rom “Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America” by Mary Grabar. This excerpt originally appeared at The College Fix and is reprinted here by permission of the author.
Monday, October 12, 2020
Friday, October 9, 2020
With this, I complete my series on Allan Bloom analysing the philosophical construct of the "state of nature" from which modern liberalism emerged. This passage is from pages 165-167 of "The Closing of the American Mind."
This scheme provides the structure for the key term of liberal democracy, the most successful and useful political notion of our world: rights. Government exists to protect the product of men's labor, their property, and therewith life and liberty. The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modern philosophy. Rights, like the other terms discussed in this chapter, are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke. Unlike the other terms, however, we understand rights perfectly and have immediate access to the thought underlying them. The others are alien, problematic; and to understand them requires a great effort that, I am arguing, we do not make. But rights are ours. They constitute our being; we live them; they are our common sense. Right is not the opposite of wrong, but of duty. It is a part of, or the essence of, freedom. It begins from man's cherished passion to live, and to live as painlessly as possible. An analysis of universal needs and their relation to nature as a whole demonstrates that this passion is not merely an imagination. It can be called a right and converted into a term of political relevance when a man is fully conscious of what he needs most, recognizes that he is threatened by others and that they are threatened by him. The spring that makes the social machinery tick is this recognition, which generates the calculation that, if he agrees to respect the life, liberty and property of others (for which he has no natural respect), they can be induced to reciprocate. This is the foundation of rights, a new kind of morality solidly grounded in self-interest.
To say, "I've got my rights," is as instinctive with Americans as breathing, so clear and evident is this way of looking at things. It signifies the rules of the game, within which men play peacefully, the necessity of which they see and accept, and the infringement of which arouses moral indignation. It is our only principle of justice. From our knowledge of our rights flows our acceptance of the duties to the community that protects them. Righteousness means for us respect for equal rights equally guaranteed by the force of government. Everyone in the world today speaks of rights, even the communists, the heirs of Marx, who ridiculed "bourgeois rights" as a sham and in whose thought there is no place for rights. But almost every thoughtful observer knows that it is in the United States that the idea of rights has penetrated most deeply into the bloodstream of its citizens and accounts for their unusual lack of servility. Without it we would have nothing, only chaotic selfishness; and it is the interested source of a certain disinterestedness. We feel people's interests should be respected.
This scheme represented a radical break with the old ways of looking at the political problem. In the past it was thought that man is a dual being, one part of him concerned with the common good, the other with private interests. To make politics work, man, it was thought, has to overcome the selfish part of himself, to tyrannize over the merely private, to be virtuous. Locke and his immediate predecessors taught that no part of man is naturally directed to the common good and that the old way was both excessively harsh and ineffective, that it went against the grain. They experimented with using private interest for public interest, putting natural freedom ahead of austere virtue. Self-interest is hostile to the common good, but enlightened self-interest is not. And this is the best key to the meaning of enlightenment. Man's reason can be made to see his vulnerability and to anticipate future scarcity. This rational awareness of the future and its dangers is enough to set the passions in motion. In the past men were members of communities by divine commandment and by attachments akin to the blood ties that constitute the family. They were, to use Rousseau's phrase, "denatured." Their loyalties were fanatic and repressive of their natures. Clear reasoning wiped that slate clean in order to inscribe on it contracts calmly made with expectation of profit involving the kinds of relations found in business. Calculated work is the sum of the whole affair. Thomas Watson said it all with the motto he placed on the walls of his offices and factories: "Think"; for he was addressing himself to men who were already working.
Americans are Lockeans: recognizing that work is necessary (no longing for a nonexistent Eden), and will produce well-being; following their natural inclinations moderately, not because they possess the virtue of moderation but because their passions are balanced and they recognize the reasonableness of that; respecting the rights of others so that theirs will be respected; obeying the law because they made it in their own interest. From the point of view of God or heroes, all this is not very inspiring. But for the poor, the weak, the oppressed—the overwhelming majority of mankind—it is the promise of salvation. As Leo Strauss put it, the moderns "built on low but solid ground."
So I end this series with the one place in this book that Bloom cites his mentor Leo Strauss. I think, the next series I do will be on Strauss on modernity, putting that quotation into context.
And I do note this "report" given from Bloom and before him Strauss is disputed. Did they really properly understand Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau? And is it true that the "rights talk" that we take for granted is a product of modernity?
