Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christianity & Enlightenment:

Among my co-bloggers and commenters with whom I discuss the historical record, the question of "Christianity" v. "Enlightenment" oft-comes up. Which dominated the American Founding?

There are at least two problems with the way the question is framed. One, it's a false dichotomy; there were more than two ideological sources. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn also names "Whig," "Common Law" and "Greco-Roman."

Secondly, the sources bleed into one another (that is, they aren't mutually exclusive). John Locke was a "Whig," a man of the Enlightenment, and called himself a "Christian." George Washington's virtues were arguably consistent with both "Judeo-Christianity," and "Greco-Romanism." GW was as much a "Stoic" as a "Christian."

Further, there will never be any kind of "settled" answer among men as to what's an authentic "Christian" tenet that distinguishes itself from an "Enlightenment" tenet. I hate to sound like a deconstructionist, but essentially this is a continuing "discursive" process.

Sorry to further pick on the men, but David Barton and Peter Marshall illustrate the false dichotomy from the "Christian right" perspective. As Peter Marshall noted:

Research has revealed that Enlightenment philosophy was far less influential in the thinking of the Founding Fathers than has been taught in recent decades.

He noted this as he misunderstood the "research" that supposedly supported his point.

David Barton has likewise tried to paint "Enlightenment" as Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and whatever presented itself as either non-Christian or least identifiably "Christian" so as to "capture" the Founding for "Christian" sources.

Well, the American Founding, the "republicanism" thereof, and the Enlightenment the Founding Fathers followed presented themselves as compatible with and often under the auspices of "Christianity." Likewise Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and others presented their creed as "Christianity" not Deism.

Presenting something under the auspices of "Christianity" is instructive of the "history of Christendom" -- the good with the bad, the orthodox with the heresies -- but tells us little about the "mere Christianity" that draws lines over which there is reason to argue in the first place.

What's there to fight about if "Christianity" includes Calvin, Pat Robertson, Mormonism, the French Revolution, churches that perform same sex marriages and even self proclaimed atheists and witches? All of these things have presented themselves under the auspices of "Christianity."

As it relates to the Founding, the "Enlightened" Christians of the American Founding and their philosophical heroes like the aforementioned J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, John Locke, Isaac Newton disproportionately embraced the Arian and Socinian heresies. Socinianism predates the Enlightenment and Arianism traces back to fourth century.

How authentically "Christian" are the Arianism and Socinianism that the "Christians" of the Enlightenment tended to embrace because they viewed said as more "rational" than the Trinity?

Likewise, Locke's understanding of Romans 13 that held men had a "right" to rebel against tyrants (when the text of the Bible says no such thing) that the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew and many trinitarian preachers followed. Is it authentically "Christian"? If not, is it "Enlightenment"? Is it both?


Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno. I keep hearing that "reason trumps revelation," although Locke wrote

"The holy scripture is to me, and always will be, the constant guide of my assent; and I shall always hearken to it, as containing infallible truth, relating to things of the highest concernment. And I wish I could say, there were no mysteries in it: I acknowledge there are to me, and I fear always will be. But where I want the evidence of things, there yet is ground enough for me to believe, because God has said it: and I shall presently condemn and quit any opinion of mine, as soon as I am shown that it is contrary to any revelation in the holy scripture."

Clearly, this does not square with the prevailing secular connotation of "Enlightenment."

dunnettreader said...

To Tom vD - Not quite sure what point you're making -- that Locke wasn't "Enlightened"? Or are you supporting J Rowe's claim that "Enlightenment" wasn't necessarily incompatible with Christianity because, as Christianity was understood culturally, it was a huge tent.

But in any event, Locke's quote begs the questions of (1) what portion of the Scriptures was "revealed" and (2) how to interpret that which one accepts as revelation.

