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 3, 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 8, 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 6, 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?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Protestant Denomination Scorecard

We've needed one of these around here for a long time now. Regardless of its level of religiosity, more than being a "Christian Nation," from the Founding era through the 1800s America was a Protestant nation. The evolution of America's principle of religious freedom was in no small part due to the necessity of achieving a social and political equilibrium between the always-expanding plethora of sects.

§ 1871. The real object of the [First] amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.--Justice Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution [1833]

HT: @harunbinimran

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Lehrman Institute's Essay on Founding Fathers & Religion

I can't remember whether I linked to this before. It sums up much of what we've reproduced at American Creation over the years. A taste:

The Founders' Private Religion 
When in 1820 he was 85, John Adams wrote: "My opinions...on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself."211 Religious reticence was a Founding trait. John Jay enjoyed the practice of religion but not the discussion of it. Jay Biographer Frank Monaghan wrote that "Jay conveniently made it a rule never to discuss his religious beliefs with a person with whom he was not in substantial agreement. One evening at Dr. Franklin's [outside Paris] he was engaged in a long conversation with a learned visitor, who suddenly turned the conversation to religion and laughed at the idea of the divinity of Jesus. Jay glared but said nothing, arose, turned on his heel and walked away. At another time a physician attending Jay began to scoff at the belief in a resurrection. Jay at once stopped him: "Sir, I pay you for your medical knowledge, and not for your distorted views of the Christian religion!"212   
The Founders differed in their attitudes toward religion, but generally they kept their own religious beliefs rather private. The nation's fifth president, James Monroe, was a nominal Episcopalian – attending St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House as President as occasionally did his predecessor, James Madison. The written record about what Monroe believed, however, is virtually nonexistent. Religious scholar John McCollister wrote: "The religious conviction of President James Monroe is best classified as 'decision by indecision....No records offer any evidence that Mr. Monroe rejected the Anglican faith; at the same time, we have no record that he endorsed it, either."213 
Even if their personal faith wavered, the religious practice of prominent Founders did not. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall was devoted to attendance at Episcopal services. Historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr., wrote: "Many writers have assumed that his faithfulness was influenced not so much by personal conviction as by a desire to encourage the attendance of those whose conduct would otherwise deteriorate. Still other writers have suggested that he attended church in deference to his wife, Mary, the 'Dearest Polly' of his intimate correspondence."7 Biographer Jean Edward Smith wrote: "John Marshall never rejected the church openly, but his acceptance was environmental rather than doctrinal. Throughout his life the chief justice declined to become a member of any congregation, unable to believe in the divinity of Christ."214

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Joshua Brookes' Report on Jefferson on Washington

Numerous times I've reproduced the quotation from Thomas Jefferson where he notes that both George Washington and G. Morris were not believers in presumably some orthodox version of the Christian faith.

I've never (from what I remember) reproduced this from one Joshua Brookes. It's not from Jefferson's hand, but rather an eyewitness account from a personal meeting between Jefferson and Brookes. Below are the remarks that Brookes recorded Jefferson saying:
George Washington is a hard master, very severe, a hard husband, a hard father, a hard governor. From his childhood he always ruled and ruled severely. He was first brought up to govern slaves, he then governed an army, then a nation. He thinks hard of all, is despotic in every respect, he mistrusts every man, thinks every man a rogue and nothing but severity will do. He has no idea of people being left to themselves to act; he thinks that they cannot think and that they ought only to obey. As I lived near him and saw him every day, I thought I knew what was in his mind at that time, but afterwards I found that ideas were there that I had no conception of. If he had died when Congress met in New York, he would have been the greatest man that ever lived, but he is now losing his reputation daily. He is not the man he was, else he would not allow himself to be led as he does, or give his sanction to things he does sanction. He has divines constantly about him because he thinks it right to keep up appearances but is an unbeliever.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Frazer Updates

Gregg Frazer sent me the following note, that serves as an update:

I was revisiting some things and realized that I never answered your criticism that I did not include Richard Price in my first book

My standards for who to include in the influences section were: a) for influences on political leaders, I only included those named by the political leaders themselves as their influences; b) for influences on the preachers, I only included Americans – those living in America.

Price was a Welshman/Englishman and was not identified by any of my eight guys as an influence on them.  I do not deny that he was influential, but I kept it to those named by the key Founders.

As with the definition of Christianity that I used [using the definition that the 18th-century American churches used], I didn’t want critics to question whether the people I identified actually influenced the respective political leaders.  You can’t argue with it when they themselves say they were influenced by them.

