Saturday, December 12, 2009

Democracy & Religion in America


Tocqueville’s surprising linkage
by Michael Novak


[Recently, this blog asked "Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?" In reply, here are excerpts from a longer essay by Mr. Novak.]


What happens when religion is pulled out from the foundations of the republic? Alexis de Tocqueville [1805-1859] reflected more deeply on the inherent weaknesses of democracy, stripped of religion, than anybody at the ACLU today.

Tocqueville began with a shocker: That the first political institution of American democracy is religion. His thesis went something like this: The premises of secular materialism do not sustain democracy, but undermine it, while the premises of Judaism and Christianity include and by inductive experience lead to democracy, uplift it, carry it over its inherent weaknesses, and sustain it.

Before the revolution of morals brought on by Judaism and Christianity, pagan philosophy held that most men are by nature slaves, and that "the strong do what they can, and the weak do what they must."

It was Christianity (drawing on Judaism) that established three necessary premises for modern democracy:

--The inherent dignity of each person, rooted in the freedom that makes each person an Imago Dei;

--The principle of the universal equality of all humans in the sight of God, whatever their natural inequalities;

--The centrality of human liberty to the purposes and principles for which God created the cosmos.

In short, Christianity made the liberty of every individual before God the bright red thread of history, and its interpretive key. Underlying the chances of democracy, then, is its faith in the immortality of the human soul, which is the foundation of the concept of human rights and universal dignity. Lose this faith, and humans become harder and harder to distinguish from the other animals, and human rights become ever more difficult to define, defend, and uphold.

In addition to these three founding premises, Tocqueville counts at least five other advantages that Judaism and Christianity bring to democracy.

First, Judaism and Christianity correct and strengthen morals and manners. While the laws of a free society allow a person to do almost anything, there are many things which religion prevents him from imagining or doing.

Second, fixed ideas about God and human nature are indispensable in the conduct of daily life, but daily life prevents most men from having time to work out these fixed ideas, and Christianity and Judaism present the findings of reason, tested in generations of experience.

Third, whereas democracy induces a taste for physical pleasures and tends to lower tastes, and thus weakens most people in their commitment to the high and difficult principles on which democratic life depends, religion of the Jewish and Christian type constantly point to that danger and demand that humans draw back, and attend to the fundamental things. Belief in immortality prods men to aspire upwards, and to aim for further moral progress along the line of their own dignity and self-government.

Fourth, faith adds to a morality of mere reason, whether of duty or utilitarian advantage, an acute sense of acting in the presence of a personal and undeceivable Judge, Who sees and knows even acts performed in secret. Thus faith adds to reason motives for doing things perfectly even when no one is looking; it gives reasons for painting the bottom of a chair, and in general for doing things as perfectly as possible. In this way, faith gives morals a personal dimension.

Fifth, in a democracy such as the United States, Tocqueville observes, religion does not direct the writing of laws or the formation of public opinion in detail, it does direct mores and shape the life of the home. It does this especially through women's influence upon family life and the stable morals and good order of the home. Politically incorrect as his views may appear in a feminist and relativist age, Tocqueville lays great stress on the tumultuous passions that disrupt home life in Europe. This quiet regulation of home life is another contribution of Jewish and Christian beliefs to the sustainability of American democracy.

For these eight reasons, then — these three fundamental premises: personal dignity, universal equality in the sight of God, and the centrality of human liberty to the story of civilization; and the five additional advantages just listed — it is clear that the first political institution of democracy, its most important institution, is religion. That is, religion of the Jewish and Christian type, as described. For not all world religions establish the premises of personal dignity, universal equality, and the centrality of individual liberty.

Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.

62 comments:

bpabbott said...

Tom, my comments are not intended at a critique toward you, but I thought I'd give a different perspective than Novak (who I find sophistic).

I notice that Novak makes no attempt to address his claim regarding the ACLU … I'd prefer that political positions be suppressed in the same manner that theological position are, but oh-well :-(

Novak does not consider that Christianity (like democracy) may well be a manifestation of society. Perhaps it society that evolved to affirm that each person deserved to be treated with dignity, and to have equal liberty. Perhaps it was the values, of such a society, that gave rise to a religion that was congruent with these principles.

Christianity may be the bright red herring of history. (no offense intended)

With that perspective in mind, consider ...

---------------------------

First, where the morals and manners of the Christian faith the product of the morals and manners of the society which manifested it?

Second, are fixed ideas about God indispensable in the conduct of daily life … or is it sufficient to consider the fixed principles of human nature? Is the manifestation of religion not a product of human nature?

Third, whereas religion induces a taste for supernatural reward and thus weakens some people in their commitment to overcome the difficulties encountered while aspiring to reach perfection in carrying out their natural lives, the desire to improve upon the material prosperity of our society demands that we draw back from past and present ideologies and seek real meaningful and measurable progress.

Fourth, faith adds to a morality of mere reason, whether of duty or utilitarian advantage, an acute sense of acting in the presence of a personal experiment. An experiment whose outcome is determined by even those events performed in secret. Thus faith adds to reason motives for doing things perfectly even when no one is looking; it gives reasons for right in secret, and in general for doing things as perfectly as possible. In this way, faith gives morals a universal dimension.

