Monday, December 22, 2008

The Declaration of Independence and Interposition

My Positive Liberty co-blogger Jim Babka has encouraged me to explore further the Calvinist doctrine of "interposition" and the claim of right to revolt based on the Declaration of Independence. Here's how I understand the issue:

What the American Founders did DOESN’T at all fit with Calvin's understanding of Romans 13 or of interposition. However, there were some later Calvinists, Samuel Rutherford most notably, who enlarged Calvin's position on interposition as something close to but still not exactly what America's Founders later argued in principle and did in fact. Think of what Rutherford et al. argued in this sense as "living Calvinism." Systems of thought “live” and “evolve” much like the common law did. On my radio appearance with Jim and Herb Titus, Herb mentioned how Calvin/Calvinism, "planted a seed" that later bore its fruition in the American Revolution/Founding. I noted this could be true, but the idea of "planting a seed" was dangerous or contentious for those who want to argue their case from the right ("original intent"/"strict construction" or what have you).

Though I didn't have time to explain exactly what I meant in detail. I will here:

Sometimes ideas "grow" in ways that the Founders of such ideas would have neither expected nor supported. I noted, accurately, the Founding Fathers as "living Lockeans" in this sense. Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom and Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance were quintessentially Lockean documents. Yet, Locke was clear that neither Roman Catholics nor atheists "fit" into his vision of religious toleration. Jefferson and Madison on the other hand explicitly argued that religious rights belong to ALL. They were aware that they were extending Locke's ideas further than he personally planned. As Jefferson noted: "Where he [Locke] stopped short, we may go on."

So indeed the whole idea of "planting a seed" and seeing where ideas grow arguably could justify what some might term the "living Constitution" or at the very least results that contradict the Founders' intention of how the ideas were to be applied. Various scholars [many of whom quite conservative] blame the phenomenon of "the living Constitution" on the fact that America is broadly founded on ideals of liberty and equality and that America's founding courts inherited a judicial system where judges had long "made up the law" in their roles as common law deciders of cases and controversies.


Why Calvin would have been a Tory and Thought the American Revolution a Sin


What America's Founders did in declaring revolt was AGAINST what Calvin himself posited: Calvin's original Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Book Four, Chapter 20 can be found here. Calvin makes clear he thought that one must ALWAYS submit to government no matter who they are, or how tyrannical. There IS no right to revolt against tyranny. Dr. Gregg Frazer of The Masters College summed up his research on Calvin's original writings for the following article at WorldNetDaily. I am going to quote Frazer offering proof quotations that not only properly understand the context of Calvin's writings, but that cannot be "explained away" by "context" either:

Calvin said: "We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes." And "we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him" and "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid." He warned, "Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God." One more from Calvin: "And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer."...(Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion")


Frazer's Understanding of Calvin's Notion of Interposition

John Calvin does allow for a "lesser magistrate exception." Let's look at the original text (please forgive me if this translation of Calvin is slightly different than the one Frazer was citing; I don't know where to find that one online; ultimately I don't believe the translation affects the meaning):

For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings, (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and, perhaps, there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets.) So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.


Frazer's comments from his PhD thesis:

So that he would not be misinterpreted, Calvin gave historical examples of officials who were part of their respective governmental systems and were expressly given authority to restrain rulers. He never uses any form of the word "rebel" or "revolt," however. Their actions were legal and a recognized part of the system of government -- akin to the power of the Congress to impeach and remove the American president. pp. 360-61.


In other words, the authority to resist the King MUST preexist in the governing positive law. Now, one could indeed make a case that what the American Founders DID was in accord with existing English positive law. And they acted as "intermediate magistrates." (It's a bit of a stretch, but one COULD, I think, make this case).

However, that's what they DID, not what they SAID. What they SAID is in the Declaration of Independence. Let's, again, look at the governing text:

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


Now this has absolutely nothing to do with what John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion regarding "interposition." Indeed, this is a clarion call for rebellion or revolt if governments don't meet certain "ends." This rhetoric cares nothing about the existing positive law or the status of the "resisters" as constitutional magistrates. If the existing positive law doesn't meet the natural ends of government, the theory goes, "the people" may "alter or to abolish it,..." In other words, they may revolt.

