Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tensions Within the Synthesis of Originalism II: "For the Land is Mine"

"For the Land is Mine" is the title to Chapter 2 of Eric Nelson's book. I found it in a Word document from Brown University. There Dr. Nelson notes other scholars -- Philip Pettit of Princeton and Michael Sandel of Harvard -- who have also stressed the egalitarian nature of "republican" ideology (as contrasted with the individualistic nature of "liberalism").

I was recently reminded that “few American Whigs in the 1770s saw any conflict between what they read in Locke and Montesquieu and what they read in the Bible." In fact it's a feature of Whig thought that it served as a "unifying" ideology. As Thomas Jefferson noted to Richard Henry Lee, "All American whigs thought alike on these subjects." He did this while sourcing Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Sidney along with "harmonizing sentiments of the day." Yes harmonizing was needed. The four named sources didn't always agree with one another on all important matters of "public right."

Those of us who study Leo Strauss often hear about the break between Aristotle (Ancient) and Locke (Modern). Nelson focuses on the (arguable) break between Cicero and Algernon Sidney. Cicero was one of the ancient Roman republicans. These republicans, according to Dr. Nelson, "had accorded enormous respect to private property rights, and had exhibited a particular horror of coercive attempts to redistribute wealth."

One thing I stress is that the Ancient Hebrews didn't have a republic. They had some kind of idealized theocracy, where, if you believe the tale, God was directly in charge by virtue of direct interaction with man. They eventually got a King which God warned against. The concept of "republicanism" is entirely a creation of the ancient Greco-Roman tradition.

Yet Nelson's figures CLAIMED that the Hebrews had a "republic." (This claim would resonate with Thomas Paine and the American Founders). And in the process of "revising" or at least "re-understanding" the biblical record, they also broke with the ancient Roman position of Cicero which looks more like something the promoters of laissez faire economics would endorse (Milton Friedman, et al.). 

Rather, the British republicans, notably James Harrington, but also others, endorsed an equality of wealth holding that was if not proto-Marxist (which would demand equality of holdings) but proto-Rawlsian (which accepts in principle inequality of wealth, but sees a role for government in redistributing wealth to provide for a more "just distribution"). 

Indeed, Marx didn't invent radical economic egalitarianism. Neither did Jean Jacques Rousseau. Thomas More, whom Dr. Nelson specifically names, anticipated both of them (I won't discuss possible ancient sources for the concept). On "Utopia" both wealth and poverty were abolished. Though it's difficult to tell whether that book's claims are meant to be taken seriously or as satire.

One big difference between Marx and Rawls on the one hand and the earlier economic levelers on the other is that the former attempted to make either atheistic or secular arguments for their theories, the latter rest their principles on religious claims. 

Thus, those whose politics, at least on economic matters, are left of center -- especially those of the "Religious Left" -- might find something of interest and inspiration in the works of Dr. Nelson's British republicans who greatly influenced America's Founders.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm skeptical about trying to slip James Harrington's "proto-Marxism" into the Founding by lumping him in with Locke and Sidney. Indeed, as early Founder James Otis put it

"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 American theory of government, of natural rights, and that "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Otis wrote that before the DOI, correct? That actually strikes me as an odd statement for the time. I know Strauss argues Locke was esoterically influenced by Hobbes. But the latter was not one of those names America's Founders put in their exoteric pot they stewed. Harrington and Locke were, however. Harrington can serve as a proxy for Sidney here. As in Aristotle (Ancient Greek), Cicero (Anciet Republican), Sidney (Modern Republican) and Locke (Modern Liberal).

This is who Jefferson sources for the DOI. That document contains language drawn directly from Locke's 2nd Treatise as well as language on the social contract. It says governments derive their "just power from the consent of the governed."

The God part is necessary to make rights unalienable (antecedent to majority rule).