Fifth, in a democracy such as the United States, faith does not direct the writing of laws but faith in doing right does play a role, an important one, in the formation of public opinion.

Freedom and Judeo-Christian religion are siblings of our society and we rely upon them in our struggles and triumphs. Our society is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom, and religion, themselves.

--------------------------

p.s. sorry for leading of the comments with this, but what the hay :-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, I didn't like the ACLU reference, but was obliged to use it in context. I found it unnecessarily partisan, provocative, and an obstacle to honest discussion. I hope you've noticed I don't argue that way, except when I'm amusing meself at the rump of a comments section.

I regretted including it from the first, but found no honest way to delete it. That's the fact. But still, it already poisoned the well.

I offer my apology to you and the blog denizens. I shoulda figgered something else out.

___________________

Fortunately, you turned your attention to the actual arguments, so let's get to work:

Christianity may be the bright red herring of history.

OK, I think that's unfair. You skipped over Novak's primary 3 points.


--The inherent dignity of each person, rooted in the freedom that makes each person an Imago Dei;

--The principle of the universal equality of all humans in the sight of God, whatever their natural inequalities;

--The centrality of human liberty to the purposes and principles for which God created the cosmos.


Ben, you took on his 5 secondary arguments from Tocqueville. I probably erred in posting them atall. It's not that I'm unwilling to defend them, it's that if you want to counterargue the thesis, you must take on its strongest and primary arguments first.

I happen to agree with many of your sharp objections to the secondary 5, altho Tocqueville holds much wisdom and historical truth. In answer to your overarching objection, natural law offers its reply. Damn right that Christian thought---and its Aristotelian antecedent---subjects itself to proof in reality. Christian thought lays a greater claim to reality than the abstractions of the moderns, if you follow me here.

In the meantime, we should begin at the beginning, Novak's first 3 arguments, which he posits as the political theology of the Founding. The rest is details.

CybrgnX said...

As an ex-catholic I've heard all that before and still reject the underlying assumption and all morality is from g0d and this leads to our american system. Any analysis of the tenets shows the many errors in the article. But I believe he is correct in one important aspect. The basic principles of religion in the acceptance of statements from authority as fact is what allows the various politicians to remain in power when they suck up to the religions groups.

bpabbott said...

BPA: "Christianity may be the bright red herring of history."

TVD: "OK, I think that's unfair. You skipped over Novak's primary 3 points."

Your right. That comment is unfair to Christianity. If offered it in opposition to Novak's comment which I found overtly patronizing, and dismissive to other theological and secular influences that led society to embrace individual liberty.

As Novak and I expressed unnecessarily partisan perspectives, neither is fair or accurate. You response is dignified and polite (great symbolism, btw), and I feel compelled to reciprocate. Thus, I offer my sincere apology to you and the blog denizens. I should have exercised my mental faculties more reasonably and come up with a more dignified response … sometimes a quick and sharp zinger is fun though ;-)

Regarding Novak's 3 points.

--The inherent dignity of each person, rooted in the freedom that makes each person an Imago Dei;

--The principle of the universal equality of all humans in the sight of God, whatever their natural inequalities;

--The centrality of human liberty to the purposes and principles for which God created the cosmos.


I see two core principles here; (1) the inherent dignity of each person, and (2) the principle of the universal equality of all humans, whatever their natural inequalities. I find it obvious / self-evident that such principles as fundamental to morality, and prosperity of society.

The phrase "an Imago Dei" may be read metaphorically, symbolically, or theologically (literally?). So the individual who reads it has the liberty to choose between these perspectives. Thus, I find this theistic content very appropriate and commendable (Kudo's to Novak on that one).

The phrase "in the sight of God" may also interpreted metaphorically, or theologically, but I think it implies a contradicting qualification. It infers to me that Novak is implying that those who are not of his Church risk the privilege of dignity and universal equality.

The phrase "The centrality of human liberty to the purposes and principles for which God created the cosmos" rings of self patronizing arrogance to me.

I find the inclusion of the implied (or at least inferred by me) threats, and patronizing arrogance to be incongruent with the core theses; which I think are (1) the inherent dignity of each person, and (2) the principle of the universal equality of all humans, whatever their natural inequalities.

Novak could have added a third thesis, that (1) and (2) are the intended gifts from God, but instead he inserted language commensurate with his own personally theology, at the exclusion of others who do not share it. Quite unfortunate, I think.

Regarding Tocqueville's 5 points, my understanding is that Novak inserted them to substantiate his Theology (and his divine agency). I reworded them in a manner that suited me for the purpose of illustrating that the bath water (Novak's Theology) could be discarded without throwing out the baby (human dignity & universal equality).

To be clear, I'm not familiar with the context of Tocqueville's 5 points, only with how Novak's placed them into context for his own purposes. Thus, criticism of Tocqueville was not my intent.

To sum it up, my basic objection is that Novak implies that the highly valued principles of human dignity & universal equality are grafted to his Theology and that any one who values these principles had best join his Church or risk loosing the privilege of their dignity and equal opportunity. Sounds rather undignified and non-universal to me :-(

King of Ireland said...

Ben,

Then let focus on the first two points. Where do these ideas come from?

bpabbott said...

