Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Waldman on Madison's Birthday and Legacy

Hat tip Ed Brayton for noticing Steven Waldman's op ed in the Wall Street Journal on James Madison's birthday and legacy. Read the whole thing. I'll just excerpt some good parts:

James Madison is more responsible than any other single American for one of the nation's greatest characteristics -- religious freedom....You're probably aware that Madison is sometimes referred to as the Father of the Constitution for his pivotal role in guiding the Constitutional Convention. The original constitution took the historic step of forbidding Congress from limiting public office to people of a particular faith. That may seem obvious now, but at the time 11 of the 13 colonies had religious tests.

But consider this too:

It was James Madison who introduced into Congress the amendments that would eventually become the Bill of Rights. It was he who took the lead in ushering them through Congress and in particular fighting for a strong religious freedom clause.

It was also Madison who led the forces of religious freedom in one of the most important early battles on the topic. In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed that Virginians pay a tax to help support local churches. Madison led the opposition and successfully defeated this proposal.

And there's the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom....Jefferson did write this seminal document, but under his leadership it died in committee. Seven years later, while Jefferson was in France, Madison resurrected it and guided it through the Virginia legislature.

But Madison's most important contribution to religious freedom was not legislative, it was theoretical. It really was Madison who shaped the most holistic and effective theory of what religious freedom was and why we wanted it. For Jefferson, it was often about protecting the political system from religious interference.

Madison's emphasis was different. He believed that the main reason to have separation of church and state was to help religion. He came to this view in part because of an unusual but crucial alliance he built with evangelical Christians of his day. That's right. At that time, the evangelical Christians were the leading supporters of separation of church and state, and Madison was one of their greatest champions. They believed that not only was government repression bad but so was government help. Madison agreed and worked hand in hand with the evangelicals to press this point. In a crucial document called the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison integrated the arguments of the Enlightenment intellectuals with the arguments of the evangelicals to create something much greater. Separating church and state would be better for both state and church.

This may be a concept that's a bit jarring to modern culture warriors. We've come to think that if you're pro religion you must surely want government to play a greater role in promoting religion. And if you're in favor of separation of church and state that you must want to reduce religion's role.

Madison and his evangelical allies had a completely different concept. They wanted to promote religion. They just believed that the best way to promote religion was for government to leave it alone.

14 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Waldman writes:

Separating church and state would be better for both state and church.

This may be a concept that's a bit jarring to modern culture warriors. We've come to think that if you're pro religion you must surely want government to play a greater role in promoting religion. And if you're in favor of separation of church and state that you must want to reduce religion's role.

Madison and his evangelical allies had a completely different concept. They wanted to promote religion. They just believed that the best way to promote religion was for government to leave it alone.


Unfortunately, there's a grand elision here, or in the least, a conflation of terms.

The separation of "church" and state refers to churches, as in the Presbyterians, by most Founding-era accounts, the most "pushy" of the sects/denominations.

"Church" is not synonymous with "religion" to our modern ears, although in the Founding era, "religion" or even "faith" could refer to Presbyterianism in contradistinction to, say, the Baptists or Anglican/Episcopalians, or [God forbid] the papists.

It is true that Madison [following Adam Smith, which I've been meaning to write about] thought that state-subsidized denominations [think Church of England here, and it also applies to Roman Catholicism] got fat and happy and hierarchical and dogmatic when on the public teat. Moreover, they got lazy in ministering to their congregations' spiritual needs, and their theology also became moribund.

It's quite true that "American" religion has been dynamic, creating all sorts of things like unitarians, evangelicals, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, and has had several Great Awakenings.

However, when Mr. Waldman invokes the specter of "culture warriors," he completely loses the thread. This politically correct term might have modern secularists nodding in agreement, but this has absolutely nothing to do with American sectarian pluralism or the role "religion" in public life.

It has nothing to do with James Madison. Zip, nada, do-da.

The Mormons aren't fighting the Catholics who aren't fighting the evangelicals. In fact, when it comes to the sphere of public life, they are all in startling agreement issue by issue. They are snorted at here as "culture warriors," but if they are at war, it's not with each other. Mr. Waldman's happily "neutral" argument conceals more than it reveals, and hasn't a damn thing to do with James Madison either.

Respectfully submitted.

jimmiraybob said...

"However, when Mr. Waldman invokes the specter of 'culture warriors,' he completely loses the thread. This politically correct term might have modern secularists nodding in agreement, but this has absolutely nothing to do with American sectarian pluralism or the role 'religion' in public life."

Hey, don't blame the term on modern secularists. The term derives from those who have taken up the banner of culture war. Those who use "culture warrior" to describe themselves.

Modern secularists are far more likely to refer to them as whack job, populist con-artists looking to profit by arousing the passions of the self-professed moral masses. We cannot be held responsible for the terms "Jesus warrior" or "God warrior" either (sometimes used interchangeably with "culture warrior").

Our Founding Truth said...

You're probably aware that Madison is sometimes referred to as the Father of the Constitution for his pivotal role in guiding the Constitutional Convention.>

What a joke! Waldman doesn't have a clue. Madison was timid and of weak health. He could guide nothing, he couldn't even serve in the military because of weak health. He was junior in position to all the other members, and other states were ahead of him giving religious freedom. Again, secular historians are biased and for the most part, ignorant of the facts.

Our Founding Truth said...

It was he who took the lead in ushering them through Congress and in particular fighting for a strong religious freedom clause.>

Oh really? What committee did he head? Nada!

In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed that Virginians pay a tax to help support local churches. Madison led the opposition and successfully defeated this proposal.>

He led the opposition to success because Henry left. If he would have stayed, the bill would have definitely passed, as the big boys were all for it; Washington, Marshall, and Lee.

