Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In Praise of Gordon S. Wood

by Phil Johnson

There is a tendency to consider any particular historical consideration as a static or isolated event. Why that is so can be a tough call: I suspect it's related to the way we learned history in the K-12 educational system.

But, Gordon S. Wood’s focus on American history helps us have a better grasp on the present. His work puts shoes on our feet, easing our journey into the minds of Americans during the early days of the republic. He deserves our praise.

“…contractual imagery between two equal parties, not to mention the familial imagery of a patriarchal king and the mother country, suggests that for many eighteenth century Anglo-Americans the public and private realms were still largely indistinguishable. Indeed, the colonists never regarded the struggle between the rights of the Crown and the rights of the people as one between public and private rights. For even as late as the eve of the Revolution, the modern distinction between public and private was still not clear. “


This eye-opener is an important foundation on which we can begin building a more clearly understood concept of American history as a stage in what—-hopefully—-is an unending process.

If we accept that our colonial ancestors thought of their relationship with the king in the context of a father and his children, we might better understand the pre-republic era. To be frank, that relationship bespeaks an immaturity--children on their way to adolescence. It's common in that relationship that rights come from agreements forged between parent and child. Depending on the child's behavior and the parent's nature, the agreements can be adjusted.

But, a time comes in the child's development whey they want to be on their own. The parent might be helicoptering, abusive, or maybe hardly ever around. Or, it might just be time for the child to be off on their own. That's the story of the relationship between the King and the Colonists--it's pretty much detailed right in the Declaration of Independence.

Once the republic was set in motion, the strings between the parent and child were cut. Think a little about the analogy. No need for any further contracts with any parents--all deals had to be made with the self. And, in that case, it was We the People. Now, our ancestors would take responsibility for their own actions.

[Longtime commenter and friend-of-the-blog Phil Johnson (Pinky) makes his first appearance on our mainpage here. AC thanks him for this post and his continuing elevation of the discussion hereabouts. Keep it coming, Pinky.]

37 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
You are saying that history develops like an individual does, morally speaking.

I have been thinking about "colonization", which so often nowadays is impugned. But, the imagery you suggest applies. And what America does abroad so often does, as well.

As to the public/private issue, that has a lot to do with our prosperity, where most eveyone can have "leisure time" (private) apart from their work (public). Leisure time was only for the "aristocrat" in the past.

In communist regimes the leaders live in luxury, and keep the peasants "under" through their subservience to attain/provide for their immediate needs, dissolving man to the "material realm".

Pinky said...

.
This post is part of a series of short papers I intend to eventually edit into an essay about how our rights have developed.
.
History unfolds in a process. We can't take some event as is represented by the John Brown experience in isolation. Everything works out the same way, it seems to me. Our laws come out of tradition that has developed over long periods of time and they continue to unfold.
.
My choice of title for this short paper was, In Praise of Gordon S. Wood I have developed great respect for the man.
.
This post unfolds in a way that surprises me.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,

Power is patriarchal/aristocratic and there is nothing wrong with power, except when it is used for wrong reasons or purposes. That is the question. What is appropriate in the use of power?

I believe if power is used to control, then it is a wrong use of power, but if it is a means of furthering the ends of individuals through allowing each a respect and dignity, then that is what power is about or for.

I think that the Founders did not use their power of position for control, but to form a government that allowed liberty. This is the foremost reason why we protect freedom, because otherwise, those in authoriatarian regimes, or those who want to control others for thier own purposes, will use it to dominate. Domination does not allow freedom of individual development, expression and opionion regarding many and various things..

That is not to say that liberty is a "free for all", such as undermining the historical fact of the "Holocost"....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I looked up Gordon S. Wood. He sounds VERY interesting. I like the title "Empire of Liberty", that is appropriate...and I love my 'empire"!

Pinky said...

.
It appears to me that it's all part of the maturing process.
.
I like the river analogy of American history so that when we get up high enough to have a good objective view we are able to see the tributaries as well as the wetlands. But, in the main, the river flows deep and wide.
.
I used to have an agenda when I first started this study; but, soon, I realized that my foundations were weak and insufficient to handle the input I was getting. That's what attracted me to the American Creation blog-site. I felt like--maybe--somebody here might know what they were talking about. To be sure, there are different biases and some just try to prove their prejudice. But, the give and take helps me in my quest to learn.
.

.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie brings up a very relevant point, that of the king as parent. Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha, or the Natural Power of Kings argued not only for the divine but also the natural right of kings using Adam as the first patriarch, and following it down to England's king.

John Locke famously rejected the argument in his First Treatise on Government, as did the Jesuits Suarez and Bellarmine, who spurred the writing of Patriarcha in the first place.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Filmer

King of Ireland said...