Incidentally, I have another book at the publisher that is due out in October.  It is a study of the political thought of the Loyalist clergy – i.e. the arguments against the Revolution made by the American clergymen who stayed loyal to Great Britain.  They covered all areas/fields of argument against the Revolution: biblical, legal, theoretical, practical, rational.
I look forward to the book and hope that it is as impactful as his first. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Waligore on Washington, Providence & Prayer II

Below is the second part by Joseph Waligore.

George Washington and prayers

There is no doubt that Washington frequently prayed as many visitors to his house reported seeing him in prayer, often early in the morning. In his book on George Washington’s religious beliefs, Peter Lillback argues that Washington’s frequent prayers meant that he had to be a Christian. Lillback states that Washington’s praying shows that he could not have been a deist because the deists abandoned “the practice of prayer. This was logical since there was little purpose in speaking to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contact and communication with his creation.” Lillback then concludes that “Washington's lifetime practice of prayer, illustrated by these more than one hundred written prayers, is an undeniable refutation of his alleged Deism.”

If it were true that the deists had abandoned prayer, then Washington’s frequent prayers would prove he was not a deist. But the English deists believed in a deity who watched over his creation and the vast majority of them believed in miracles, revelations, and other forms of divine intervention in the world. They thus believed in a deity who was in constant contact with the world and for this reason a large number of English deists believed in prayer. Earlier chapters highlighted how Herbert of Cherbury, James Pitt, Thomas Amory, David Williams, Thomas Morgan, and Thomas Chubb all emphasized the importance of prayer, and the table on page thirty-nine shows that many other English deists emphasized prayer. But because it is so widely believed that the deists had a distant God and so eschewed prayer, I will give two more examples of the kind of attention the English deists focused on the importance of praying. One example is from an anonymous writer, and the other example is from Peter Annet.

In 1765, an anonymous writer who called himself “Rational Christian” published a book in which he wrote God was so good and loved every person so much that “The love of God is the most natural and rational passion that can take place in the mind of man . . . [a] man must be insensible to all the feelings of virtuous humanity, who can be so ungrateful as not to love his father, his friend, and benefactor.” He claimed that people who acknowledge their “dependence on a superior being, who are conscious that this being is able and ready to assist them, will naturally pray to him.” Prayer also drew us closer to God because it made us more humble, charitable, and forgiving, and thus “fitter objects of the favour of God, . . . [who] never withdraws himself from his creatures.”9

Rational Christian believed that because God was so good, it was our duty to publicly pray to him and worship him; this set a good example for others and made piety more widespread. Nevertheless, he valued private prayer and worship even more as then a person was collected within himself and his devotions purer. During his private prayers, he particularly felt God’s presence, asserting, “At such time, methinks I see the omniscient eye penetrating my very soul.” Even more than setting aside certain arranged times for public or private prayer, he emphasized spontaneous prayer to God, which he called “internal heart-worship.” He thought this worship could happen at any moment when we are particularly struck by God’s wisdom or goodness. During such times, there “is an immediate call upon us, to express our love and reverence. Adoration of his power, and gratitude for his goodness, are, as it were, spontaneously wafted up to heaven, from a good and pious heart.”10

Peter Annet was one of the few English deists who denied both miracles and revelation, but he considered prayer one of the main components of true religion. In recommending prayer, he was not referring to petitionary prayer, that is prayer which asked God for things, but instead prayer which helped a person develop a closer relationship with God. This kind of prayer, Annet believed, helped people to subdue their passions and submit to God’s will. He said of prayer, “It keeps up a Dependence on Deity in the Minds of the People, and so may be a Means to help to subdue the Mind to Virtue, and Submission to God’s Will.” Annet believed that prayers, if done fervently and sincerely, brought people closer to God. He compared a person praying to sailors tossing an anchor to a rock: the sailors “pull as if they would hale the Rock to them, but they hale themselves to the Rock.”11 Annet believed as a person prayed and became closer to God, a person was transformed; he declared that intimacy with God helps a person because it “clears his Apprehensions, and informs his Judgment, producing Satisfaction and Serenity, Joy and Tranquility.” Annet advised his readers to become closer to God through prayer, so “that the Divine Fragrancy may flow over [into them]. So thou Reader shalt be filled with God, and the Rays of the Divinity will enoble thy Thoughts, adorn thy Speech and direct thy Ways.”12