And when it came to discovering those "natural ends" of government, the Declaration does not turn to the Bible or John Calvin but "self evident" Truths discovered in "nature" or from "man's reason." Some have argued that "the laws of nature and nature's God" really refer to what's written in the Bible. But I don't see ANYWHERE in the Bible (other than that which might be derived from a sophistical reading of the good book) that clearly teaches:

that...men are...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,...


So when it came to "discovering" those "unalienable rights" in "nature" chiefly from "man's reason," the Founders turned to John Locke's doctrines as a proxy. And Locke never cited Calvin OR the subsequent Calvinists like Rutherford or interposition. And though Locke (a secret unitarian) claimed to be a Christian, believed Jesus the "Messiah," and often cited the Bible, his groundbreaking notions of "state of nature" and "unalienable rights" were still not at all biblical [that is found within the Bible's text] or even part of the classical Aristotelian understanding of politics. Rather, they were something modern.

Finally, regarding the preachers and pulpits who argued on behalf of revolt. You can read them here in Ellis Sandoz's Founding era collection of sermons. Sandoz's collection is not exhaustive. And the contents are not monolithic. But, overall, (especially when one concentrates on 1750 onwards) Locke, not Calvin, not Rutherford or any other Calvinist DOMINATES the pro-revolt sermons. And even when they read the Bible, they do so through a Lockean lens that takes Locke's a-biblical ideas that God grants men inalienable rights to life, political liberty, property, equality and "happiness" as "self-evident" givens, discoverable in "nature" -- without the assistance of the Bible. And those a-biblical "discoveries" from natural reason are given at LEAST the very same "Truth" status as that which is revealed in the Bible.

And also note, it's not just unitarians who elevated the discoveries of man's unaided reason in nature to the same level as scripture. It was also orthodox Trinitarians who did this, for instance, John Witherspoon, whom many folks are surprised to learn was a Locke imbibed philosophical rationalist.

19 comments:

Christian Salafia said...

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

This statement alone would seemingly directly contradict Calvin's position, particularly in terms of Romans 13, on Governing authorities.

As you quoted, he believed that all authority was God ordained and it was the believers life to obey and suffer.

Government deriving their power from the "consent of the governed" would seem to contradict that view.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I wholeheartedly agree.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Since British Calvinism drifted away from Calvin in a pretty big hurry, and the Puritans had mutated into Congregationalists by the time of the Founding, Calvin is really an academic concern.

As for Locke, and I need to slave over a post for this---I submit that Locke's popularity in the colonies was not with a full understanding of his idea of natural law.

Many or most of today's scholars of Locke put him with Thomas Hobbes, but the exoteric [outward] Locke disparaged Hobbes and sang the praises of the Anglican Thomist Rev. Richard Hooker.

It is reasonable to submit that when folks like Samuel Adams praise Locke, it's not with the scholarly understanding. Indeed, Alexander Hamilton's famous The Farmer Refuted explicitly condemns Hobbes' "nasty, brutish and short" vision of the man in the state of nature.

Neither have I found even Thomas Jefferson endorsing the esoteric [hidden, secret] Locke cum Hobbes. [Although I could be wrong about that.]

I submit that the exoteric John Locke, the one who praises Rev. Hooker, was the Locke as he was understood by the Founding generation.

Hamilton:

"I shall, henceforth, begin to make some allowance for that enmity, you have discovered to the natural rights of mankind. For, though ignorance of them in this enlightened age cannot be admitted, as a sufficient excuse for you; yet, it ought, in some measure, to extenuate your guilt. If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend, diligently, to these, you will not require any others.

There is so strong a similitude between your political principles and those maintained by Mr. Hobb[e]s, that, in judging from them, a person might very easily mistake you for a disciple of his. His opinion was, exactly, coincident with yours, relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he was, then, perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue, but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians, for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he run into this absurd and impious doctrine, was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge of the universe.

