Friday, August 30, 2013

More From Tillman on Stone

Here is a link to the Corner that features Tillman's comment. A taste:
Professor Geoffrey R. Stone—University of Chicago School of Law—was recently appointed to the NSA Surveillance Review Committee. Professor Stone has written on some subjects which may interest your readers.

Geoffrey R. Stone, The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?, 26 Georgia State University Law Review 1305, 1333 (2010):

“This is the fundamental issue posed by the Second Great Awakening, and it remains a fundamental issue today. As citizens, advocates of Sunday closing laws, temperance legislation, the abolition of slavery, anti-abortion laws, prohibitions of stem-cell research, and law forbidding same-sex marriage are free to support such policies because they honestly believe they serve constitutionally legitimate ends; and they are also free to urge others to embrace and abide by their religious beliefs. But what they are not free to do, what they must strive not to do if they want to be good citizens, is to use the law disingenuously to impose their own religious beliefs on others.”

I guess some opposition to slavery is “disingenuous” if somehow connected to religion. Why does Stone think it so obvious that a citizen circa 1860 who had supported public policies seeking to limit or to overthrow slavery on sectarian religious grounds failed to live up to the aspirational goals of our constitutional order? Is it a matter of any concern that slave owners were, to use Professor Stone’s terms, “imposed” upon? One wonders why Professor Stone sees the legal order so clearly through the eyes of slave owners, rather than the slave who might have had his shackles loosened? Why cannot Professor Stone see that in our world of second bests, First Amendment church-state absolutism ought, in some circumstances, to give way to other values, and that in making that difficult weighing of competing values responsible persons should be loathe to declare our fellows bad citizens merely because they weigh things differently than we do?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Geoff Stone's Christian Nation Sequel

We blogged about Prof. Stone's first Christian Nation article in extensive detail. I apparently missed the sequel entitled "The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?" which you may access here. A taste:
Whereas the Framers believed that the principles of public morality could be discovered through the exercise of reason, the evangelicals insisted that it must be grounded in Christian revelation; and whereas the Framers maintained that public morality must be founded on the civic obligation to "do good to one's fellow man," the evangelicals declared that true public morality must be premised on obedience to God. 12 Indeed, the nineteenth-century evangelicals preached that only obedience to the Bible, not only in private life but in public law, could save America from sin and desolation.' 3 
The central premise of the evangelical political movement was that morality is necessary for republican government and that Christianity is necessary for morality.57 It therefore followed that Christianity is necessary for republican government. 58 The evangelicals believed that the "only sure foundation" for morality was the Bible, and that only the Bible could show Americans "how to live their lives." 59 As one historian has observed, the evangelicals of this era "edged perilously close" to declaring that only evangelical Christians could be "good citizens. 60 
In the early years of the nineteenth century, however, the evangelicals reignited this issue in what became a bitter dispute over Sunday mail delivery. In the first decades of our nation's history, the United States Post Office delivered mail on the Sabbath, and in 1810, Congress expressly ratified this practice by enacting legislation specifically requiring postmasters to deliver the mail "on every day of the week.",67 
In the end, Johnson's position carried the day, and the evangelicals' demand that the government cease Sunday mail service was defeated. This resolution held until 1912, when an alliance of ministers and postal clerks finally succeeded in getting Congress to end Sunday mail delivery.
There's a lot more, in particular discussions about the evangelicals and blasphemy, temperance, obscenity and slavery. Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman who notified me of the existence of this article, also said to pay careful attention to the following passage, with Tillman's emphasis on words that merit special scrutiny.
Indeed, some of the most ardent supporters of slavery, such as the Baptist clergyman Theodore Dwight Weld, enthusiastically cited biblical passages, such as Exodus 21,112 to prove that "God's Chosen People practiced chattel slavery and that God, far from issuing a blanket condemnation of the institution, prescribed legal rules for it." By the 1830s, Southern clergymen and politicians were frequently invoking the Bible in defense of slavery.113 At the time, each side thought it had the better of the argument."14