King/Joe,

I think it best that we not assert where we think these principles come from. Besides we've previously beat the concept of obvious / self-evident around enough to know we won't agree on its origins are natural or supernatural.

We might discuss where society is a attribute of religion or religion of society, but don't expect that would lead to anything constructive either.

What I do think would be interesting to examine where did the founders thought these principles came from.

And further, did the founders think that individuals had to qualify inorder to be gifted dignity and equality? Or did they accept these principles as being independent of religious opinion, or should one pass a religious qualification prior to securing these principles for him/herself?

My understanding is that the founders thought these principles to be fundamental and not predicated upon philosophies or policies (theological or otherwise). Or more to the point, these principles transcend human authority.

No doubt most Founders saw these principles as having Divine origins, but the deist and/or atheist could embrace the perspective of natural origins as well. Regardless of their religious opinion all share the benefits of liberty.

King of Ireland said...

Ben,

Ok, then where did the founders think these ideas came from?

or maybe better put:

Where did the founders get these ideas from?

Daniel said...

Ben,

I think you are misreading Novak. As I read him, those created in the image of God have inherent dignity and equality in the eyes of God. If you are in fact created in the eyes of God, whether you accept that fact or not, you have a certain dignity. The fact of your creation is not changed by your creed. (There may be rewards or penalties that go with that creed, but they do not change the premise that you are created in the image of God and have equal standing with other people in the eyes of God).

I'm not saying I buy the argument, just that an argument about the nature of creation does not hinge on our acceptance of it, any more than my equality before gravity hinges on my acceptance of it.

Daniel said...

My trouble with Novak is a historical one. I think his rational position is solid. But it does not appear that the ancient Jewish and Christian traditions offer much more than many other ancient traditions regarding the dignity of the individual. Equality before God is arguably part of the original Christian tradition, but no more so than some pagan traditions popular among the merchant class of the time.

As for the centrality of human liberty in the purposes and principles of the cosmos, I don't think you can find that prior to the 19th century. The Jewish tradition valued political libery in a certain sense. The early Christian tradition valued liberty but did not define it in political terms at all.

I find Novak's thesis interesting, but it seems like he is skipping a lot of bases to find bit of the traditions in scripture then assert that those bit were the reason the principles flowered as they did at the Founding.

I agree that it is important that the DofI imputed those (or similar) principles to the Creator. But it takes some missing links to tie them to Christian revelation.

King of Ireland said...

Daniel stated:

"The early Christian tradition valued liberty but did not define it in political terms at all."

John Adams would disagree see my quote from him on my last post.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Keep in mind that Novak is arguing Tocqueville, and distilling him into a brief essay.

How Tocqueville links God and liberty is a proper question. It proceeds from the first two arguments, and these links begin to address it:

MRR Ossewande

and

Marek Tracz-Tryniecki


I would hate to give short shrift to the argument by describing it improperly, but the gist is that fundamental equality makes man his own self-governor, and that democracy and liberty are sides of the same coin.

"To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then be constrained to make the best of the social lot awarded to them by Providence."

bpabbott said...

King/Joe,

Re: "Where did the founders get these ideas from."

I think they are innate. Meaning they are natural (read: natural law).

Re: "Where did the founders think these ideas came from?"

That all depends upon the founder. Some would look to natural law and others to their God. In either case, I think the assertion that these principles are innate is compatible with both the natural and supernatural perspective.

In any event, I did a Google for founders+on+origins+of+liberty+and+equality, and found the Institute for American Liberty, and an essay on the Seven Principles of Liberty.

There is a section for each of the 7 principles. Each section leads and concludes with a quote by a Founder ... well most are founders, and most of the Founders referenced are George Washington ;-)

So this essay is relevant to GW's thoughts on liberty.

(1) Liberty is of Divine origin.

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts in the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. -- Every step, by which they have been advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency."
-- George Washington

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"
-- Thomas Jefferson

(2) Liberty has a price

"The independence and liberty you possess are the work of [...] joint efforts, of common dangers, suffering and successes."
-- George Washington

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
-- Patrick Henry

(3) Liberty is secured by government

"Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian."
-- George Washington

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice,insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
(Preamble)

(4) Liberty requires unity

"[Y]our union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other."
-- George Washington

"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.'"
-- Abraham Lincoln (quoting Mark 3:25)

(5) Liberty is maintained by obedience to law

"Respect for [this Government's] authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty."
-- George Washington

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it."
-- Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)

(6) Liberty is dependent upon virtue.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."
-- George Washington

"[T]he foundations of our National policy . . . [should] be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality."
-- George Washington

(7) Liberty affords the path to happiness

"[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness."
-- George Washington

"[T]he form of government which communicates . . . happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best."
-- John Adams

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Ben's comments resonate with my "reason". The Church is the "red herring", in that they are the ones that developed theological reflection upon Jewish thought. Judiasm was more a "wisdom tradition", wasn't it? And there are many "wisdom" traditions".

Natural law is man's reason, which he projects as "God". The Church has used this to "form" children and families into "ordered structures". This is needed more in uncivilized societies, not civilized ones that have a Constitutional government...where mena are socially conditioned to know the equality and rights of men. These do not live on the survival of the fittest.