Monday, September 21, 2020
I continue my series on Allan Bloom articulating the "state of nature" from which liberalism emerged with his analysis of John Locke. This passage is from pages 163-165 of The Closing of the American Mind.
From his reflection on the state of nature, Locke drew the formula of Enlightenment, with its particular combination of natural and political science. Its starting point is the untrammeled use of reason. In this he simply follows the oldest opinions of the philosophers. Freedom for man consists in ordering his life according to what he can see for himself through his most distinctive faculty, liberated from the force of tyrants and the authority of lies, i.e., myths. Through unaided reason, man as man, as opposed to the man of this place or time, nation or religion, can know the causes of things, can know nature for himself. Autonomy does not mean, as is now generally thought, the fateful, groundless decision in the void, but governing oneself according to the real. There must be an outside for the inside to have meaning.So thought Locke and his philosophic predecessors and successors. What distinguished Enlightenment from earlier philosophy was its intention to extend to all men what had been the preserve of only a few: the life lived according to reason. It was not "idealism" or "optimism" that motivated these philosophers but a new science, a "method," and allied with them, a new political science. A clear and distinct mathematical science of the movement of bodies, discovered by the use of a simple method readily understood by ordinary men, could make the knowledge of nature accessible to them, if not provide them with the genius to discover that knowledge. The various mythic or poetic views of the whole that set the horizons for the nations of man, and within which the philosophers had always lived alone and misunderstood, would be dispensed with, and the fundamental difference in perspective between scientist and nonscientist overcome. Further, if man himself is taken out of the shadows of the kingdom of darkness and examined in the light of science, he sees that by nature he belongs to the realm of bodies in motion, and that he, like all other bodies, wishes to preserve his motion, that is, his life. Every man has a powerful fear of death, that corresponds to the way of nature. Critical, scientific, methodical examination of the other ends prescribed for man can show that they belong to the realm of the imagination, of false opinion, or derive from this primary end. Such critical examination, of which all men are capable if given guidance by philosophers, and which is supported by powerful inclinations in all men, results in a salutary unity of purpose and a useful simplification of the human problem: vulnerable man must seek the means to his preservation. Since this is what all men really want, whatever arrangements help them get food, clothing, shelter, health and, above all, protection from one another will, if they are properly educated, win their consent and their loyalty.Once the world has been purged of ghosts or spirits, it reveals to us that the critical problem is scarcity. Nature is a stepmother who has left us unprovided for. But this means we need have no gratitude. When we revered nature, we were poor. Since there was not enough, we had to take from one another; and as a result of this competition, there was inevitably war, the greatest threat to life. But if, instead of fighting one another, we band together and make war on our stepmother, who keeps her riches from us, we can at the same time provide for ourselves and end our strife. The conquest of nature, which is made possible by the insight of science and by the power it produces, is the key to the political. The old commandment that we love our brothers made impossible demands on us, demands against nature, while doing nothing to provide for real needs. What is required is not brotherly love or faith, hope and charity, but self-interested rational labor. The man who contributes most to relieving human misery is the one who produces most, and the surest way of getting him to do so is not by exhorting him, but by rewarding him most handsomely to sacrifice present pleasure for the sake of future benefit, or to assure avoidance of pain through the power so gained. From the point of view of man's well-being and security, what is needed is not men who practice the Christian virtues or those of Aristotle, but rational (capable of calculating their interest) and industrious men. Their opposite numbers are not the vicious, wicked or sinful, but the quarrelsome and the idle. This may include priests and nobles as well as those who most obviously spring to mind.
Here Bloom sees Locke as a modern whose teachings are in tension with classical (Aristotle et al.) and Christian sources. This is an esoteric reading of Locke. Locke did not exoterically present himself as such a troublemaker. But in reality, he couldn't. Philosophers could be killed for rocking the boat in such a way back then.
Bloom, rightly in my view, connects Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau together as operating on a common ground: the concept of "the state of nature," social contract and rights, each with his own distinct view of that phenomenon. Bloom also accurately notes England and America followed Locke, not the other two. Where Bloom is most controversial is with the esoteric reading. Locke presented his ideas in a Christian context, seemingly compatible with the the traditional order. But interestingly, so did Hobbes and Rousseau. All three operated in similar ways presenting their ideas under the auspices of Christianity.