Dreisbach Reviews Frazer

Daniel Dreisbach reviews Gregg Frazer's book in the Journal of American Studies. Read it here. A taste:
Frazer's thesis is not new. Other scholars have expressed a need for a more nuanced accounting for the religious beliefs of the founders than simply a bimodal taxonomy of Christianity and deism, especially one that recognizes a hybrid system that drew on both Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism. Frazer acknowledges that scholars before him have coined and defined a variety of terms intended to describe this middle ground between orthodox Christianity and deism, using terms like providential deism, Enlightened Christianity, theological rationalism, Christian rationalism, and rationalist Christianity. Frazer provides a sophisticated description of theistic rationalism and argues that other terms fail to capture adequately the belief system of the major founders. 
Frazer gives little allowance that the influential founders were anything other than theistic rationalists. He is dismissive of evidence or interpretations that challenge his thesis. Neglected in the study, for example, is the devout Congregationalist Roger Sherman, who by most measures deserves to be studied alongside the consequential founders that Frazer does profile. ...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rodda on Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow is a figure from the American Founding I've much neglected. We have the "key Founders" -- the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin -- who I, after much meticulous research, see as something in between orthodox Christians and strict Deists, whatever we term them (Christian-Deists, theistic rationalists, small u unitarians, etc. etc.). There were some very important second tier Founders who were orthodox Christians -- Roger Sherman, Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon and others. And then there were some who were closer to strict Deism; Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer are the ones we've stressed so far. We should probably add Joel Barlow to the list with Paine, Allen and Palmer.

In doing research on Barlow, I came across this nifty post on him by Chris Rodda.  A taste:
Much of Barlow's other writing during this time was for The Anarchiad, a satirical political paper anonymously published from time to time by his literary club, the Hartford Wits. Among the original members of this club was David Humphreys, who, in 1797, as Commissioner Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, was the official who approved Barlow's translation of the Treaty of Tripoli and submitted it for ratification. Among those rejected for admission to the club were Oliver Wolcott and Noah Webster, two of the very religious founders that David Barton makes a point of associating Barlow with in his biographical sketch. Barlow may have started out together at Yale with Wolcott and Webster, but couldn't have ended up more different from these former classmates in both politics and religion. While Wolcott and Webster were die-hard New England Federalists and Congregationalists, Barlow became a Jeffersonian Republican and a deist.
Noah Webster, by the way, may well have ended up some sort of pious Christian; but I'm not so sure he was so while the Constitution was being ratified. He seemed, like many others, caught up in the Enlightenment rationalist zeitgeist.

I think the French Revolution may have killed Webster's Enlightenment buzz.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chris Rodda on the Michael Medved Show

In the comments section at American Creation, Chris Rodda and Tom Van Dyke are involved in a spirited discussions about, among other things her appearance on the Michael Medved show. Listen to it for yourself and decide how it went.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anti-Trinitarianism and the Republican Tradition in Enlightenment Britain

That's the title of an article by Matthew Kadane, Assistant Professor of History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, featured in, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 2, no. 1 (December 15, 2010).

A taste:
WRITING IN THE OPENING MONTHS OF THE French Revolution and in response to the accusation of anti-monarchical republicanism, Joseph Priestley explained in self-defense that if he was a “unitarian in religion” he remained “a trinitarian in politics.”1 The republican-leaning Priestley was  making a subtle distinction, but if the image of a political Trinitarian who held faith in Commons, Lords, and monarch could concisely illustrate what was surprising, if not paradoxical,  about the political outlook of a religious Unitarian, it was because the link between republicanism and anti-Trinitarianism was so common.2  Milton had embodied it in the mid-seventeenth  century; so had the classicist John Biddle, the “father of English Unitarianism,” who crossed over with Harringtonian republicanism, as Nigel Smith has recently written, in his disdain of priestcraft, his “vision of an exemplary Son and a life of virtuous action.”3 Probably more active in late  eighteenth-century memories was the anti-Trinitarian moment of the late 1680s and 1690s. A  “Unitarian controversy,” triggered by a relaxation of censorship at the end of James II’s reign and by the publication of Stephen Nye’s Brief History of the Unitarians (1689), raged amid a revolutionary settlement with republican implications.4 These same implications could be drawn from  the revolution’s anti-Trinitarian ideologues, Locke and Newton.5 And as Restoration Tories seemed to foresee when they linked Whig-republicanism and Socinianism, what would the reduction of monarchical power suggest—a reduction like that the Glorious Revolution brought  about—if not a diminution of some degree of the monarch’s divinity?6 This may not have been Priestley’s idiosyncratic view in 1790, but it was implied by the mix of anti-Trinitarianism, republicanism, and appreciation for the Glorious Revolution that could be found in a group of his contemporaries: Richard Price, John Jebb, Theophilus Lindsey, Samuel Rogers, Charles James Fox, one-time subjects of the crown like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and so on.7

