Monday, July 20, 2009

John Calvin and the American Founding

The following article from one Reed R. Heustis, Jr., Esq. almost completely misunderstands the role Calvin's thought played in the American Founding. I say "almost" because, of course, Calvin's thought had some qualified influence. But along with the thoughts of hundreds of other theologians and philosophers who were not Calvinists at all. Figures like Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Sidney, Locke, Milton, Newton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, Montesquieu, Hume, Arminius and yes, even Servetus whom the Founders held up as a model for what government should NOT do to heretics.

One of the key presuppositions to which the founding fathers held at the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was the fallen nature of Man. They presupposed that Man's entire capacity was intrinsically evil, and that outside of God's sovereign grace, Man could accomplish no good thing. The Bible makes it plain: "[T]he intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen. 8:21)

One of Man's sins is his insatiable lust for power. Unless restrained, a powerful man will stop at nothing to trample the rights of others. He must be restrained both inwardly with the power of the Holy Spirit, and outwardly with mechanistic controls. Therefore, many state constitutions required a belief in Christ as a prerequisite to hold office, while the framers devised a federal Constitution that was intended specifically to check and balance the ambitions of men lest they accumulate tyrannical powers.
For the opposite point of view, compare that to what George Willis Cooke wrote in 1902:

The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man’s moral capacity.

Back to Mr. Heustis' article:

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 51, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"

I'm surprised he doesn't quote Madison's remarks in Federalist 55, the usual "proof-quote" for his belief in man's depravity:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.

Notice Madison is saying that there is only a "degree" of depravity. Not TOTAL depravity. This is consistent with both Arminianism and rejection of original sin. It's barely consistent Calvinism.
And of course when asked to put his theological cards on the table, James Madison, in his letter to Frederick Beasley didn't turn to Calvin or even John Witherspoon for authority but Samuel Clarke, a naturalist, rationalist and Anglican divine who was nearly defrocked from his position in the Church for peddling the Arian heresy.


jimmiraybob said...

Also from...

James Madison by Ralph Ketcham (p. 297)

As a realist and as a practical politician, Madison sought to give meaning to the moral requirements of the natural-rights doctrine in a way relevant to the actual character of man and the society in which he lived. In understanding the nature of man, Madison followed John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which by insisting that sensory impressions were the sole source of human knowledge, emphasized the diversity of mankind.


Madison insisted, as he remarked during the federal Convention, that in framing governments, “we must not shut our eyes to the nature of man, nor to the light of experience, “ Following Locke’s empirical method, he studied as fully and carefully as he could the experience of mankind recorded in the histories of his day. From these books, and from the generalizations of philosophers from Aristotle to David Hume, Madison absorbed a sober view of human history. The record was generally on of war, tyranny, violence, stupidity, and corruption, with distressingly few instances of peace, prosperity, and enlightenment. The thought of Machiavelli, Calvin, and Hobbes, known to, though largely rejected by Madison, helped keep him in mind of human depravity. Unlike some Enlightenment thinkers, who emphasize human goodness to the point of blaming all evil on social conditions, Madison sought always to recognize and take into account the limitations of human nature.

Shunning the extreme attitudes on human nature helped Madison avoid simplistic and impractical theories of government. “If men were angels,” as he had pointed out in Federalist 51, “no government would be necessary.” On the other hand, if men were absolutely evil, as he told the Virginia Convention of 1788, "we are in a wretched condition…[where] no form of government can render us secure.*”

*an excerpt from Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 20, 1788 (p. 36) - "I go on the great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks-no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea, if there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them."

It's hard to imagine a context in which Madison (or most founders) would have felt "...that Man's entire capacity was intrinsically evil."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I think you're putting Madison into a box, and if you must, it's the wrong one.

I knew that Madison's political theory and resulting structure of government set competing factions against each other, but these quotes show Madison completely separated from the "secular" Enlightenment of Hume, Voltaire and Rousseau, and far more with the Calvinist vibe.

Calvin certainly didn't abandon hope that fundamentally "depraved" men could somehow live together, and "we are in a wretched condition…[where] no form of government can render us secure” certainly doesn't fit him. By the grace of God, men would be better and society could work.

In fact our Lori Stokes recently argued that the Puritans' confidence that a workable [and perfectible] political system could be achieved among righteous men is the root of modern idealistic New England liberalism.

And of course, the figuring of man's nature into political philosophy is essentially conservative and classical---modernism believes that man is malleable and the state can theoretically mold him into just about anything.

Madison was not under the illusions that powered the "secular" Enlightenment and the French revolution.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Madison liked Hume. And that's probably because Hume's secular Enlightenment vision was more hard nosed than V&R's.