More on that later.
Saturday, September 12, 2020
I'm continuing the discussion from Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" and how it dealt with the founders of liberalism. What they deem modern politics. Politically, Bloom traces it to the English, American and French Revolutions, in that order.
But here is where the analysis gets interesting in a very provocative and contentious way. From pages 162-63:
What was acted out in the American and French Revolutions had been thought out beforehand in the writings of Locke and Rousseau, the scenarists for the drama of modern politics. These Columbuses of the mind—Thomas Hobbes led the way, but Locke and Rousseau followed and were considered more reliable reporters—explored the newly discovered territory called the state of nature, where our forefathers all once dwelled, and brought the important news that by nature all men are free and equal, and that they have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property. This is the kind of information that causes revolutions because it pulls the magic carpet out from under the feet of kings and nobles. Locke and Rousseau agreed on these basics, which became the firm foundation of modern politics. Where they disagreed, the major conflicts within modernity were to occur. Locke was the great practical success; the new English and American regimes founded themselves according to his instructions. Rousseau, probably the greatest literary success of all time, inspired all the later attempts in thought and deed, private and public, to alter, correct or escape from the fatality of Locke's complete victory.
It is now fashionable to deny that there ever was a state of nature. We are like aristocrats who do not care to know that our ancestors were once savages who, motivated only by fear of death and scarcity, killed one another in quarrels over acorns. But we continue to live off the capital passed on to us by these rejected predecessors. Everyone believes in freedom and equality and the rights consequent to them. These were, however, brought to civil society from the state of nature; in the absence of any other ground for them, they must be just as mythical as the tale of the state of nature told by the unreliable travelers. Instructed by the new natural science that provided their compass, they went to the origin and not to the end, as did the older political philosophers. Socrates imagined a shining city in speech; Hobbes discovered an isolated individual whose life was "mean, nasty, brutish and short." This opens up a very different perspective on what one wants and hopes for from politics. Prudence points not toward regimes dedicated to the cultivation of rare and difficult, if not impossible, virtues, but toward a good police force to protect men from one another and allow them to preserve themselves as well as possible. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau all found that one way or another nature led men to war, and that civil society's purpose was not to cooperate with a natural tendency in man toward perfection but to make peace where nature's imperfection causes war.
The reports from the state of nature mixed bad news and good news. Perhaps the most important discovery was that there was no Garden of Eden; the Eldorado of the spirit turned out to be both desert and jungle. Man was not provided for at the beginning, and his current state is not a result of his sin, but of nature's miserliness. He is on his own. God neither looks after him nor punishes him. Nature's indifference to justice is a terrible bereavement for man. He must care for himself without the hope that good men have always had: that there is a price to be paid for crime, that the wicked will suffer. But it is also a great liberation—from God's tutelage, from the claims of kings, nobles and priests, and from guilt or bad conscience. The greatest hopes are dashed, but some of the worst terrors and inner enslavements are dispelled.
Unprotectedness, nakedness, unsuccored suffering and the awfulness of death are the prospects that man without illusions must face. But, looking at things from the point of view of already established society, man can be proud of himself. He has progressed, and by his own efforts. He can think well of himself. And now, possessing the truth, he can be even freer to be himself and improve his situation. He can freely make governments that, untrammeled by mythical duties and titles to rule, serve his interests. The explorations of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau of the origins made possible a new beginning in theory, a project for the reconstruction of politics, just as the exploration and discovery of the New World promised a new beginning in practice. The two new beginnings coincided and produced, among other wonders, the United States.
Much can be said about the above passage, but I will keep my comments brief. Bloom assumes that Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau were the architects of the English, American and French Revolutions. I won't dispute that, but some do. He also assumes they were either atheists or strict deists and the political philosophy that undergirds their thought, either atheistic or deistic. I am not convinced.
In order to draw this conclusion one must read those three philosophers esoterically and, to be honest, it's not possible to know for sure; we can only speculate. So we must draw more modest conclusions. All three philosophers claimed to be "Christians" of some sort. This was in an era when not publicly affirming such could get you at worst executed. They all posited novel ideas, in particular their common ground of "the state of nature."