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Preview of the Next Volume of “Debunking David Barton’s Jefferson Lies”

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
BARTON’S LIE: It was Jefferson who introduced the measure in the Virginia legislature calling for a day of fasting and prayer in 1774. 
THE TRUTH: Jefferson was just one of a number of the younger members of the Virginia legislature who formed an impromptu committee that, as he put it, “cooked up” a proclamation for a fast day. And, it wasn’t Jefferson who introduced the fast day in the legislature. Why? Because the committee members were concerned that the suggestion of a fast day might not pass if it came from them. They knew that nobody was going to buy that these young radicals, not even the quite religious Patrick Henry, were proposing this fast day out of genuine religious devotion. It would be obvious that they were merely using a fast day as a way of jolting the people of Virginia into an awareness of the seriousness of what was going on in Massachusetts. So, they got an older member of the legislature to introduce it, one who Jefferson described as having a “grave and religious character” that was “more in unison” with the tone of the proclamation that he and the younger members of the legislature had cooked up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Robert Bellah, RIP

See John Fea for the obit. Bellah was, in our time, the most noted scholar of the concept of "civil religion" in America. Here is an actual, rather lengthy piece from Bellah on the topic. A taste: 
The Idea of a Civil Religion 
The phrase "civil religion" is, of course, Rousseau's. In chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, he outlines the simple dogmas of the civil religion: the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance. All other religious opinions are outside the cognizance of the state and may be freely held by citizens. While the phrase "civil religion" was not used, to the best of my knowledge, by the founding fathers, and I am certainly not arguing for the particular influence of Rousseau, it is clear that similar ideas, as part of the cultural climate of the late eighteenth century, were to be found among the Americans. For example, Benjamin Franklin writes in his autobiography,  
"I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing of good to men; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter. These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm morality, serv'd principally do divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another."

Institute on the Constitution: The American View or the Confederate View?

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
In his treatment of the founders’ religious beliefs during the IOTC course, Peroutka cherry picks quotes from founders to make them all sound orthodox. Like David Barton, Peroutka portrays the founders as orthodox in order to tie the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to “the God of the Bible.” Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government. What is remarkable is how infrequently religion is mentioned in the founding documents.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pauline Maier: R.I.P.

John Fea gives us the details here. Here is HNN's obit.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Income Redistribution & the Agrarian Law