One fellow at the secular conservative blog calls himself Hume and not Voltaire or Rousseau for a reason.

King of Ireland said...

1. My shallow reading on the Enlightenment last year as I taught it would tell me that Tom is right. A true secularist seemed to believe in the goodness of man.

2. I also have trouble with the whole total depravity thing though I have never really studied outside of the context of original sin. I am not sure how a strict Calvinist back then thought about the perfectibility of society. I did read a book called "The Puritan Hope" that argued against the whole idea of things getting worse than a rapture. They believed that that type of teaching lead to fatalism in Christian society and made people so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good. In fact, they thought that each Great Awakening was bringing us closer to the Millenial Kingdom.

3. It seems that they believed that this would come after most of the Jews were saved and massive amounts of gentiles would follow. This would end in much of the world being Christian.

4. If what I remember reading is true than Calvinism is more complex than it would seem in regards to human nature and the perfectibility of society. Remember the whole city on a hill thing.

5. I find it ironic that this guy thought that one became an arminian when the believe in the people's right to rule. I always thought the difference between Arminian and Calvinists was the whole perseverance of the Saints thing and free will.

6. This might be some good evidence that my assertion that the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 13 is based more on TULIP than an honest reading of scripture.

7. Maybe a more liberal reading of Romans 13 has more to do with a belief in free will than anything else.

I wonder what effect Mayhew's sermon had on your average Calvinist back then? It must have had a huge impact if New England was brought into the DOI seperation or possibly strict Calvinism was on the out in New England.

I also wonder what effect being educated at a school like Princeton, which had a Calvinist Puritian background( I think) , had on Madison? It certainly was not exclusively a seminary anymore but it was most certainly affected by these teachings.

bpabbott said...

JRB's comment touches on this, but when I see " intrinsically evil", I imagine those who intend harm and destruction, rather than imperfection, mistakes, and erroneous judgement.

Is my understanding the that qualification consistent with the theology of the founding period and of today?

Tom Van Dyke said...

King, I'm trying to "feel" Calvinism, but I'm not there yet. How all that Protestant talk like Elisha Williams' protest for freedom of religious conscience or Mayhew's sermon hit a Calvinist's ears.

There is a fatalism like Islam's, which amounts to not just acceptance of a bad regime, but an inertia. Inshallah is a hope, a prayer, but also a cosmic and metaphysical "whatever," as the Valley Girls put it today.

Madison definitely doesn't give into the Rousseau/French Revolution idea that man and his society can be remade by will alone. That the human will is the primary dynamic in man's doings is a modern, anti-classical philosophy, anti-religious idea. Rousseau is expressed in Revolutionary France's "Rights of Man," that "law is the expression of the general will."

Completely antithetical to the American revolution [see James Wilson], that law is an expression of the natural law, that law stems from the will of God.

God's will, not man's will. Even the law of nature [man's nature] as opposed to man's will and his ideas. This is the essential difference between the American Revolution and the French, between Hume and Voltaire's Enlightenment and the "other" Enlightenment.

The "other" enlightenment was the Scottish Enlightenment, far more sympathetic to God and to common sense, per Thomas Reid. Reid was the apostle of common sense, that reality is not some abstraction, but if I feel pain because it appears I "stubbed" my "toe," it's not abstract atall.

It's because I stubbed my damn toe, in reality, and it fucking hurts as a result.

That might sound uncontroversial and not necessarily brilliant to a normal person in 2009, but back in that day when virtually every dimension of a human being's being was being abstracted, it was a welcome bit of cutting through the philosophical BS.

[We could use another dose of it these days, I think, where the infant Harriet McBryde Johnson isn't even a "human person."]

Anyway, to sum up, John Witherspoon taught the Scottish Enlightenment at Princeton, and James Madison was his student. Regardless of Madison's eventual theological sympathies about Jesus and God stuff, Madison's worldview---per JRB's helpful quotes---was not from the abstractions of modern philosophy, but quite well-grounded in reality.

jimmiraybob said...

To be aware of that part of human nature that might be defined as depravity doesn't necessarily afix a Calvinist stamp. I'm certainly no Calvin scholar (what I know about Calvin wouldn't fill a Wiki page) but I do know that depravity in human nature has been puzzled over since Greek antiquity (at least by Aristotle, Plato) - it's certainly not exclusive to Calvin. Was Augustine the first to articulate concepts of (total) human depravity? I don't know?