And each had his own different view of "the state of nature." Straussians like Bloom believe, and I agree, that the "state of nature" was intended to replace the biblical creation story. Or at least offer a parallel. Is it an either/or? Years ago discussing this with interlocutors, we agreed that the "state of nature" was analogous to Darwin's theory of evolution. Some folks believe evolution contradicts the Christian faith; other reconcile them.
Interestingly, Locke's "state of nature" teachings were featured in revolutionary pulpits. America's founders attempted to reconcile different ideologies that supposedly contradict one another. Well, the preachers that were on their side and vice versa did the same when they tried to Christianize the "state of nature."
Also interesting is Bloom's observance that "[i]t is now fashionable to deny that there ever was a state of nature." Bloom was an atheist who believed in Darwin's evolution. Even though the "state of nature" offered a competing creation narrative with the biblical creation story, taken literally, as detailed by Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, the "state of nature" is as unlikely to have actually occurred as the literal details of the Garden of Eden.
So perhaps the state of nature was meant to be understood metaphorically. Likewise, with the Garden of Eden. Science tells us that Darwin's evolution likely best explains the origin of life. And as noted above, some believe the Christian faith can be reconciled with evolution; others not. If we wished to reconcile the aforementioned Enlightenment "state of nature" teachings with evolution, Hobbes' account (alas) comes closest to what life actually was like there.
Saturday, August 29, 2020
What we saw last post is Allan Bloom asserting "modernity" began with three revolutions: English, American and French. I want to continue with this section of "The Closing of the American Mind," this time on pages 160-61:
Americans found little to charm them in the ancien regime in France. Its throne and altar were the very reality of, respectively, the unjust inequality and the prejudice that the American regime was intended to replace in the world. America, they believed, would succeed in its project with relative ease because we began here with the equality of conditions. Americans did not have to kill a king, displace an aristocracy that would stay around and cause trouble, or disestablish a church and perhaps abolish it. But the need to do all this, plus the presence of the Parisian mob, which could not accept the rule of law, prevented the French from attaining the reasonable consensus required for orderly democratic government.
But another view of these events dominated public discussion on the Continent. To some Europeans, the Americans represented an intolerable narrowing of the human horizon, and the price paid for their decent order and prosperity was too high. The French aristocracy had a nobility, brilliance and taste that contrasted sharply with the pettiness and grayness of liberal society's commercial life and motives. The loss of what that aristocracy represented would impoverish the world. More important, the religion that was dismantled could be thought to express the depth and seriousness of life. If the noble and the sacred cannot find serious expression in democracy, its choiceworthiness becomes questionable. These are the arguments, the special pleading of the reactionaries, the disinherited of the ancien regime.
More serious for us are the arguments of the revolutionaries who accepted our principles of freedom and equality. Many believed that we had not thought through these cherished ideals. Can equality really only mean equal opportunity for unequal talents to acquire property? Should shrewdness at acquisition be better rewarded than moral goodness? Can private property and equality sit so easily together when even Plato required communism among equals? Communism or socialism never really made much headway against the respect for private property in the United States. Locke's definition of property suited, and still suits, our tempers perfectly, and Rousseau's critique of it made almost no impression here, although it was and remains very potent in Europe. And freedom for us meant merely acting as one pleases, restricted only by the minimum demands of social existence. We had not adequately understood what really setting laws for ourselves required, nor had we gone beyond the merely negative freedom of satisfying brutish impulsion. As for religion, the domesticated churches in America preserved the superstition of Christianity, overcoming of which was perhaps the key to liberating man. Should a good regime be atheistic, or should it have a civil religion? And, finally, what in the world can we do with the Napoleonic —heroic ambition and military glory—other than ignore or debunk it?
Such were the questions raised on the slaughter-bench of History by the French Revolution, questions that we were not eager to hear. ...
So we see that "modernity" was brought to the world by means of revolutions fought for similar ideals (though not the exact same and in this case the devil may be in the details), first in Great Britain, then America, then in France.
I agree with Bloom that America was lucky that it didn't have "to kill a king, displace an aristocracy that would stay around and cause trouble, or disestablish a church and perhaps abolish it" and that was a large part of why America more successfully implemented the principles of liberal democracy than France did.
