Saturday, February 28, 2015

Timothy Gordon: "Plagiarizing Catholicism: Algernon Sidney and the Whigs"

This is another interesting piece by Timothy Gordon here. A taste:
But the next in line, Samuel Pufendorf “corrected” that. Because Pufendorf was primarily a Grotius and Hobbes scholar—not much of an innovator—the fact that he “found” a right of revolution in nature (“missed” by Grotius) must more or less be chalked up to…more Scholastic plagiarism. Or at least to a willingness to embrace the justifiable regicide posed by Thomism which his forerunner Grotius repudiated. Even the English proto-Whigs before Pufendorf’s time like Buchanan and Rutherford struggled over Biblical passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter, which admonished the Christian to pay his taxes, however high, and forebear earthly tyranny. Wouldn’t you know it: Pufendorf, a Protestant, somehow eased right past this Biblical admonition and announced a right of revolution. So much for sola scriptura, right?

At last we come to Algernon Sidney, last in time except with respect to Locke. Dr. Birzer admits that “Sidney relies upon the arguments of the greatest of neo-Thomist Jesuits—especially…Roberto Bellermino.” Yet Dr. Birzer is summarily surprised that folks draw inferences from the fact that Sidney used and then lost Catholic thinkers?! That Prot-Enlight tradition of plagiarism had begun nearly a century earlier with Grotius! And it has big implications.
There is much to both agree and disagree with in Gordon's piece. I'll say this: As a Roman Catholic, he seems to dislike the "Prot-Enlight tradition." That is, the tradition of Protestantism and Enlightenment, the tradition of the American Founding.

Yes America's Founders did, as far as I can tell, use their own "reason" to pick and choose from a variety of traditions what they found useful while ignoring the rest. They did it with religion too. As Thomas Jefferson noted:

"Were I to be a founder of a new sect, I would call them Apriarians, and after the example of the bee, advise them to extract honey of every sect."

-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.

So they made a "synthesis." And indeed, as Bernard Bailyn once noted, the different sources from which they drew were not always consistent with one another.

Final note: The term "plagiarism" is loaded. The Founders didn't have the same standards for what today is considered a really bad thing.

No comments: