rights" in the DOI are anchored to God to make them non-negotiable; but such are, as the doctrine goes, discovered by reason, not revealed directly by God and recorded in a holy book. A generic monotheistic God, though, seems to exist as a necessary given part of the equation.

But what then when philosophers discover that these supposed "essences" don't actually exist in nature, discovered by reason. (And that the generic monotheistic God of the DOI likewise doesn't necessarily exist.) Then we need some kind of alternative understanding for why we prefer the teachings of liberal democracy. Hence Goldberg's; hence Fukuyama's.

Gregg Frazer Reviews Daniel Dreisbach's Book on the Bible and the American Founding

I think I missed this from last year. The above title says it all. A taste:
In the “Introduction” and the “Afterword,” Dreisbach establishes some important caveats. First, the founding generation “drew on multiple sources” of influence, and the Bible didn’t necessarily supersede the rest. Second, a founder’s use of the Bible “does not indicate whether he or she was a Christian or a skeptic,” as both used the Bible for their own purposes. Third, a claim of biblical influence “does not suggest that the founders were theocrats intent on imposing a biblical order.” Fourth, the “mere fact that the founding generation frequently quoted from and alluded to the Bible reveals little about the American founding or the Bible’s influence on late 18th-century political thought, except that the Bible was a familiar and useful literary source.” 
In light of these cautionary notes, Dreisbach warns against a “mere quantitative accounting of biblical references” and emphasizes the need to “be attentive to the purposes for which biblical texts were invoked,” the historical context of their use, the biblical context of passages, and the proper interpretation of verses (6–8). All of these are valuable and crucial insights to remember when reading this book or one like it. 
[...] 
Dreisbach allots about three general paragraphs to the “conventional” (i.e., literal, direct) interpretation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2—passages that “on their face” disallow resistance to authority and had been generally understood that way for more than 1,500 years. On the other hand, he devotes an entire chapter to a creative interpretation favored by the American patriots and its historical—largely nonbiblical—genesis. Indeed, there’s scarcely a word from the Bible for 20 pages (116–135), but there’s a lot of history and political theory. Dreisbach calls this interpretation—one that relies heavily on adding words and ideas to Romans 13—a “nuanced” interpretation, and commends the work of one of its creators for its “refreshing acquaintance with political thought in the Scripture” and presentation of a “cogent” theory (124). This would be understandable in a generic study of the political thought of the founding generation, but it’s problematic in a study that specifically expresses concern for biblical context and proper interpretation of Scripture. 
Dreisbach obviously had to explain the interpretation of passages used to promote the American Revolution, but a truly biblical analysis of this issue would seem to require addressing the problems and inconsistencies inherent in rejecting the literal, direct interpretation in its historical and biblical context.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Yoram Hazony: The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Yoram Hazony writes an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal that takes on recent paeans to the Enlightenment by David Brooks and Steven Pinker. A taste:
... And now there’s Steven Pinker’s impressive new book, “Enlightenment Now,” which may be the definitive statement of the neo-Enlightenment movement that is fighting the tide of nationalist thinking in America, Britain and beyond. 
Do we all crave enlightenment? I don’t. I like and respect Mr. Pinker, Mr. Brooks and others in their camp. But Enlightenment philosophy didn’t achieve a fraction of the good they claim, and it has done much harm.
That's Dr. Hazony's thesis. He is a very learned man who makes many apt points. But there is also a great deal of contention in what he asserts and how he categorizes and understands things. I would argue he is, if anything, just as mistaken as what he tries to refute. 

The way Hazony operates is that the good things for which the Enlightenment tries to take credit for is not "Enlightenment," but something else. The bad things ... well that's "Enlightenment," indeed "dark Enlightenment." The problem is much of what he tries to say isn't Enlightenment actually is Enlightenment, just a different kind of Enlightenment. And much of what he sees as "dark Enlightenment" is actually responsible for "good" things that we'd like to claim.

For instance, Hazony writes:
... When I was a graduate student at Rutgers in the 1980s, the introductory course in modern political theory had a section called “Critics of the Enlightenment.” These figures included more conservative thinkers such as David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. They emphasized the unreliability of “abstract reasoning,” which they believed could end up justifying virtually any idea, no matter how disconnected from reality, as long as it sounded self-evidently true to someone.
But Hume, Smith, certainly and even Burke, arguably were part of the "Enlightenment," just a different wing of it.  Google "Scottish Enlightenment" and you will see what I mean. 

Hazony's treatment of Isaac Newton is equally problematic:
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, founded in 1660, was led by such men as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, decisive figures in physics and chemistry. Again, these were politically and religiously conservative figures. They knew the arguments, later associated with the Enlightenment, for overthrowing political, moral and religious tradition, but mostly they rejected them.
While I can't speak to the Royal Society or Boyle, I think it's wrong to categorize Newton as a "politically and religiously conservative figure[]." He was actually some kind of heterodox unitarian Christian of the Arian variety and like his friend John Locke had to be careful with the way in which he publicly articulated his views. Indeed, Newton, even more so than Locke leaves us with a record of private heterodox sentiments that could have gotten him in serious trouble with the then "politically and religiously conservative" figures in Great Britain who could enforce their orthodoxy with teeth provided by the state. 

