Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Darwin, Locke, and Classical Liberalism

This post by Larry Arnhart raises some fascinating questions and points.  A taste:
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59). They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159). I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158). 
The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism. They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198). Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196). 
The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11). It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 
Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point. For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44). Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature." Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 
In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin. He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life. Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.


Tim Polack said...

"Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity."

Why would he mention this? He seems to state it as a counter to their lack of definition of Christianity. Seems to be a poor counterargument - unless I'm missing something, which is entirely possible.

But how much do they really need to 'define' Christianity when referring to the Western Tradition, having 13 authors talk about such a focused topic would hardly call for such an agreement. Assumed knowledge of Christianity as one of the foundations to the Western Tradition is enough it would seem for this the book.

Tom Van Dyke said...

To the historian, who and what John Locke really was [say, Christian or hedonist] is secondary to how he was received by those influenced by him--and how influential those people were.

So it's an interesting discussion I suppose as "intellectual history," but not as history itself. And the other thing is, by the time intellectuals start puzzling out Locke, they've moved on to the pithier Hume, the bolder Rousseau, the more nuanced Kant, and then by the early 1800s, Hegel ushers in modernity full blown, and Locke is a quaint footnote.

As for the theory that the secret Hobbesian John Locke planted a poison pill into the American founding, I just don't buy it.

Jonathan Rowe said...


If I am not mistaken the "does this exclude Islam" refers to the concept of "Judeo-Christianity" that seems to lump together two monotheistic systems that teach irreconcilable truths while excluding a third monotheistic system that also teaches something irreconcilable with the other two.

Why not just include the Muslims under the broader rubric of something like "ethical monotheism"?

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Ethcal monotheism" is a big Dennis Prager riff. He writes:


During some of the Western world's darkest periods, Islam was a religious light in the monotheistic world. The seeds of ethical monotheism are deeply rooted in Islam. For whatever reason, however, the soil for their nourishment has, over the last several hundred years, been depleted of necessary nutrients. Islam could be a world force for ethical monotheism, but in its present state, the outlook is problematic.

I also heard him on the radio today, noting that for the first time in Iran's history, the young people are going atheist. Prager believes it's because of the damage radical Islam has done to the very concept of God.

If monotheism = terrorism, and Iran's theocratic mullah regime, you can keep it.


After attending a performance of Puccini’s Turandot at the magnificent Sydney Opera House, my wife and I dined at a nearby Italian restaurant overlooking the harbor. I asked our young, personable waitress where she was from, and she said Iran. I then did what I almost always do when I meet an Iranian — I spoke the only thing I know how to say in Farsi (Persian): “Let’s all go study with the ayatollah.” Many years ago I asked an Iranian friend in Los Angeles how to say that phrase, figuring that if I were ever in Iran and arrested by the Revolutionary Guards, that might help me considerably more than, let us say, “Where is the men’s room?”
It has been a terrific ice-breaker with just about every Iranian émigré I have ever met. Some laugh out loud; others immediately “correct” me, insisting that the Ayatollah is the last person anyone should ever study with; and others don’t know what to make of me.

Our young waitress laughed herself silly, and wondered how I ever learned such a phrase. I explained that I have numerous Iranian friends, living as I do in “Teherangeles” — the name Iranians in Los Angeles give to the largest Iranian community outside of Iran, and a name with which she, though living in Australia, was well familiar.

I asked Shakila if she was Muslim. She told me that though one could say she was a Muslim, she did not identify as such, and in fact she was an atheist.

She was not the first Muslim-born atheist from Iran I have met. And from what I am told, an entire generation of atheists has been produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran. How could it be otherwise?

Nothing produces atheists like despicable religious people. They do far more harm to religious faith than all the atheist writers and activists in the world put together.

Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the ayatollahs, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, the Taliban, and all the other Islamist organizations actually decrease the number of believers in the world.

Tim Polack said...

Thanks Jonathan. While I can see the point, it still seems a bad one. Clearly the country was mainly Protestant, and they believed, as all Christians have and continue to, that Judaism is a part of their religion. There are good arguments for and against this. But bringing Muslim into the conversation doesn't seem helpful at all - not when dealing with the founding period. It seems more sophistry than solid argumentation in dealing with the time period at hand.