What strikes me as odd on Otis' quote (perhaps I can see more for context) is that he's not "harmonizing" like a good Whig would. He sounds more Ike a prescient modern scholar (like Bailyn) observing that the different ideological sources are in tension with one another.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Harrington and Locke were, however. Harrington can serve as a proxy for Sidney here.

The case for Harrington and socialism is not in evidence here, nor of Harrington and Sidney being interchangable.

Harrington had some good things to say about division of powers that may have influenced Madison, but that does not mean the Founders swallowed his whole buffet.

Jonathan Rowe said...

TVD: "nor of Harrington and Sidney being interchangable."

JR: "As in Aristotle (Ancient Greek), Cicero (Anciet [sic] Republican), Sidney (Modern Republican) and Locke (Modern Liberal)."

Let's ignore how I categorized Aristotle (I couldn't come up a proper simple term for the key philosopher of the origins of democratic-republican political philosophy). "Cicero" is one of Jefferson's named four and he stands for Ancient Roman republicanism. In that period, noble ancient republicanism was refined.

Algernon Sidney was a British Whig opposition figure who argued for the concept of Hebraic republicanism. In short a "modern" (for the time) "republican." Harrington is a prime figure from this period. John Milton, Sidney and Harrington, in this sense, go together like coffee, cream and sugar.

Re how those figures understood economic redistribution, we have to turn to Nelson's paper I linked to ("socialism" is too broad and nebulous a term to get at what they argued for).

I don't think "the Founders" "swallowed ... whole" .... Rather, these were different ideological forces in a stewed pot. They [Jefferson's named Sidney, along with the unnamed Milton, Harrington, et al., Nelson's British Whig Hebraic republicans] constituted only 1/4 of Jefferson's named ideological sources. Madison, on economic matters, was arguably influenced more by Enlightenment liberalism (Locke, Smith, et al.) and would endorse something more like laissez faire.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jefferson's "named" sources 4 decades after the fact mean nothing. He was such a self-aggrandizing bullshitter. What matters is that you find Harrington in 1776 or 1787. There's a little in Jefferson and Paine's "agrarian" vision, but their view did not hold; Hamilton's vision of a "commercial republic" did.

Your mission is to quote Harrington. Show his ideas translated into the American reality.

*"In fact, Richard Henry Lee accused Jefferson of plagiarism. According to the man who signed the first motion for independence in June 1776, the Declaration was copied from John Locke’s Second Treatise."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes Jefferson did "plagiarize" Locke; but I think they had different standards for "plagiarism" then.

I wonder if you read Nelson's paper -- the chapter of his book -- I linked to.

Jonathan Rowe said...

This is an interesting thesis of the paper:

-- The vision in question is epitomized by a striking semantic fact about the Hebrew language, well-known to Biblical scholars, but worth repeating in this context. Those of us who speak modern languages derived from Latin and Greek are used to marking a key lexical distinction between “justice” (diké/ iustitia) and “charity” (cháris/ charitas). What distinguishes them is the element of personal discretion. If I give you a $5 bill to which you have a legal claim, this is an instance of justice, not charity; if, however, I give you a $5 bill to which you have no legal claim, this is an instance of charity, not justice. Hebrew recognizes no such dichotomy. The same Hebrew word (tzedek/ tzedakah) refers both to the fulfillment of what we would regard as conventional legal obligations and to the performance of what we would regard as charitable acts. The reason is straightforward. In the Biblical world-view, God is regarded as the owner of all things, and is therefore empowered to impose whatever conditions he wishes on the use of his property by human beings. Many of these conditions involve, for example, care for the poor and indigent, but, precisely because these are legal obligations imposed by a rightful owner on his tenants, they are no more “discretionary” than, say, the payment of debts. The Hebrew Bible develops a theory of property according to which there is only one owner. As God says to Moses in chapter 25 of Leviticus, “the land is mine” (Lev. 25:23). --

Tom Van Dyke said...

Unfortunately, the caring for the poor is always mutated into "income equality" and other perversions of the concept of charity/justice.

