Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Tea Party and the Constitution: A Rebuttal

[A few days ago, American Creation posted "The Tea Party and the Constitution" by Joseph Moore, via friend-of-the-blog John Fea's The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Michael Makovi, an American student in Jerusalem, offered this rebuttal there, which we are pleased to reprint here in longer form, with his permission.---TVD]

by Michael Makovi
Guest Blogger


I. General Historical and Ideological Context

Joseph Moore's argument is that the Constitution was meant to limit populist movements like the Tea Party, and that the Tea Party has more in common with the Anti-Federalists than with the Federalists:

"The Constitution was written to constrain movements like the Tea Party. Ironic, then, that Tea Partiers espouse such a religious reverence for it. ... The paradox of this crusader's zeal for the Founding Fathers is that the Tea Party more closely resembles the groups that opposed the Constitution than those who wrote it in 1787. ... The Constitution was written to protect government from movements like the Tea Party. It was written to ensure the power of the federal government to direct economic policy. It was written to keep control away from angry men with guns. It was, in short, everything Tea Party advocates like Beck and Michael Savage think it was not."

Moore concludes that the Tea Party is voicing historically-legitimate views (those of the Anti-Federalists), but is confused, in that it's relating itself, wrongly, to the Constitution:

"Ironically, the Tea Partiers have embodied what their most sacred text opposed. This does not delegitimize them.They stand in a meaningful tradition even as they misunderstand it. They have channeled the old angst of Anti-Federalism, good and bad, into the present by combining Jeffersonian fear of government with anger for anger's sake. Their zeal is both tremendous and historic."

However, I think Moore needs to view this whole matter in greater historical perspective. Yes, the Tea Party might very well be more like the Anti-Federalists than like the Federalists, but if we compare them both together with other political philosophies, then we see they are both of the same classical liberal, constitutionalist, limited government school. The Anti-Federalists and the Federalists were both two different opposing factions of the same general school of thought. Had Moore studied these two factions against the backdrop of the entire history of the classical liberal and federal traditions, he would have seen how similar the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists really were.

In fact, most of the differences between the two come down to mere tactics; i.e., they differed not on the theory, but on how to enshrine that theory in practice. It is one thing to believe in limited government and social contract, but it is something else to determine how to put those into effect, and the Anti-Federalists and Federalists mostly disagreed merely on practice, not on theory.

And whatever theoretical differences they did have, were relatively minor when put into a greater perspective. The Federalists, like the Anti-Federalists, also feared that a strong government would take away their freedoms. After all, that is exactly why the American Revolution was fought. The Federalists may not have been as libertarian as the Anti-Federalists, but they weren't Tories!

We cannot have such a myopic and narrow view of history. The American Revolution cannot be viewed in isolation. It must be viewed alongside the Dutch, English, and French Revolutions, and viewed as the sequel to the first two that it truly was. The cartoon "An Attempt to Land a Bishop in America" depicts John Calvin and Algernon Sidney as being partners of John Locke, while John Adams said John Ponet's work contained "all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by [Algernon] Sidney and Locke". John Adams additionally recommended the anonymous Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos. I'm sure we all know who Calvin was, while John Ponet was a Protestant Christian during the persecutions of Protestants by Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary), the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos was a Huguenot tract, and Sidney was a partner of Milton and Cromwell. In other words, the American Revolution was part of the general Reformed Christian movement of federalism and limited government that was behind the Dutch and English revolutions, and we must study it as part of that movement, not in isolation. And this Reformed Christian movement was closely related to the Whig and classical liberal tradition. After all, Locke's father fought under Cromwell, and Locke was familiar with Puritan and Congregationalist trends in England, and the two traditions remained very closely allied to each other. Analyzing Francis Schaeffer's claim that John Locke relied on Samuel Rutherford, Robert Arnold concluded that while there is no evidence that Locke utilized Rutherford, that nevertheless, Locke certainly relied on those who were part of Rutherford's same Reformed Christian school of thought, such as Milton. Indeed, let us also note that the Mayflower Compact displays a mature social contract theory decades before Locke was even born. Locke may be the most famous exponent of social contract theory, but he was not the first.

II. The Bill of Rights

And we should not mischaracterize the Bill of Rights, as I believe Moore does:


"The original Constitution did not include the rights to free speech, religious choice, bearing arms, due process, or trial by jury. ... Along the way the Anti-Federalists browbeat ten notable concessions called the Bill of Rights out of Washington and 'the establishment.'"

Is it really reasonable for us to imagine that the Federalists had no concern whatsoever for limited government and the securing of basic rights? Even if the Constitution said nothing, what about the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right (1628), and the English Bill of Rights (1689), not to mention the Declaration of Independence? After all, the Declaration of Rights of 1765 asserted


That his majesty’s liege subjects in these colonies, are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects, within the kingdom of Great Britain.

Similarly, the Declaration of Rights and Grievances of 1774 claimed,


"That the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following Rights."

So even if the Constitution says nothing, the Magna Carta (or rather, the Whig hagiography that grew up around it) ought to suffice. More importantly, when the Anti-Federalists asked for a Bill of Rights, the Federalists did not respond that men lack rights to freedom of speech, to bear arms, and such. Rather, they responded that a Bill of Rights would imply that any rights not listed were not to be protected. In other words, it was a legal/exegetical/hermeneutical dispute, not an ideological one. The Federalists had no disagreements with the substance of the Bill of Rights as demanded by the Anti-Federalists, but were afraid that explicitly listing those rights would disparage those rights not listed. The Federalists, as much as the Anti-Federalists, were part of the classical liberal tradition, and believed that all men are created by God, and as such, have the rights to speak freely and bear arms, and that the government is created by social contract and has only those powers delegated by the people.

III. Economic Policy

It may very well be, as Moore says, that the Constitution

"was written to ensure the power of the federal government to direct economic policy."

