Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Perry on Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity

John Perry from University of Oxford reviews John Locke, Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity, Victor Nuovo (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2012.  A taste:
 Rather than a general defense of the Reasonableness, both Vindications are targeted more narrowly at the Presbyterian John Edwards, who had accused Locke of being "all over Socinianized." (As the Reasonableness was published anonymously, Edwards could not at first be sure of its author, though he knew the rumors that it was Locke.) Their disagreement largely revolves around a relatively narrow concern: what to make of Locke's claim that the only necessary belief is that Jesus is the Messiah. (As he had written in Reasonableness, chapter five: "So that all that was to be believed for justification, was no more but this single proposition, that 'Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, or the Messiah.'") 
According to Edwards, this excludes all sorts of important doctrines, such as the Trinity and the atonement. Locke rejects this, though with a rather scattered shotgun blast. He identifies places that his text had implied something like the atonement; he points out that even those incapable of understanding complex theology can yet be saved and so the absolute doctrinal minimum must be quite low; and he argues that the doctrinal criteria were meant to function as membership criteria. That is, believing Jesus to be the Messiah is what it takes to become a Christian, but not all that a Christian must believe and do, just as a citizenship oath might make me an Englishman but would not be all that I must do to obey English law. 
The problem in wading through all of this is that most of the substance is lost in quibbles about who said what where. Put bluntly, Edwards' and Locke's quarrel is long, boring, and repetitive. (The Second Vindication alone is a grueling 90,000 words; far longer than the Reasonableness  itself. Such tedium was an unfortunate feature of Locke's other rebuttals. The three sequels to the Letter concerning Toleration are equally dull.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some Christmas Season Barton Bashing

What would American Creation be without some obligatory David Barton bashing. The first is from Ed Brayton noting that Barton continues to falsely assert that America's Framers quoted the Bible in the US Constitution. (They didn't even quote the Bible in the Federalist Papers OR, when debating the Constitution's provisions, at the Constitutional Convention. Yes, I know Ben Franklin quoted the Bible there during his failed bid for prayer when they reached an impasse.)

Next is from Chris Rodda on how Barton misrepresents Thomas Jefferson's view of Isaac Newton.

And finally, criticism of Barton for his claim that the 2nd Amendment is "biblical."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Unitarian Christmas

Numerous articles and blogs have noted the strong case to doubt Christmas' authentically "Christian" origins. Christ probably wasn't born on Dec. 25. The Puritans banned the holiday because it wasn't authentically Christian. And many of its rituals trace to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia.

The modern understanding of Christmas is also significantly influenced by Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol."

Charles Dickens, you see, was a Unitarian Christian. And "A Christmas Carol" preaches a decidedly (19th Century) Unitarian message on Christmas. To Unitarians, "Christianity" was all about good works and good will, NOT God's grace through Christ's atonement. And "A Christmas Carol" hardly ever mentions Jesus at all, but is about good works and good will.

Now, orthodox Christians likewise appreciate good works and good will. But that is secondary to God's grace through the shed blood of Jesus Christ -- God the Son Incarnate. And "A Christmas Carol" celebrates this message that the orthodox could consider at best secondary or incidental, not the central theme of the Christian religion.

That said, have a Merry Unitarian Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Moon

Having survived another presidential election and the end of Mayan history, it's with some relief we wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered---may we smile today, give thanks, inspire and be inspired in the coming year as were these three great men those 40-odd years ago...


It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:


Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."


It is good. God bless us, every one.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cheer Founding-style

My favorite Yuletide Founding factoid is George Washington's contract with his gardener:



"In consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of said Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him. . . four dollars at Christmas with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights, two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars also at Whitsuntide, to be drunk two days, a Dram in the morning and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon."


As pointed out elsewhere here at American Creation, Christmas wasn't that big a religious holiday back in the day. But it was twice as important as Easter or Whitsuntide [Pentecost] for getting good and loaded.

Four days drunk and four whole dollars to do it with! Now, that's a verrrrrrry Merry Christmas, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. [Or four of them!]

[And don't miss GWash's eggnog recipe, which'll clean out half your liquor cabinet!]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Freedom on PBS

Get the details here.

Frank Pastore, RIP

I was unaware that he was hurt in an accident until today. I express my sincere condolences to the Pastore family. I didn't know much about Pastore. I listened to a few of his shows and read a few of his columns. I did find out that he had a graduate degree (Masters, apparently) in political science from the Claremont Graduate School. One of his fellow students at the time was none other than friend of the site, Dr. Gregg Frazer. You can listen to Frazer discussing his book on Pastore's show here.

Christmas in 1776

By Thomas Kidd here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Go Onboard the Queen Mary Sunday Night

Go onboard the Queen Mary this Sunday night at 8:15pm (ET) via C-SPAN2 BookTV and watch Jim Bendat talk about  his book, Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789-2013.