Personal values and convictions are socially conditioned, and this is what empowers the Church. Parents are the main influence in the child''s life, as the child idolizes/sees the parent, as "god". This is why it is important to have mentors or other representative people if parent are not available to children, so that they develop "well".

As to liberty and equality, the Church has tended to persecute those outside its borders. This is not what "social reformers" do. The social reformers are the "great humanitarians" that bring about liberty to those under many human oppressive institutions....whether civil, social or religious...These are the ones to celebrate.

These are the noble souls that stand in the face of authority that subverts another's "right" of existence, whether material, social or spiritual (Lawyers, anyone?). These are the courageous souls that don't bow when they are threatened, because of their ultimate belief in the universiality of equality and liberty, which is "standing FOR justice"....in whatever aspect that may come...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And it was the social contract, that protected the individual, as the individual limited his passions, that would break "the rule of law", the government protected his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Natural law is man's reason, which he projects as "God".


No, Angie. It's bigger than that.

Ben, very nice & intellectually honest, especially since Washington was no holy roller, nor particularly religious in any orthodox way.

Novak doesn't argue it, but I will---the Founding theology was natural law. Calvinist-type Protestants like Gary North seldom get it, as do few secularists.

But if you don't understand natural law, you have no understanding of the Founding. Natural law is liberty, but not license.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Hasn't it been stated that natural law was Aristole's philosophy, which held much weight, even against such "free thinkers" as Corpunicus, or Galileo....today's threat is evolution, which accepted as fact. God, does not exists, and men are trying to resolve the 'problem of morality without God...what is a justification of morality?

Am I supposed to "accept" what has caused discrimination against me?

People assume liencence because they want to discriminate...

Pinky said...

.
:<)
.

King of Ireland said...

Tom stated:

"Natural law is liberty, but not license."

"Freedom with responsibility" is another way of putting it. I have written thousands of pages about this idea straight from the Bible. I would have to agree with Wilson that both flow from the same stream and cannot contradict each other.

I think we are starting to get somewhere.

Douglas William Kennedy said...

Nice article. There is great merit in it although I disagree. I recommend you read James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You can disagree with Tocqueville if you want, Mr. Kennedy. It's a free country.

For your consideration, though.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/09/scholarly-malpractice-and-founding.html

Much work in questioning the prevailing narrative to do.

Angie, it's fine if you don't like natural law and prefer some other political philosophy. The question here is what the political philosophy of the founders was.

bpabbott said...

My interest has been tweaked by the comments regarding natural law (which is occasionally used synonymously with natural rights).

To paraphrase Wikipedia …

Natural law is a theory that posits the existence of a law whose content is set by nature and that therefore has validity in all contexts. The phrase natural law is opposed to positive law (which is man-made), or religious / sharia law (suggesting divine origin) of a given political / religious community, society, or nation-state, and thus can function as a standard by which to judge law.

The intersection between natural law and Natural rights is an important philosophical foundation for our nation's Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

For me this understanding lacks sufficient objectivity for pragmatic application (most importantly in the context of application by the founders).

Would a more objective description of Natural rights refer to those liberties which are most compatible with the individual, and society, achieving the greatest happiness and prosperity?

Does this description sufficiently encompass Tom's point of liberty vs license? … Which I think encompasses the concern Angie (and I) raised regarding the occasional assertion by some religious authorities that Natural law remains part of God's creation, and that God as its creator, and they as God's agent, have license to violate it.

Daniel said...

I said:

"The early Christian tradition valued liberty but did not define it in political terms at all."

and KofI replied:
"John Adams would disagree see my quote from him on my last post."

Yes, Adams and other Founders saw Christianity (and other religions) as authority for political liberty. In doing so, they disregarded quite of bit of historical context.

I regard as unproven (but maybe true) the argument that Christianity is a necessary source for political liberty. I do think it is proven that many of the Founders did believe Christianity advocated political liberty. It is important to keep these positions separate because it is very easy to conflate them and each is a different angle on the questions regarding religion and the Founding.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I regard as unproven (but maybe true) the argument that Christianity is a necessary source for political liberty. I do think it is proven that many of the Founders did believe Christianity advocated political liberty.

Fairly put, Daniel. The "necessary" part could only be argued indirectly, by comparing Christendom's with all other systems, be they Greek, Roman, Muslim, Eastern, or indigenous religions, what have you.

That the Founding saw liberty as a Christian imperative is a proposition you agree with. I do, too, and think the historical facts and Founding documents clearly back that up, in no small part to the mechanism of "natural law," which accommodates both Bible and reason.

That we not "conflate" that historical fact with any theological truth about Christianity, or even with whether God actually exists, is something I hope you've noticed I insist upon, too.

You get it, dude. This is a history blog, which includes philosophical and theological history as well, is all. Perhaps America was founded on some grand illusion, eh?

That has never been this blog's topic, as it's above our pay grade.

King of Ireland said...

Tom stated:

"That we not "conflate" that historical fact with any theological truth about Christianity, or even with whether God actually exists, is something I hope you've noticed I insist upon, too.

You get it, dude. This is a history blog, which includes philosophical and theological history as well, is all. Perhaps America was founded on some grand illusion, eh?

That has never been this blog's topic, as it's above our pay grade."