But John Locke gets categorized by Hazony as one of the "dark" Enlighteners.  For instance:
One such myth was Locke’s claim that the state was founded on a contract among free and equal individuals—a theory the Enlightenment’s critics understood to be both historically false and dangerous. While the theory did relatively little harm in tradition-bound Britain, it led to catastrophe in Europe. Imported into France by Rousseau, it quickly pulled down the monarchy and the state, producing a series of failed constitutions, the Reign of Terror and finally the Napoleonic Wars—all in the name of infallible and universal reason. Millions died as Napoleon’s armies sought to destroy and rebuild every government in Europe in accordance with the one correct political theory allowed by Enlightenment philosophy. ...
The vast majority of scholars who have studied the religious and political positions of both Locke and Newton would agree it makes no sense to categorize them so differently. Either both were "Enlightenment" during the same time and place in Great Britain or neither were. Both were self proclaimed "Christians"; both privately and secretly held heterodox positions; both cautiously articulated novel ideas in politics, science and theology attempting to give a veneer of respectability to the ideas they publicly posited; both were suspected of secret heterodoxy by the orthodox forces of "religious correctness" then in power. 

 America was very influenced by more moderate strains of Enlightenment, those Scottish "common sense" figures that Hazony doesn't want to categorize as Enlightenment. But America was also influenced by what Hazony categorizes as bad or "dark" Enlightenment. 

Just look at what Hazony above wrote about Locke and his "myth was Locke’s claim that the state was founded on a contract among free and equal individuals." Yet this is central to the thought of America's revolution and its Declaration of Independence. 

Notice, I didn't say this is central to the thought of America's Constitution. One could argue, after the East Coast Straussians, that whereas the Declaration is very Lockean, the US Constitution is not. 

Below is what Hazony wants to credit with creating the Constitution:
... The widely circulated 15th-century treatise “In Praise of the Laws of England,” written by the jurist John Fortescue, clearly explains due process and the theory now called “checks and balances.” The English constitution, Fortescue wrote, establishes personal liberty and economic prosperity by shielding the individual and his property from the government. The protections that appear in the U.S. Bill of Rights were mostly set down in the 1600s by those drafting England’s constitutional documents—men such as John Selden, Edward Hyde and Matthew Hale.  
These statesmen and philosophers articulated the principles of modern Anglo-American constitutionalism centuries before the U.S. was created. Yet they were not Enlightenment men. They were religious, English nationalists and political conservatives. They were familiar with the claim that unfettered reason should remake society, but they rejected it in favor of developing a traditional constitution that had proved itself. When Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison initiated a national government for the U.S., they primarily turned to this conservative tradition, adapting it to local conditions.
As noted above, we could argue that US Constitution was not "Lockean," therefore, didn't represent Locke's Enlightenment. I would also concede that 17th Century English constitutionalism was a notable source for the US Constitution ("the Laws of England" or "Common Law" was one of Bernard Bailyn's five principle ideological sources for the American Founding).

But what's interesting is that since Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison are named -- three of whom authored the Federalist Papers explicitly telling us what they thought of the US Constitution -- we might look to their writings and see who they sourced. And I don't think it matches what Hazony attempts to argue.

Indeed Donald Lutz et al. authored a notable study, very often used by Christian Nationalists to show abundant biblical citations in the founding record. But what is often overlooked is that the biblical citations abounded during the revolutionary period, not during the framing of the US Constitution.

This was Lutz's conclusion on the framing of the US Constitution:
The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist's inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.
So Lutz et al. credit "Enlightenment rationalism" for the Constitution. Also interesting is that when "biblical" citations were abounding during America's revolutionary period they tended to be in sermons, many of which also cited Locke and his "dark Enlightenment" ideas in the form of a synthesized political theology.

This presents a problem for Dr. Hazony when he attempts to connect the "Enlightenment" of the French Revolution to Marx.
... Mr. Pinker’s 450-page book doesn’t mention the French Revolution. Mr. Pinker cites Napoleon as an “exponent of martial glory” but says nothing about his launching a universal war in the name of reason. These writers also tend to pass over Karl Marx’s debt to the Enlightenment. Marx saw himself as promoting universal reason, extending the work of the French Revolution by insisting that the workers of the world stop (again in Mr. Brooks’s words) “deferring blindly to authority.” The “science” Marx developed “from the ground up” killed tens of millions in the 20th century.
But we've seen Hazony connect Locke to the French Revolution and I noted Locke's centrality to the American Revolution. Look. These are all distinct events. We can connect and distinguish among all of them. If if we can connect, which I think you can, the French Revolution to Marxists revolutions, and likewise connect the American Revolution (through Locke) to the French Revolution, it follows we can connect the American Revolution to Marxists revolutions.