Though as Gregg Frazer has noted, the Loyalists in America weren't exactly treated with kid gloves. And as I have noted, the Anglican establishment at the state level was defenestrated. By this time, Americans were already highly suspicious of the Anglican establishment across the ocean. We could only imagine what would have occurred if the Church of England was uniformly established in the American colonies at the time of the American revolution.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
I strongly recommend Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" and Leo Strauss' "Natural Right and History," not necessarily because I endorse everything in them; there is much in both books with which to disagree. Sometimes strongly.
Rather it's the way Strauss and his followers, especially Bloom attempt to penetrate the past great thinkers and historical events. The seriousness; the intensity. They truly give you a "grand tour" if you can stick around and follow them until the end.
And the part of the tour which explores the American founding is as contentious as it is illuminating. Below, I'm going to reproduce an excerpt from "The Closing of the American Mind" where Bloom deals with the big three revolutions of liberal democracy: English, American, and French.
Bloom popularly appealed to a "conservative" (right of center) audience; but I think the book's appeal transcends politics. On the section I will reproduce, instead of writing something that would tickle the ears of the conservatives, where the American revolution was "good" and the French was "bad," etc., he gives us a different honest, interesting, informed take.
Bloom does not see "revolutions" -- any of them -- as either conservative or "Christian"* events. The three revolutions each were unique and could be viewed as sui generis. Or we could view them, as Bloom does, as part a larger connected history.
From pages 158-59:
Modernity is constituted by the political regimes founded on freedom and equality, hence on the consent of the governed, and made possible by a new science of nature that masters and conquers nature, providing prosperity and health. This was a self-conscious philosophical project, the greatest transformation of man's relations with his fellows and with nature ever effected. The American Revolution instituted this system of government for Americans, who in general were satisfied with the result and had a pretty clear view of what they had done. The questions of political principle and of right had been solved once and for all. No further revolution would be necessary, if revolution means changing of the fundamental principles of legitimacy, in accordance with reason and the natural order of things, and requiring armed combat against those who adhere to old orders and their unjust forms of rule. Revolution, a new word in the political vocabulary, which first referred to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England, made in the name of very much the same principles as ours, is akin to the movement of the sun from night to day.
The French Revolution, called a new dawn by Kant, was a much greater event than the American Revolution in the eyes of the world at that time because it concerned one of the two great powers in it, the veritable school of Europe, with one of the oldest and most civilized peoples. It was fought and won for freedom and equality, as were the English and American revolutions. It would seem to have completed the irresistible triumph of modern philosophy's project and to give a final proof of the theodicy of liberty and equality. But, unlike its predecessors, it gave birth to a dazzling array of interpretations and set off reactions in all directions that have not yet exhausted the impulse it lent to them. The Right—in its only serious meaning, the party opposed to equality (not economic equality but equality of rights)—at first wanted to undo the Revolution in the name of Throne and Altar, and this reaction probably breathed its last only with Francisco Franco in 1975. Another form of the Right, as it were a progressive Right, wanted to create and impose a new kind of inequality, a new European or German aristocracy, on the world, and it was blasted out of existence in Berlin in 1945. The Left, which intended to complete the Revolution by abolishing private property, is still quite alive but has never succeeded in doing so in those nations, particularly France, most influenced by the French Revolution. It was the Center, the bourgeois solution, which in the long run won out, but after so many regrets and so many disappointed aspirations, in France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as it had in England and the United States. The last really great bourgeois-haters died at about the same time: Sartre, De Gaulle, and Heidegger. (Americans are not sufficiently aware that hatred of the bourgeois is at least as much a thing of the Right as of the Left.) One can expect a certain literary afterglow, since bourgeois-baiting is almost a reflex among writers and is unlearned with great difficulty, as was proved when so many kept at it even though there were Nazis and Communists around who might have merited their attention. In order to keep that flame alive, many literary persons interpreted Hitler as a bourgeois phenomenon, an interpretation that they have made stick by force of repetition.
Bloom has other variations on this theme in other parts of the book which I hope to reproduce and discuss sometime in the future.
*Meaning traditional orthodox Christianity. There are plenty of varieties of Christianity. Bloom would probably argue that what's known as "liberation theology" is the theological heir to revolutions.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
I, for a long while, was under the initial impression that the 1776 Virginia Constitution can be seen as an exception when it came to the imposition of religious test oaths for public office. The following snippet had led me (and many others) in that direction:
Section 7. Oath Or Affirmation
All officers elected or appointed under or pursuant to this Constitution shall, before they enter on the performance of their public duties, severally take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties incumbent upon me as ______________ according to the best of my ability (so help me God)."