This ties right in with a comment I just made under my last post about the difference between the American and French Revolutions. I think Pinky is right that this was gradual.

I should have emphasized this more in my post. It might have some thinking that I believer the Enlightenment came out of nowhere. The seeds started with Aquinas and I feel were partially derailed by Luther and Calvin in that they brought back Augustine's fatalism.

Good post Phil!

Pinky said...

.
The title, When America Grew Up, is a misnomer.
.
We're far from being grown up.
.
Angie talks about crossroads; but, it's more to do with the fact that we are involved in an experiment.
.
Various rights battles mark major movements.
.
The current battle regarding personal choice is a good example.
.
But, that's getting ahead of the story.
.
We need to talk about the the ideas of private and public as they unfolded in the early days of the republic.
.
When the colonists broke their ties with the monarchy, they no longer were children having to deal with the father king. No more would they be working out agreements with the the monarchy. Something very new and different entered center stage. And it has a major impact on our society.
.

.

Pinky said...

.
The title, When America Grew Up, is a misnomer.
.
We're far from being grown up.
.
Angie talks about crossroads; but, it's more to do with the fact that we are involved in an experiment.
.
Various rights battles mark major movements.
.
The current battle regarding personal choice is a good example.
.
But, that's getting ahead of the story.
.
We need to talk about the the ideas of private and public as they unfolded in the early days of the republic.
.
When the colonists broke their ties with the monarchy, they no longer were children having to deal with the father king. No more would they be working out agreements with the the monarchy. Something very new and different entered center stage. And it has a major impact on our society.
.

.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

KOI,
Now you are talking. If there was anything I could do to turn the tide back to a "Representative Republic", I would.

My son just called from Basic Training. My husband served on active duty and now is a Reserve Officier. I know he feels the same way.

We, the People, need to take a stand against intrusive government, subversive tactics, oppression of the Press and "image making", at the expense of truthtelling about what is transpiring in the world of politics...

Pinky,
I do think that we have grown to be a people that protects rights and liberties and this is what America stands for...in the humane and human. When it comes to our enemies that seek to undermine our liberties, whether they be political ideologues, or religious zealots, we must not allow our country to go down the tubes toward serfdom. We are exceptional, an "Empire of Liberty".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Let me be Clear, I am thankful for living in such a free society, so don't get me wrong in my criticism of what is transpiring now...

King of Ireland said...

Angie,

I think we are on some common ground.

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

.
I do think that we have grown to be a people that protects rights and liberties and this is what America stands for...in the humane and human.
.
And, I think we are still struggling in great effort to understand what rights we have and should have.
.
(For some reason I am unable to sign in as Pinky.)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
You are right. The humane and human is the ideal of "acceptance" without qualification. And we all know that everyone has qualifications. Or as Ben said, it is preference, not discrimination.

So, this world is not perfect, so we cannot be humane and we don't know what "human" even means.

Psychologists have various views, Scientists have others, and the religious have still other views.

What do we based the laws of our land on....the natural law, and the natural rights debate continues.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whoever,
Does anyone think that possibly the left or right brained individuals have anything to do with what one affirms?

The Right brained being more expressive, and creative would focus of rights, as their right of expression is "who they are".

But, the left brained would focus on norms, laws, rules and definitions.

Just thinking and asking, as this does pertain to how our society functions. The conservative or those who are focused on "rule orientation" are more left brained, whereas, the right brained are more fluid, or are more comfortable with diversity.

And I am not sure how the differences in approach to life develop morally.Thomas Kolburg seemed to think that irregardless of culture, people develop according to stages, which are progressive. Would his analysis be a left brained attempt at universalization of moral development?

If so, then what does development look like for right sided brains..? It seems the "Arts" are not "progressive revelation", but reflective revelations of society, who would see history as more cyclical, like the Greco-Roman.

King of Ireland said...

I go for the cyclical view of history with one big caveat:

The Marx or Aztec type fatalism that certain things are inevitable because I feel that we always have a choice.

Pinky said...

.
KOI writes, "... we always have a choice"
.
I'm seeing that statement at the roots of the current national debate on rights.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

KOI,
A closed universe where environment and "innatedness" is the only arena that defines, is also a deterministic mind-set. Are humans only their enviornmental and animal natures? If so, then determining how to condition a human to be more 'humane" (in some sort of standardization) is the appropriate way to go. And who is to determine the 'standard" and who will do the "conditioning"? I think this sounds too close to an authoritarian regime, for my comfort.

But, what if the human is much more than an animal? Is there evidence that humans are more than their brains, natures, and the conditions of their environment? Even if humans are defined by these alone, the various ways these differences could be formulated in understanding a speicific human being are too vast to exptrapolate.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I do know that in my studying for my thesis, I read a book about how democracy was the best environment for "human flourishing".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Rational choice theory wins...

