Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fukuyama, Liberal Democracy, and the Tibetan Lamb

It has been about year since I started contributing to this blog and I have learned a great deal over that year and even before that as a reader and commenter.  In fact, I came to this discussion with a desire to answer some questions I had been thinking about for quite a while and have found a lot of answers. Questions that started when I began to study the rate of Christianization among the Tibetan speaking peoples of Asia a few years ago when I was there.

What I had begun to notice, in my studies, was that of these 800 or so distinct ethnic groups that all started out on the Tibetan plateau, the ones that lived in more "liberal" nations had a far higher Christianization rate than those who did not. In other words, all of the groups that had almost no interaction with Christianity(or for that matter any foreign ideas) seemed to live under totalitarian regimes or strict theocracies. 

Ok, I am sure that many of you are asking what any of this has to do with American Creation?  Well, this realization was the spark that re-ignited my interest in political theory that brought me to this blog.  The long and short of it is that I had just witnessed first hand what I had read about in Jihad vs. McWorld years earlier about the coming clash between the modern and tribal world. More specifically, I began to focus on the role that just government could play as this script was acted out.  This is the focus I brought to AC.

As I wrote, commented, and listened to many diverse points of view here there was one statement that continued to pop up over and over again that caught my attention.  Here it is in the words of Ed Brayton from Dispatches:

"There isn't a single provision in the Bill of Rights that has any concept even remotely analogous in the Bible. The Bible does not say a word about political liberty or political rights."

I am sure many of you are wondering about how what I shared about Tibet and just government have to do with Ed's statement?  It is quite simple, in that I feel that rights are fundamental to all just government. So if Ed is right that would mean that the Bible does not promote just government.  This implication would completely contradict my view that one of the main Christian obligations to the tribal world is to aid them in establishing just governments.  In other words, for a well meaning Christian that wants to bring heaven to earth this pursuit could be a waste of time.

With that said, as I began to study this topic it became abundantly clear that major streams of Christian Thought have used the Bible to promote the merits of just government based on inalienable rights; confirming that the pursuit of these ideals was not a waste of time. In fact, these rights were said to be grounded in man being made in the image of God.  Simply put, according to the way some interpret the Bible man has an inherent dignity because, as Locke would say, he is the "workmanship of God".  If true, this directly contradicts statements like the one made by Ed Brayton and brings into question what version of Christian theology he and others that follow his line of reasoning are beholden to?   

Now some might say, "What is all this theological talk doing on a history blog?"  I would retort that it is impossible to have a reasonable historical discussion when such profound ignorance about the relevant theology exists. Nonetheless,  I think it proper to stray away from truth claims and focus on the validity of labeling various streams of political theology as legitimately Christian or not.

If this is a valid line of historical inquiry, and I think that a proper understanding of Church history says it is, then the questions about the founders and their view of the foundations of just government would seem to boil down to these essential two:

1. Is there a historically valid biblical case for rights grounded in imago dei?
2. Is this case for rights that was used at the founding?

These two questions are at the heart of our ongoing discussion about vast differences in certain aspects of Enlightenment and Christian thinking and knowing the difference.  Especially those aspects that revolve around what Francis Fukuyama would call "the end of history" which was a popular topic of discussion in both circles during the founding era and into the next century.  The former called it the millennial reign of Christ and the latter utopia but both were looking forward to the day where lion shall lie down next to lamb. Which both seem to agree is only possible in a universal state of just government. A concept that goes back to Plato and Fukuyama's thesis brings back into the forefront.

At the heart of the modern version of this discussion is if "liberal democracy" is the key to a universal state of just government?  If so it seems prudent to ask what form of "liberal democracy"? That is if there is more than one form. I would submit that there is and that one is based on Enlightenment thought and its idea of man made rights and another on Christian thought and imago dei. If America is to be the example to be followed by the rest of the world then my two questions above carry great weight. That is because I don't think Fukuyama's version of the "end of history" refers to the Christian influenced version of "liberal democracy" and if the foundation of our success the last 200 years is found in God given inalienable rights this could be bad news for the Tibetan lamb.


It is also a shame because I think there is a possibility that Islam may allow for inalienable rights based on imago dei as well. But that is a discussion for another day. 

20 comments:

King of Ireland said...