As I understand Locke's position, reason is the (God-given) instrument man uses to sort out what's not revelation -- e.g. the descriptive stuff that contradicts historical and scientific "facts". So lots of especially the Old Testament has to be viewed with some scepticism. Reason is also used to interpret what is accepted as revelation -- to sort out apparent contradictions or to decide whether Paul was talking about the historical situation of the Romans or laying down a universal rule. Reason is also used to assess the claims of the Church with regard to specific bits of doctrine, and so forth.

A literal acceptance of Old and New Testament as all equally eternal truth claims that were the revealed word of God couldn't withstand Locke's empiricism and the increasing availability of historical and scientific "facts". So to that extent, Locke's more "enlightened" approach of using reason to discriminate what is and is not revelation is a "newish" development in the 17thC.

But as J Rowe pointed out, as for using reason to interpret revelation -- that had been going on since the beginning of Christianity and produced "heresies", heterodoxies and schisms, including Socinianism and Arianism, over the centuries. And that has as much to do with ecclesiology (organization and authority of the Church(es)) as it does with theology.

bpabbott said...

Tom, I don't think Locke accepted scripture because the religious authorities of his day insisted (tyranny).

He accepted and embraced scripture because he found it compatible with his reason (liberty).

dunnettreader said...

To J Rowe -- Glad you mentioned Bailyn's ideological traditions. They have potentially both political and theological dimensions, and each could be used to support revolutionary or loyalist positions. I suppose we could try for some sort of Weberian matrix. :)

Anyhow, IIRC the "Common Law" includes the "ancient constitution" justification of the 1688 Revolution. To take a major example in the 18thC, Bolingbroke, in his writings to persuade disaffected Tories to accept the Hanover succession, presented the Revolution as a new Magna Carta, a restoration of the peoples' ancient privileges. English history had always been a see-saw between monarchs who promoted the common good and allowed the peoples' liberties to flourish and monarchs who ignored the common good and trampled on ancient privileges until they were opposed and the people accepted a new ruler. It was those evil Stuarts who introduced new-fangled "absolutism" in the 17thC. And it was the Church, which had understandably felt itself threatened, that dreamed up extreme theological justifications for strict hereditary monarchy (the Tudors certainly didn't qualify!) and divine right, etc to justify their Stuart allies. So 1688 reasserted the ancient rule that "Britons never shall be slaves". And the right to assert those "ancient privileges" of the people were claimed by colonial subjects in America.

Perhaps an even more interesting example of the "ancient constitution" theory of resistance to the monarch is Scotland, where it was deployed by the Calvinists (yes, the Calvinists!) to justify the political part of their Protestant Reformation against Marie de Guise (as Regent) and Mary Queen of Scots when she returned to rule Scotland on the death of Francois II.
For an interesting article, see J.H. Burns, "Institution and Ideology: The Scottish Estates and Resistance Theory" at IHR.

Back to Bolingbroke -- he was also very much a spokesman for the classical republican or Greco-Roman tradition. So his neo-Stoic scepticism and Lockean empiricism led to deism, with politically an emphasis on virtue (and the contribution of the landed versus the "monied" interest to maintenance of the republic's virtue). It was probably more in that vein, rather than the "ancient constitution" theory, that he was so closely read by key Founding Fathers such as Jefferson and Adams. But though he drew on a classical republican tradition, he was a pragmatic traditionalist when it came to hereditary monarchy and thought that monarchy was an essential balancing element of Britain's mixed constitution - so there's a potential line to Hamilton as well.

Just another example of your point that bright lines in terms of ideas and influence aren't possible. People didn't write or think in the nice neat theoretical categories we devise for our own convenience to sort through a century of intellectual, theological and political ferment. But the fact that they didn't stay between the lines of our theoretical categories doesn't mean they were "inconsistent". None of these traditions are found in "pure" type, there is overlap among them, and each has internal tensions, so they could be used to support a variety of positions.

Brad Hart said...