Madison's reliance on secular historical sources (at least in part), empirical observation and analysis of the historical record is consistent with Enlightenment principles. While recognizing the potential for depravity I don't see Madison yielding to the extreme of "total depravity" of all mankind and he doesn't prescribe grace as a cure to the potential of depravity, but proper government, and seems to recognize a "virtue and intelligence in the community" independent of the depravity of some - which seems inconsistent with the darker "hope that fundamentally 'depraved' men could somehow live together."

I'm willing to live and learn but Madison (and the founders in general) seem much more optimistic, if guarded, about human nature than Calvin or the Puritans.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That last bit is probably true, JRB. And James Wilson expressed a belief in human progress.

This is where they turned against classical philosophy, which maintained man's eternal problems are eternal.

Howvever, the arrival of Jesus Christ, God-as-man, in human history also led to the rejection of classical philosophy.

So we cannot ignore the classical vs. modern philosophy debate, but we cannot ignore either the Christocentric medieval Christian philosophers either, who stand astride the two ages, the classical and the modern, and who were front-and-center when human history met America's Founding era.

After all, before Christ showed up, man was damned. After this messiah left, his mission accomplished, man was saved.

[You should know me well enough by now, JRB, that I make no truth claims about the Messiah here. I'm just reporting the historicism (a belief in human progress) of Christianity and its possible effect on the Founding, why it was neither Greece nor Rome nor revolutionary France, but something entirely unique.]

jimmiraybob said...

It certainly was not exclusively a seminary anymore...

It seems to have gone the other way around. I put a shorter form of this in a previous post:

A Handbook for Administrative and Support Staff
Milestones: A Short History of Princeton University

Princeton University was founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey. It was the result of a charter issued by John Hamilton, acting governor of the province, to the College’s board of trustees, whose members were leaders in the Presbyterian Church. They organized the College to train students, “different sentiments in religion not withstanding,” a policy that shaped the character of the school.

The initial site of the College was Elizabeth, New Jersey, where its first president, the Reverend Jonathan Dickinson, had his home and parish. Dickinson died a few months after taking office, and the Reverend Aaron Burr of Newark succeeded him. The students (six in the original graduating class) moved to Newark. As the College prospered, Philadelphia architect Robert Smith was commissioned to create a building for the College in the town of Princeton. In the fall of 1756, President Burr brought his students and their tutors to that Princeton building—Nassau Hall. The large stone structure housed the entire College for the next 50 years.

Dr. John Witherspoon, an eminent Scottish clergyman, was president of the College in the latter part of the 18th century, and during his administration the College achieved a national reputation. A noted scholar, theologian, and patriot (the only college president to sign the Declaration of Independence), he left his mark on both clerical and civil affairs. The record of Princeton men who studied under him is outstanding, including President James Madison, Vice-President Aaron Burr, nine cabinet officers, 21 United States senators, 39 members of the House of Representatives, three justices of the Supreme Court, and 12 governors.


In 1896, the College of New Jersey became Princeton University.

Apparently Princeton Theological Seminary was established in 1812.

As to Madison and "Princeton," what TVD said and this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And, I will add here, that most of the American unitarians [and John Locke] acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, even if not the Second Person of God Hisself.

This Christology, this historicism, cannot be discounted. From damned, man's view of himself went to saved in the eternal scheme of things. Contrast that to atheism or to the Greek-Roman vision of the afterlife, the cold, gray Hades.

Life is a bitch and then you die was NOT the founding dynamic.

Thx for the discussion, productive as always.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB, instead of posting an ominous link disputing TVD and "the truth," say what you have to say. Man up. I'm trying to agree with you here.

jimmiraybob said...

TCD - I'm glad I checked again before hitting the sack. Are you referring to the "and this link" link? Actually, I thought it backed you up with respect to Witherspoon and the Scottish Enlightenment. I didn't realize I was disputing anything - I'm not trying to be argumentative at all. If I did/was then the error's mine and I'll plead being beat from too much yard work today. I'll read it all again tomorrow.

J said...

The Hobbesian view of human nature as predisposed to violence, greed, warfare, etc.-- has little or nothing to do with the calvinist or theological view of original sin, evil and so forth, and I think it's rather disingenuous to suggest a relation, or to lump together secularists such as Hobbes and Hume--and founding fathers-- with the theologians. (and Jefferson at least had nothing but scorn for the calvinists...)

Hobbes was a naturalist par example--accused of heresy numerous times--- and barely mentions religion. The first 20 or 30 chapters of Leviathan indeed seem like a complete rejection of scholastic tradition , catholic, calvinist or otherwise--especially of the "a priori", whether in terms of a soul, or more platonic speculations .