Jon Rowe in his post on Lind last year:

"The Straussians argue "rights" are a Hobbsean-Lockean modern invention; there is another school, the Rodney Stark/Brian Tierney school (which I plan on blogging about in great detail in the future) that holds medieval Roman Catholics actually invented the concept of "rights" which Hobbes & Locke then inherited. Both of these schools would agree that the concept of rights are not explicitly found in the Bible. Though the Stark/Tierney school argues natural rights are implicit in the creation story. Both also agree that the classical Greco-Roman system of "nature" is not "rights" oriented but rather "duty-virtue" oriented."

I would add to the Tierney version that most of the penalities under Jewish law seem to be for violations of human dignity. The punishment for murder was rationalized to Noah based on that.

You promised some posts on Tierney in the same post. How about it? I think Uncle Leo is wrong and from what I have read Tierney proves it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

From what I can gather, historian Donald S. Lutz claims 3/4 of the rights in the Bill of Rights can be found in the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, complete with Bible verses to back them up.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/29396074/Donald-S-Lutz-Colonial-Origins-of-the-American-Constitution

On the other hand, there's a fellow on the internet named Brayton who argues:

"There isn't a single provision in the Bill of Rights that has any concept even remotely analogous in the Bible. The Bible does not say a word about political liberty or political rights."

I don't know who is wrong or right, whom to believe.

But it's clear there's a Liar for Jesus here, or a Liar Against Jesus. Either there's a "single provision, or evn more than one." Any help in sorting this out would be appreciated. Wouldn't want to call the wrong guy a liar. Surely they both can't be right.

Chris Rodda would probably of assistance here.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks for some of the cross referencing of this article. What is to be the best way to understand ourselves in the world? Is it liberal democracy? or is it somthing other? We are left with no choices, as we are globally interconnected economically, but our social connections are not globally embraced, because of some form of oppressive regime. The media, education, individual expression, and free market are limited by such regimes. These liberties were granted in our Bill of Rights....what is the answer to these complex questions about man and his world?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Fukuyama's thesis is interesting in the light of his critics!!!

King of Ireland said...

Thanks Angie.


Tom,

I do not think Ed is a liar and we both know that Jon is not and he says this, or used to say it a lot. Technically, Ed's statement make be true in the same way that people say that the word the Trinity is not in the Bible so the Trinity does not exist. There are numerous verses that people use to back that concept up and numerous verses people use against it.

The point is that a valid argument can be made for both without violating all rules of logic.

With rights it may not list rights but by indentifying the dignity of the human person created in the image of God as the rationale for punishing violations of that dignity lays the foundation.

I have been rereading all of Jon's post on the Straussians and in one about rights he made the astute observation that it is not so much where the word came from in reference to inalienable rights but where the concept first appeared.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Virtue cannot be formed by government, unless one is to be an oppressor, because virtue has to do with motivation, as well as action. And motivation has to do with personal interests, and values, which differ from individual to individual. Therefore, liberty is the environment where "true" virtue can flourish most effectively, under the nurturing hand of personal friends, and family, not beauraucratic regimes.

I am not of the opinion that duty necessisarily necessitates virtue, because it is militaristic, and not personal. The military in our country is a voluntary service, which is inspired by our ideals. Do the countries that demand military service as part of their citizenship duties show a more virtuous citizenry?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The problem with beauracracy is the problem of systems thinking, which inevitably leads to the demise of individual liberty, justice, equality, and/or rights. This was the basis of our Bill of Rights.

Today, there seems to be a movement on many levels to identify the "human" with collectivity. Such collectives understand themselves on foundations of materiality or "spirituality"; or a combination of the two. Such diverse foundations are what make for a liberal democracy. There are no defined "goals, purposes" or outcomes. The individual, himself, must choose how he understands, what that means, and where he will commit his life.

But, globalists want to define the "outcomes", so that indivdiuals are "determined" how they understand themselves in light of "the greater good". Such causes are noble, but become ignoble when indivdiual liberties are supressed or manipulated. Such causes as global poverty, religious intolerance, environmentalism, human rights causes are all noble pursuits, but cannot be forced under "the rule of law", unless one wants to circumvent liberal democracy itself....

King of Ireland said...

"But, globalists want to define the "outcomes", so that indivdiuals are "determined" how they understand themselves in light of "the greater good". Such causes are noble, but become ignoble when indivdiual liberties are supressed or manipulated. Such causes as global poverty, religious intolerance, environmentalism, human rights causes are all noble pursuits, but cannot be forced under "the rule of law", unless one wants to circumvent liberal democracy itself...."