Although the current oath has been uncontroversial, previous oaths have generated significant controversy. The 1864 Constitution was the first to require officeholders to take an oath [my italics] and the purpose was to ensure that officeholders were not supporters of the Confederacy. Then, the 1867-68 Convention approved a "test-oath" that would have prevented a significant number of past supporters of the Confederacy from holding state office. Both of these oaths approved by the 1867-68 Convention provoked significant controversy, whether at the time or in coming years. [end excerpt]
A little research shows that my initial impression was wrong. As can be readily seen, the Virginia Constitution doesn't lack religious test oath legislation. See Founders Online here, and here, and again here, which show, early on (~1779), a list of various test oaths for state office.
In Virginia, even when an oath-taker held religious scruples that person still had to “repeat the formulary, which in his opinion, is or ought to be observed on such occasions, according to the religion in which such person professeth to believe, … .” While apparently quite tolerant this particular clause put a person like Thomas Jefferson in an awkward position.
Thomas Jefferson, an unorthodox Christian, was elected Virginia Governor on June 1, 1779. According to common law & Virginia statute TJ should have served from jail. At least, that’s how Frederick Jonassen (So Help Me ?, pg. 329, footnote 148; also Bradley) put it:
Until 1786, a non-Christian in Virginia would have to keep his religious opinions to himself because of a statute that made it a criminal offence to publically utter a non-Christian view."' <148>
148 - It is not clear how these provisions were enforced, whether through religious tests or otherwise. And a “professed atheist, polytheist, or unorthodox Christian” in Virginia presumably “would have had to serve from jail, because both by common law and statute Virginia criminalized at least the public utterance of such views. Note as well that Anglicanism was "established" or preferred even to other Protestant sects in Virginia until 1786.51
Gerard V. Bradley, The No Religious Test Clause and the Constitution of Religious Liberty: A Machine That Has Gone of Itself, p. 683; 51 - Isaac, Evangelical Revolt: The Nature of the Baptists' Challenge to the Traditional Order in Virginia, 1765 to 1775, 31 WM. & MARY L. REV. 345-68 (1974); 52 - S. BOLTON, SOUTHERN ANGLICANISM 5 (1982).
Written in 1781 and 1782, Jefferson assessed the state of religious rights in Virginia after the 1776 Constitution in his Notes on the State of Virginia Query #17 (published 1785):
The present state of our laws on the subject of religion is this. The convention of May 1776, in their declaration of rights, declared it to be a truth, and a natural right, that the exercise of religion should be free; but when they proceeded to form on that declaration the ordinance of government, instead of taking up every principle declared in the bill of rights, and guarding it by legislative sanction, they passed over that which asserted our religious rights, leaving them as they found them.
The same convention, however, when they met as a member of the general assembly in October 1776, repealed all acts of parliament which had rendered criminal the maintaining any opinions in matters of religion, the forbearing to repair to church, and the exercising any mode of worship; and suspended the laws giving salaries to the clergy, which suspension was made perpetual in October 1779. Statutory oppressions in religion being thus wiped away, we remain at present under those only imposed by the common law, or by our own acts of assembly. At the common law, heresy was a capital offence, punishable by burning. Its definition was left to the ecclesiastical judges, before whom the conviction was, till the statute of the 1 El. c. 1. circumscribed it, by declaring, that nothing should be deemed heresy, but what had been so determined by authority of the canonical scriptures, or by one of the four first general councils, or by some other council having for the grounds of their declaration the express and plain words of the scriptures. Heresy, thus circumscribed, being an offence at the common law, our act of assembly of October 1777, c. 17. gives cognizance of it to the general court, by declaring, that the jurisdiction of that court shall be general in all matters at the common law. The execution is by the writ De haeretico comburendo. By our own act of assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of a God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more Gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offence by incapacity to hold any office or employment ecclesiastical, civil, or military; on the second by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years imprisonment, without bail. A father's right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put, by the authority of a court, into more orthodox hands [my italics].
This is a summary view of that religious slavery, under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of their civil freedom. The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
The Boundaries of Toleration
Sunday, July 19, 2020
I hope to have much more to say on this book in the future; I haven't gotten it yet but am well familiar with what it argues, having read many of Reilly's articles and other commentary about his book, for instance the symposium on Reilly's book at Catholic World Report. It's a great symposium that features analysis that is pro, con and in between.
