II Catholicism and Natural RightsLet 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.
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.
Monday, June 18, 2018
Sunday, June 17, 2018
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.