The view of prayer shared by Peter Annet and Rational Christian was shared by a large number of English deists, and so Lillback is mistaken to say Washington was not a deist because he prayed. Another contemporary scholar, Michael Novak, makes a different point about how Washington’s prayers meant that he was not a deist. Novak states that Washington prayed for specific things that the deist God never performed; rather, Washington prayed for God to do actions that only the Christian God performed. Novak claims that the actions Washington prayed for were “the sorts of actions only the God of the Bible performs: interposing his actions in human events, forgiving sins, enlightening minds, bringing good harvests, intervening on behalf of one party in a struggle between good and evil.” Because he claims that Washington could not have been praying to the deist God, Novak concludes, “Washington cannot be called a Deist—at least, not in a sense that excludes his being Christian.”13
 Some English deists did pray for God to interpose in human events. In the introduction to this book, it was shown that Herbert of Cherbury believed God gave him a divine sign after he prayed about whether he should publish the first deist book by an Englishman. Thomas Chubb also thought God sometimes gave us the things we asked for in prayer,14 while Thomas Amory believed God helped a person be more charitable and loving if she prayed for those qualities.15 Nevertheless, Novak is right that the English deists did not pray for God to help their side in their struggle for liberty or for better harvests. But that is probably because in the eighteenth century the English people did not need these things. If we look at the French revolutionary deists, however, a different picture appears. In the 1790s, the French desperately needed better harvests and help in their struggle for liberty, so they often prayed for God to give them these things. For example, Silvain-Phalier Lejeune, who had been elected to the National Convention and was the official agent of the revolutionary French government in eastern France, recited a public prayer which had been previously approved by the local revolutionary committee. In this prayer, he asked God to do the very things Novak claimed the deist God never did. Lejeune started his prayer by saying, “God of all bounties … take this generous and brave nation under your divine protection, we who only fight for equality.” Then he went through a long list of things he asked God to bless, including the French armies and their fields. Lejeune prayed, “Bless, O my God, . . . our armies, fill our legislators with your light and . . . make the work of our farmers prosper, they who nourish our many battalions.”16 At the same time, an unknown deist named Jacques Piron wrote a prayer he was hoping the government would use in their festivals to honor God. Piron’s prayer went, “Supreme Being . . . bless our work and make our fields flourish . . . we supplicate you to pardon our sins . . . we invoke you for our country, bless us with your benefits, Give the light of wisdom to our legislators, aid the courage of our warriors.”17

Washington’s prayers do not show that he could not have been a deist. The English deists often prayed very reverentially to God. Furthermore, the French deists prayed for God to bring good crops and help them in their struggle for liberty. These were not things that only the Christians thought their God did; many deists thought their God did these things too.

Just as his belief in Providence and prayers not show Washington was a Christian, neither does the fact that he often attended Christian worship or read the Bible.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Waligore on Washington, Providence & Prayer

And how it relates to Deism.

Joseph Waligore sent over another excerpt from his forthcoming book on Deism that relates to George Washington's belief in a Providential God. I am going to publish it in two posts. The first is below.
On the morning of March 5, 1776, George Washington was with the troops of the American army in Boston, encouraging them to fight bravely if the British attacked. So far in their war for independence, the Americans had yet to win a significant victory. Things were looking bleak, and it was a major defeat for the Americans that the British troops were in control of Boston, the center of resistance to British rule and one of the most important cities in America. However, the previous night the Americans had managed to secretly drag cannons up Dorchester Heights, a bluff of land that was within cannon range of the British troops. The British either had to dislodge the Americans from Dorchester Heights or evacuate Boston. Otherwise, the Americans would just rain cannonballs on the British troops. Furthermore, the British attack had to happen immediately since the longer the Americans were on the hill, the better they could fortify their position and resist any assault. The British general ordered the troops to immediately attack, but a wind and snow storm arose, which was so violent, the British troops were unable to move. By the time the storm was over, the Americans had so fortified their position, the British called off their assault and chose to evacuate Boston instead. George Washington claimed it was God who had caused the storm and helped the Americans win their first major victory of the war. He claimed that the storm that prevented the British attack “must be ascribed to the interposition of that Providence, which has manifestly appeared in our behalf through the whole of this important struggle.” He then said, “May that Being, who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender pity and compassion upon the whole of the United Colonies; may he continue to smile upon their counsels and arms, and crown them with success, whilst employed in the cause of virtue and mankind.”1

Unlike the religious beliefs of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, Washington wrote extremely little about his religious beliefs. Those who think he should be considered a Christian, often focus on two major pieces of evidence. One, he believed God miraculously helped the Americans during their war for independence. Two, he often prayed, and particularly he often prayed for God’s help in worldly events. When it is assumed deists had a distant and withdrawn God who never intervened in the world, then these two points are good evidence that Washington was not a deist, or not exclusively a deist. However, when one gets a better historical understanding of deism, these two points tell us nothing at all about whether Washington was a Christian or a deist.