But even Federalists would be aghast at how the Commerce and General Welfare Clauses have been interpreted. Given the fundamentally illiberal government we have today, the differences between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists pale in comparison. Even a Federalist would say that the Commerce Clause was meant to prevent trade wars among states and that the General Welfare Clause was meant to protect the general welfare as opposed to parochial, sectarian welfare of select factions. If anything, the Federalists would be more upset than the Anti-Federalists! After all, the Anti-Federalists could always say, "I told you so. This is why I wanted us to stick to the Articles." But the Federalist had just spent so much time carefully crafting the Constitution, only for the New Deal court to come along and declare that the Commerce and General Welfare Clauses were carte blanches, and that the whole rest of the Constitution was literally useless and meaningless. So much toil and sweat and ink, for naught!

In the comments to Moore's original posting at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I value Paul M.'s observations about Keynesianism and Shays's Rebellion. But he makes the same mistake as Moore when he says,

It is very ironic that the Tea Party movement has embraced a document designed as a check on individual liberties and local and state autonomy. ... Isn't it amazing that the scope of the federal government has become so extensive as to make the Constitution a check on federal authority rather than the expansion it was originally intended to be?


IV. Mindset, Worldview, and Intention of the Tea Party

Moore goes on to say

"They collapse evangelical views on the Bible (as written by divinely inspired men and therefore inerrant) into conservative views of the Constitution (same, same). When faced with problems, Glenn Beck proclaimed to a group of kids this summer, "The answer is always 'restore the Constitution.'" In August, a Greensboro crowd carrying weapons met for a "Restore the Constitution" rally. they have turned 'don't tread on me' into 'don't tread on the Constitution.'"

But I believe that the Tea Party's advocacy of loyalty to the Constitution is not so much a religious worship of the Constitution per se, as much as it is instead that:

  1. The Constitution is what we already have. Anyone concerned with the rule-of-law and federalism (meaning "covenantalism", i.e. social contract) is going to advocate loyalty to the Constitution not only because of its intrinsic value and goodness, but simply because it is what is already on the law-books; the libertarian will demand observance of the Constitution not only because it is intrinsically good, but simply because the rule-of-law demands it. Even if the Anti-Federalist would say the Constitution is evil, it is at least lawful evil.

2. The Constitution enshrines principles greater than itself. The Constitution is a specific instance of federalism (social contract), and so anyone who supports federalism in general - i.e. classical liberals and libertarians - is going to see the Constitution as a good approximation of what they seek. It does not mean the Constitution is perfect, but it is among the closest things to perfection in today's world. It provides a good starting point, and once we reinstate it as the lawful king that it ought to be, then we can talk about improving on it. Those who advocate adherence to the Constitution are likely planning on moving past the Constitution, towards a more completely libertarian government, but they rightly see the Constitution as a step in that direction.


So when Tea Partiers advocate adherence to the Constitution, they do this instead of advocating for the Articles of Confederation because (respectively):
  • ...the Constitution merely happens to be on the books, but were the Articles on the books, they'd advocate for it instead.

  • ...the Articles and the Constitution are both relatively similar. Both are enshrining basically the same principles, and so a classical liberal or libertarian can advocate adherence to the Constitution when really, what he means to advocate is adherence to the entire classical liberal-type canon, including not only the Constitution, but also the Articles, common law, the Magna Carta, John Locke, etc. etc. The Constitution is merely a shorthand. Indeed, see what is included in the Patriot's Edition of the 1599 Geneva Bible; the Constitution is joined by other documents as well, such as the Mayflower Compact, the Magna Carta, and the Articles of Confederation.


  • To summarize my argument, I believe Moore takes too narrow a view of history when he says the Tea Party is like the Anti-Federalists and thus should be opposed to the Constitution. I believe that he has overstated the differences between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists, and the Articles and the Constitution, because his chosen time-span of history is too small.

    [Michael Makovi is an Orthodox Jewish student studying in Jerusalem, and is originally from Silver Spring, MD. Mr. Makovi's focus is on political philosophy, with a special interest in Reformed Christian sources of libertarianism. His personal blog is here.]

    52 comments:

    Pinky said...

    .
    You are getting to be pretty good, Tom. I gotta hand it to you.
    .
    Some people figure things out in a very formal way taking one point at a time. But, there are those who, after having digested a decent sampling of everything, come away with a sense of reality that is close the those in the first instance.
    .
    I get the sense there that we're talking about the private control of government and the public control.
    .
    Am I wrong?
    .

    Jonathan Rowe said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Jonathan Rowe said...

    "Analyzing Francis Schaeffer's claim that John Locke relied on Samuel Rutherford, Robert Arnold concluded that while there is no evidence that Locke utilized Rutherford, that nevertheless, Locke certainly relied on those who were part of Rutherford's same Reformed Christian school of thought, such as Milton."

    BUT ... Milton was purportedly not a Puritan but an Arian heretic. I see Milton as one of the first "rational," "Enlightened" Christians of the unitarian bent with Newton. I don't see the five "key Founders" caring one whit about Calvin, or the resisters that followed him (ala Rutherford); all of them, however, whatever their differences (yes, I know Jefferson wasn't J. Adams wasn't Washington) admired Locke, Newton and Milton.

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    Pinky, your praise goes to Michael Makovi, our guest blogger. I just liked his comment over at Dr. Fea's blog and asked him to round it out for American Creation, a blog his profile says he follows.

    I do hope we hear more from him.

    I have some problem with allying the American scheme too closely with "social contract": our rights come from God, not from a contract with each other.

    However, in the context of the Mayflower Compact and of the American system itself, we can say it's a "contract" in that sovereignty rests with the people, not the government itself. In that way it's a "contract" about how we shall govern each other, and that was quite a political innovation.

    [The British scheme still saw rights as something to be wrested from and negotiated with the government, not "unalienable" in themselves.]

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    Milton was purportedly not a Puritan but an Arian heretic.

    But he kept that secret.