As you, sometimes, swear by him that made you, I conclude, your sentiment does not correspond with his, in that which is the basis of the doctrine, you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant, that there is a supreme intelligence, who rules the world, and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and, still, to assert, that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appear to a common understanding, altogether irreconcileable.

Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original." Blackstone.

Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind, the supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

How would you deal with Allan Bloom's understanding of Hobbesian-Lockean ideas and their being cited in a "Christian" context:

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," pp. 141-42).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, they used Hobbes' nomenclature perhaps, but with different meanings. The Hamilton quote above does exactly this, using Hobbes' terms while disparaging his understanding of them.

I do not take Bloom as an authority on anything; I suppose I need to read his book, but after reading reviews like this from other "Straussians" [see also the excellent Eva Brann in the notes], there are many other things higher on my list.

Where, in my view, Strauss errs by eliding Christianity [Eric Voegelin shares this bone of contention], Bloom apparently takes it step further.

See also Thomas G. West vs. Bloom, especially where he too quotes The Farmer Refuted.

West does not seem to share Strauss and Voegelin's conclusion that Locke was Hobbes in vestryman's clothing; however, he does second my point [or I his] that the Founders' understanding of Locke [including the brilliant James Wilson's] was anything resembling Hobbes in disguise.

West fairly demolishes Bloom here, in my view:

In fact, the Founders had a low opinion of Hobbes. James Wilson, one of the most important men at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, summed up his assessment of Hobbes by asserting that Hobbes's "narrow and hideous" theories are "totally repugnant to all human sentiment, and all human experience."

[snip]

Against Hamilton and the other Founders, Bloom asserts, without the slightest attempt to prove it, that for Americans, rights precede duties as a matter of course: "But in modern political regimes [such as America], where rights precede duties, freedom definitely has primacy over community, family, and even nature" (113). But at the end of the quotation just given above, Hamilton says the exact opposite: duties precede rights. Bloom also says the enlightenment views of Hobbes and Locke were meant to liberate men "from God's tutelage" (163). Thus Bloom attributes to America, and America's Founders, a view that Hamilton went out of his way to denounce as immoral.

Jonathan Rowe said...

West fairly demolishes Bloom here, in my view:

"Demolishes" is in my opinion, too strong a word. "Answers" yes. "Demolishes" no. What Bloom, Kraynak (perhaps Strauss himself) may have been getting at is that these ideas of unalienable rights, perhaps unbeknownst to their formulators, were pregnant with implications that later bore themselves out in modern Western liberal democratic societies. It could be that DUTY is every bit as important as RIGHTS according to said theory. But the fact they they were SILENT on matters of DUTY but were explicit (at least in the Declaration) on "rights" doesn't help the "duties are as if not more important than rights" understanding of the American Founding.

I think this is why these East Coast Straussians (and others like Robert Bork if isn't properly termed an "East Coast Straussian") support the idea of reading the US Constitution unmoored from the Declaration of Independence.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Show me where the Founders said so.

I've learned much from Strauss, but I have long thought that Aquinas as well as later Christian thought are the hole in his donut. I believe he attempts to describe reality and history while ignoring God and Christianity, and his story is revisionist.

For one thing, in the Christian milieu, "duty" to God and fellow man is already understood. The question of "rights" follows.

Untethered from the Christian milieu and its grounding in the existence of duties, it's quite so that "modern Western liberal democratic societies" have come up with mind-bending "implications," I suppose beginning with the French Revolution, and continuing through to the current crisis...

Our Founding Truth said...

And though Locke (a secret unitarian) claimed to be a Christian, believed Jesus the "Messiah," and often cited the Bible, his groundbreaking notions of "state of nature" and "unalienable rights" were still not at all biblical [that is found within the Bible's text]>

You write this because 1) you don't know the Bible, 2) you don't know where to look for it. Ultimately, you have no idea what you're talking about, as usual.

Locke's a-biblical ideas that God grants men inalienable rights to life, political liberty, property, equality and "happiness" as "self-evident" givens, discoverable in "nature" -- without the assistance of the Bible.>

Again, you have no clue where to find them in the Bible, so you make blind statements, about which you know nothing.