Madison does seem rather Hobbesian in ways (in the Federalist papers, and elsewhere)--and like Hobbes he fears factionalism of various types--(including the religious sort-- not really moral or spiritual ills. The Federalists designed the US Senate--and electoral college-- to prevent a tyranny of the mob, arguably.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, JRB, it was me who was oversensitive. The scare quotes around "Princeton" threw me. My bad, my apology.

I should add to my above statement that the medievals didn't reject classical philosophy, they adapted it to Christian purposes.

Tom Van Dyke said...

J, for the record, both Locke and Alexander Hamilton explicitly assail Hobbes. [Although many then and now consider Locke a crypto-Hobbesian. Fortunately for us, the Founders didn't read Locke with that understanding.]

J said...

Cite? Either way, the Federalists, like Hobbes, opposed pure democracy, ala majority rule in all things political, and valued a centralized government (Hobbes' sovereign is not necessarily a monarch--but can be an assembly as well).

So I would classify Hamilton and Madison (at least the JM who wrote the Constitution--later he's a bit more liberal) as Hobbesian rather than Lockean (with Jeffersonians/states rights types as Lockean).

Hobbesian is now taken as a pejorative, or tyrannical but that's due to naive readings of Leviathan, really. Hobbes affirms a social contract--those contracts are in the best interest of all. He is quite an egalitarian ala Rawls (though perhaps not as optimistic).

The Lockean concerns--what about petitioning grievances, etc.--are sort of moot. When the sovereign refuses to enforce the contracts (covenants), those contracts are no longer binding, or something like that--the popular vote then in theory becomes superfluous, given properly structured covenants.

There is a potential for tyranny I suppose, but Hobbes certainly starts from rather democratic if not socialist assumptions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

J, a Locke cite eludes me at the moment but the Hamilton will do, from The Farmer Refuted:

"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."

I'm not sure you're there with Hobbes and the Founders, as I alternately agree and disagree with your statements. I cannot get there from Hobbes to Rawls, but please do continue to argue in that vein.

J said...

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.

Hamilton describes the Hobbesian state of nature fairly well, though in his typically pompous manner. When the huns or vikings rape, plundered and pillaged a few villagers may have screamed, "you're violating my Gott-given entitlement right!!" or "you're transgressing the Decalogue!" or words to that effect, but again, that's fairly moot. Any such natural law means little or nothing without some power of enforcing it.

Hobbes does assert, more or less, there is no law except that agreed to by man. I don't think that's mere contrivance, but in fact a rather humanistic and practical view of justice (and constructivist, rather than theological). For that matter, TH's view seems slightly proto-Darwinian.

"""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."

Now I remember why I dislike Hamilton. Ham's correct that Hobbes probably did not believe (he says something like, "of God, we can know nothing"). But Hamilton makes a typical fundamentalist error by assuming that mere disbelief implies impiety, or immorality, and so forth. Hobbes was not wrong (regarding his cynical view of human nature) merely because he does not believe in God. If he's wrong, it's for some other reason. I don't think he is wrong---indeed, Hobbes seems nearly Nietzschean in regards to society. He hopes for progress, even peace, though he doubts men will achieve it, though he goes through some pains to present a template of sorts. He does not however go into the detail that Rawls does in regards to obligations: he offers givens ("seek peace" etc.) but he does not say "thou must" etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I like Hamilton. Hobbes is one of the first modern philosophers. Modernity has complications. Please see my previous remarks on human reason vs. human reason unassisted several posts below.

See also James Wilson's disagreement with Blackstone and Burke, as it's essentially American. The latter two maintain rights are only what is agreed ["social contract"] to with the state; Wilson argues they are inherent in man.

This is the core principle of American exceptionalism, or as Harry Jaffa put it just the other day:

" He [a current American president who shall remain nameless] has no idea of what American exceptionalism really meant.

What it meant was the American people in declaring their independence did so not on the basis of unique rights or privileges that they had, but on the basis of rights which they shared with all men everywhere. No other people had ever done such a thing."

J said...

Well, Hamilton didn't really produce any radically new political vision. He held on to the Tory tradition--including British finance, and the Inns of Court, and as the quote suggests the Church of England most likely---with a few minor alterations. In a sense Hamilton's Toryish aspects seem like the contrary impulse to the Jeffersonian-jacobin aspects--and they were not pals (let's not forget Burr's nice shooting as well).

Madison was more of a centrist, and a "good Hobbesian" (though I guess that could be debated as well). Hamilton seems like a Pat Buchanan sort, if not early Patton.

Tom Van Dyke said...