    I don't see the five "key Founders" caring one whit about Calvin, or the resisters that followed him (ala Rutherford); all of them, however, whatever their differences (yes, I know Jefferson wasn't J. Adams wasn't Washington) admired Locke, Newton and Milton.

    John Adams explicitly praised John Ponet and the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, exactly the type of Reformed thinkers Makovi refers to here.

    Further, those two had been around for over 100 years, plenty of time for their thoughts to enter the mainstream.

    Pinky said...

    .
    Yeah, I knew you couldn't be that good.
    .
    Just pulling your leg. Live, laugh, love and be happy.
    .
    So, our rights come from God.
    .
    And, who is the God that bestows us with our rights?
    .
    Each one of us gets to make that choice, right?
    .
    So, there you have it.
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Jonathan, I am not going to lie and say that I am learned in Milton, and so I am not going to try to go beyond my ken and argue with you about Milton's precise theological beliefs. I will admit that I am too ignorant to even try.

    But my general understanding of Milton is that he was basically a religious, Calvinist-type Christian, for, after all, what other kind of man would Cromwell choose to be his secretary?

    Also, I think we are missing the point if we overly scrutinize and nitpick the precise theological beliefs of many of these men.

    I don't mean to say that their religious beliefs were inconsequential. Ideas do have consequences, and perhaps there are some political differences between Locke and Milton that can be attributed to their differing theological views. I'm not saying that religious beliefs have no significance at all. I would be an idiot if I said otherwise.

    What I mean is that our concern is with their political beliefs, not their theological beliefs, and their theological beliefs are thus secondary, and ought concern us only insofar as they actually affected their political views in some demonstrable, significant way.

    Milton was an Independent/Congregationalist while Rutherford was a Presbyterian, and this is certainly a very real theological difference. Locke's being some sort of rationalist Enlightenment-ish Anglican is significant, and Mayhew's being a Unitarian, are even greater theological differences. But these men - Milton, Locke, Rutherford, and Mayhew - all held by basically the same sort of social contract views of politics that have a very clear Reformed Christian provenance.

    I'm sure their theological beliefs had some effect on their politics, but when we are dealing with the broad details of history in general, as opposed to scrutinizing one man with a microscope, these subtle differences pale before the general, overall truth that social contract is a Reformed Christian invention. Sometimes, these men were the non-Reformed children of the Reformed, or the deist children of the Christians, but their heritage still rubbed off on them.

    Over time, differences will be magnified, and sometimes, you can know the tree only by its fruit. We should not discount this.

    But even so, I think we are completely missing the point when we point out how a given Founder was a deist or unitarian, and argue that therefore, he wasn't a Christian. Perhaps theologically he was indeed not a Christian, but our concern is with politics, not theology. Even if someone completely denies Jesus, he can still rely on the Reformed Christian political tradition, and the question of who arose from the dead when is pretty much besides the point.

    Insofar as their theology affected the politics - and more likely, affected their descendants' politics - we should be concerned with their theology, verily. But we are not concerned with theology for its own sake.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Pinky said, "Some people figure things out in a very formal way taking one point at a time. But, there are those who, after having digested a decent sampling of everything, come away with a sense of reality that is close the those in the first instance."

    Pinky, come again? I'm not sure what you're saying. Thanks.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Tom said, "I have some problem with allying the American scheme too closely with "social contract": our rights come from God, not from a contract with each other."

    My understanding is that it was only Rousseau who put all his eggs in the single basket of social contract and popular sovereignty. The more Christian thinkers, by contrast, saw God as a partner in that contract. Just as marriage is a private contract but must still accord with the laws of God, so too a political contract, though private, still has God as the third partner. Therefore, any social contract among men must still accord with the laws of God.

    Even Locke and Blackstone said quite explicitly that all laws are valid only if they agree with God's laws.

    Thus, John Quincy Adams rightly rebuked Thomas Paine when the latter enthusiastically lauded the French Revolution; Paine declared that, "whatever a whole nation chooses to do, it has the right to do," and Adams replied, "Nations, no less than individuals, are subject to the eternal and immutable laws of justice and morality." Paine's "doctrine," said Adams, "annihilated the security of every man for his inalienable rights, and would lead in practice to a hideous despotism, concealed under the party-colored garments of democracy."

    In America, majority rules once the Bill of Rights has already been satisfied. If "we hold these truths to be self evident" that rights come from God, and if those rights are codified in the Bill of Rights, then it means all government actions are legitimate only if God is satisfied as well.

    to be cont.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Response to Tom, continued

    To wit:

    Thomas Paine, "Common Sense":

    James Otis, "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved": "The parliament cannot make 2 and 2, 5; Omnipotency cannot do it. The supreme power in a state, is jus dicere [to declare the law] only;—jus dare [to make new laws], strictly speaking, belongs alone to God. Parliaments are in all cases to declare what is parliament that makes it so: There must be in every instance, a higher authority, viz. GOD. Should an act of parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void: and so it would be adjudged by the parliament itself, when convinced of their mistake."

    James Wilson, law lectures at the College of Philadelphia in 1789: "That law, which God has made for man in his present state; that law, which is communicated to us by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us, and by the sacred oracles [i.e. Scripture] the divine monitors without [i.e. outside, external to] us. ... As promulgated by reason and the moral sense it has been called natural; as promulgated by the holy scriptures, it has been called revealed law. As addressed to men, it has been denominated the law of nature; as addressed to political societies, it has been denominated the law of nations. But it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source; it is the law of God. ... Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine."