Providence and the deists of the French Revolution

As shown by Washington’s statement that the Boston storm was an act of God, he believed God intervened to help the Americans win the Revolutionary War. Because many scholars define a deist as a person who believed in a distant, inactive deity, the scholars then assert that Washington could not have been a deist. For example, Vincent Phillip Munoz declared that “Washington’s belief in divine providence means, by definition, that he could not be labeled a deist.”2 A number of scholars go even further and claim that when Washington was mentioning the interposition of Providence, he must have been referring to the Christian God because only the Christian God helps people in a providential way. So Kristo Miettinen declared, "’Providence’ is not some squishy generic God-term. . . . Deists, to the extent that they invoked God as Providence, were making an explicitly Christian theological claim.”3

While the English deists believed in an active God who cared about people, they did not mention God helping countries fighting for their liberty. This, however, was most likely due to historical circumstances: the English deists were writing at a time when England was generally secure from foreign invasion, and none of them were worried about their freedom. Thus we should not make any claims about the deist God being unconcerned with helping countries based on the English deists. We should instead look at the large number of French deists who were fighting both internal oppressors and foreign invaders during the French Revolution. These French deists continually claimed God miraculously helped their revolution survive, and unlike the American deists, almost all of these French deists despised Christianity, equating it with pure superstition. Thus anything the French deists claimed about God, they were referring purely to the deist God.

I have been arguing throughout this book that the deist God was more completely good and fair than the Christian deity. It is not clear that there is any necessary link between a good deity and one who helps nations become free. Nevertheless, if a good deity is one that helps downtrodden countries fight for their liberty, the deists believed in that kind of deity also.

In 1789, the French Revolution began when the Bastille prison was stormed and its prisoners were released. As the Revolution progressed, one of the most important questions was whether the king, Louis XVI, should be deposed, or whether the country should try to forge a constitutional monarchy like England. This question was especially troubling as the other European monarchs, led by the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, threatened to invade France if they mistreated the king or the royal family. The other monarchs saw the mistreatment of the French king as a matter of concern to all the monarchs. The French soon imprisoned the king and his queen, Marie Antoinette. This caused the monarchs of Europe to unite, and the French were soon at war with Prussia, Spain, Naples, Netherlands, Portugal, Britain, and the Holy Roman Empire. The situation for the French Revolution was dire at first as many people inside France, especially the Catholics, were against the Revolution, and the French army was so disheartened that in one of the early battles, the French soldiers all fled.

Many of the prominent leaders of the French Revolution, including Jean-Paul Marat, Camille Desmoulins, Maximilien Robespierre, and Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, were deists. Considering the rest of Europe was attacking France, and the French themselves were divided over the Revolution, the French situation in the early 1790s was similar to the American situation at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Just as Washington thought God helped the Americans in their fight for liberty, so too did the French deists think God’s Providence helped the French in their struggle for liberty.

The best-known example of a French deist claiming God providentially helped the French Revolution came from Maximilien Robespierre, the most prominent of the radical revolutionary leaders. Robespierre claimed God had purposively killed the leader of the countries that were attacking France, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II. Despite being a healthy man in his forties, Leopold suddenly and mysteriously died at the beginning of March in 1792. His death was a great blow to the anti-French forces, and Robespierre claimed God killed Leopold in order to help the French defeat the foreign powers who were attacking France. A short while after Leopold’s death, Robespierre spoke to the Jacobin club, the most radical faction of revolutionary leaders. Robespierre declared that France had been menaced by foreign armies organized by Leopold II, as well as civil war, and traitors in the army. At this time of deep trouble, he claimed that “Providence, which always watches over us much better than our own wisdom, by striking Leopold dead, disrupted for some time our enemy’s projects.” Then another revolutionary leader, Marguerite-Élie Guadet, interrupted Robespierre. Gaudet said that “I do not see any sense in this idea” of providence. He claimed that the French did not fight “for three years to rid ourselves of the slavery of despotism, to afterwards put ourselves under the slavery of superstition.” After Gaudet spoke, a commotion broke out in the hall, with some people murmuring and some applauding. Robespierre could have replied that he was just speaking rhetorically, and he did not really believe in Providence. Instead, he repeated his claim saying that “the eternal Being influences essentially the destiny of all nations, and he appears to me to watch in a particularly singular manner over the French Revolution.” Finally, he declared that the belief in God’s providential care “is a heartfelt belief, it is a feeling with which I cannot dispense.”4