One of the more unusual topics Jim will bring up is that the public swearing-in ceremony for President Barack Obama will be on January 21, 2013. It happens that this coming January 20th falls on a Sunday, so "Democracy's Big Day" inauguration will be postponed a day. A private swearing-in ceremony will be held on Sunday. No matter what happens on Sunday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will get a second chance at performing a "do-over" on the next day. 

This unusual circumstance happens every 28 years, which is also known as a dominical cycle. Ordinarily, the 28-year cycle is broken when spilling over into another century, but thanks to the Y2K anomaly the dominical cycle stayed in tact. The first time an Inauguration fell on a Sunday was in 1821 for President Monroe’s second swearing-in.The last time an inauguration fell on a Sunday was on January 20, 1985, which was the occasion for President Ronald Reagan second inauguration.
 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

More on the Natural Law and the Founding



A Natural Law Manifesto

by Hadley Arkes

In launching the Claremont Institute's new Center for Natural Law Jurisprudence we want to proclaim again the case for natural law, and offer a kind of Natural Law Manifesto. We announce here nothing new to the world, much in the way that James Wilson, at the origin of the Constitution, proclaimed that we were not, under this Constitution, inventing new rights.

The object of the Constitution, he said, was "to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights" we already possess by nature. The great Blackstone had famously said that, on entering civil society, we give up those unqualified rights we had in the State of Nature, including the liberty of "doing mischief." To which James Wilson asked, in a Talmudic question, "Is it part of natural liberty to do mischief to anyone?" In other words, as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Aquinas had it, we never had a "right to do a wrong." Even in the state of nature we did not have a right to murder or rape, and therefore as we entered civil society, the laws that barred people from murdering and raping never barred them from anything they ever had a rightful liberty to do. And so, what rights did we give up on entering civil society? The answer given by Wilson and Alexander Hamilton was: none. As Hamilton said in Federalist 84, "Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing." 

Hence there was something not quite right in the notion of a Bill of Rights reserving to people rights they hadn't surrendered to the state, for that implied that they had indeed surrendered the body of their rights to the state and that they were holding back now a few they hadn't surrendered. The very purpose of the Constitution—the purpose that directed all branches of the government, not merely the courts—was the securing of those "natural rights." One could deny that point, as Hamilton said, only by slipping into the teaching of Thomas Hobbes and supposing that there were no rights before the advent of a government, no morality antecedent to civil society. As Hamilton pointed out, in Hobbes's view morality was all conventional. We could not expect anyone to accept any moral restraints on his conduct, for until there were laws, he could have no assurance that there were moral truths out there that anyone would respect.
Hamilton may be taken as a telling voice here, for indeed the American Founding would not make any sense unless those doctrines of Hobbes were decisively rejected. But that is to say, again, that the founding, and the second Constitution it brought forth, found its telos, its central purpose, in the securing of natural rights, the rights that had to be there even before a government came into place.
_________________

As they say, read the whole thing.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By Jove! It Looks Like a Syzygy

If one looks now on this rare date of 12/12/12, one can observe that the Library of Congress, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and the Architect of the Capitol websites for Presidential Inaugurations are now all in alignment in having discarded the George Washington myth that he was the first president to have added "So help me God" to his presidential oath.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The American Theory of Rights: Not in the Social Contract, but in the Natural Law

James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that.  But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:



"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."
This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rights are prior to government, then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...



And some years later, in 1790, James Wilson---one of the few signers of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and a future Supreme Court justice, reminds his audiences [that included President Washington] in his lectures on law of just how the American view of rights differs from the British "contract" view of 1688, the supreme legal theorist William Blackstone and Edmund Burke, and even John Locke and the Magna Carta:

"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone. 

...
And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"

Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.

Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?

 No!

At first, the stirrings of rebellion among the American colonists came from acts of Parliament abridging their "rights as Englishmen." But in the end, the Americans realized that even their "contractual" rights as Englishmen weren't enough---

 Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

This is the American way.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Schlueter On Sustainable Liberalism

One of the things I find extremely helpful in this article by Nathan Schlueter in The Public Discourse is its discussion on the various forms of "liberalism." When we speak of "liberalism" it helps to know what exactly it is we are discussing.