I repeat my comments above that this is all worthless banter about dead men and things we cannot change if do not apply it to today.

That is the great mistake of History Education over the last years. It is why we have a historically ignorant generation now. It does not need to be current events class either and I know there is a fine line. But I think it keeps people away who would otherwise participate on this blog when how this discussion relates to issues of society now is ignored.

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Pinky said...

.
A major advantage Post Modernism provides is that it drives us toward the decontextualization of what has been accepted as reality or truth. We tend toward wantingt to understand everything in its specific context. We are not content to go with the flow. We want to take everything apart to see if it truly is what it claims to be. So it is with what passes itself off as the truth about American history.
.
At issue is the habit some have in applying word meanings from our culture to the culture of other peoples. The culture of the people who lived through the transition from colonial to revolutionary to the Founding era of America was very different from the culture in which we live. Even so, there is a distinct link between our cultures--theirs is at our roots. Therefor, I think it behooves us to understand them as much as we can.
.
Apparently there is a question here as to who those people were. The DOI tells us that the king would not agree with the "Public Good". That provides us with a clue to the colonial perspective. The word, public, had much to do with the combined and mutual relationship they shared with each other and almost nothing to do with government or property. What was societal was public.
.

Pinky said...

.
Let's take another look at the "refused to give" line in the DOI.
.
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
.
How about, "The Private Special Interests--through THEIR representratives in Congress--have refused THEIR Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.?
.
Does THAT help anyone see the connection between these two cultures? Does THAT put the DOI in the context of present day America for anyone?
.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
Our country does this. It is called voyerism. Our country;s obsession with the private business of others. Another way to term prying into another's business is "BIG BROTHER", which is when government doesn't respect privacy rights....

So, is this what you "condone"? Friends are all I want to "know my business" because otherse don't use that information for my good, but their interests....

So alto there are certain aspects that are important to remember about our Founding, others, I think we have progressed beyond...

God does not "superintend" upon society. Man creates his society and is the envrironment that we raise our families and live our lives...and questions about what is beneficial to society will always be the area of public discourse and disagreement...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

What concerns me is what is being discussed in our State government...making it impossible to get a lobbying position right after serving in the legislature...This would be a check and balance to power, as far as "self interest".

Self interest will always need balancing, but will never and should never be dissolved completely...

The lobbyists in D.C. are a problem, but I don't see how we can limit corporate interests without dissolving market interests, which would undermine our whole economy....and that would be world devsastation. We see the reprecussions of some of this today.

I just fear how much deficit we have and who we owe and what they might require of us to pay the debt back...Are we to be a slave nation to others because of our over-spending...?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
another concern I have about "special interests", is the church...since they are tax exempt and serve their own purposes, and aren't really accountable to the government, then how are they to to right by those under their authority when it concerns their interests?

Pinky said...

.
Angie writes, Our country does this. It is called voyerism. Our country;s obsession with the private business of others. Another way to term prying into another's business is "BIG BROTHER", which is when government doesn't respect privacy rights....
.
I know that drill very well; but, that is exactly NOT the idea of private what I want to convey.
.
More specifically, it is the idea of what, today, we think of as the individual.
.
We need a discussion on this issue; so, that the idea will be made clear.
.
I KNOW that the health care insurance industry does not want us to recognize their PRIVATE interests as being comparable to those of the king during the American Revolution; but, that is EXACTLY the role they are playing.
.
If we understand this, we will be onto something new about the Founding that is being ignored here and, apparently, in academia.
.
I may not be the smartest person here; but, I am not the dumbest either.
.
Even so, I know I am having a difficult time articulating what I want to convey. Most likely, my problem is related to your statement about "private" affairs. I'm talking private versus public in the sense of interests.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
I don't think the answer lies in government "regulations", but in some sort of contractual accountability. That is, self interested individuals negotiate over their own interests, balancing power and considering how they can benefit the "public interest" or the "common good"...this way all parties 'win'...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
It used to be imperative to depend on others in regards to interests, because there was interdependency, which is "tribalish"....I don't want to "go there", do you?

People were aware of their neighbors responsibility in regards to the local. But, this is the "communalism" that drives socialistic interests as well..

There was an individual who wrote a book on the church being a "communal organization' without understanding the necessity of personal identity.....I made an appointment with him and brought many books about the dangers of "groupism"...warning him of what he was considering "the common good"...group think is always dangerous...our Founders were aware of the "herd mentality"...

Pinky said...

.
Barry Shain makes the point very well that the concept of individual as we know it today did not exist during the period of transition from colonial to the Founding era. He shows that it did not come into popular existence until the Civil War period.
.
So what was it that people meant when they spoke of their liberty during that period?
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Perhaps we can think of some present day example to better enable us to get into their mindset? Consider the current health care debate the Obama administration has forced on America. Combine the idea of the Public Good as a part of the debate. To have a health care system that served every man, woman, and child most certainly can be seen as a service to the Public Good.
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The Public Good, in this sense, is why our governments allow private interests to incorporat--for the Public Good(health care insurance?) It is in the name of the People that governments issue corporate charters and licesnes, fo the People have the definite right to regulate. With the incorporation as health care insurance companies, these PRIVATE concerns are allowed to collect fees and to make profits. Priveleges are not given carte blanc. So, I have painted an example of what I mean by my use of the idea of private.