I've always found this Enlightenment v. Christianity argument to be pretty much on par with the Christian v. Deist, orthodoxy v. heathen debates. They seem to deal more with semantics than anything. I think you are right when you mention who these different ideas "bleed" into one another. I'd actually take that a bit further and say that they are mutually dependent. The table that was the American Revolution had many legs and each relied on the other. I don't see an Enlightenment happening without Christianity, nor do I see a Revolution happening without "infidel" ideas on religion.

BTW, sorry for my recent absence. Been busy but have a couple posts in the works.

dunnettreader said...

Argh - sorry for the multiple posting, but meant to add. Though Bolingbroke was personally a deist (with a pretty strong anti-clerical streak) he also was a Tory who supported the Church of England -- and by the 1830s, wanted to accommodate its politico-theological role with dissenting traditions -- because of the Church's contribution to social cohesion. A perfectly coherent set of attitudes, especially for an enlightened 18thC aristocrat, but one that doesn't map onto Whig vs Tory or Enlightenment vs Christianity very well at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dunnettreader, dude, do hang around, and comment as often as you like. You clearly know whereof which you speak.

For the record, I prefer TVD over anything that turns my last name[s] into venereal disease.

To business, then:

But in any event, Locke's quote begs the questions of (1) what portion of the Scriptures was "revealed" and (2) how to interpret that which one accepts as revelation.

I would not put Locke in with those who considered the scriptures corrupted, although Jefferson and Adams did consider them corrupted. However, I do find your next paragraph, that offers Locke as questioning all interpretations that resulted in dogma and doctrine, as congenial to the real Locke.

And as we've noted around here, even the Trinity could, can be, and was questioned on scriptural grounds alone. Your distinction between theology and ecclesiology is apt, and indeed the Founders as a whole despised ecclesiology, which is to say despised the churchmen who were cool with people killing each other over nuances of theology.


key Founding Fathers such as Jefferson and Adams...

Well, you might find them far less "key" than the historical record supports. In fact, they mostly hid their theology from the general public. And, you'll find John Adams throwing Bolingbroke in with Thomas Paine and Voltaire quite disparagingly:

His [Paine's] billingsgate, stolen from Blount's Oracles of Reason, from Bolingbroke., Voltaire, Berenger, &c.,

Paine's not even a visionary, he's a mere plagiarist in John Adams' eyes. Voltaire, of course is just the type of "Enlightenment" figure whose hostility to Christianity was ill-received in the new United States, as Adams ills that hostility:

"...will never discredit Christianity, which will hold its ground in some degree as long as human nature shall have any thing moral or intellectual left in it."

From a longer essay here:

But welcome aboard, Dun. Bring the pain, or the Bolingbroke, as the case may be. We're all about finding the Founders around here, and they're damn elusive. [By their own intention.]

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"Likewise, Locke's understanding of Romans 13 that held men had a "right" to rebel against tyrants (when the text of the Bible says no such thing)"

Othniel rebelled against the authority. It is in the text of the Bible. I think it is better to say that the interpretation of some is that the text of the Bible says no such thing. Gotta watch overplaying your hand.

With that said I think this is one of your better posts in that it really addresses a very good question. I think we need to discuss what were "Enlightenment" ideas and what were "Christian" ideas and what were both. When I get a second to breath from working my Real Estate job and doing bartending class on the side, I will be doing a post on Locke in the same vain as some of the things I stated on Ed's blog a few weeks back.

Well done Jon.

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

...what were "Enlightenment" ideas and what were "Christian" ideas and what were both.

You're going to have to define what you mean by idea and then defend that there is such a thing as a Christian idea or Enlightenment idea. You've been asking this for some time and this critique has come up but not been adequately addressed. I think that a better way of framing what you're trying to ask is what effect Christianity and the Enlightenment has had on epistemology and cosmology, etc.

Take for instance man's relationship with his environment or man's relationship with himself and others. Or take the idea of happiness. Happiness, and how one achieves it, has been discussed since the ancient Greeks.