By your standards, Hamilton's the Hobbesian, with his greater attraction to strong central government, and indeed Hobbes liked the idea of a state religion, to keep things clean and tidy.

But we're arguing bits and pieces here, and I don't think we can effectively make any of the Founders Hobbesians, in fact among them, his name was mud, as we see in The Farmer Refuted.

As for dragging in Pat Buchanan, I do not think any good came come of it.

J said...

The Madison of the Federalist papers often echoes Hamilton's points, does he not. Later--1790 or so??--he leaves the Federalists and sides with the Jeffersonians. It's been some time since I've read the Fed. papers, but like Hamilton he was concerned about the power of democracy unleashed, and wanted a strong central govt., and limits on the legislature; however, I think he sided more with Jefferson--certainly later on -- in regards to also limiting the power of the judiciary (a bit anti-Hobbesian perhaps). I don't think Madison wanted to retain the Anglican church, though as with most Founders, he may have waffled on the religious question. Hamilton, Adams, and Marshall all desired a Tory-like judiciary power which the Jeffersonians adamantly opposed. So maybe Buchanan not correct comparison: Il Duce Scalia instead.

You are still considering Hobbes as a rightist and monarchist when I read him as a statist-socialist (even Marx quotes Hobbes with approval at times), though basic contracts are in theory negotiated by citizens, not by some bolshevik like elite. Rawls in a sense develops Hobbesian ideas, via the Original position, though Rawls's contract a bit more aware of existing social-historical conditions, and doesn't really agree to the Hobbesian state of nature (maybe he should have). Yet the principle of creating a just society based on human needs, rather than the needs of the godly or aristocratic, seems fundamentally Hobbesian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm sorry, J, I'm not following you very well, especially in terms of religion and the Founding. [Although please feel free to substitute "philosophical worldview" for "religion" whenever you feel it's appropriate.]

As for statism vs. monarchism, although Hamilton gravitated toward the latter, it's fair to say that the Founding vociferously rejected both.

As for Rawls, I don't see his relevance to the Founding at all, nor do I think they'd have liked him any better than Thomas Hobbes.

As for Antonin Scalia, I prefer to touch only lightly on current issues and personalities on this blog, as it usually results in a duplication of the partisan pissing contest that comprises most of the rest of the internet. For the record, I think he's a great jurist and more faithful to the constitution than any other justice of recent memory.

I invite you and our gentle readers to hear him in his own words

instead of going by what's written about him.

J said...

It's fairly obvious that I am using "Hobbesian" in a rather loose sense, meaning something like statist, anti-democratic (to some degree--and, as the quote indicates, aware of the violence and self-interestedness of all humans), and related to a social contract (rather than theological/aristocratic tradition). In that sense Madisonian-- and Federalist thought--does seem to have Hobbesian elements, though obviously someone like Hamilton--probably the most conservative of all FFs, Adams included--did not care for the secularist aspects of Hobbes. Lockeans like Jefferson (most of the time) believed in human goodness, and Locke's natural law concepts seem rather utopian really (though Im not saying they are worthless). Hobbes did not share that faith, and I think Madison, while not exactly parroting Leviathan has a more realistic conception of human limitations, including the potential danger of democracy (really a classical idea as well).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, it's my position that the Founding had its own unique genius and cannot be ascribed in any large part to any of the aforementioned philosophers, even Locke.

I think the core principle of American exceptionalism, of innate human rights, is Judeo-Christian in origin, see above. The rest is lesser detail about the structure of government, and it was indeed plainly a republic more than a democracy.

J said...

OK. At the same time, the leaders (say Jefferson, Madison, even Franklin) studied the greek and roman classics along with Locke, Newton, & Co, and were not supportive of catholic tradition nor of the calvinists. Paine was not exactly pious either. Let's not forget that TJ himself was not completely opposed to the French Rev.

I only bring up Hobbes because I think Madison of the Fed. papers echoes a few Hobbesian points, perhaps inadvertently (given Locke's points contra-Hobbes, TH may have been considered a royalist--if not dissolute Tory, etc--, but the "Leviathan theory" if you will is not royalist). Boring old pedantry perhaps, but most Mericans don't know Hobbes from Calvin and Hobbes.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, we're OK around here, and well aware of Paine and TJ's impieties. We don't talk Hobbes much because there's not much Hobbes in the Founding.

How much Calvinism is part of the current discussion, and if you stick around awhile, you'll see how much they owed to the papists.


J said...

