Sunday, December 20, 2009

Get Ready For Romans 13 Round 3

Perhaps this was the work of Providence. I've been thinking about gearing up for a third round of debates on Romans 13, Calvin, Interposition, the American Founding, and this morning I see that Brad Delong linked to a Positive Liberty post I did towards the end of 2006 on Romans 13, one that discussed a post of his and where he commented. Delong's post discussed a First Things' article by Justice Scalia that addresses Romans 13.

Perhaps we can get Justice Scalia to chime in this round. After all, we've both written for First Things. (Heh. I doubt it.)


Tom Van Dyke said...

Quite a jumble, and largely misses what Romans 13 clearly says, despite interpretations, that on the whole government should be obeyed. This is simply a natural law corollary of man as a "social animal." The alternative is anarchy.

It is only what should be done when the government crosses the line into tyranny or a disinterest in the "common good," [i.e., autocracy, when the governors govern for their own personal gain, not the people's] that interpretations of Romans 13 diverge.

Scalia's point is irrelevant to our longstanding discussion, and neither am I crazy about his argument. However, he's quite historically accurate---Romans 13 and Judeo-Christian society have for 1000s of years recognized a right for government to "punish" lawbreakers, as long as the punishment is just. [For God is just.]

The opposite, "modern," argument has its own pitfalls if it argues that government's job is only to "protect"; because murderers and child molesters [and many or most other criminals] commit their crimes again and again, the only reliable way to "protect" is to lock 'em up forever, a solution that is frequently unjust.

[And a problem with three strikes laws. Perhaps chain gangs and "hard labor" sentences as "punishment" had their merits afterall.]

King of Ireland said...


I repeat my question:

How do you read what Calvin said about Othniel and even Spartan and come to the conclusion that resistance to tyrants is forbidden. It is not what he said. Thus, even Mr. Orthodox himself understands their are exceptions. Then it becomes an issue of debating what counts as an exception. Fraser is wrong. Let's stop quoting him and move on to a good discussion about what the conditions that need to be in place to defy the order of a higher magistrate. How does someone like Scalia make it into the halls of power with Statist views like those stated in the article. I hope you are starting to see why I am harping on this. Let Barton go and we can focus on the Doctrine of 98, Sandfeur's argument for National Citizenship, and the 9th and 10th Amendments. Separation of Powers and Federalism were put into place for a reason. Scalia sounds a lot like Filmer.

King of Ireland said...


Both sides of the coin need to be acknowledged. That is what Adams use of Mayhem and Locke's interpretation shows us. Maybe it is that balanced view of the purpose of government that has helped us last this long. The dangerous thing is that most have no idea where these ideas came from. Hijacking ideas and ignoring the premises behind them is foolish. Modern classical liberals look at jerry Falwell and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most people think all the founders were like Thomas Paine. This goes back to the whole sorry state of education and the way History is taught.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Don't misread Scalia, is all. He says precisely the opposite of Filmer, that 9 justices of the Supreme Court aren't the hand of God any more than a king is.

For me, therefore, the constitutionality of the death penalty is not a difficult, soul-wrenching question. It was clearly permitted when the Eighth Amendment was adopted (not merely for murder, by the way, but for all felonies-including, for example, horse- thieving, as anyone can verify by watching a western movie). And so it is clearly permitted today. There is plenty of room within this system for "evolving standards of decency," but the instrument of evolution (or, if you are more tolerant of the Court's approach, the herald that evolution has occurred) is not the nine lawyers who sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, but the Congress of the United States and the legislatures of the fifty states, who may, within their own jurisdictions, restrict or abolish the death penalty as they wish.

His second argument is on the morality of capital punishment, a different argument.

All this, as I say, is most un-European, and helps explain why our people are more inclined to understand, as St. Paul did, that government carries the sword as "the minister of God," to "execute wrath" upon the evildoer.

What we see here is that sovereignty still rests with the people. His objection is to the "statism" that is the Divine Right of Supreme Court justices.

I'm not crazy about the argument, but it's quite historically and philosophically accurate. The Founding theology, if you will.

Tom Van Dyke said...

that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well...

---John Adams, 1799 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Jonathan Rowe said...

A jumble that largely misses?