And indeed, many Americans at the time (according to John Adams 1/3 of the population) supported the French Revolution. When political parties emerged much to the consternation of Washington, the Democratic-Republicans as a group, led by Jefferson and Madison supported the French Revolution with Madison in 1792 connecting the two as follows:
In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example and France has followed it, of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness. We look back, already, with astonishment, at the daring outrages committed by despotism, on the reason and the rights of man; We look forward with joy, to the period, when it shall be despoiled of all its usurpations, and bound for ever in the chains, with which it had loaded its miserable victims.
This sounds to me like Madison is crediting "Enlightenment" for the American Revolution and its connected successor in France.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Calling Out America's Declaration of Independence

From an interesting source.

Using philosophy to "deconstruct" things is not something that the late 20th Century French school of "Deconstructionists" led by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida invented. In fact, if I understand Leo Strauss properly, he argues this is something all true philosophers since Socrates do. The difference is, before the invention of liberal democracy and its recognition of the right to freedom of speech, philosophers could be killed for deconstructing sacred cows and hence needed to write esoterically, in code.

I can't speak to the deconstructionists' case for atheism (i.e., their attempt to deconstruct God), but I do for what I think good reason assert this: Regardless of whether God exists, the 20th century deconstructionists have been irrefutably proven dead wrong in their attempt to deconstruct human nature.

Human nature exists as an "is." If the atheistic materialists are right, then the etiology of the "is" derives from our biological nature, from such causes as Darwin's case for evolution. Perhaps the "is/ought" gap can't be crossed, and appeals to nature for "oughts" commit the "naturalistic fallacy"; but the "is" exists nonetheless. And that's something those deconstructionists tried and failed to deconstruct (sometimes with disastrous results).

That said, what follows is one of my keen insights which someone more notable probably previously articulated: It's much easier for a smart person who is good in philosophy to deconstruct someone else's affirmative thesis than to build an affirmative thesis of their own that is immune to such.

And with that I get to Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug's deconstruction of America's Declaration of Independence. He is an interesting source. This isn't some left wing Foucault influenced academic doing the deconstructing. He's a Trump supporter who watched the victory in his friend Peter Thiel's house.

A snip:
Let's call our first witness. His name is Thomas Hutchinson, and he is the outstanding Loyalist figure of the prerevolutionary era. His Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia is here. It is not long. Please do him the courtesy of reading it in full, then continue below.

Now: what do you notice about Hutchinson's Strictures? Well, the first thing you notice is: before today, you had never read it. Or even heard of it. Or probably even its author. What is the ratio of the number of people who have read the Declaration to the number who have read the Strictures? 10^5? 10^6? Something like that. Isn't that just slightly creepy?

The second thing we notice about the Strictures is its tone - very different from the Declaration. The Declaration shouts at us. The Strictures talk to us. Hutchinson speaks quietly, with just the occasional touch of snark. He adopts the general manner of a sober adult trapped in an elevator with a drunk, knife-wielding teenager.

Of course, as Patriots (we are still Patriots, aren't we? Sorry - just checking), we would expect some cleverness from the Devil. Everyone knows this is the way you win an argument, right or wrong. Pay no attention to Darth Hutchinson's little Sith mind tricks. But still - why would Congress make it so easy? Why are we getting stomped like this? Because ouch, man, that was painful.

The third thing we notice is that Hutchinson actually explains the Declaration. As he begins:

The last time I had the honour of being in your Lordship's company, you observed that you were utterly at a loss as to what facts many parts of the Declaration of Independence published by the Philadelphia Congress referred...
In other words: these Congress people are so whack-a-doodle-doo, half the time your Lordship can't even tell what they're talking about. Presumably "your Lordship" is Lord Germain. Dear reader, how does your own knowledge of the Declaration compare to Lord Germain's? Weren't you amused, for instance, to learn that
I know of no new offices erected in America in the present reign, except those of the Commissioners of the Customs and their dependents. Five Commissioners were appointed, and four Surveyors General dismissed; perhaps fifteen to twenty clerks and under officers were necessary for this board more than the Surveyors had occasion for before: Land and tide waiters, weighers, &c. were known officers before; the Surveyors used to encrease or lessen the number as the King’s service required, and the Commissioners have done no more. Thirty or forty additional officers in the whole Continent, are the Swarms which eat out the substance of the boasted number of three millions of people.
or, most intriguingly, that
The first in order, He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good; is of so general a nature, that it is not possible to conjecture to what laws or to what Colonies it refers. I remember no laws which any Colony has been restrained from passing, so as to cause any complaint of grievance, except those for issuing a fraudulent paper currency, and making it a legal tender; but this is a restraint which for many years past has been laid on Assemblies by an act of Parliament, since which such laws cannot have been offered to the King for his allowance. I therefore believe this to be a general charge, without any particulars to support it; fit enough to be placed at the head of a list of imaginary grievances.
What is this fraudulent paper currency? Hutchinson is referring to this episode. The experienced UR reader may well ask: what is it with America and paper money? We'll definitely have to revisit the question.

But suffice it to say that you, personally, do not have the knowledge to produce any kind of coherent response to Hutchinson's brutal fisking of our sacred founding document. You can't say: "actually, Governor Hutchinson, I was in Boston in 1768, and I can tell you exactly why the Assembly was moved to Cambridge. What really happened is that..." For all you or I know about Boston in 1768, of course, Hutchinson could just as easily be the one yanking our chains. But why, then, are we so sure he's wrong?