And to conclude my riff on how the civil republican ideological sources influences the vision of today's politics, here is this post by Daniel Clinkman, "a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh writing a dissertation on the issue of feudal law and constitutionalism during the American Revolution." A taste:
... Throughout the history of western republicanism, from the Gracchi brothers of Rome, through Machiavelli, James Harrington, and Thomas Jefferson, theorists have agreed that unlimited wealth is distorting to politics and proposed an “agrarian law” to reduce the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the pre-industrial age, land was a far more important component of wealth than was liquid capital, and proponents of agrarian laws sought to break up large estates while distributing lands to commoners. The most radical agrarian law, proposed by Harrington in his Commonwealth of Oceana, would have broken up large estates by capping all inheritances at the value of £2,000. Harrington estimated the aggregate value of English estates at £10 million, meaning that wealth could theoretically never be concentrated in the hands of fewer than five thousand equal land holders, and in practice would be even more widely distributed through the functioning of the actual economy. 
Agrarian laws were intended for an agricultural society; capital redistribution through progressive income taxation and estate “death” taxes are their modern equivalent. Therefore, it makes sense that a republic practicing both democracy and capitalism would redistribute wealth. There is nothing un-American or threatening to the established order in a tactically redistributionist regime that does not dissent from the underlying logic of private property. Indeed, redistribution has typically been proposed as a means of ensuring the stability of the existing political and economic regime, not undermining or overthrowing it.
I choose this post because as per Eric Nelson's thesis, the significance of the "Agrarian" laws (now a relic of the past) to today's day in age is the principle that it is valid for government, in democratic capitalist regimes, to use its coercive power to redistribute wealth for "balance." This is what governments in Western liberal democracies, including the United States currently do. It's a modern thing. Dr. Nelson argues the Hebrew Republic is responsible for this particular facet of modernity.

James Harrington On Equality

This is what The Founders' Constitution produces from Harrington's Commonwealth of Oceana 70--75, 1656.

A taste:
The third division (unseen hitherto) is into equal and unequal, and this is the main point especially as to domestic peace and tranquility. For to make a commonwealth unequal is to divide it into parties, which sets them at perpetual variance, the one party endeavoring to preserve their eminence and inequality, and the other to attain to equality. Whence the people of Rome derived their perpetual strife with the nobility or Senate. But in an equal commonwealth there can be no more strife than there can be overbalance in equal weights. Wherefore the commonwealth of Venice, being that which of all others is the most equal in the constitution, is that wherein there never happened any strife between the Senate and the people.

An equal commonwealth is such a one as is equal, both in the balance and foundation and in the superstructures; that is to say, in her Agrarian Law and in her rotation.

An equal Agrarian is a perpetual law establishing and preserving the balance of dominion by such a distribution that no one man or number of men within the compass of the few or aristocracy can come to overpower the whole people by their possessions in lands.

As the Agrarian answers to the foundation, so does rotation to the superstructures.
Equal rotation is equal vicissitude in government, or succession unto magistracy conferred for such convenient terms, enjoying equal vacations, as take in the whole body by parts succeeding others through the free election or suffrage of the people.
What's very cool is at the end of the passage, we see Harrington asserting "And as a commonwealth is a government of laws and not of men, ..."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Property-Owning Democracy: A Short History

An interesting article by Ben Jackson of Oxford University here. A quote:
The earliest versions of this form of argument, articulated for example by such pre-commercial renovators of classical republicanism as James Harrington and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, were agrarian and austerely critical of commerce and luxury. ...
This is important because whereas I don't see, after much research, Rousseau as being influential on America's Founders (perhaps he influenced them by osmosis), Harrington was.

Eric Nelson, Hebrew Republic Video

Watch it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eric Nelson & Hebrew Sources That Influenced Modernity

I've been discussing, of late, the notion that the concept of "republicanism" is contained in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. I'm sorry, but perhaps I'm too much of a literalist in the way I read texts; but I don't "see" the concept there. For one, the Bible never uses the term "republicanism" or "republic" to describe the form of government of Ancient Israel.

Ancient Israel had a theocracy, not a "republic" and the form of government the Bible seems to speak of as most normative is monarchy.  Not just normative in an "is" sense, but in an "ought" sense as well; the Bible speaks of a "Kingdom," not a "Republic" of Heaven where Jesus' Kingdom is not of this Earth.

The concept of republicanism actually derives from the Greco-Roman tradition.

But that didn't stop many "key figures" from the "key era" that ushered in modernity (the 16th - 18th centuries) from arguing the Bible -- specifically the Old Testament -- to claim republicanism against monarchy.

Of actual, respectable and respected modern scholars, Eric Nelson of Harvard does cutting edge work demonstrating the influence of Hebrew thought on the concept of modern republicanism.