But Brad Delong, "a professor of Economics and chair of the Political Economy major at the University of California, Berkeley[, who] served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration under Lawrence Summers[, and] also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and is a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco," saw fit to comment on it and link to it (for what reason I don't know why) three years later.

That was from Wiki. I know appeal to authority is a logical fallacy (except when making legal arguments). But that was fun.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not a DeLong fan, meself, and Mankiw frequently gets the better of him on economics, which is DeLong's area of expertise, not this.

However, Scalia is clearly on solid ground as regards the Founding theology---

Scalia: "that government carries the sword as "the minister of God," to "execute wrath" upon the evildoer"

Adams: that He would bless all magistrates, from the highest to the lowest, give them the true spirit of their station, make them a terror to evil doers

I don't see how it gets more black-and-white than that.

I also agree with Scalia's oft-stated position of favoring the sovereignty of the people [via their elected officials] over the Divine Right of the Supreme Court as another principle that has solid ground in the Founding.

The problem is that most people read Scalia politically, ignoring the obvious deep historical study that underpins his arguments. One may disagree, or simply reject him for a new and better modern ethic, but to "skim" Scalia is to miss a lot, and the historically ignorant won't get him at all, projecting their own partisan shallowness upon him, as if he's just spouting emotion and opinion like they do.

King of Ireland said...


Adams statement in this proclamation is balanced Scalia's is not. At least not in the context he was quoted by Delong. Interpretations of this verse that emphasis the first part of Adams quote at the exclusion of the second destroyed Europe. Read Sir Thomas More's idea of Utopia. I want to do a comparison between it and Plato's Republic.

King of Ireland said...

So Tom are we in agreement yet that Romans 13 was very much part of the national dialogue back then? Adams quote is theological and legal. It goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. God punished one to protect the image of God in the other. I know Abel was already dead but the idea was that he had value because he was made in God's image. The punishment was also to warn others. To fully understand the legal arguments one has to understand the theology they were based on. Interposition is a good place to start.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Romans 13 is definitely in the background, or more precisely, between the lines of every political argument about government made by every Founder who was interested in pleasing God and living righteously before him, which includes just about all the Founders.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Though not with Jefferson who disregarded everything St. Paul wrote as "corruption."

I do think though (I know I'll get disagreements) TJ thought Jesus' words (to the extent that they had been accurately recorded in the Bible) as God speaking to man thru a Savior (intermediary) who was 100% man, not divine at all, but on a divine mission.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Any evidence, Jon? My position is that Jefferson considers himself Jesus' peer. I have evidence from TJ's writings, something I've not got to.

Unless TJ considered himself on an equally divine mission. That I would believe, altho I have no evidence for that.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Do you need me to dig up the footnote where TJ calls Jesus a "Savior" (I've already linked to it). He also, as I noted, idolized Joseph Priestley a man who believed in the Resurrection of the 100% human (but on a divine mission) Jesus. TJ, in his personal letters (I can get the footnote, not off the top of my head currently) clearly takes John 1:1 more serious (as revelation) than a Deist would.

I can say more....

King of Ireland said...


Jefferson sure quoted Locke a lot. Locke wrote commentaries on three of Paul's books.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Nonetheless, Jefferson didn't believe one word of St. Paul's was divinely inspired. That's how TJ got around Romans 13. It didn't survive his razor.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Go for it, Jon. I'd say that Jefferson's "Our Saviour" was exoteric window-dressing that Jefferson was far less respectful of Jesus as coming from God than any other righteous Joe [like himself] was.

That should be fun. I don't get to argue that side much since OFT [quite graciously on his part] absented himself from the proceedings.

King of Ireland said...


And if TJ would have put together a French Revolution like Declaration that could care less about what God had to say his political career would not have survived the razor. Whether he believed in what he was writing or not does not matter to this discussion as much as where the ideas he used came from.

How consistent is a guy that says all men are created equal in one sentence and then goes home to his slaves really anyway?

Tom Van Dyke said...

"How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

---Samuel Johnson

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - "How consistent is a guy that says all men are created equal in one sentence and then goes home to his slaves really anyway?"

Very consistent if the guy is working on a political system that will one day allow and guide the realization of the ideal. When was the revolution/founding complete? When the constitution was adopted? After the civil war? When women were included in the franchise? After the civil rights movement of the 1960s? When was the question of liberty, equality and rights-of-conscience decided in this country once and for all?