The question is not whether the rich have too much, only that the poor have enough. Further, you have a long way to go from the Hebrew concept to Harrington to reality in America.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Did you read the paper?

Tom Van Dyke said...

You can't hide your evidence behind a link. State it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't argue that "republicanism" prevailed over "liberalism." Rather the argument is that there were elements in the synthesis that contradicted one another. Hebraic republicanism of the "Whig opposition" era, if focused on to the exclusion of the others, was arguably economically redistributivist as a matter of right, not charity.

As noted above I don't believe the Ancient Hebrews had a "republic." I'd probably be sympathetic to the notion that what they had was "sui generis" but Dr. Nelson, if you read his paper, makes the argument that the principles and their application lived on in the Jewish community until after the C.E.

They began to be revived by the early modern European republicans. I don't agree with Harrington's analysis as a matter of theology or "right." But look towards the end of the quotation where he draws a connection between his idealized Oceana and the Jubilee. The Jubilee was arguably communistic in the sense that was meant to preserve an original distribution of land among the Ancient Jews. The land constantly had to revert back to God's original division to preserve the original equality of distribution.

There's an old joke among those of us who accept accept inequality of holdings in principle (paraphrased): If tomorrow 30 people were given $1000 in the bank to start with, 24 hours later after making decisions, there would be inequality of holdings. The Ancient Jewish principles of the Jubilee and the 7 years cycles of cancellation of debts (etc.) were meant to "undo" those choices that lead to inequality and revert back to equal outcomes as the original position.

Again, I don't agree with the analysis and theology that would try to resurrect them into the gentile world in the late 16th century by way of analogy to their then modern application.

But it seems that's exactly what Harrington did. You have to read the entire paper to get a sense of this. Quoted below:

Jonathan Rowe said...

The first English republican to reject the conventional understanding of agrarian laws was James Harrington. Not only did Harrington attack “the Roman writers” for misleading their readers about the character of the agrarian movement, but he also placed what he called an “agrarian law” at the very center of his model constitution, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656). According to this law, the largest lawful estate should yield no more than £2000 per annum; no citizen is allowed to purchase additional land if doing so would raise his annual revenue above that threshold. Large fortunes are to be broken up by requiring the relatively equal division of estates among children, and dowries are restricted to the value of £1500. All those found to have acquired properties exceeding the legal limit must forfeit the excess to the state. Harrington fully recognized that this feature of his theory would be widely criticized (we have already noted his observation that “agrarian laws of all others have ever been the greatest bugbears”), and he accordingly took great pains to explain the reasoning behind it. Having summarized the principles upon which Oceana is to be designed, he announces in the “Preliminaries” that the test of “whether I have rightly transcribed these principles of a commonwealth out of nature” involves an “appeal unto God and to the world. Unto God in the fabric of the commonwealth of Israel, and unto the world in the universal series of ancient prudence.” For Harrington, the ancient Greek and Roman commonwealths were imperfectly designed, but their history exhibits several important general principles, which he calls “ancient prudence.” The laws of the Israelite commonwealth, on the other hand, were all “made by an infallible legislator, even God himself,” and are therefore to be regarded as perfect. Indeed, in answering a critic who claims to be unaware “of any prerogative of authority belonging to the Israelitish more than any other republic,” Harrington thunders that this “is to take part with the Devil.”
The most important principle to be derived from the experience of the ancients, on Harrington’s account, is that of the “balance.” The distribution of land determines the distribution of power: if one person owns the preponderance of the land in a given territory, the result is monarchy; if a few own it, we have aristocracy; if “the whole people be landlords,” it is a commonwealth. When a particular territory has a government that corresponds to its distribution of land, it exists in peace; when the two are mismatched, the territory suffers calamity and civil war. No regime can long survive unless it enacts laws which “fix” the balance so as to provide a stable foundation for its future. Harrington relies in part on the historical record to demonstrate the truth of this axiom, but he makes clear that its chief support lies elsewhere: “This kind of law fixing the balance in lands is called agrarian, and was first introduced by God himself, who divided the land of Canaan unto his people by lots, and is of such virtue that, whenever it hath held, that government hath not altered, except by consent.” Here Harrington shows his cards. He explicitly follows Cunaeus in identifying a “Hebrew agrarian law,” and is thereby able to summon the full authority of the Biblical narrative in support of the claim that all republics must similarly “fix” their balance. He is also able to defend the further claim that all governments should be republics, since “God, in ordaining this balance, intended popular government.” “The balance of Oceana,” Harrington tells us, “is exactly calculated unto the most approved way, and the clearest footsteps of God in the whole history of the Bible; and whereas the jubilee was a law instituted for preservation of the popular balance from alteration, so is the agrarian of Oceana.”