Epicurus is credited with a school of thought that centered on happiness without supernatural intervention (in effect, happiness is liberty - at least on a personal plane). The Christian scholars such as Aquinas wrote on happiness, "Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence." (Summa Theologica). Locke wrote on happiness, "Happiness is liberty" (I believe An Essay Concerning Human Understanding). Jefferson wrote on happiness, "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (substituting happiness for Locke's "property").

Jefferson is a self-professed Epicurian (in its purest and original form) as well as a self-professed Christian (in a special Jeffersonian form - sans the priests and the churches and corruptions from the moral wisdom of Jesus).

So, do you label Jefferson's conception of the idea we call "happiness," Christian or Enlightenment (or for that matter Pagan/Atheist)?

Apologies for no links - working today.

dunnettreader said...

To TVD - Thanks for the welcome! I'll call you TVD if you'll call me dudette. ;) And I'll take you up on the "more Bolingbroke" offer. I'll break up this comment into two parts so Blogger will accept it.

Yes, I'm probably projecting a bit on what Locke may have thought about scriptural "corruption". A great deal of historical research and scientific work was done in the 50 years between when Locke was writing and Bolingbroke's Letters on the Study and Use of History where, as a good Lockean empiricist, he discusses what we can and can't know about ancient (pagan) and Old Testament history. He vividly describes the process of corruption by folks in every era who had an Agenda. "Let me say without offence, my lord, since I may say it with truth and am able to prove it, that ecclesiastical authority has led the way to this corruption in all ages, and all religions." And he proceeds to eviscerate ancient chroniclers and the "historians" of the early and medieval Church with a series of examples of self-serving inconsistencies and apparent corruptions, especially re chronology.

As new evidence came forward in the late 17th and 18th Cs which could be taken to demonstrate possible scriptural "corruption", we can't know whether Locke himself would have followed his own principles down the same road Bolingbroke and other Lockean empiricists took in applying Locke's lessons on reason to raise issues not only of scriptural interpretation but scriptural corruption.

I also take your point re FFs like Jefferson and Adams not displaying their most controversial thoughts in public. A position they shared with Bolingbroke, whose most controversial writings on religion appeared only after his death (which is why Dr Johnson famously condemned him as both a scoundrel and a coward!)

But as to Bolingbroke's influence on at least two important FF, there's a pretty good papertrail.

Frex, in Jefferson's two "great books lists", only two authors (Bolingbroke and Hume) show up on both. In Jefferson's "Literary Commonplace Book, a volume compiled mostly in the 1760s, Jefferson copied extracts from various authors, transcribing from Bolingbroke some 10,000 words, six times as much as from any other author and forty percent of the whole volume. Young Jefferson was particularly partial to Bolingbroke's observations on religion and morality." From Library of Congress online exhibit Religion and the Founding of America (my italics).

As for Adams, I think you'll find Bolingbroke was a great favorite. Adams was, however, less enthusiastic about Bolingbroke's moral/religious writings than Jefferson appears to have been -- Adams seems to have found Bolingbroke too sceptical -- but sympathized with Bolingbroke's anticlericalism. This illustrates the distinction I was making (and that you seconded) between theology and ecclesiology in debates over "Enlightenment" influences on "Christianity". And even those freethinkers with a decided anticlerical bent could accommodate public religious participation on the grounds of civic duties and religion's contribution to social cohesion -- they didn't view themselves as being religious hypocrites, they were being civic patriots. Bolingbroke has several passages on just that point, which I would expect both Jefferson and Adams would find congenial (see e.g. his first Letter to Pope on philosophical thoughts that Pope at least partially incorporated in his Essay on Man, in Letters to Sir William Windham and Alexander Pope).

dunnettreader said...