    In short, I believe the concept was this: the laws of God are forever binding, period. Nothing will ever get us around this. But all men are equal, and all are equally subservient to God. No man therefore can exercise authority over his fellow except with his fellow's approval. But this approval - "consent of the governed" - must be accompanied by God's approval. Consent of the governed is but ratification of something that God has already agreed to. It thus differs from Rousseau's simple democracy or majoritarianism. The Reformed Christians are to be admired, I believe, for holding that even though God's approval is the most important approval of all, that nevertheless, man's approval is also necessary. At Sinai, God did not force us (the Jews) to accept the Torah, but He rather asked us whether we would like to. God, even in His Almighty power, and even with His undoubted right to coerce man without man's consent, nevertheless deigned to predicate His actions on the approval of man. All the more so, then, so the Reformed Christians said, man needs his fellow's approval when he wishes to exercise authority. Even if a man is doing nothing but enforcing God's laws, he needs his fellow's approval, for if God asked for man's approval before executing His own laws, surely man needs man's approval before exercising God's laws. Social contract was thus secondary and yet still essential, to the more important principle of God's approval.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Oops, I forgot my quotation of Paine:

    "But where says some is the king of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is."

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Notice how Paine seamlessly combines the sovereignty of God's laws with the principle of popular sovereignty.

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    The more Christian thinkers, by contrast, saw God as a partner in that contract. Just as marriage is a private contract but must still accord with the laws of God, so too a political contract, though private, still has God as the third partner. Therefore, any social contract among men must still accord with the laws of God.

    Permit me to demur. The American system is not a covenant. This is one point where religious apologists go to far.

    God is not a party to the Constitution, and that's what makes a "covenant." In this, the "godless Constitution" argument is entirely correct. Both John Adams and Washington explicitly note that the Constitution was drawn up between men; the D of I explicitly says that "governments are instituted among men."

    As for the rest, I agree---it's natural law that is overlooked by the secular apologists: no positive [man's] law can conflict with the overarching natural law [the laws of nature and nature's God].

    Just a pause for clarity here.

    Pinky said...

    .
    I'm saying that I think our brains can do a lot of work while we're sleeping. That's all.
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Yes, but the Declaration also invokes "the Laws of Nature", "Nature’s God", the "Creator", "the Supreme Judge of the World", and "divine Providence".

    My understanding, then, is that the Declaration thus invoked God as much as was necessary. The Declaration spoke of "Governments...[being]...instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed", and the Constitution was the actual act of doing so, thereby implicitly relying on what the Declaration had already said about God.

    Perhaps a social contract is less religious than a covenant. Perhaps a covenant actually has God as a third partner, while a contract merely has God standing on the sidelines, as an advisor to be consulted ad hoc, like the attorney present to advise two men making a contract between the two of them. But even the latter is no small thing.

    Pinky said...

    .
    "God is not a party to the Constitution, and that's what makes a 'covenant.'"
    .
    If our "rights" come from God, so do all our thoughts originate in that same God.
    .
    So, it follows that that same God IS a party to the Constitution.
    .
    Simple logic dictates that conclusion.
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    And also, a large part of the difference between the covenant and contract visions is this:

    The covenant vision entails one actually viewing himself as God's emissary. In "A Model of Christian Charity", we see that the Puritans really saw themselves as the new Israel, with everything said about the Biblical Jews applying to themselves.

    With the Constitution, this was still somewhat the case - for many Americans still saw America as a chance to show the world what a Godly republic would look like - but it was less so.

    The reason, however, I think, is that the proliferation of sects and greater concern for tolerance and pluralism meant it was dangerous to invoke any one eschatological or theological vision. Different sects had different conceptions of what God wanted, and so everyone tried to find a lowest-common-denominator consensus, viz. that God wants us to protect each other's life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness and/or property. A (relatively) Godless contract was made instead of a God-saturated covenant because a covenant implied a certain historical, eschatological vision and responsibility. Covenant leads to a "city on a hill." In order to avoid offending each other's sensibilities, the most minimalistic conception of God was invoked.

    But God was still the attorney and lawmaker who was being invoked ad hoc. Switching from covenant to contract was not meant to exclude His involvement, but rather to change His role from an intimate partner whose precise desires and wills could be invoked constantly to uphold a given "city on a hill", to a relatively removed party who stayed relatively aloof.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    But I should admit that my distinction between "covenant" and "contract" is largely based on how those two terms make me personally feel. I am myself a religious individual, trying to ask myself how those two terms make me feel.

    Pinky said...

    .
    The only question I see remaining about God is, "Who is that God?".
    .
    Our Constitution leaves any answer up to each one of us as an individual.
    .
    I get it that this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind. No state and no church can dictate the answer. You answer is every bit as good as mine.
    .

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    Yes, that's getting there. But the Puritans are way overplayed. In fact, that the Puritan conception of "covenant" had died in its crib well before the Founding argues more the other way. I don't know why religious apologists harp on the Puritans.

    So too, God's involvement---via Providence---is only good when we are on His side. He is not on ours, as a "party" in our government. He is above and beyond it.

    When Lincoln offered in his Second Inaugural that the Civil War was God's justice upon America, it was not a new thought---Jefferson had predicted it!

    Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.

    But we can hardly say that America broke its "covenant," since the institution of slavery is protected in the Constitution.

    Indeed, it's a pet theory [and unsupported by any textual evidence] that God is missing in the Constitution because of this deal with the devil. Man went his merry way without God.

    The best argument for religion in the Founding is via federalism, at the state level, and that the Constitution and First Amendment didn't change anything. Congress shall make no law. Religion was left to the states, which were already religious or Christian, to varying degrees.

    Pinky said...

    .
    I have no formal legal education.
    .
    But.
    .
    Doesn't a contract, by definition, make the parties to it equal?
    .
    Doesn't a covenant, by definition, make one party superior to the other?
    .

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    The only question I see remaining about God is, "Who is that God?".
    .
    Our Constitution leaves any answer up to each one of us as an individual.
    .
    I get it that this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind. No state and no church can dictate the answer. You answer is every bit as good as mine.


    Well, pinky, you'll be happy to know that Leo Strauss ends his "The City and man" with just that question:

    Quid sit deus

    roughly translated, "If there is a God, what would He [it] be?"