Calvinists certainly wielded power through the presbyterians and baptists, but I don't think any of the leading founders upheld or approved of calvinism--with the exception of maybe John Marshall. Even John Adams had words for the calvinist fundies of his day (as did his son JQ). Let's not forget the masonic elements as well--not necessarily a positive attribute, but quite pronounced. Washington was a freemason, as were others.

I don't think "the Founding" was nearly as organized or philosophical as many American scholars think, even to the extent that French Rev was. More like it's hatched in taverns, a few planters' houses, among merchants, farmers, etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

J, I think you'll like it around here. We've covered almost all the bases you mention, and have little disagreement between ourselves on the facts of any of them---although many disagreements about what it all means in the end. We also pride ourselves in original research from the original Founding-era documents, and make our own arguments rather than recycle the prevailing scholarly wisdom. It's an OK blog.

As for your assertions above, make your case, but por favor, a little at a time.

Lori Stokes said...

I'm jumping in very late here! but I'll just say a word on the Puritan expectation of politics.

The Puritans were very political. They left England when Laud's appointment by Charles I meant they could no longer safely pursue a Puritan agenda in Parliament. They believed that humans had to have good government to counter their negative impulses, and that creating a good government was a fundamental component of creating a better life on Earth.

This is what most people don't expect--that Puritans thought life on the fallen Earth was important. But their religion compelled them to bear witness to God in everything they did: one should have been able to tell they were godly people by how they ran their businesses, how they treated their customers, how they kept their homes, how they spent their money, etc. If you are bearing witness to God in all you do, you must create a government that encourages justice.

The Puritan government in New England was representative, popularly elected, and forbid ministers to participate as representatives to the General Court (the combined legislature and judiciary). It was a proto-democracy that certainly paved the way for our eventual representative democracy.

Calvinism just meant you had to work harder to do God's will on earth, not that it was impossible, or that humans were so depraved they could not create a government that honored God and justice. On the contrary, the Puritans believed that creating a good government was a mandate from God.

J said...

The Puritans were very political. They left England when Laud's appointment by Charles I meant they could no longer safely pursue a Puritan agenda in Parliament.

Many left--not all. With Cromwell, they were back in full force, and then began to implement the puritan-calvinist code, mainly by liquidating catholics (or anglicans sympathetic to catholics). Locke himself was aligned with the protestant/Cromwell faction wasn't he? So we might argue America was a continuation of the puritan/Cromwell revolt (or at least has some relation)--and regardless of subtleties, the english Prots had no problem getting the scottish presbyterians to join in the fun --like going to ireland and killing a few hundred thousand papists or more.

Locke at times contradicted his own stated abolitionist/puritan ideals--as when his boss Shaftesbury had him write up a justification for slavery--and for seizure of native land--early 1700s I believe.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Lori, that was great. If I understand the reasoning correctly, "The Elect" conduct themselves in a righteous way. That's how you can tell they're "elect."

J, do you have a point here?

J said...

I suggest you re-read my post. Though here's a hint: protestant-puritan hypocrisy counts as one of the failings of the AR, really (including Locke). And we might question that "exceptionalism": new england puritans don't seem that different than say roundheads who marched for Cromwell.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, this will be a foolish response, as I have not read all of the responses, but practically speaking, our government must protect itself from its enemies. There will be no "group hug" from the nation. Justice is about the issue of "law and order", social contract, and diplomatic effort. But, when these do not conform to the "ideal" of the compromise (balance of power), then we must do something other than "turn the other cheek". We cannot tolerate those who do not adhere to lawful behavior.

Now the question comes, what to do with those who have connections of some kind to "terrorists". Just recently, Tariq Ramadan was denied a visa due to his monetary gifts that could have supported Hamas. He had already been denied a visa before, when he had applied to come to Notre Dame as a professor of Islamic studies. He is the grandson of the founder of the "Muslim Brotherhood", I believe. Should we "judge" by association, or not, when it comes to the "enemy"?

Now, does one's political alliance to our Constitutional "order" supercede one's religious affiliation? I believe it must in today's climate of religious zeal that undermines rationality, sober reflection and political realism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Now, does one's political alliance to our Constitutional "order" supercede one's religious affiliation?

Well, the rational answer is no---no one will bail on their deepest-held beliefs for the sake of government, order, or an abstraction like "the social contract."

Although Calvin's reading of Romans 13 made it at least nearly possible.

Though here's a hint: protestant-puritan hypocrisy counts as one of the failings of the AR, really (including Locke).

I think I've heard enough, J. Unpacking you didn't take very long.

J said...

Likewise. Perhaps I could quote Jefferson, Adams, and Madison on the absurdities of Calvin's Five Points, but that would probably be a bit too much Reason for the AC moralists. You're not even Lockean, but Lockstepian, Tommy.

