Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kramnick on Locke & the Godless Constitution

Isaac Kramnick is one half of the notorious duo from Cornell who wrote "The Godless Constitution." There is a section in there on the English liberal (aka Lockean) case for the concept.

This article from Dr. Kramnick summarizes such understanding.

A taste:
Meanwhile, the leading colonial critic of the drift to rebellion, the Anglican clergyman Jonathan Boucher, preached to his congregants in Virginia and Maryland that they had an obligation as Christians to accept, indeed to “reverence authority,” since “there is no power, but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” There was never, he added, a time when “the whole human race is born equal” when “no man is naturally inferior, or, in any respect, subjected to another.” Governments were not the product of voluntary consent, he insisted, but were given by God to men who were then forever subordinate to those superiors God had set to govern them. He ridiculed notions of a “social compact” and of “a right to resistance.” In a 1774 sermon defending the divine right of kings to govern against colonial claims of self-government Boucher singled out the evil source of the misguided views of the rebellious colonists: “Mr. Locke” was the author “of the system now under consideration.” Americans, he hoped, would choose obedience to monarchs as announced in the New Testament’s “Romans 13” over the “right to resistance, for which Mr. Locke contends.”

Boucher was the leading spokesman in the Revolutionary era for the ideals and values of the Christian commonwealth, the long-dominant paradigm of politics in the West, with its roots in the writings of St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and the American Puritans like John Winthrop. ...


Robert Cornwall said...

Locke surely influenced the fomenters of the American Revolution, and Boucher was an opponent of it, divine right monarchy had been much in question since at least 1689. Besides, I doubt Winthrop would have been a supporter of divine right monarchy, as most Puritans rejected such an idea. It wasn't long after Winthrop came to the colonies that the English Civil War broke out -- leading to the execution of Charles I.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Exactly. Britain herself had executed one king and deposed another, Charles II, in 1688. Revolution was old hat. Parliament brought in foreigners William and Mary in, with the understanding that Parliament was the real power behind the throne.

Anglican clergymen took oaths of loyalty to the crown, because the head of the Church of England held the crown. But it was Parliament who controlled the crown. Separation of church and state was a far bigger religious qustion than a question of state.

And let us add here that even though "divine right of kings" was discredited not only by Locke but by the Calvinists and Catholics, Romans 13 still obliges Christians to obey duly constituted authority.