And, good enough for those insurance companies to be able to provide for the Public Good here in the Land of the Brave and the Home of the Free and to charge fees and to make a profit. I say more power to ém as long as they continue to serve the Public Good. It is their POSITIVE LIBERTY to do so, is it not? But, it does appear the time has cvome to seriouisly question if the Public Good is truly being served or not. We certainly know that private interests are being well cared for. Is it time to review how well the serem is actually serving the Public Good. Is it true that the system is broken.
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So, I have painted an example in todays'terms, of what was bothering our ancestors as they transitioned the process of leaving thwe Colonaial period of the private interests of the king into the Founding era of the public interests of We the People.
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Does that help?
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Pinky said...

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Tom, has advised us to move on to new ideas.
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My hypothesis is just that--a ndw idea. It is in the sense that it has not been considered here other than what Angie and one or two others have mentioned. But, in every case, the idea of private interests as I have presented it has not been given the time of day.
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It's time to address it.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
In response to your comment. I agree that corporations deserve to exist and make a profit. And I also agree that the individual has a right to consider his own interests when it comes to the corporate world. those that do not respect another's right to negotiate their own interests are "out of order", not matter how legal they might be...

So, individual rights are even more important in today's larger 'world", otherwise, government is not limitining itself and it will intrude upon the individual's right to his private life and "world"...This was the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights in the first place, wasn't it?

Pinky said...

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Individual and Private rights are two different things when it comes to the Public Good.
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Why is that so hard to understand?
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Once a person accepts a license from the government, their rights fall under the domain of the Public Good. An incorporation is nothing more than a license to do business for the Public Good.
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An individual, when operating in the public domain, is limited in what they can do by law.
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Other than that, you're looking at anarchy.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Churches that are "incorporated" protect their interests, but those that serve under their auspices, have a right to be informed, contractually of their duties. Otherwise, one is treating another as a slave, and isn't slavery against our Constitutional rights?

I recognize the Hein in 2007 did not win against the religious 'right" to get government funds to do "business',...but business is business and isn't religion...therefore, wouldn't a contract be an important aspect of protecting right under our Constitution concerning the 'slave issue"?

Pinky said...

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Churches are protected from almost every possible regulation by the First Amendment. The only thing that can regulate them is probably if something about their activities presents a clear and present danger to society.
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Churches are not required to incorporate in order to practice their form of religion.
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Religion is an entirely different domain than the private and public.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

I never intend to do another wrong...under any circumstances...

Churches do "own" interests in things other than religion...and this is a dire problem, as far as I am concerned...

Pinky said...

It’s almost funny how some Americans get so carried away by such flim-flam as that provided by recent “tea parties” promoted by shills like Hannity and Limbaugh. It’s as though they think of themselves as the only real patriots with a grasp of what America’s Founding was all about. I say, bunk!
Maybe a quote from a highly respected historian, Gordon S. Wood, will help. It’s from his essay, The History of Rights in Early America***:
“In republican American, government would no longer be merely private property and private interests writ large, as it had been in the colonial period. Public and private spheres that earlier had been mingled were now presumably to be starkly separated. Res publica became everything. The new republican states saw themselves promoting a unitary public interest that was to be clearly superior to the many private interests and rights of the people.
“At the beginning of the Revolution, few Americans imagined that there could be any real conflict between the unitary public good expressed by the representative state legislatures and the rights of individuals. When, in 1775, a frightened Tory warned the people of Massachusetts that popular Revolutionary legislatures could become as tyrannical as the Crown and deprive the people of their individual liberties, John Adams dismissed the idea out of hand. That the people might tyrannize over themselves and harm their own rights and liberties was illogical, declared Adams. ‘A democratic despotism is a contradiction in terms.’
“With the now heightened sense of the public good, the Revolutionary republican legislatures were determined to bring what was seen as the private rights of selfish individuals under communal control. Many Americans now viewed with suspicion the traditional monarchical practice of enlisting private wealth and energy for public purposes. Especially objectionable was the issuing of corporate privileges and licenses to private persons. In a republic, it was said; no person should be allowed to exploit the public’s authority for private gain. Indeed, several of the states wrote into their Revolutionary constitutions declarations, like that of New Hampshire that ‘government is instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the public community, and not for the private interests or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men.’ And some of the states, like North Caroline, declared that ‘perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of the state, and ought not to be allowed’”

To act as thought America was created as a place for individuals to benefit at the disadvantage of others is just plain bunk. And that is not a matter of opinion—all this so-called conservatism to the contrary.
So, what happened during those times when America was in the cupulo? Did the wealthy private interests just pack up and leave town?

*** From the book, The Nature of Rights at the American Founding and Beyond, edited by Barry Alan Shain. Here’s a link where you can check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Nature-American-Founding-Constitutionalism-Democracy/dp/0813926661

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
In the early Republic, as has been said, there was less beauracracy, therefore, local politics was not "too far" from "Public concerns"...that is, individuals were tied within communities who had a direct connection with their government.