(Some of my secular-moderate pals agree, btw--and your blog's now rated along with say the calvinist wingnuts of Triablogue,etc)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Kristo, are you a Calvinist?

I'm not. Nobody else here is, either. In fact we have more Mormons than Calvinists.

Bring your friends along, J. Let's see what they've got. Besides anti-Christian animus, of course. That they can leave outside, because anti-religious bigotry is un-American, you could look it up. [Except anti-Catholicism, which has a long and proud history.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

Perhaps I could quote Jefferson, Adams, and Madison on the absurdities of Calvin's Five Points, but that would probably be a bit too much Reason for the AC moralists.

I've quoted Jefferson and J. Adams quite a bit on their anti-Calvinism. I'd like to see what you have from Madison. I'm aware of one quote about "sectarian seminaries" which I think refers to Calvinism, but it's not much of a smoking gun.

I don't believe Madison was a Calvinist as some folks argue (I think he considered himself a "unitarian" and a "rational Christian" like the other "key Founders"). But he has fewer smoking guns than the others.

jimmiraybob said...

The scare quotes around "Princeton" threw me. My bad, my apology.

I was going to reply sooner but I didn't want to wreck the flow.

I was hoping we had a misunderstanding.

I did a little primer Googling on Calvin and see that he had somewhat of a rival at the time, Desiderius Erasmus.

Two characteristics that seem to differentiate Erasmus and Calvin are Erasmus' more optimistic understanding on human nature (doesn't seem to dwell much on human depravity whether in the secular of Calvin sense) and a more humanistic approach to education and the Greek/Roman classics (non-insistence on teaching in light of scripture) - here and here.

These sentiments seem to be more in line with Madison's (and many founders) outlook on human nature and also with the teaching philosophies of many of the colleges and universities in the mid to late 18th century. How does Erasmus generally fit into the Reformation/proto-founding scheme if at all?

J said...

In fact we have more Mormons than Calvinists.

Jefferson and Adams (and others) may have hated calvinists, but they would have put the Mormonics in a hoosegow. Holy Golden Plates of Moroni, Batman.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I disagree re what they would have thought of Mormons. Of course they would have written Mormon dogma off as "superstition," but would have looked at the way Mormons conducted their lives and concluded it was a great religion.

If Calvin was a minority religion everywhere and never had a chance to persecute Servetus, I doubt they would have had much problem with him. They got on quite well with the Baptists precisely for that reason.

J said...

Was Brigham Young's theocratic regime in Utah-land great religion(utah, from utes--thousands killed by mormons)?? Does great religion include polygamy, murder of non-mormons, seizure of native lands, forced marriages abuse of children?? I don't think so. James Buchanan, counted as Jeffersonian by some, did not think so (JB may not have been a great president, but patriot of a sort). Mark Twain did not think so either.

I respect a few mormons--they did at times try to make peace with natives, control the outlaws, booze, whores, etc. However, that was after they had conquered vast areas of the west (and they did little to prevent Vegas). Taken as a whole the Mormon movement has been one of the great farces of western USA.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I was thinking more on the way Mormons live today as opposed to "sins of Mormon past."

BTW, we have a number of Mormons who post here and we don't take kindly to religious insults. A fundamentalist Christian got banned in large part because of the way he insulted Mormonism.

If you wish to continue here, you are going to have to tone it down.

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

Is pointing out the facts of King Brigham's regime an insult? Perhaps Mark Twain's Roughing It (and other similar books) should then be censored, since they offer a rather unflattering picture of Mormoncracy.

I think you meant something like "we don't take kindly to people pointing out the well-documented facts of mormon atrocity, or religious hypocrisy in general, and prefer that you fib a bit, and be a nice pleasant WASP."

A-men, brutthrr.

Jonathan Rowe said...

We can point out hypocrisy (I did so in questioning whether the Anglican Whigs were hypocrites) and we are free to post the FFs and others insulting religions from their own words, but, given we are religiously pluralistic here and are trying to be civil with one another, we have to live by that civilized WASP code in our words and comments.

Dave2 said...

Here's an extremely famous bit of text from Hume, on human nature and politics:

Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all.

It is, therefore, a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave: Though at the same time, it appears somewhat strange, that a maxim should be true in politics, which is false in fact. But to satisfy us on this head, we may consider, that men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity, and will go greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind: But where a considerable body of men act together, this check is, in a great measure, removed; since a man is sure to be approved of by his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns to despise the clamours of adversaries. To which we may add, that every court or senate is determined by the greater number of voices; so that, if self-interest influences only the majority, (as it will always do) the whole senate follows the allurements of this separate interest, and acts as if it contained not one member, who had any regard to public interest and liberty.