    However, the entire Western tradition, Christian and Greco-Roman, had come up with quite a bit of an answer. He is One, He is Providential. He is the Creator, He endows us with certain unalienable rights.

    Mileage on the rest, especially soteriology [the business of salvation] varies widely after that, but there is still this area of core agreement.

    Further, there was an agreement that there exists a natural law, the law of nature and nature's God.

    We were not entirely starting from scratch, and so

    Our Constitution leaves any answer up to each one of us as an individual.

    is not entirely accurate.

    Pinky said...

    .
    Let me repeat myself.
    .
    Your answer is every bit as good as mine.
    .

    Daniel said...

    "Doesn't a contract, by definition, make the parties to it equal?"

    It is possible to contract between unequals or covenant between equals. Two kings may enter into a covenant which may place one over the other or which may be a treaty between equals. The difference is the expectation of divine enforcement behind a covenant.

    Jonathan Rowe said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Tom Van Dyke said...

    Let me repeat myself.
    .
    Your answer is every bit as good as mine.



    And please do let me repeat myself, Pinky, for until you engage my reply, you have thrown a monkey wrench into the wheels of the progress of our colloquy:

    However, the entire Western tradition, Christian and Greco-Roman, had come up with quite a bit of an answer. He is One, He is Providential. He is the Creator, He endows us with certain unalienable rights.

    ...

    Further, there was an agreement that there exists a natural law, the law of nature and nature's God.


    You and I and our respective answers have nothing to do with our study of religion and the Founding.

    I thought you'd like quid sit deus And it's also interesting how Strauss leaves it just hanging there at the end of his book, as if it were cut off.

    But even Jefferson, the least orthodox of all, begins to answer the question when he writes


    Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just



    The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.


    Two American answers to "quid sit deus" right there.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Our Constitution leaves any answer up to each one of us as an individual. I get it that this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind. No state and no church can dictate the answer. You answer is every bit as good as mine.

    Indeed. The state is to be so limited that even if the First Amendment bans religion in the public sphere (for the national government only, of course), then the private sphere will be overwhelmingly more important.

    On the other hand, Joseph Story suggests that:
    (1) The God the Constitution is the Protestant one, and the Constitution merely left the choice between those various Protestant conceptions. It's like how Blue Brother's says, "We got both kinds of music: we got country *and* western."
    (2) The national government is atheistic but only in order that the states can make their governments religious, according to the various religious sects that each state wishes to favor. As Tom said, The best argument for religion in the Founding is via federalism, at the state level, and that the Constitution and First Amendment didn't change anything. Congress shall make no law. Religion was left to the states, which were already religious or Christian, to varying degrees.

    (These two answers of Story's seem contradictory, and I admit that I'm not exactly sure how Story held by both of them.)

    So too, God's involvement---via Providence---is only good when we are on His side. He is not on ours, as a "party" in our government. He is above and beyond it. When Lincoln offered in his Second Inaugural that the Civil War was God's justice upon America, it was not a new thought---Jefferson had predicted it!

    "Providence" indicates both reward and punishment. Many colonial Americans truly believed that the American government would be blessed or cursed by God appropriately, depending on their conduct. Many soldiers were told that their victory in the Revolutionary War was dependent on their repentance, and many of the prayers offered in Congress spoke of necessary reformation of religion.

    But we can hardly say that America broke its "covenant," since the institution of slavery is protected in the Constitution.

    I don't know God's thoughts, and I am hesitant to say the Civil War was His punishment. In fact, I view Lincoln as the rapacious imperialist who treaded upon justice and the rule of law. But let's suppose that indeed, the Civil War was God's punishment for slavery. If so, then the "covenant" would have been broken because of the general laws of God. Remember: the Framers believed that God's laws were binding, whether the Constitution was a covenant or contract. Either way, His laws were binding. So you could say the Constitution's countenancing slavery was inherently sinful, a violation of the Ninth Amendment. This is true whether it was a covenant or a contract, for God was involved either which way, either as a third member of the covenant, or as an advisory consultant to the two-member contract.

    to be cont.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    cont. from above



    I don't know why religious apologists harp on the Puritans.

    It is my contention that the entire theory of federalism has a Christian provenance.

    Perhaps my ability to say the Constitution is Christian, is due to the fact that I am an Orthodox Jew. For me, it makes no difference whether the Constitution established a pious, thoroughly religious Christian government, because I have no emotional or heartfelt attachment to Christianity. For me, the stakes are very, very low. So for me, the entire question is rather abstract and theoretical, and can be approached dispassionately. Therefore, for me, the Constitution's having a historical Christian provenance is sufficient for me to pronounce it Christian. I have no concern for the subtleties and minutiae of Christianity, and I am not an Evangelical arguing that American's government today must incorporate Christianity into its laws. I am a libertarian, and this whole Christian past of America's is very interesting for me, and maybe even inspirational, but in the end of the day, I am just a libertarian trying to put the chains of the Constitution onto the government.

    And for that reason, the Puritan conceptions are important to me because I see them as having played a historically significant role in the gradual development of America's political culture.

    On the other hand - i.e. notwithstanding the dispassionate nature of my concerns here - the very Christian history of the Constitution allows me to argue against Israelis who posit some fundamental contradiction between Judaism and democracy, speaking of Israel being both Jewish and a democracy as if they were two different things that are in tension. For me, America's Christian history allows me to reject that dichotomy. At the same time, it is my belief that Judaism is libertarian in nature, so for me, there is little difference between a Torah theocracy and a secular libertarian republic. The Christian nature of American political thought assists me in making this argument.

    (For me, for example, Orthodox Judaism properly understood demands the disestablishment of the Chief Rabbinate, and the Chief Rabbinate, for me, is not a Jewish institution, but is merely a throwback to the Ottoman millet system, in which the Ottomans recognized autonomous religious communities, each under their religious authorities, for the sake of orderly administration of the empire.)