Today, this is not so. There are many interests that a person can be involved in, which could conflict. And it has nothing to do with "selfishness". In fact, the need for laws that protect private interests become more necessary, because accountability is more needed. Secrecy in government affairs breeds corruption and individual acting selfishly. These individual might deem it unselfish if it was for "the common good", in fact "resourcefulness" would the the term they would use, but if government contracts are not done in the open, then the private interests of corporate greed lend itself to abuse of power over taxpayer money. We see this often when corporations get millions for common necessities that costs far less in the public sector.

So, limiting abuse of power, is maintaining an open "business contract" of "public interests" where the common person is made aware of budgetary needs and expenditures, so that selfishness does not run governmental "concers"!!! There are TOO many ways in which money can be laundered through government....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky, You have mentioned "healthcare" as an example of "public good"...I look at it this way...

If there is a need, there should be family, friends, and/or community support that is aware of the personal aspect of the need, not just the statistical need of another, which depersonalizes the person...and causes a dependency on government.

But, I do not think government taking from one to give to another is appropriate, because government always "seives" off a measure for themselves, just as the insurance companies do "for profit" (which is the greatest evil in liberal terms...).

Voluntary service is the only way to protect against "profiteering". But, government cannot demand volutary service, unless they want to be tyrannical. So, what to do?

Healthcare is not considered a necessity by some as some people choose not to have healthcare. And that should be their prerogative. I think it is more immoral and unethical to take away the right to choose, than to allow someone to fall through the cracks of the healthcare system...so it is a matter of pritoritizing what is ethcially more important in a society. I do not like socialism, or communisitic ways of understanding "community"...and religious jargon has been useful towar that "end" of getting others "on board" to socialize medicine. I don't thisk we have taken the time to discuss and really know options. It is a power grab and it si arm twisting and political manuevering, so that government can grow larger and become more expensive.

Pinky said...

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Well, I guess you and I can settle this problem while the rest go off in the la la land of academe.
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You might be itnerested in this statement from Wood's essay, "According to Republican Theory," said Madison, "Right and power being both vested in the majority, are held to be synomonous." But experience since 1776 had shown the contrary. "Wherever the real power in a Government lies," he told his friend Thomas Jefferson, then in Paris, "there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from any acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of constituents." That was why, for Madison, the crisis of the 1780s was truly frightening. For the legislative abuse and the many violations of individual rights, he said, "brought into question the fundamental principle of republican Government, that the majority who rule in such governments are the safest Guardians both of public Good and private rights.
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Pinky said...

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But, I only brought up Health Care as an example to show how the Founding generation thought--to help us get into their minds.
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It's not what we think here; but, an attempt to understand where their minds were at so we can better understand our Founding as a national society.
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You bring up good issues having to do with the "churches" for example. While I might agree with you, how did the colonial/Revolutionary/Founding generation deal with the problems involved?
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Of course, I know you are on board with all of this. It's just that I wanted to remind you of my motivations.
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:<)

Pinky said...

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The "need"of the ancestors who transitioned from colonial life under the Crown's government to the early republican lie under th4eir own government appears to have been the Public Good--whatever that was.
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Our present day dilemma about health care reform is another matter. Even so, the example holds when we look behind the scenes in our present day congress to see the private interests of wealthy corporations that use their influence to buy our representatives. If we look closely at the concerns of the Founding generation we might see their worst fears are being realized in our representative legislature"".
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

And those that know how government works, use it for their benefit, the "naive ones" pay the costs or move on to another place, or hold government accountable to the 'rule of law' to maintain their freedom from coercive, abusive, or oppressive government...precedence is important for the 'common good" in these situations...I think

Pinky said...

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Madison questioned the seats of power in his letter to Jefferson.
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Where did the power exist in the early republic's government? Who was deciding what laws should be passed and what was their purpose? Searching out those answers helps us understand our Founding far better than finding answers to academic questions about Locke and others--not that they weren't important. But, more to the point, our interest is in the real life of the Founding generation. What moved them from day to day? I cannot imagine a group of men sitting in ye olde towne tavern drinking stout ale having discussions about Lockian principles. What do you think they talked about?
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

These men were educated and of course, discussed ideology, because ideology drives policy.

Policy is what we are talking about. And if we don't adhere to the principles of good government, allowing voice and choice then we are no better than tyrannical kings that the Founders resisted...

So, no one will get me to submit my body where my head doesn't understand or assent....otherwise, I am just a slave of the whim of whatever political leader wants...and that would allow the tyrannical leader(s) to circumvent "proper order" in regards to choice, purpose, values and principle...which is undermining the principle of "equality under law"...

Pinky said...

It's almost 1:30 p.m. at my location.
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If you can get C-Span 3, a discussion on John Adams, religion, politics, and society has just begun.
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It's snowing and I'm making chili. My wife is two miles away at the mall and has just locked her car keys in the trunk. My son borrowed my car and he is two states away.
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Whooopee!
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Pinky said...

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This bears repeating:

"....if we don't adhere to the principles of good government, allowing voice and choice then we are no better than tyrannical kings that the Founders resisted...

So, no one will get me to submit my body where my head doesn't understand or assent....otherwise, I am just a slave of the whim of whatever political leader wants...and that would allow the tyrannical leader(s) to circumvent "proper order" in regards to choice, purpose, values and principle...which is undermining the principle of "equality under law"...
"
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Pretty clear thinking.
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Pinky said...