I use the terms respectable and respected because there is a cohort of Christian nationalists non-scholars who misunderstand and misuse many of these same sources in the record that demonstrate the influence of Hebraic thought on modern republicanism. They cite these sources to argue as though there was some golden age of Christianism in need of recapture. (Real scholars understand there wasn't.)

What Eric Nelson argues is modernism -- not in the radical sense, but in the ordinary, present bourgeois sense -- owes more to the understanding of Hebraic thought by the those who established modern republicanism (those British thinkers who influenced America's Founders like Sidney, Milton, Harrington and others) than a secular Enlightenment.

That is, it's not a mythic golden age we need to return to, but today's era of 1. regulated, managed capitalism that redistributes wealth when there are excesses, 2. popular sovereignty, and 3. religious toleration in which we currently live that is the result of the Hebrew Republic.

And yes, government bureaucrats who are elected democratically, get to decide how much wealth is too much. This is not Marxist egalitarianism that demands perfect equality according to need. But rather an egalitarianism more Rawlsian that accepts a need for some inequality for the system to function efficiently; but understands law and policy should step in and redistribute wealth for a more "just distribution."

Except these sources predate Rawls. You don't need continental Europeans Rousseau and then Marx to understand Egalitarianism's call for a kinder gentler distribution of wealth. You have James Harrington, a man who, unlike Rousseau, was greatly respected by America's Founders.

Now, I don't think Harrington's notion of "civic republicanism" prevailed among America's Founders. Though it did seriously influence them. As Bernard Bailyn noted there were five chief sources of thought that drove America's Founding: 1. Biblical; 2. Common Law; 3. Whig; 4. Enlightenment; and 5. Greco-Roman. To complicated matters further, a. these sources were not mutually exclusive; that is, they bled into one another; and b. they competed and conflicted with one another; that is, they often disagreed.

And, of course, this is just one paradigm where others might be valid.

I see America's Founding as more individualistically liberal than collectivistically republican. In short, Locke and Smith's more individualistic economic vision -- mainly because of James Madison --  prevailed over Harrington's more egalitarian economic vision.

But egalitarian's critique of the excesses of individualism exists in the ideological thought of the American Founding. And the egalitarianism thinker who most influenced America's Founders -- James Harrington -- used Hebraic sources to argue for his notion of a more "just distribution" as Rawls would later put it.

I learned that, and many other things, from Eric Nelson. Check out his book.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Where's that Simon and Schuster Edition of "The Jefferson Lies" David Barton's Been Promising?

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
Exactly one year ago today, on August 9, 2012, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson took the virtually unprecedented action of pulling one of its books from publication due to the book's many inaccuracies. That book, of course, was David Barton's The Jefferson Lies. 
There were several factors that presumably contributed to Thomas Nelson's decision to take the drastic action of pulling Barton's book from the shelves. ...

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Darwin, Locke, and Classical Liberalism

This post by Larry Arnhart raises some fascinating questions and points.  A taste:
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59). They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159). I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158). 
The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism. They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198). Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196). 
The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11). It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 
Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point. For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44). Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature." Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 
In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin. He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life. Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.

Reviewing Schlereth's An Age of Infidels

By Jonathan Den Hartog here.

Step Aside Beza and Locke, Say Hello to Almain and Mair

The title to one of D.G. Hart's posts here.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

7 of John Adams' greatest insults

Check them out here.

John Adams on Revolutionary Principles

Here is one source for the quotation.
These are what are called revolution principles. They are the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, and Sidney, Harrington, and Locke; the principles of nature and eternal reason; the principles on which the whole government over us now stands. It is therefore astonishing, if any thing can be so, that writers, who call themselves friends of government, should in this age and country be so inconsistent with themselves, so indiscreet, so immodest, as to insinuate a doubt concerning them.
— John Adams, Novanglus, No. 1.
Hat tip: TVD.

Weird History: Thomas Jefferson Got Mail Just Like Mikey Gets!

By Chris Rodda here.

John Locke's Biological Naturalism

By Larry Arnhart here.