(Of the Independency of Parliament)

This is the very beginning of the essay. Feel free to read the rest. The idea that David Hume, of all people, believed in the malleability of human nature or the noble savage or any of the other well-known goofy utopian ideas of the Enlightenment is so completely backwards it can make a man break down and cry.

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

Who claimed that? Not I. I'm not even a Democrat (tho' not GOP, or church-attender either). I am aware of Hume's conservative leanings, yet at the same time he had nothing but contempt for religious tradition, whether papist, or protestant (again, I'm not saying I agree--actually, I object to some of Hume's skepticism, AND to his Toryism, while aware of his power as filosophe (I haven't read much of his political/historical writing)). Regardless Hume did have some impact on the AR.

That said, Humean's rejection of scriptural authority (not to say miracles, divinity of JC, Resurrection, etc) would seem to imply a denial of the Divine Right of Kings, at least as based on the Bible. Hume may have been brilliant, but seems nearly proto-fascist in ways.

Dave2 said...

J, I'm responding to Tom. He's lumping Hume in with Voltaire and Rousseau as the secular Enlightenment, and then drawing a contrast between this first group and those "conservative and classical" figures who recognize a relatively fixed and relatively flawed human nature and are therefore free of the "illusions" of modernism.

I mean, you might as well call Hume a Calvinist while you're at it.

J said...

Ah. Hume's politics were probably not too different from Voltaire, who was no liberal ala Rousseau, and opposed to the jacobin sorts. Hume was pals with Rousseau for some time, tho' of course not a Rousseauean. (Rousseau had cash problems, mental problems, and Hume helped him out a bit). I wager Hume partied with Voltaire and other skeptics at d'Holbach's soirees (probably parties Rousseau would not have approved of--nor would the churchies of the time). Much as I respect Humean disputation at times I do get a certain sinister vibe from his writing--nearly Marquis-like. Dastardly, if not nihilist. Even Voltaire not quite the nihilist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dave2, I'd love to speak with you. We've had good discussions. I've only skimmed your reply, but will return to it.


I respect a few mormons...However...

Sir, you've been somewhat helpful and amusing around here. However, your opinions of other people's religions are not desired, welcomed, and most importantly, will not be given air on this blog.

You have freedom of speech---we are under no obligation to give you a soapbox.

I warn you this once, J---you will be banned if you continue in this vein. We do not tolerate anti-religious bigotry here.

And for the record, I'm not a Mormon either. Now get with the plan or begone.

With all due respect.

J said...

The satire follows from the reason; i.e. subjecting the Book of Mormon, and Joseph smith's supposed visions to the court of Reason. Perhaps you might recall Locke's own comments in the ECHU regarding Enthusiasm. Locke insists that all claims of religious revelation "be judged of by reason." Actually Locke sounds nearly Humean in his demands for proof and evidence, and in his skepticism in regards to "enthusiasts", which were, I suggest, the Joseph Smiths of his day. Madison and Jefferson were well aware of this issue (TJ often sounds like he's quoting verbatim from this passage in ECHU).

Tom Van Dyke said...

" A Christian I am sure I am, because I believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the King and Saviour promised, and sent by God: And as a Subject of his Kingdom, I take the rule of my Faith, and Life, from his Will declar'd and left upon Record in the inspired Writings of the Apostles and Evangelists in the New Testament: which I endeavour to the most of my power, as is my duty, to understand in their true sense and meaning.To lead me into their true meaning, I know no infallible Guide, but the same Holy Spirit, from whom these Writings at first came."

John Locke, Second Vindication

Now if you can explain to us how it is "reasonable" for Locke to believe Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Bible represents his "will," then you'd resolve a problem we've been haggling over for years here.

Jonathan Rowe said...

J did point out something useful that the Leo Strauss folks have been noting for years. Locke's statements re religion and reason seem self-contradictory.

Perhaps that's why he could have so appealed to both wings -- the "rationalists" like Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin -- and the "orthodox" like Sam Adams.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dave2, I assure you I wasn't mentally lumping the whole of Hume in with Voltaire and Rousseau, so your hyperbole about breaking down and crying was not required.

On the narrow point of having a more positive view of man than Calvin's "complete depravity" [and if you notice, by "knave" he's likely answering Hobbes] was my only link with the other two.

"But to satisfy us on this head, we may consider, that men are generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity, and will go greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon mankind..."