In a crucial document called the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison integrated the arguments of the Enlightenment intellectuals with the arguments of the evangelicals to create something much greater. >

Here is another flawed connection. Enlightenment thought had nothing to do with separation of church and state; it was reformation thought wholesale, but I take it in stride with secularist historians who don't know the facts.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

It's obvious that YOUR biases are showing thru here.

Madison, for instance, was far more an important "Founder" than Hamilton ever was simply because old Hammy never made it to President as Madison, a two termer, did.

He was also more important a Founder than Patrick Henry for the simple reason that Henry opposed the US Constitution.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There's more than a grain of truth in the argument that it was the Baptists of Virginia and not Madison's "Enlightenment" arguments that vitiated the Virginia Statue on Religious Freedom.

And once again---although Waldman notes it briefly---11 of the 13 states went the opposite of Virginia's way. This is a big deal, not a sidelight.

__________________________

We cannot be held responsible for the terms "Jesus warrior" or "God warrior" either (sometimes used interchangeably with "culture warrior").

Actually, they're 2 different things, JRB, which was part of my point. There is a miniscule bunch who want theocracy; the rest of the culture warriors would simply like a return to the religio-political landscape of say, 1950.

And of course, to say that Michael Newdow or the ACLU or their ilk are anything less than "culture warriors" themselves is inaccurate. Yet we apply only to one side, the God Squad, and use it negatively.

Our Founding Truth said...

Madison, for instance, was far more an important "Founder" than Hamilton ever was simply because old Hammy never made it to President as Madison, a two termer, did.>

This is an incorrect statement 100%. Hamilton has the edge over Madison. Our entire financial system is his idea. Hamilton could have been indispensable as Von Steuben was; Hamilton was the first man over the wall at Yorktown, and a born leader, which Madison wasn't. Hamilton was an inspiration, and colossus as Jefferson said. His ideas proved superior over the agrarian Jefferson and Madison. Although, he messed up big time.

For the love of God, Von Steuben is of the same importance with Madison. Ask any revolutionary military historian about von steuben; without him, we most likely would still be under Britain. Madison's ideas were not his own, overblown; kind of like the critics on zeppelin's last album; an overinflated hype.

He was also more important a Founder than Patrick Henry for the simple reason that Henry opposed the US Constitution.>

Your definition of a key founder is flawed from the start, that's why you're off track.

bpabbott said...

Ray: "Our entire financial system is [Hamilton's] idea."

Really?

Do you consider the Federal Reserve part of "our entire financial system"?

Regarding the rank of importance of our founding fathers, there are various subjective claims (yours for example). Do you know of any objective claims?

There a rather comperhensive one here. It places Hamilton ahead of President's sans one ... the one being Madison.

Madison is ranked #1 and Hamilton #8.

No doubt you will object to this ranking. Please feel free to critique the objective methodology and not the results.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

That's why we can't take you seriously. To say that the homosexual (and I don't mean that in a bad way, just an accurate way) Von Steuben, who wasn't even a "Founder" at all, was as important as Madison is patently absurd.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oy, OFT, you're arguing for the sake of arguing. If you can't tell your good arguments from your bad ones, it's no wonder nobody else can, either. And it doesn't help there are more of the latter than the former. Although I find you quite damp, you make it far too easy for people to say you're all wet.

Our Founding Truth said...

That's why we can't take you seriously. To say that the homosexual (and I don't mean that in a bad way, just an accurate way) Von Steuben, who wasn't even a "Founder" at all, was as important as Madison is patently absurd.>

Blatant lies like this need no refutation.

OFT, you're arguing for the sake of arguing.>

Without Von Steuben we may not be a nation. If we didn't have Madison, there are others to fill the void, and the White House or Capitol wouldn't have been burned. Common sense says Von Steuben was more more important than Madison; believe what you will. John Marshall was far more important than Madison, but, to the secularists, like Rowe, Madison is one of their champions, so the I see the bias.

I have nothing against Madison, I'm just not blind to the facts.

Being President has absolutely nothing to do with the importance of a founder. This absurd notion is all Rowe, big time, and flawed big time, proven by Madison not being President during the founding period of any branch of government. The judiciary was firmly established before Madison was President.

Our Founding Truth said...

There a rather comperhensive one here. It places Hamilton ahead of President's sans one ... the one being Madison>

That one can be picked a part fairly easily. Look where John Jay is. He held more positions in government, including Sherman, plus, he was chief of the Judiciary from the start. He should be in the top five. If Jay wasn't so important, why did Washington give him any post he wanted including Sec. of State over Jefferson?

Do some research abbott, and learn something.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Again, the homosexual Von Steuben played a decisive role in helping America defeat the British, but he still wasn't even arguably a "Founding Father." To mention him in the same breath with Madison destroys your credibility.

This is my favorite part of Wiki's entry on Von Steuben:

American Revolution
On September 26, 1777, he, his young secretary and male lover Theveneau de Francy and four other very young handsome male traveling companions, reached Portsmouth, New Hampshire and by December 1, was extravagantly entertained in Boston. Congress was in York, Pennsylvania, after being ousted from Philadelphia by the British advance. By February 5, 1778, Steuben had offered to volunteer without pay (for the time), and by the 23rd, Steuben reported for duty to Washington at Valley Forge. Steuben spoke little English and he often yelled to his translator, "Here! Come swear for me!" Colonels Alexander Hamilton and Nathanael Greene were of great help in assisting Steuben in drafting a training program for the Army, which found approval with Washington.

bpabbott said...

Ray: "Look where John Jay is."

Irrelelvant. If the ranking is incorrect, offer a better objective evaulation and then do the work.

Is there something about the point system you object to?