    Doesn't a contract, by definition, make the parties to it equal? Doesn't a covenant, by definition, make one party superior to the other?

    I don't think so. Abraham made a covenant with Avimelekh. Note how in many legal systems, oaths invoking God were/are routinely made. I think that historically, covenants and contracts were one and the same. Today, we have made an innovation and removed God from our contracts, but it used to be that the two were one and the same.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    However, as far as I know, for Judaism at least, God was more often a witness to individual private contracts, not a member. But at the same time, His laws were always binding. He was both the witness and the legislator.

    Pinky said...

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    I don't see that my comment takes the focus away from the Founders--in fact, it puts a focus on them in that they distinctly leave questions about God's identity up to the individual as far as the force of the state's authority is concerned. It distinctly leaves religion out of the state's purview.
    .
    That's what I see.
    .
    Maybe you're reading something into my comment I didn't intend. In that case, I may not have been as clear as I could have been. Sorry about that.
    .
    My comments are just side observations.
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    Pinky said...

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    Thanks for the comments on contract and covenant. It would be interesting to see some others comment on the definitions of contract and covenant.
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    Mikewind Dale said...

    I see the difference between covenant and contract as this:

    Under the covenant, one is making a promise to God to further His will. The Puritans made a covenant with God and obligated themselves to form a city on a hill.

    Under a contract, one is making a promise to a human to further the will of humans. If I make a contract with my plumber, I am making no pretense that God's will be will furthered in the world. I am not trying to bring the messiah, but I am only trying to get water to my sink. Nevertheless, however, even if one is not actively supporting God's designs, one is not permitted to frustrate them. My contract with the plumber does not have to bring the messiah closer, but it is not permitted for me to push the messiah further away by, say, cheating the plumber or paying him not on time. I don't have to further God's will, but I am not permitted to violate His will.

    Thus, with the Constitution, we realized that we have too many differences among us to have any hope of forming a Christian commonwealth on the hill. We gave up trying to form a new Geneva or Jerusalem, and instead settled for a neutral, libertarian state that would allow privatized religion to flourish. We decided that the government need not have any relationship to religion at all, just as the plumber and his labor need not relate to God either.

    But contract was still an evolution of covenant. The contract idea was a result of the covenant concept, which still required that men have consent. Even under the covenant model, in which the people, the king, and God were three partners to the covenant, it was still necessary that the people give their consent to be governed by the king, and without that consent, the king could not rule. The contract idea of government was a development of the covenant idea. And furthermore, the extreme privatization of religion under the contract idea was a development of the semi-privatization of religion under the covenant idea. Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms - which Madison commended here - went a long way towards separating church and state, even if not quite as much as the Constitution did. After all, Luther and Calvin would find little objection with an American in the 1780s arguing that his relationship with God was his own, and that the government had no part in it.

    Pinky said...

    .
    Thank you for your courtesy and respect in explaining your thoughts about covenant and contract so clearly.
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Also, I would say that the line between covenant and contract can be blurry.

    With my private contract with my plumber, I would say that if I do pay him on time, that I actually will bring the messiah closer! For a Jew such as myself, at least, social justice is a way (if not the way) to bring the Messianic era.

    And with a 1780s American, the government might not be furthering or encouraging specifically "religious" aspects of Christianity, but it would still be enforcing civil laws that are in accordance with the moral laws of the Bible and the conscience written on man's heart.

    So the distinction is rather hazy. I don't think the distinction is between religious and secular, but rather, between different aspects of religion. Even for Luther and Calvin, the two kingdoms doctrine meant the civil government was to enforce religion only when religion had consequences for the public peace and society. The entirety of life was religious, but some aspects of religion - like how to treat criminals - belonged to the state, while some aspects of religion - like how to pray - belonged to the church.

    So as I said, Luther and Calvin would find little objection, I think, to an American of the 1780s. The American contract was merely a variation on the Genevan covenant. The difference between the two is one of degree, not kind. The American contract shifted more power to the side of the church and away from the state than Luther or Calvin did, but the basic calculus was the same, only applied more stringently in America, due to the proliferation of sects, and the need to privatize more in order to achieve a consensus.

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    Wow, an American Jew living in Israel, talking about Calvinistic political theology.

    Now THAT'S some perspective. Michael, I sure hope you stick around here.

    The fact is, Israel was "founded" as a secular state, and now wants to call itself a "Jewish" state. The irony abounds.

    I'm not being sarcastic here. The rubber is meeting the road. This is great stuff, and you yourself are sorting through it, Michael. Living it.

    As are we back in the US. We're a secular nation. We're a "Christian" nation. We're a "Judeo-Christian" nation. What the hell are we? That's what we're asking...

    Pinky said...

    .
    It looks like we might have good relations with Mike who also appears to be quite erudite in the areas of our interest.
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Well, the issue with Israel's founding is, it was founded as both a secular state and a Jewish one. The key to understanding this is that the founders of Israel were mostly secular Russian socialists.

    In Germany, the Jews announced themselves to be "Germans of the Mosaic persuasion", and their conception was carried to America. Under this conception, Judaism is nothing but a religion, with no nationalistic elements. The German Reform Jews even extirpated all references to Zion from the prayer book, saying that Berlin was their Jerusalem.

    In Russia, however, it was exactly the opposite. Judaism became nothing but a nationality. The Russian socialist Jews could all be completely secular and not believe in the slightest bit of the religion of Judaism, but they maintained their Jewish national identity. There were Jewish socialist parties that believed and did everything the gentile socialist parties did, with the only difference being that the members were Jews instead of gentiles.

