In light of Dr. Hall's addition to the discussion I would like to put forth the idea that the discussion of the nature of man is a much clearer context for a discussion on the influences on the founding and the role of Enlightenment and Christian thought than the whole reason vs. revelation debate a-la Leo Strauss. Here is a quote from a piece by Robert Hunt about Robert Kraynak that should help set the stage for this debate:
"To his credit, Kraynak is by no means sanguine regarding the contemporary effort on the part of many Christians, and especially of Roman Catholics in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, to effect a rapprochement between Christianity and liberalism. On the contrary, Kraynak rejects these efforts and provides the reader with a thorough critique of the effort to ground constitutional government in the premises of philosophical liberalism. Understanding that every form of government is grounded in some view of human nature and of the goods that make for human flourishing, he argues that the variety of liberal efforts to ground constitutional government in a Kantianized defense of "moral autonomy" (a la David Richards) or "equal concern and respect" (a la Ronald Dworkin) cannot be sustained."
The part that jumped out to me was when Hunt stated, "every form of government is grounded in some view of human nature and of the goods that make for human flourishing." Simply put, the foundation of government is a proper view of human nature and a desire to promote human flourishing. If this is true, and I think history bears this out, then this puts the whole reason vs. revelation discussion in the proper context. Accordingly, I would submit that the end of reason vs. revelation discussion in regards to political theory is to discern the correct view of the nature of man on which to build the foundations of government. In other words, most of the theology and philosophy on the topic of the foundations of government focuses on this aspect as its end.
Including that of Calvinist Gregg Frazer who is cited quite often on this blog in regards to his claim that most of the "key founders" believed that reason trumps revelation. What is often ignored is that most of his views on the topic of government are an outgrowth of his view on human nature as being totally depraved. When one does not properly understand the assumptions that Frazer brings to the table of the reason and revelation debate it is impossible for one to fully understand where he is coming from. This is because his interpretation of the Bible flows from this well and anything that contradicts it from natural law gets labelled reason trumping revelation. As Tom Van Dyke would put it, he seems to believe that because we are depraved that reason is our enemy not our friend.
Accordingly, I submit that much of the confusion that results when the topic of reason and revelation is discussed on this blog is over what reason and revelation mean to whom and when? In other words, John Locke seems to think that natural law is reason and Aquinas seems to believe it was general revelation. But others, like Frazer, believe that all revelation is from the Bible which would seem to contradict them both. Furthermore, I have interjected more than once the question of what all this means to the Tibetan nomad that has never seen the Bible? Simply put, this is a complex and complicated discussion that I am not sure ever will ever clear things up.
What is much easier to discern is the question of how the founders viewed the nature of man which, as stated above, is the end of the discussions on reason and revelation to begin with. I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, of them believed in some way that man was fallen and chose the American form of government based on that notion. Here is Dr. Hall on the founders view of human nature and where he believed it was fashioned:
"John Witherspoon’s student James Madison wrote in Federalist 51 that “if men were angles, no government would be necessary.” Almost to a person America’s founders were convinced that humans are self-interested or, in theological language, sinful. Of course one can reach this conclusion for a variety of reasons, but is it not probable that the approximately 75% of Americans connected to Reformed traditions adhered to this idea because they had heard it from the pulpit since childhood? It is true that every major Christian tradition in America in this era agreed that humans are sinful, but few emphasized it as much as the Calvinists who taught the doctrine of total depravity. In contrast, many Enlightenment thinkers believed that humans are basically good, and that through proper education they could be perfected. As Louis Hartz recognized, “Americans refused to join in the great Enlightenment enterprise of shattering the Christian concept of sin, [and] replacing it with an unlimited humanism.”
Now there is a lot here that needs to be unpacked, and I am sure we will accomplish that over the next few months, but I just wanted help frame the discussion and then just focus on a few key points with this post. One is that there is a clear difference between believing in the "perfectibility of man" and that he is fallen. It is the former that is central to Enlightenment thinking not the latter. Another important point is that there is a difference in a belief in total depravity and sinful nature for sure but both views on the nature of man have a long tradition in Christian history. At least this much seems clear if our ultimate goal is clarity.
With all that said, I think the other part of the intramural Christian battle about the proper foundations of government over the centuries has been over the whether or not sinful man is capable of flourishing as alluded to in Hunt's quote above. That is because it is the very idea of human flourishing that troubles some, like Frazer, who believe in the depravity of man. But once again, the view that man is sinful but because he is made in the image of God is still able to flourish is an idea that has a long Christian tradition. Which means that it did not require the founding generation to re-write the Bible to support their ideas as some claim. Nor does this frame of thought require an Enlightenment line of reasoning on the nature of man. In fact, it is absolutely incompatible with the Enlightenment school of thought that rejects the fallen nature of man.
Which brings us, yet again, to Jack Goldstone's claim that "free individuals sovereign over a limited state" was the foundation of an engineering culture that launched modernity. If one of the foundations of this "limited state" was belief in the fallen nature of man maybe it is not a question of Christianity vs. Modernity as Kraynak and Frazer seem to frame it but one of Modernity standing on the shoulders of Christianity?
That becomes very possible when one realizes that not all Christian thought rejects the idea that human beings are capable of flourishing. It just pins that hope on a proper view of man's nature that takes into account BOTH his fallen nature because of sin and his capabilities because he is made in the image of God. I think this is, more or less, the view of human nature that won out in the founding in regards to political theory. It is most certainly not part of Enlightenment thought on the "perfectibility of man" that throws God off the bus.
If we want to use the metaphor of Leo Strauss, at very best, one could say that some founders may have emphasized Athens over Jerusalem but we most certainly cannot say that they sought to destroy Jerusalem as the true Enlightenment figures of the French Revolution did. This is, in fact, abundantly clear.
ht to TVD for the destroying Jerusalem phrase