Pinky, you wrote a while back about egoism (ethical) and I read some on it. It affirmed human choice as the "soil" of self-interest.

The science relgiion debate, though is focused more on altruism. Altruism being a "un-natural" response to "survival". Now, it is suggested that even animals have a 'caring nature".

Pinky said...

.
The science relgiion debate, though is focused more on altruism. Altruism being a "un-natural" response to "survival".
.
Well.
.
That's a pretty deep subject.
.

King of Ireland said...

If we are talking abortion then one has to inquire whether the fetus right to life trumps the mother's right to choose.

King of Ireland said...

Angie,

I think this is where the image of God may come into play in defining what a human is. Which would seem necessary to an understanding of human rights.

Pinky said...

.
That's part of the debate, KOI.
.
It's major, like the Civil Rights and the Abolition of Slavery debate which was all about the qualifications of persons who had no choice in how their bodies were used.
.
The debate continues.
.
Personal choice is a big part of it.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

KOI
Our culture has accepted the theory of evolution and that theory determines the "in group". The "in group" are the ones who determine policy and law.

There is no scientific evidence for "the image of God", as that is a "faith" orientation.

Abortion is THE issue of crisis on what defines a human. The religious conservative believes that God ordains from the time of conception as he opens and closes the womb. This is an irrational view, as it is based on a "faith tradition defined by a literal textual reading...

The mirror opposite view would dissolve all life of distinction from any other material substance. This is a materialistic view to the extreme, but I would hope for some "middle ground" of reasonable compromise between the two extremes.

King of Ireland said...

Angie,

There are plenty of even atheists that would want to charge someone who killed a pregnant woman with double murder. This position is not exclusive to conservatives.

Pinky said...

.
See? It's a major debate.
.
And, as such, it is all about the personal right to choose.
.
And, it is a continuation of the original "experiment" our Founding Fathers set in motion and of which we are such a vibrant part. We must be blowing their minds.
.
Life in the twenty-first century is exciting.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
A while back I wrote on my blog site about "Pro-Choice, Pro-Life or Anti-Life". This is my position, as I remember. It has been awhile since I have written it.

The issue is whether a young person should remain "celebate" (how likely is that..) or should parents and/or society allow birth control...and under what circumstances...The ultra conservative has not option open other than teaching abstinence. While abstienence is an "ideal" is it practical as far as society, children in society and the parents to be? Again, the ultra conservative sanctions adoption over prevention. These are issues that are not resolved easily, because of such convictions about "morality" in texts. Purity is the issue of defining appropriateness, and not allowing reason, choice, value, and diversity...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The same issue of purity regards the issue of homosexual right, as well.

Pinky said...

.
Could it be that we have yet to learn how important caution might be as we continue our drive to claim more and more rights for our self?
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Everyone clains rights, Pinky. This is the way a free society works, isn't it?

Self is not abhorrent, evil, totally depraved, as fundamentalists believe. And "self" cannot be defined in a "one dimensional way".

Science is just investigating what makes for the human. And the discussion over homosexuality is one of environment, or innatedness. Some believe that any expression of innatedness is wrong, if it is against certain social norms. Social norms do change, does that mean that in the changing process that those that stand for the "right" of civil rights is "standing for the wrong"? Well, it depends on how one understands the human and society's needs.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW,
I don't think that determination in ANY WAY SHAPE or FORM is appropriate, and this is resistance to determinism, totaltalariansim, authoritarianism, etc. One cannot ever "please" those that want absolute control over another.

Pinky said...

.
I'm not sure I'm getting your gist here, Angie.
.
My next post is almost ready to publish. Maybe it will help make a little more sense of the way I think the Founding generation was beginning to look at rights.
.
Seems to me that talk about the current nationnal debate jumps the gun.
.
Even so, I think it is a natural evolving of an historical approach to our rights.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Seems to me that talk about the current national debate jumps the gun.

Pinky, that's sort of the philosophy and ongoing purpose of this blog, as I see it.

Everybody wants to get to it, the search for answers, but we don't even have a handle on what the questions should be. At this blog, at arm's length from current issues, we try to figure out what the proper questions are.

If the Founding had a unique and sterling moment in human history, it was that they had a better handle on what the essential questions are than any other generation before or since; they were the historical bridge between Plato and Jesus and Machiavelli and Kant and Hegel and Rawls and 2009.

Pinky said...

.
This, I think, is a proper question, Tom:
.
How did America ever get started on the idea of rights in the first place?
.
This post series regarding the work of Gordon S. Wood is dealing with that exact question.
.
Bear with me.
.
Did the Founding end with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
.
Was America founded in a day?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I was agreeing with you, Phil.