Robespierre was far from the only French deist who thought Providence had a part in the death of Leopold II of Austria. Another prominent leader of the radical revolutionary faction, Georges Auguste Couthon, agreed. Couthon said of Leopold’s death that “Providence, who always has greatly served the revolution, has killed Leopold, one of our most cruel enemies.” Couthon often talked about Providence helping the French Revolution, but the event that Couthon thought most showed God’s miraculous Providence was the attempted assassination in May of 1794 of the revolutionary leaders Robespierre and Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois. Couthon wrote that the assassination failed even though the assassin had planned it well, because “in truth there was a miracle.” Couthon then went on to describe the event in detail. First, the assassin presented himself at Robespierre’s home, “but Heaven wished that he not be admitted.” Then the assassin went to the door Robespierre always entered and left his home. Couthon claimed, in a passage he did not explain, that “Robespierre’s custodian spirit (génie conservateur) made him take a different route that day.” When he could not kill Robespierre, the assassin went to Collot’s home. This time the assassin was able to find Collot and get very close to him. The assassin tried to shoot Collot once, but the pistol did not go off. The assassin fired a second time and, even though he was standing right next to Collot, the assassin missed him. Couthon finished by writing, “I wish to say again that it is by a miracle that Robespierre and Collot escaped. When one is guarded by Providence and the virtue of the people, one is well-guarded . . . it is the supreme Being who guards us.”5 It was not just Couthon who thought God was personally protecting Robespierre. Another French revolutionary leader, Louis Legendre, asserted that the assassin tried to kill Robespierre, “but the God of nature did not suffer that the crime was successful.”6

Robespierre, Couthon, and Legendre were major political leaders during the Revolution, and one can always wonder about the sincerity of political leaders talking of God helping their cause. But a large number of French deists who were not political leaders made the same claim about God helping the Revolution. For example, Jean-Baptiste Febvé was an obscure official in the criminal bureau of the department of Meurthe. In 1794, in the city of Nancy, Febve gave a long speech honoring God for all the help God had recently given the French. He declared, that the only way to explain all the miracles of the French Revolution was “the power of divine Providence. . . . The projects of the enemies of liberty were always confounded, their criminal maneuvers discovered, their plots always destroyed. . . . The most formidable powers of Europe were allied against France, and France was victorious… doesn’t this show well enough the existence of a Supreme Being who protects the French nation?” Another example is a speech in 1797 given by Louis Dubroca, a former Catholic priest who had become a prominent deist leader. In this speech, which was read to many deists gathered throughout France to worship God, Dubroca proclaimed that it was all due to God’s help that France had won the war. He declared,
Oh God . . .we love to proclaim that it was you who guided in combat the invincible battalions of our troops, who roused the heroic fighters, and who aided their generous devotion by victory. They fought for their fatherland, for their liberty, how could you, God powerful and good, not sustain a cause so beautiful? … when you have crowned a peace which fulfills our wishes, who is able to doubt your Providence did not itself preside over the new destiny of France, that the republic is not your work?7
Dubroca proclaimed that no one could doubt that God guided the French troops in battle and presided over the establishment of the French Republic.
Deists are commonly seen as so emphasizing natural laws, that they believed that God never broke these natural laws. I have argued throughout this book that the English and American deists did not fit this stereotype, and they believed in miracles and other forms of divine intervention. The French Revolutionary deists were so far from fitting this stereotype that they saw God and nature as their allies helping them defeat their enemies. For example, when bad weather shipwrecked some English warships on the French coast, Georges Auguste Couthon wrote, “it is evidently Providence which produces these miracles.” In her book on the way nature was pictured in the French Revolution, Mary Ashburn Miller claims it was common for the French revolutionaries to see nature itself as a “revolutionary and providential force. Nature became a space of particular providence, not just a regulating system.”8

Deists living during the French Revolution in the 1790s, who were very anti-Christian, continually claimed God was providentially helping them by defeating the plans of their enemies. Thus there is no connection between believing in God’s providential help and being a Christian. So Washington’s belief that God miraculously intervened during the American Revolution gives no support to him being a Christian.