[Comment continued] Anyhow, to put your "disparaging" quote from Adams on Bolingbroke in more perspective, here's from a letter to Jefferson from Adams (1813):
"The fundamental principle of all philosophy and all Christianity is, "Rejoice always in all things." "Be thankful at all times for all good, and all that we all evil." Will it not follow, that I ought to rejoice and be thankful that Priestley has lived? Aye, that Voltaire has lived? I should have given my reason for rejoicing in Voltaire, &c. It is because I believe they have done more than even Luther or Calvin to lower the tone of that proud hierarchy that shot itself up above the clouds, and more to propagate religious liberty than Calvin, or Luther, or even Locke. That Gibbon lived? That Hume has lived, though a conceited Scotchman? That Bolingbroke has lived, though a haughty, arrogant, supercilious dogmatist? That Burke and Johnson have lived, though superstitious slaves, or self-deceiving hypocrites both? Is it not laughable to hear Burke call Bolingbroke a superficial writer; to hear him ask, "who ever read him through!" Had I been present, I should have answered him: "I, I myself! I have read him through, more than fifty years ago, and more than five times in my life, and once within five years past. And, in my opinion, the epithet 'superficial' belongs to you and your friend Johnson more than to him." I might say much more; but I believe Burke and Johnson to have been as political Christians as Leo X." Vol 10 of Works of John Adams (p 82).

Adams was especially engaged intellectually by Bolingbroke's historical and political writings. Ellis in Passionate Sage calls Bolingbroke "one of [Adams'] favorite authors" and devotes a delightful couple of pages (89-91) on how Adams read Bolingbroke. Adams' notes trace a sort of "conversation" in which he challenged various of Bolingbroke's statements, some of which no doubt were what Adams called "dogmatism" that he rejected.

Ellis' description is a great example of what we need to recall when we're trying to sort out the pedigree of various ideas of the FF. It's not a simple matter of each FF "adopting" or "rejecting" the thought of the philosophes (as if there were a standard, unified bundle of "Enlightenment" thought they all shared, Ha!). The better way of looking at influences is a never-ending "conversation" with other thinkers, both of the present and the past.

Adams may have rejected Bolingbroke's strident rejection of most Christian theology and scriptural interpretation. Bolingbroke saw most theology as a product of (self-interested or prideful) imagination, not reason, which he regarded as not only pericious but out-and-out "blasphemous" against God and the simple truths of original Christianity that reason taught. Still, "Upon reading [Bolingbroke's] A Dissertation upon Parties, Adams exclaimed, 'This is a jewel, there is nothing so profound, correct, and perfect on the subject of government, in the English or any other language.'" I. Kramnick, Bolingbroke & His Circle, (p 262).

Jonathan Rowe said...

We should post Dunnettreader's Bolingbroke comment to the frontpage.

We've examined lots of philosophical influences on the FFs. However, we still have some notables to cover. Bolingbroke usually gets lumped as a "Deist," (which I think he was).

Another Deistic influence on the Founding was Shaftesbury.

Jonathan Rowe said...

KOI: Thanks!

bpabbott said...


I agree dudette's comment would make a good post for the blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Dudette. I buy your argument that Locke was open to an ecclesiastical corruption of the scriptures. Well sourced & cited.

As for Jefferson and Adams, the affinity for Bolingbroke fits in well with their worldviews; the question is how widely they fit with the Founding era as a whole.

So, do you label Jefferson's conception of the idea we call "happiness," Christian or Enlightenment (or for that matter Pagan/Atheist)?

JRB, I'd say you nailed it---to those Christians [and importantly all those raised in the Christian tradition] the Thomistic telos of happiness defined as finding our way to God would have sounded Christian.

But to a Stoic [or a Christian], one could not be "happy" living outside the natural law, so there's that pre-Enlightenment dimension, too.

I would think to the classic-minded, "happiness" would not mean pleasure as much as Aristotle's eudaimonia, which is the balanced and proper life, or as

this paper puts it

The concept of Eudaimonia is about feeling good because you have acted well.

I don't see modern notions of happiness-as-hedonism in the Founding era, but mebbe I've just missed it.

King of Ireland said...


I would say that since Jefferson's use of Locke's ideas made it into the phrase about happiness I would have to say that the Lockean idea of happiness is based on one loving God himself as God's workmanship and he neighbor in the same vein.