This Could Be A Little Difficult
To explain; but, if you work with me, I think you will get it.

It’s about your right to be in control of your own private life and property.

Back during the colonial days, most of the colonies had its own “state church”. If you lived in Rhode Island, you were a Baptist and so on for all the colonies; Baptist, Puritan, Church of England, etc.

In each of these colonies, the legislatures had authority over all the inhabitants regarding their personal habits and behavior. The town assemblies and colonial authorities were very intrusive on the personal life of each inhabitant. People were fined for not attending Sunday services among other private choices and behaviors. Everyone knew everyone else’s business.

After the Revolution, when the United States was finally set up as a functional republic with our U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights, it became the law of the land that individuals had the private right to their own religious beliefs. That was no small thing. In fact, it was a major change in so as the way private and public expressions of belief were concerned. Freedom of religion brought a NEW
understanding of the rights of the individual into play of our American society.

Gradually, it came to be seen by the people as well as by the courts that there were places in a person’s life where the public sector—the government—had no rights or authority to intrude. So, over a lengthy period of time the idea of individual rights developed and the privacy of the individual came to be seen as just as sacred as their right to worship as they saw fit.

As we are a nation of laws and as laws belong to the judiciary and not to the legislative or executive branches of government, the individual is protected in their rights by the courts. If my rights are trod upon, my access to reparation is through the courts—that’s part of the separation of powers in our government that is different from the way things were in the colonial period.

Now, laws are adjudicated by precedent—this is a very important point.

If the state has the power to control the private functions of a woman’s body, the precedent is established that the state has authority to control just about every private function of YOUR MIND AND BODY.

The questions can easily be seen as NOT about the morality of abortion; but, that they are about YOUR rights to privacy.
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What's wrong with that thinking?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Many are appalled at the government using taxpayer money to support abortion rights, when many do not agree with that right. I concur.

The U.N. has talked about women's health issues similarily. Those who are not able for one reason or another should be sterilized, etc. to protect valuable resources in these poor countries.Globalized eoncomies nor globalism is a good choice.

Limited government was always the Founders vision. But, today, we find government growing by the day, as now healthcare, not only will create a government beauracracy that will oversee 6% of our GNP...and in the meantime, senators are being 'paid off" and their constiuencies, if they are not careful will close they mouth and eyes because of the pay-off. And the compormising politician will not loose their office because they have beneiftted their people with "goods from the government". Government dependency has not done anything "good" for the countries that support such thinking and systems.

Now there is talk of legislation that would limit the next administration with changing the policies put in place for govenrment reform. This is an atrocious grab for power and control like no other.

I do hope that our country can be turned back.

Pinky said...

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That's the argument from the beginning of the republic, Angie.
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You are--very much--on the side of the private realm. For my money, I see the private realm as having taken over our government. I don't think you have really thought it out. The private realm is the sector that has bought out our representatives in congress. They have done it through special interest lobbyists.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
The market does provide for a type of checks and balances as long as government doesn't use it to hide their interests, or the private sector isn't in bed with the government...

This is also the case for religion. And why I have ceased to think that religion has any place in civilized society where it concerns business transactions.

Laws were to protect the common person from such corruptions of power, weren't they? Doesn't the law protect boundaries around the private and public sectors?

Pinky said...

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Angie writes, "Pinky,
The market does provide for a type of checks and balances as long as government doesn't use it to hide their interests, or the private sector isn't in bed with the government..."

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Your use of what I've highlighted is as though the public has no right to express its interests and want us all to believe that, somehow, the private interest has some unalienable right to impose its methods on society.
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After all is said, and done, the United States is a society of laws. There is no law that requires government to keep its nose out of business that affects the Public Good.
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bpabbott said...

Phil,

Re: "There is no law that requires government to keep its nose out of business that affects the Public Good."

Do you refer to actions that are congruent with the public good, or any actions that are constructive or destructive to the public good?

Pinky said...

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Hey, Ben.
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Generally, the public good is what our representatives are elected to care for. It's up to them to create the appropriate legislation. They have no power to adjudicate.
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Problems arising between and among the private interests are generally left up to the courts. If our government has a problem arising from the private sector, the courts are where those problems get settled.
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I have been working to learn about the questions involved. And, I suspect I am starting to see why some academics and others do not want to discuss the questions involved.
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Even so, the questions are deeply involved in America's creation.
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bpabbott said...

Phil,

Thanks for explaining. My take is that "public good" is what politicians say it is, but now necessarity what is good for the public.

If we want to understand what the public thinks is good for them, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the market.

The market is represented by the individuals who comprize the public.

Pinky said...

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I think sociologists might be better at understanding what the people think their good is.
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While politicians compete with each other to be elected into office by the people. I seriously doubt that most of them have the public good in mind. Mostly their interest is in getting and holding on to public office where they get to have personal relationships with special interest lobbyists who come to them bearing gifts of all sorts.
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bpabbott said...

Good point Phil.

Does the public actually understand what is good for them?

Does the public cast votes consistent with what is good for them?

Are politicians interested in winning favor with their constituents, or with the lobbyists?

I'd better stop asking questions, or else I'll become more cynical than I already am ;-)

Pinky said...

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ha ha ha ha
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That's for sure.
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