Monday, November 30, 2009

The Religious Nature of the Right of Rebellion

by Kristo Miettinen

I've written my own view on this topic about a year ago (here).

But I'm now engaged in reading and digesting a different argument on the topic, here:

I don't agree with the author's presentation through the development of the divine right of kings, but since his credentials are more impressive than mine, I thought others here might want a gander...


Appeal to Heaven: On the Religious Origins of the Constitutional Right of Revolution

John M. Kang
St. Thomas University School of Law

William & Mary Bill of Rights, Vol. 18, pp. 281-326, 2009

This Article explores the religious origins of the right to alter or abolish government. I show in Part I that the right was widely accepted among the American colonies as expressed through their constitutions and, later, the federal constitution. In Part II, I usher the reader back in time and across the continent to seventeenth century England. There, I introduce two men who would have abhorred everything about American constitutional democracy - King James I and the philosopher Sir Robert Filmer. Both men, prominent in their respective domains of authority, devoted themselves to the governing axiom that kings were bequeathed a right by God to absolute rule. Part III sketches the seventeenth century arguments of two other Englishmen, also prominent--the philosophers John Locke and Algernon Sidney - who challenged James and Filmer. Locke and Sidney argued that God had never sanctioned the divine right of kings and instead had justified the people’s right to overthrow tyrants.

The arguments of Locke and Sidney will, as I show in subsequent sections, influence the American clergy who supported war against Britain and the right of revolution in general. Indeed, the development of this connection will occupy me for the remainder of the Article, but, in Part IV, I take a brief respite to summarize the historical circumstances that severely hampered governmental control over religion in colonial America and thus provided partially autonomous spaces for people to reflect on religion, including in ways that would inform their right to alter or abolish government. I illustrate in Part V how several prominent American clergymen, following Locke and Sidney, rejected as impossible the divine and supposedly infallible status of rulers. God, the clergy insisted, was the only one who could claim such infallibility; the clergy warned that rulers would do well to devote themselves to the people’s well being, not the former’s aggrandizement. In Part VI, I argue that, again echoing Locke and Sidney, a prominent group of American clergymen insisted that, contrary to the anti-democratic jeers of monarchists, God had given people the capacity for reason which enabled them to make meaningful decisions about their political future. I conclude in Part VII by illustrating how the federal and state constitutions following the American Revolution sought to protect conditions for the faithful to contemplate the religious meaning of the right to alter or abolish government.

[The full article is downloadable here on PDF. Please, no comments until you've read it. Let's keep it clean.---Ed.


Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm glad you got to this.

I was going to link to it; I still have to digest it...slowly.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice to hear from you again, Kristo. It warms me cockles.

I saw the essay via InstaP, and forwarded the link to some of those here gathered but we ain't got to it yet. I'm gonna insert his abstract into your post to pull it all together so we can discuss it.

Hey dude, we've missed you around here. Hope your duties are keeping you safe.

The discussions are really excellent of late because everybody's inspired to do their own digging. The results have been exc.