As I stated at Dispatches, the frame of the ideas is uniquely Christian. Really Judeo Christian. Is it not? I will try to post on this idea this weekend.

dunnettreader said...

KoI - That's an important dimension you've added to JRB's observation re Jefferson's choice of "pursuit of happiness" in lieu of "property". (Though I caution trying to draw straight lines from Locke's formulation to Jefferson's version -- lots of other ideas and about a century of experience is sitting between the two.)

Seems to me that "pursuit of happiness" does a couple of things. First, "pursuit" gives a "purpose" to future government in a way that "preservation" of life and liberty (and property) doesn't quite. Second, in both Christian and some classical traditions, personal "happiness" is experienced by the individual but is "pursued" within a social context.

As TVD noted, classical "happiness" isn't simple hedonism -- it's some manner of self-actualization through action vis a vis others. That's the case with the intellectual tradition of "civic humanism" of the Italian Renaissance republics, whcih drew heavily on Greco-Roman thought. In turn, this tradition had considerable influence on thinking about government in 18thC England and America - part of Bailyn's third ideological tradition, cited by J Rowe in his post.

Central to "civic humanism" is the concept of "virtu" as the means/objective of individual self-fulfillment and the commonweal. "Virtu" isn't limited to personal morality (public or private). It's also the praiseworthy means to attain recognition, nobility, gloire. And it's not simply individual action but, at its highest, most praiseworthy level, involves participation in civic life in promotion of the commonweal.

In 18thC England and America, there were fears of a decline in civic virtue and increasing elite corruption accompanying commercial expansion, the growth of luxury goods and a "consumer society" and the "financial revolution" post-1688. [That raises the whole issue of the nature of man, to what extent we are motivated by self-interest, the control of passions by reason, etc. Which is at the heart of many 17th-18thC anxieties about encroaching modernity and philosophical debates by both Christians and godless philosophes - which certainly don't map onto simple Christianity/Enlightenment or Whig/Tory.]

There are threads (not just "Christian" ones) that lead in other directions than "pure" Lockean contractual liberal individualism. Many of the FFs were concerned about how to maintain civic virtue and avoid the corruption that had accompanied the decline of republics in history. But those more socially-oriented sets of values are rarely found in isolation from more individualistic values. "Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" seems to me one of the prime examples of where the two directions are woven together -- a source of perpetual tension, but also of potential strength.

If you're interested in more on "civic humanism," JGA Pocock was responsible for launching a great deal of work on "civic humanism" and its part in republican thought since his 1975 classic, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. For a cautious overview of how Renaissance and 18thC Atlantic historiography has proceeded since Pocock, see Civic Humanism. Pocock relies heavily on the Greeks, and his motivating theme is how Renaissance humanists tried to reconcile the cyclical decay of an historical republic in secular "time" with Christian eschatology. Others following and critiquing Pocock pay more attention to the Romans (e.g. Skinner's Foundations of Modern Political Thought) and less on the meta issues of time, etc than does Pocock. (My undereducated impression is that Skinner's right on the Romans.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very nice once again, Dudette. There's a philosophical/theological split with the advent of the Christianization of Greco-Roman thought where "Christian charity" replaces the pagan notion of "magnanimity" as "virtue," magnanimity [virtu, as you describe it] being a function of self and Christian charity being a connection with something larger than self.

Do you have anything on this per the Founding? I see magnanimity certainly driving Washington, but really none of the others. The fierce "republican virtue" of the French Revolution is notably absent. As this paper argues, even Jefferson, who discarded George Mason's Christian talk in borrowing from Virginia's Declaration of Rights in composing the D of I, came around to "love" by his first inaugural address [perhaps influenced by Benjamin Rush, perhaps just to heal up politically with the Federalists].

I've been meaning to get to this eventually, so if you have anything in this vein, you'd indulge my natural laziness in giving me a leg up.

Exc contributions, and I'm sure I speak for all those here gathered.

King of Ireland said...