It was also orthodox Trinitarians who did this, for instance, John Witherspoon, whom many folks are surprised to learn was a Locke imbibed philosophical rationalist.>

Sometimes I think you write this not believing it yourself. I could post quotes by Witherspoon attacking reason and affirming the Bible, but you are on a ride truth can derail.

Our Founding Truth said...

Government deriving their power from the "consent of the governed" would seem to contradict that view.>

No. Israel made a covenant with God, the consent is the people's agreement with that covenant.

Brad Hart said...

OFT:

You insinuate in your comment above that the Bible does in fact teach of "inalienable rights" and other Lockean concepts. I would be very interested in knowing where they are. When you have the chance, could you post them here.

Our Founding Truth said...

OFT:

You insinuate in your comment above that the Bible does in fact teach of "inalienable rights" and other Lockean concepts. I would be very interested in knowing where they are. When you have the chance, could you post them here.>

All that will be published, but if you've read the Bible, you should know where they are: gun rights, unalienable rights, etc. Those rights aren't Lockean, get off it. They are all in the Bible, giv
en to the world through the Reformation.

Brad Hart said...

Simmer down, OFT. I was just asking you a question. But again, if you have the time, I would be interested in knowing the specific verses.

Our Founding Truth said...

Simmer down, OFT. I was just asking you a question. But again, if you have the time, I would be interested in knowing the specific verses.>

Brad, sorry for getting upset, but I can't give all my thunder to this blog. I would start at Exodus if I were you, and you'll find almost every right there is, spelled out in the Torah. All anyone has to do is read it. It's all right there.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

As the Joker would put it: Wait till you get a load of what's coming next!

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

Read Dr. Frazer's latest response which mentions your arguments. I apologize if he makes you want to turn tail and run since he so thoroughly refuted your nonsense that you tried to throw like spaghetti at the wall to see what stuck.

Next time have more manners, please.

Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

.

Jon writes, "I think this is why these East Coast Straussians (and others like Robert Bork if isn't properly termed an "East Coast Straussian") support the idea of reading the US Constitution unmoored from the Declaration of Independence."
.
I recall that Strauss emphasizes the idea of "a prelude to the law". I don't see Strauss giving any support to the idea that the U.S.Constitution could be read or even understood, for that matter, set loose from the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it seems that it is the DOI which gives our Constitution its meaning.
.
I think this is the area where out thinking is being directed at the central thesis of that on which the United States is Founded.
.
Here is a quote from Strauss (pp 161-162) :
"Political life derives its dignity from something which transcends political life. This essential limitation of the political can be understood in three different ways. According to Socrates the transpolitical to which the political owes its dignity is philosophy, or theoria, which however, is accessible only to what he calls good natures, to human beings who possess a certain natural equipment. According to the teaching of revelation the transpolitical is accessible through faith, which does not depend on specific natural presuppositions, but on divine grace or God's free election. According to liberalism the transpolitical consists in something which every human being possesses as much as any other human being. The classic expression of liberal thought is the view that political society exists above all for the sake of protecting the rights of man, the rights which every human being possesses regardless of his natural gifts or his achievements, to say nothing of divine grace."
.
(My emphasis on "revelation" and "liberalism".)
.

.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think this is the area where out thinking is being directed at the central thesis of that on which the United States is Founded.

I agree that is the nexus, Phil. If our notion of America begins and ends with the constitution, then all we have is a contract, and no soul.

Strauss is interesting here---he avoids notions of soul or God, yet we catch him in a weak moment here. I repeat my previous criticism, that he glosses over Aquinas and Christianity as real phenomena. Note that "liberalism" as Strauss uses it conforms to Aquinas' "the dignity of the human person." It took centuries for the notion to be developed into what we now know as "human rights," but that was a seminal step.

[Strauss' criticism of "modernity" is that it disconnects "rights" from "duties" and thereby makes a mess of the whole thing. But that's another story. And unfortunately, a polity includes everyone, and his Socrates attributes "dignity" to only a select few, via Strauss' real god, philosophy.]