A taste:
Social contract liberalism grows out of the Anglo-Enlightenment tradition, and is associated with Hobbes, Locke, and more recently Robert Nozick. It attempts to deduce justified political authority from a set of universal, abstract premises: All men are by nature free and equal and possess inalienable rights, and the consent of the governed therefore is required for political authority to be just. 
[...] 
Classical liberalism grows out of the Scottish Enlightenment tradition, and includes thinkers such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, and, more recently, F. A. Hayek. Classical liberalism is more sensitive than contract liberalism to the fact that human beings are by nature social, historical, and dependent animals, and it illuminates the ways in which emergent, spontaneous orders are forms of knowledge that cannot be achieved by centralized direction. Classical liberals therefore show how liberty, community, and tradition can be complementary, and how political authority can be justified as a necessary means of solving coordination problems in a given society. 
[...] 
... Although the roots of modern liberalism can be found in the writings of Kant, Hegel, and J. S. Mill, its most influential American expositor is John Rawls. Rawls ingeniously (and, it must be said, not always coherently) combines both contractarian and classical liberalism into a comprehensive philosophical system that is indebted to both forms of liberalism, even as it departs markedly from them. 
There is no need to reiterate the problems with modern liberalism. The point here is to set in relief what is distinctive about natural law liberalism. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence is not simply a translation of Lockean social contract theory. “All of its authority,” he wrote in a letter to Henry Lee, “rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c." Locke is there, but so is Aristotle. 
We have here a clue to what is great about American liberalism: It does not rest upon the writings of a single theorist, but draws from the best thought of the western tradition of right, classical, medieval, and modern, in a way that is still genuinely liberal. Elements of both social contract theory and classical liberalism are there, but their foundations rest upon the metaphysical realism and ethical framework of the pre-modern tradition (Aristotle and Cicero).

Judge Posner on Amar's New Book

I'm not sure if Judge Posner is right.  But he is a brilliant mind whose work is always worth taking seriously.  And the argument he makes explores the political-theological concerns we study at American Creation.  A taste:
 THE CONSTITUTION of the United States has its passionate votaries—none more so than Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School—as does the Bible. But both sets of worshippers face the embarrassment of having to treat an old, and therefore dated, document as authoritative. Neither set’s members are willing to say that because it is old, and therefore dated, it is not authoritative. Some say it is old but not dated; they are the constitutional and Biblical literalists. But most of the worshippers admit, though not always out loud, that their holy book is dated and must therefore be updated (without altering the text) so as to preserve its authority. They use various techniques for updating. One is misinterpretation. Another is loose interpretation, which can be thought a form of realism. Amar, who is merely dismissive of conservative textualists and originalists, is harshly and unfairly critical of realist judges such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and realist professors such as David Strauss, lest he be confused with them.
Amar’s method of updating, which is also the one the Catholic Church applies to the Bible, is supplementation from equally authoritative sources. The Church believes that a Pope receives divine inspirations that enable him to proclaim dogmas that are infallible and thus have equal authority with the Bible. Jesus Christ’s mother does not play a prominent role in the New Testament, but she became a focus of Catholic veneration, and in 1854 the Pope proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (that is, that she had been born without original sin). This and other extra-Biblical Catholic dogmas, such as the Nicene Creed, which proclaimed the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father, form a kind of parallel Bible, equal in authority to the written one, which reached its modern form in the third century C.E. 
This is the line taken by Amar. Alongside the written Constitution is an unwritten constitution. They are consubstantial. The Constitution, like the teachings of the Catholic Church, is a composite of a founding document and a variety of supplementary practices and declarations (many of course in writing also). No matter how wild Amar’s constitutional views may seem, he claims that they are in this two-in-one constitution; that he did not put them there. 
Actually, despite the book’s title, it is not two in one—it is twelve in one. There is not just one unwritten constitution, in Amar’s reckoning; there are eleven of them. There is an “implicit” constitution, a “lived” constitution, a “Warrented” constitution (the reference is to Earl Warren), a “doctrinal” constitution, a “symbolic” constitution, a “feminist” constitution, a “Georgian” constitution (the reference is to George Washington), an “institutional” constitution, a “partisan” constitution (the reference is to political parties, which are not mentioned in the written Constitution), a “conscientious” constitution (which, for example, permits judges and jurors to ignore valid law), and an “unfinished” constitution that Amar is busy finishing. All these unwritten constitutions, in Amar’s view, are authoritative. And miraculously, when correctly interpreted, they all cohere, both with each other and with the written Constitution. The sum of the twelve constitutions is the Constitution.
One is tempted to say that this is preposterous, and leave it at that. But it is an attempt to respond to the felt need of professors of constitutional law, and of judges who rule on constitutional cases (particularly Supreme Court justices), to find, or at least to assert, an objective basis for constitutional decisions. On the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act—a time of liberal panic—Amar was quoted as saying that if the Court invalidated the act “then yes, it’s disheartening to me, because my life was a fraud. Here I was, in my silly little office, thinking law mattered, and it really didn’t. What mattered was politics, money, party, and party loyalty.” But the constitutional “law” that matters to Amar is not what other lawyers understand law to be. It is a palimpsest of twelve constitutions, only one of which is real.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jefferson Was a Jerk

And let's not forget the grandaddy of Jefferson punkings, from the October 1996 Atlantic:

In the multiracial American future Jefferson will not be thought of as the Sage of Monticello. His flaws are beyond redemption. The sound you hear is the crashing of a reputation
by Conor Cruise O'Brien

Wiencek: "Meacham Has Fallen Under the Jeffersonian Spell"

John Fea gives us the story here.