I am making a case that the foundation of our foundational come straight from the Bible. Locke's whole lead up to Life, Liberty, and Property is from a centuries old theological argument that man is God's property because he is God's workmanship. Details can be found from the dialogue a while back at Dispatches and in a post to come when my anger at technology subsides.

Been a rough week of trying to marry all my on-line efforts. I am fed up. But I will try to post.

King of Ireland said...

Should say foundation of our foundational "document" sorry.

dunnettreader said...

TVD wrote -- There's a philosophical/theological split with the advent of the Christianization of Greco-Roman thought where "Christian charity" replaces the pagan notion of "magnanimity" as "virtue," magnanimity [virtu, as you describe it] being a function of self and Christian charity being a connection with something larger than self.

Do you have anything on this per the Founding?

On the Founding particularly? Nope. I'm really weak on the Founding. I get to Jefferson, Adams et al through my interest in 18thC Britain, Bolingbroke in particular but also the later Radicals -- both the context for the English Enlightenment (foreign and domestic politics, political economy, cultural trends, since Bolingbroke was big buds with Pope, Swift, Gay et al) and his influences on the French Enlightenment (he was a mentor of sorts of Voltaire, Montesquieu, etc).

There are some good materials I can look for on tracking the classic "ancient virtus" of Plato, Aristotle et al with their parallel "Christian virtues" as developed by the Scholastics (and I suppose by the neo-Platonists during the various periods they were influential). But I do think we should be cautious in assuming that it's Christianity that introduces a notion of contributing to something "bigger than the self". The polis and the common good antedate Christianity by some centuries. And neither immanence nor transcendence are Christian monopolies. I think a lot of what folks think uniquely reflects primitive Christian morality derives as much from later Christian cosmology, eschatology, etc. [That's kind of Pocock's point with his emphasis on the challenge for Renaissance humanists of reconciling secular time with Christian time. As he sees it, this has a huge impact on all sorts of issues, including "what is virtu/virtue".]

But then, I start from the assumption there's a huge overlap among most religious/philosophical traditions, so you have to look carefully for what's "unique". More often it's something in the politico-cultural environment at a given time that brings one perspective or element within a tradition to the fore, and then, given path dependence, that has ongoing influence on how the particular tradition is shaped.

As for Jefferson and "Christian love" or charity - without knowing anything about the specifics, I'd start with the assumption he was working with a vocabulary that he thought would resonate with his audience, communicate the "essence" of his ideas, and persuade his audience in his desired direction. Doesn't mean he wasn't sincere, but doesn't mean he believed every word or, perhaps better stated, doesn't mean that it was his preferred way of thinking about the ideas he was trying to convey. He might have chosen quite a different philosophical vocabulary if you were talking to him in private.

dunnettreader said...

J Rowe - Glad you found the Bolingbroke remarks useful. I'd be willing to put together something a bit more coherent if you'd like a post on Bolingbroke. As I mentioned to TVD, the FFs aren't my forte, so I'd want to do a bit more work than the quickie roundup I've done so far. You can reach me @ gmail if you'd like.

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - Details can be found from the dialogue a while back at Dispatches...

KOI, when referencing these Dispatches dialogues can you provide links?

Jonathan Rowe said...


If you put something together on Bolingbroke and mail it to my email, I will post it to the frontpage.

Joe Winpisinger said...


Joe Winpisinger said...



Over 300 comments total but it gets at what I stated up top. I am going to post on it at some point. I just have to get in the right frame of mind to do it.

jimmiraybob said...

Thanks KOI. Now I have to go get in the right frame of mind for the last few minutes of playoffs.

King of Ireland said...

They beat the crap out of them. I think Indy is in trouble though.

jimmiraybob said...

I've lived through the cardiac Cards, the Superbowl Rams, and this years Rams. ;/ then :) then :(

I was pulling for Warner/Cards but have respect for the Saints' abilities. Oh well. Now. Must.move.away.from.keyboard.and.toward.TV.

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