Thursday, July 4, 2013

Here is something for Mark....

And I suppose Tom too.

We can all debate what GW meant by "liberal" and "pure spirit of Christianity."

As to the former, the notion that mankind should progressively become more "liberal" -- something in which George Washington and the other Founders believed -- is an enlightenment idea and ideal that captured the age. Whatever GW meant by "pure spirit of Christianity," I doubt he meant Nicene orthodoxy, but something else.

Check it out.

10 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Whatever GW meant by "pure spirit of Christianity," I doubt he meant Nicene orthodoxy, but something else.


Not at all. They didn't need the "Enlightenment" for it to finally dawn on them that Jesus probably wouldn't want them killing each other over Him. No "Enlightenment" necessary, at least in the secular-philosophical sense, just Christian love and mercy.

Jonathan Rowe said...

They might not have needed "Enlightenment" to accept Roman Catholics as full and equal citizens in America.

But this is the rhetoric to which I referred when I said it was Enlightenment dogma:

"As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government."

Tom Van Dyke said...

But this is the rhetoric to which I referred when I said it was Enlightenment dogma:

"As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government."


Oliver Cromwell, a real dick, tolerated the Jews in the 1650s. What you have is the number of Protestant sects exploding by the 1600s--it simply became impractical to enforce religious orthodoxy. "Enlightenment" was unnecessary--the Peace of Westphalia as early as 1648

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

began to acknowledge something had to give.

As for the Catholics, their "allegiance to a foreign prince" [the Pope] wasn't mere rhetoric--Rome was indeed involved in political hijinks against the crown and the "true religion," Protestantism. Not every papist was a Catholic bin Laden, but it wasn't a total slander.

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

Once you look at Britain in the 1600s, American history in the 1700s makes a lot more sense.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Allan Bloom (Strauss too?) traces Britain in the 1600s as the begging of the Enlightenment.

The English, American and French Revolutions were all rationalistic, each becoming more progressively liberal in an enlightened sense, according to this paradigm.

Make of it what you will.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Some of these concepts bleed into one another.

Britain in the 1600s, insofar as it relates to the political theory of the Whig party there, no question, stands as some kind of hermeneutical key that helps to unlock the understanding of America in the 1700.

How this relates to "Enlightenment," "Christianity," and so on is complicated.

John Locke was arguably "Enlightenment," "Whig" and perhaps "Christian" (albeit in a non-Trinitarian sense). An enlightened "rational Christian."


Tom Van Dyke said...

I dunno. The word "enlightenment" is not an argument or a fact or evidence, it's just a word.

Jonathan Rowe said...

-- In turning Franklin into a caricature, we obscure the substance of his contributions to what historians have termed “the Age of Enlightenment,” which was, in reality, not so much an “age” as an “impulse,” fuelled by a heightened sense of optimism about the ability of men and women to use their rational powers not only to understand the laws of the universe, but also to devise means by which to use those laws for the betterment of mankind. --

-- Dr. Richard Beeman, University of Penn.

Mark in Spokane said...

I think that the Founders were influenced by the moderate Enlightenment (Hume and Montesque, for example), but religious toleration was, as Tom points out, something that was being baked into the Anglo-American tradition earlier because of the proliferation of Protestant sects in England and in America. The shift toward Catholic toleration was motivated not by a love of Catholics or by philosophical considerations -- the rhetoric of the early Revolutionary period are full of ravings about "popery" for example -- but by the simple fact that the Americans had, had, had to have the support of the European Catholic powers (Spain & France) in order to survive. French navy, French troops, Spanish trade, all required tolerating Catholicism. So, out with the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in the Continental Army, Charles Carroll and his cousins get embraced, and people like Samuel Adams shut up about popery. The Founders were practical men.

As for their embrace of "liberalism" (which meant something different back then to what it means today), the Founders with one or two notable exceptions (Fisher Ames, John Jay) would fit within the broad Whig tradition when it comes to politics. As such, they bought into the "Whig Vision of History" that human events were moving inexorably in the direction of liberty. The march of time was the march of freedom. Whether that is true or not, that was their vision -- particularly in the more radical parts of the revolutionary camp (Paine), where it also got mixed in with some paranoia about the more moderate & conservative wings of the Revolution (which eventually manifested in the struggle about the Constitution and then the Federalist-Republican feud before the 1800 election).

"Pure spirit of Christianity," was the kind of rhetoric that was designed to appeal to a kind of broad, non-sectarian Christian religiosity -- the sort of thing that was until the 1920's the unofficial established religion of the country (to use constitutional historian Philip Hamburger's phrase). Sometimes that was good, sometimes that was bad (Blaine Amendments), but it worked to enforce a kind of generic, tolerant Protestantism for the nation, recognizing that Protestantism was very broad and not necessarily creedally orthodox, while at the same time making space for other, more robust religious traditions (Catholicism, then with later immigration Judaism and eastern Orthodoxy).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mark: Outstanding comment!

Mark in Spokane said...

Thanks!