    There is an apocryphal story that illustrates the difference: a Russian-type Jew moves to America and raises his daughter as a secular, non-religious Jew. One day, she comes home and tells her father she's getting married to a gentile, and he is aghast. "How could you do this? Marry a gentile?!" She answers, "What on earth are you talking about? We've never done anything Jewish whatsoever and we never go to synagogue, but suddenly, you care that we're Jewish?" The father responds, "Well, we may not do anything Jewish, but I thought you knew we are Jews!" For the father from Russia, Judaism is a nationality, and regardless of what you do or believe, you marry within the nation, just because. For the daughter raised in America, absorbing the German-Jewish mentality, Judaism is just a religion, with no national characteristics whatsoever, and because she was raised secular, she may as well be a gentile, she figures. And even if she sees herself religiously as a Jew, she views religion - as a (stereotypical) Christian does - as a matter of private inward belief, and so she sees no reason why she - a Jew - cannot marry her gentile boyfriend. So what if they're different religions and believe different things? They're still both Americans.

    So the founders of Israel did see Israel as a Jewish state. Indeed, the Law of Return makes this fact patently clear, in that anyone Jewish can get automatic citizenship, instantly, while a gentile must spend years being naturalized. The Israeli Declaration of Independence waxes on at length about Jewish history and Zionism.

    The problem is that this conception of the founders was not a traditional religious Jewish one, but a secular Russian one. In fact, when the conclusion of the Declaration appeals to the "Rock of Israel" (Tzur Yisrael), this reference was chosen precisely because the religious saw it as referring to God while the seculars saw it as referring to someone other than God (don't ask me who, {facepalm}), and so everyone was happy.



    to be cont.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    cont. from above


    Additionally, the founders of Israel also had all the Marxist and French Enlightenment baggage with them, further confusing matters. The Declaration says, THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. We see that it will be especially open to Jewish immigration and that it will be based on the values of the Prophets, but that on the other hand, it will provide equality to everyone. Not that I oppose civil rights for gentiles, mind you, but it is obvious that someone failed to ask the important question: is this a Jewish country, or is it a country open to everyone and anyone which just coincidentally happens to have more Jews than gentiles, but just as easily could have more gentiles than Jews? Is it a Jewish country, or a country of Jews?

    Due to the Russian-Jewish nationalism, combined with the baggage of leftist Enlightenment values, the founders of Israel were unable to formulate a rigorous and consistent doctrine. They just sort of plowed on ahead, and didn't ask too many questions. Indeed, when Rabbi Meir Kahane in Israel announced that Israel could not be both Jewish and democratic, because a truly democratic country would cease to be Jewish the moment an influx of Arab immigrants made it majority Muslim, and so a Jewish country would ban or limit Muslim immigration or some such, the response of the leftists in Israel was not to ponder his serious question and try to figure out whether it was a Jewish country or a country of Jews. No, they just called Rabbi Kahane a racist and banned him from parliament. They couldn't stand to investigate the question, because they had no answer to it. Rabbi Kahane once had an interview with Ehud Olmert a few decades ago, and Kahane kept asking Olmert what Olmert would do if Arabs became the majority of Israel. (Kahane's answer was that he would deport any Arab not willing to declare his loyalty to the country as a Jewish country run by Jews according to Jewish principles. He explicitly took his standard from what Joshua told the Canaanites according to the Palestinian Talmud: either you accept that the Jews are the lawful lords of the land, or you leave peacefully and move elsewhere, or you make war on us.) Olmert replied that it could never happen that Arabs would become the majority of the country. Kahane asked the question again, and Olmert repeated that it was a stupid question because it couldn't ever happen. We see that Olmert didn't want to think. He was afraid of the question, so instead of answering it, he ignored it. Rabbi Kahane, on the other hand, you might disagree with him, but at least he confronted the question and called a spade a spade.

    So much for the historical beginnings of Israel. My next comment will be about what I think Israel ought to do today, which may be much less interesting to you, because it deals not with history, but with my own personal, private opinion about the contemporary policy of another country.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    I just said, So much for the historical beginnings of Israel. My next comment will be about what I think Israel ought to do today, which may be much less interesting to you, because it deals not with history, but with my own personal, private opinion about the contemporary policy of another country. So here goes:

    Personally, I think Israel ought to do two things:
    (1) Become libertarian, and privatize religion. Let the Orthodox be Orthodox and the seculars be seculars, on their own turf. Get the government out of social engineering. Let everyone be as religious as he or she wants to be, and let society's religiosity be a function of what private people do, and not what the government does.
    (2) Implement something like what Rabbi Kahane did, i.e. some sort of loyalty oath and declaration that Israel is Jewish. (Avigdor Lieberman is pushing something similar through the Israeli parliament as we speak.) I hate racism and I hate parochialism and sectarianism, but look: Jews deserve their own corner of the world where they can govern their own affairs. The Arabs have 20+ countries; let the Jews have one. In the 1950s, a number of Jews was expelled from the Arab countries approximately equal to the number of Palestinians of the time. Cannot we send the Palestinians to those same Arab countries, and call it a population swap? Peace would finally result, I think, if the Palestinians were all sent to Arab countries the same way the Arabs all sent their Jews to Israel.

    And let's be frank: even if Israel became libertarian and gave equal rights to everyone, we know that if the Arabs became the majority, it would become another Iran or Saudi Arabia. Let's not kid ourselves. It is impossible for Israel to treat Jews and gentiles equally, because it is self-defeating; the moment it grants equal rights to all the Arabs, the Arabs will be able to revoke the rights of the Jews by immigrating en masse.

    I would compare it to the Protestant conception of Catholics: Protestant democracy and freedom often did not include Catholics, because Catholics were perceived as being subject to a tyrannical government abroad, and it was felt that if the Catholics were given rights and liberties, they would use them to subvert and undermine the entire regime. In America, this conception died slowly over time, but it was still there to some extent, and the further back in history we go, the stronger it is. If I'm not mistaken, Cromwell's regime was even more favorable towards Jews than towards Catholics! Unfortunately, I think the Arabs today are in the category of Catholics.