Daniel J. Mahoney's article is my favorite and it's in the "in between" box. What I see as key from his article:
Still, the Founders bought into what the great southern Catholic novelist Walker Percy called a “mishmash anthropology.” No moral relativists, they nonetheless adopted the idiom of the “state of nature” which was intended by its great proponents to be a substitute account of human origins from the old one, so strikingly provided in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. Such an account is remarkably “conventionalist,” in that it takes its bearings from solitary or semi-solitary individuals in the state of nature who are in no way political animals by nature. And Locke, a most canny writer, presented arguments in his Second Treatise of Government for human beings being both the product of Divine workmanship and beings who own themselves. Human beings have duties in the state of nature (contra Hobbes) but only when these are not at odds with the overwhelming imperative of self-preservation. For Locke, God and nature are not particularly provident, 9/10, nay 999/1000, Locke says, of what human beings have is the product of human industriousness. In numerous and subtle ways, Locke undermines the multiple reasons why human beings ought to be grateful to a loving and Provident God and a beneficent natural order.I don't like the term "mishmash" because it suggests incoherence. Rather, I prefer "synthesis." In good faith, America's founders, good Whigs they, attempted to "harmonize" (see Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825).
We can discuss whether Locke's teachings were properly "Christianized"* with tips of the hat to the Anglican Thomist, Richard Hooker. Yes, Locke's ideas were presented, often from pulpits, in a manner that suggested compatibility with traditional Christianity and the natural law (Aristotle-Thomism-Hooker); but also often included the "state of nature/social contracts and rights" speak that is, as Leo Strauss put it, "wholly alien" to not only the Bible but also the traditional natural law.
Allan Bloom, one of Strauss' disciples, has an instructive quotation:
When Bishops, a generation after Hobbes’s death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had. ("The Closing of the American Mind," 41-2).Note that it was not Hobbes who was cited from the pulpits, but either Locke explicitly, or Locke's ideas on the state of nature/social contract and rights, without attribution. Bloom, like Strauss before him and Deenen and others, operate under the assumption that Locke was "Hobbesian." We need not operate under this assumption, but rather simply note Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau all shared the common ground of the construct of the "state of nature/social contract and rights," and each had his own particular spin on that construct. It was, for lack of a better term, the "common parlance" among them. This construct was, however, first initiated by Hobbes.
*Meaning the traditional or orthodox practice of the faith.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
[i] He was also a representative and senator in the new republic where he played a major role in drafting the Bill of Rights. And unlike many of the more “Enlightened” founders favored by Professor Allen, Sherman never owned a slave, and he co-authored a law that put slavery in Connecticut on the path to extinction.[ii]only statesman to help draft and sign the Declaration and Resolves (1774), the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1777, 1778), and the Constitution (1787). He served longer in the Continental and Confederation Congresses than all but four men, and he was regularly appointed to key committees, including those charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. At the Constitutional Convention, Sherman often outmaneuvered Madison and, according to David Brian Robertson, the “political synergy between Madison and Sherman … may have been necessary for the Constitution’s adoption.”
American patriots drew from a rich and deep tradition of Calvinist thought concerning when tyrants may be justly resisted. ...
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
I want to step back from this discussion to ask the more fundamental question of why this debate is so important to a segment of the U.S. population. A common response is that professional historians, many of whom have secularist leanings, have given Christianity, and its impact on our nation’s history, a short shrift, either marginalizing it or portraying it in negative terms. As a result, there is a desire to “set the record straight”—as if there is an identifiably “correct” interpretation of history that should then be embedded in perpetuity. That said, Professor Hall and his cohort of like-minded scholars have contributed to the discipline by expanding our understanding of our past and by challenging oversimplified assumptions about the nation’s founders. I chiefly disagree with the conclusions he draws.
Sunday, July 5, 2020
In Fairfax County, Virginia, a wealthy D.C. suburb and one of the largest school districts in the nation, “Rachna Sizemore Heizer … swore the oath of office while holding a copy of . . . Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States,” according to a December 20 [2019 Fairfax County Times] article celebrating the new “historically diverse” school board, part of the transformation of this community and 32 others toward racial “equity” through groups funded by Soros, and others.