Perhaps this is the lion that destroys the lamb?

King of Ireland said...

I might add that these efforts could very well be in the vein of Plato's noble lie which would seem to make it possible for the deceitful lion to lie down just to disarm the lamb in order to then pin him down supposedly for his own good.

Pinky said...

.
Interesting.
.
I was just reading (about an hour ago) Strauss's lecture on "Relativism" in which he covers some of the same territory.
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What a coincidence.
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King of Ireland said...

Tom,

I went and looked at the Lutz study and it seems that most of the Bible verses are for the blasphemy stuff and other hardline things. As far as the rights he does claim that of the 26 in the Bill of Rights that 7 come from the Mass bill and another 7 from the Magna Carta and English Bill of rights. He claims 4 more from somewhere else. I think that is the 75%.

I am not so sure what his point is though.


The bottom line is that Ed is wrong and this is revisionist to the core. They are doing the same thing with Christian history that James and Chris at the Jon's blog accused you of doing with Islam(not saying you did) by taking the literalist readings as gospel and ignoring the Greek Influenced and Flat out Rationalist camps.

In other words, it is like labeling all of Islam Bin Ladenism which erases thousands of years of Islamic thought that would oppose him.

I really do not think he does it on purpose he just does not know any better.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In other words, it is like labeling all of Islam Bin Ladenism which erases thousands of years of Islamic thought that would oppose him. .

I said from the first I did not regard bin Ladenism as "normative" Islam. In fact, 'twas I who invoked the term "bin Ladenism." writing explicitly that I wasn't speaking of any of the radical Islamism of current times.

However, attributing that caricature to me was they only way they could "win."

As for the role of Christianity, the current "common knowledge" that the Founding was a creature of the Enlightenment can be said at least to be under legitimate challenge.

It is indeed interesting that

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

is quite strong among people who believe the other side is stupid, slaves to their beliefs, but they themselves go apespit if Locke and "imago Dei" are used in the same sentence.

_______________

Virtue cannot be formed by government, unless one is to be an oppressor, because virtue has to do with motivation, as well as action.

This idea that virtue is a habit goes back to Aristotle, and the issue of "education" was at the forefront in the Founding era and the Enlightenment as well. [See Rousseau.]

"Moral" virtue, in any religious sense, is problematic, but there is "civic" virtue as well as simple personal self-control, without which a free [liberal, "liberty"] society cannot survive.

We teach our kids not to take drugs, not to get pregnant, and to recycle.

Government inculcates virtue all the time.

Pinky said...

.
The ideas involved in the "end of history" thinking include a concept out of Marshall McLuhan.
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He might have claimed that the Founding was not a natural unfolding of history; but, that it, more or less, was the flowering of some otherwise disconnected ideology. According to a lecture given by his closest associate that I attended in the 1960s. he subscribed to the idea that events pop into being like wild flowers in a field rather than as the result of the pendulum swing of history.
.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
I certainly am no expert, but it seems to me that there is a difference or distinction of personal virtue and civic duty.

Personal virtue is what I was referring to, and yes, it is under parental influence. But, civic duty if what our laws decide our responsibility is for the public good. We should be law-abiding citizens.

One cannot demand a certain action in regards to personal virtue in a free society, as this is under the control of the individual. Virtue is internalized in this sense. But, public virtue is what convention demands to protect society from disintegration. These are external or written laws.

What is duty? to obey the law. What is virtue? to go beyond the call of duty. What that means or if it happens is the individual's free choice of action. And many times, others might not know what the choice/action is, because it is behind the scenes.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, Virtue is what everyone has when one does his work as he should, pays his bills on time, takes care of thier kids, etc. It is everyday, workaday world of an average American citizen, no "superhero" type behavior. So many people are virtuous in theis regard.

Pinky said...

.
Where did I read just recently that the Founders defined virtue as the state of personal disinterest? That is that one put the interests of the greater society over their own.
.

Pinky said...

.
Would that form of virtue qualify as altruism?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Or man living well according to his nature as a "social animal."

King of Ireland said...

"I said from the first I did not regard bin Ladenism as "normative" Islam. In fact, 'twas I who invoked the term "bin Ladenism." writing explicitly that I wasn't speaking of any of the radical Islamism of current times"

I think they were misreading what you were saying too from what I read.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Misunderstood" would be a charitable way of putting it.