    American democracy worked because everyone in America was basically libertarian. The whole country was in basically one accord, and so they could all agree on one Constitution. But imagine if the Progressive era began not in 1900, but in 1780. If half of colonial America had been Progressives, then the Constitution never would have gotten off the ground. Libertarians can be tolerant only of other libertarians, because non-libertarians will seek to deprive the libertarians of their liberty. A libertarin tolerates anyone, but he cannot tolerate someone who is intolerant. As a libertarian, I believe in free speech, but if you try to deny me my free speech, then I will try to get you put in jail or deported. Likewise, I would love it if the Arabs were all libertarians, and could be allowed in Israel and treated the same as Jews. But the Arabs are not libertarians, and any liberty given to them, would be used to subvert the liberties of the Jews.

    Pinky said...

    .
    O.K., you put some perspective into America's Founding that hasn't been brought to the surface before at this site.
    .
    Your idea of secular Judaism is intriguing which means that a person can be a Jew without being religious. So, in America then, a person can be a Christian without having to be religious. That's o.k. to say except for those who are stuanch Christians. They don't see secularism that way. Instead, secularism is anti-Christian. And, to be anti-Christian is to be a godless atheist.
    .
    .

    Mikewind Dale said...

    The secular Judaism and the secular Christianity are two different things.

    One can be a secular Jew because Judaism is primarily a nationality, not a religion. A secular Jew is not a good Jew, but he is still a Jew, just like a socialist American is not a good American but he is still an America. The secular Russian Jews, then, were wrong, and I do not agree with them, but their conception was at least somewhat Jewish in character, whereas the German-Jewish one was just completely wrong.

    But I did not meant to imply the existence of any such thing as "secular Christianity." My view is this: historically, America's political culture was based on Reformed Christian concepts, and these Christian concepts tended towards libertarian. What interests me, then is that pious Christianity could produce a (relatively) secular libertarianism. I am not concerned with the rest of Christianity. I am concerned with the political beliefs only, not the theological ones, because as a Jew, the theological beliefs are pretty irrelevant. In America, things tended towards privatization of religion and freedom of personal, private, individual conscience, and that is what fascinates me. So for me, the significance of Christianity is America is that historically, Christianity was the source of libertarianism. What concerns me here is history and politics, not theology, and so for me, "secular Christianity" (which is terminology I would never, ever use, by the way) exists only insofar as one's political beliefs are Christian in nature, and one's theological beliefs are irrelevant to me. Does that make sense? When I ask whether America was founded as a Christian nation, I look at politics, not theology, and for me, the libertarian nature of America's government is proof enough that it was Christian, as far as I am concerned.

    Mikewind Dale said...

    Hmm, you know, maybe there is more in common than I realized. If one can be a secular Jew, it is because one can be "politically" a Jew even if "theologically" he is not Jewish. I am focusing on politics, not religion, because Judaism is primarily a nationality, not a religion.

    Perhaps, then, I am imposing a Jewish view of the world onto America's founding. For me, I don't care so much whether the colonial Americans were themselves religious Christians, but I care only if their political opinions were. For me, Jefferson's deism/unitarianism is irrelevant, because the political beliefs of his derived from Locke and Locke's derived from the Reformed Christians. I don't care whether Jefferson believed in the Trinity or the integrity of the Christian Bible, because it is sufficient for me that his political opinions were Christian.

    So again, perhaps I am reading America's founding through Jewish nationalistic/political eyes rather than Christian theological eyes?

    Mikewind Dale said...

    In fact, what I like about the Reformed Christians, as opposed to the Lutherans, is that they focus less on personal belief, and more on the effects of God's sovereignty on law, politics, society, government, and moral behavior. The Reformed Christians, more than the Lutherans, are concerned with how your belief affects this temporal world.

    To me, the Calvinists seem so ... Jewish! With the Calvinists, I can pay attention to their political views without caring about their theological views.

    Pinky said...

    .
    ???
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    With the Calvinists, I can pay attention to their political views without caring about their theological views.
    .
    With this statement, you appear to be saying that their political views derive from their theological views or vice versa. In either case, to pay attention to one it to care about the other as they are seamlessly combined.
    .
    Or am I wrong?
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    Mikewind Dale said...

    Okay, what I meant was, I can primarily pay attention to their politics, and be concerned with their theology not for its own sake, but only insofar as it affected their politics.

    So the part of Protestantism that concerns me, for example, was the belief that everyone can approach God without an intermediary. The question of who this God is, doesn't seem to be very important. A Unitarian could hold the same political opinions as a Calvinist.

    Pinky said...

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    Gotcha!
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    I'm off to the visit the world on this bright Monday morning.
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    Have a great day and thanks for your responses.
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    Pinky said...

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    Today's NY Times (10.25.10) has an article on the question being considered by Michael.

    .

    Tom Van Dyke said...

    A Unitarian could hold the same political opinions as a Calvinist.

    And did---John and Samuel Adams!

    Mikewind Dale said...

    "Today's NY Times (10.25.10) has an article on the question being considered by Michael."

    What's the title of the article?

    "And did---John and Samuel Adams!"

    My point exactly. Likewise Jonathan Mayhew.

    Also, I should note that my concern is ultimately with libertarianism and social contract, not with Christianity per se. And of course, my being an Orthodox Jew is another reason I am not concerned with Christianity per se. What interests me in the Reformed Christians, then, is that they are the source of the libertarianism I hold by, and if you want to understand anything, you want to study its source. Additionally, the religious nature of the movement and its emphasis on the overriding and all-encompassing sovereignty of God agrees with my own religious convictions, which I like, but still, in the end of the day, my political views are run-of-the-mill libertarianism.

    Pinky said...

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    I read the News in a coffee shop and don't have a copy of it here. I don't remember the title. I'll check it out when I get there today.
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    Pinky said...

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    Title of the NY Times article from 10.25.10:

    Some Question Insistence On Israel as Jewish State
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    By Isabel Kershner
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    Page A6
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    Mikewind Dale said...

    Thanks.