This canard is really too shallow to use here. There is ample evidence that many of the most recognized founders loathed the slave-system economy that they inherited and many did the best they could to remedy the injustice when they could - some sooner some later.

jimmiraybob said...

JRB - "...many of the most recognized founders loathed the slave-system economy..."

And I am referring to some of the loudest yelpers.

King of Ireland said...

The easiest and most just remedy for the man who just wrote a document for the whole world to see proclaiming that all men are created would be to release his slaves. Anything short of this is being a hypocrite.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I thought it would be funny to print the words of that most famous wit, the Englishman Dr. Johnson, on how the Americans were seen as hypocrites.

In 1856, the New York Times printed "Jefferson's Last Words on Slavery." Interesting timing.

bpabbott said...

Joe: "The easiest and most just remedy for the man who just wrote a document for the whole world to see proclaiming that all men are created would be to release his slaves. Anything short of this is being a hypocrite.?

hmmm ... I don't think giving up the foundation for your wealth is easy.

Ironically, these hypocrites did pave the way for emancipation and the civil rights movement.

We should keep in mind that the founders were more interested in uniting themselves as a Nation against the tyranny of Crown than in maintaining a consistency of philosophy.

King of Ireland said...


There are some decent arguments for them putting off the slavery issue in order to unite the nation. Hard questions with no easy answers.

jimmiraybob said...

A letter from his grandaughter:

After Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Randolph (1796-1876), married Joseph Coolidge (1798-1879) in 1825, she traveled overland to her new home in Boston, Massachusetts. When she arrived she wrote this letter to her grandfather, remarking on the "prosperity and improvement" of New England "such as I fear our Southern States cannot hope for, whilst the canker of slavery eats into our hearts, and diseases the whole body by this ulcer at the core."

Jefferson to Ellen Randolph Coolidge
27 August 1825

“one fatal stain deforms what nature had bestowed on us of her fairest gifts.”

From Jefferson’s last will and testament regarding some of his slaves:

"I give to my good affectionate and faithful servant Burwell his freedom and the sum of Three Hundred Dollars to buy necessaries to commence his trade of painter and glasier or to use otherwise as he pleases. I give also to my good servant John Hemings and Joe Fossett their freedom at the end of one year after my death and to each of them respectively all the tools of their respective shops or callings: and it is my will that a comfortable log house be built for each of the three servants so emancipated on some part of my lands convenient to them with respect to their wives, and Charlottesville and the University, where they be mostly employed, and reasonably convenient to the interest of the proprietor of the lands; of which houses I give the use of one with a curtilage of an acre to each, during his life or personal occupation thereof.

"I give also to John Hemings the services of his two apprentices, Madison and Eston Hemings, until their respective ages of twenty-one years, at which period respectively, I give them their freedom. I humbly and earnestly request of the legislature of Virginia a confirmation of the bequest of freedom of these servants, with permission to remain in this state where their families and connections are, as an additional instance of the favor, of which I have received so many other manifestations, in the course of my life, and for which I now give them my last, solemn, and dutiful thanks."

Unfortunately, due to enormous dept upon his death many of Jefferson’s slaves were sold to appease creditors and to relieve the burden on his survivors. Slavery was an enormously complex affair and more so at the level of the individuals involved. I don’t get any sense that Jefferson attempted unduly to profit from the system, would have done away with it if he could have and indeed seems to have developed rather genuine and affectionate relations among his slaves.

Sad stain indeed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JRB, I recall that to emancipate a slave, an owner had to put out some cash up front. You just couldn't release him or her without provision. Jefferson was largely broke, as we see at his death.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Something else I remember about Jefferson was [I might not have the details exactly right] since his estate was in debt -- and slaves were "property" under the law of the Estate -- the estates creditors may have had a claim to them.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Whoops I see JRB covered my last comment in one of his comments that I didn't read carefully.

King of Ireland said...

I read somewhere the a freed black man in the North produced 10 times more than the enslaved black man in the South. The Southern Slave Owners were cutting off their noses to spite their faces.

With that said, if they would have pushed it at the Constitutional Convention there would have been no Constitution. Whether this was right or wrong is an interesting what if in history?