Jonathan Rowe said...

This footnote (90) brings to mind JRB's favorite "Spinoza." I'll admit I have not investigated his theological assertions. He seems to be brought up as the "true deist," the one who posited the God of the philosophers who was a prime mover but didn't specially reveal or intervene in the affairs of man. I wonder whether that's true of him. He too argued for the existence of such a "hebraic republic."

Writing a decade later, Spinoza likewise emphasized this aspect of the Hebrew republic: “there was one feature peculiar to this state and of great importance in retaining the affections of the citizens, and checking all thoughts of desertion, or abandonment of the country: namely self-interest, the strength and life of all human action. This was particularly engaged in the Hebrew state, for nowhere else did citizens possess their goods so securely as did the subjects of this community, for the latter possessed as large a share in the land and the fields as did their chiefs, and were owners of their plots of ground in perpetuity; for if any man was compelled by poverty to sell his farm or his pasture, he received it back again intact as the year of jubilee: there were other similar enactments against the possibility of alienating real property. Again, poverty was nowhere more endurable than in a country where duty towards one’s neighbour, that is, one’s fellow citizen, was practised with the utmost piety, as a means of gaining the favour of God the King.” See Spinoza, A theologico-political treatise and A political treatise, R.H.M. Elwes, ed. and trans. (New York, 1951), p. 230.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good. You got the Bible into Harrington.

Here's the thing--you're getting hung up on the land angle, which was a huge deal in England [with limited land, primogeniture, and laws and customs restricting the buying and selling of real estate] but not a huge deal in America, where we had a frontier and limitless land.

That's where even a "proto-Marxism" falls apart--redistributing wealth and redistributing real estate are not the same thing. The former is limitless and can be created, whereas in England [or any agrarian society] the latter is limited.

In a commercial republic, land and wealth are fungible--every piece of real estate in America has a price; in England land was literally priceless.

jimmiraybob said...

In Nelson’s footnote #90 he writes, “Writing a decade later, Spinoza likewise emphasized this aspect of the Hebrew republic…” and then quotes a seemingly contradictory passage from Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise that includes, “’Again, poverty was nowhere more endurable than in a country where duty towards one’s neighbour, that is, one’s fellow citizen, was practised with the utmost piety, as a means of gaining the favour of God the King.’”

The phrase “God the King,” in reference to the Hebrew commonwealth, might make one wonder about nelson’s overall thesis regarding a Hebrew republic.

Since Spinoza was brought up, I think that I should set the record straight. If Nelson alludes to Spinoza being a deist of any stripe then he is way off base. He was most often described by his contemporary and posthumous enemies as an atheist or a pantheist – a well-founded charge that holds up today, and he represents a more radical wing of the Enlightenment. Regardless of land policies, Spinoza did not share Nelson’s enthusiasm for a Hebrew republic, which is fairly evident from the following passages. It should be noted that, unlike the Hebraists that Nelson cites, who appear to be trying to reconcile the idea of a republic with the ancient Hebrew commonwealth, Spinoza was actually raised in the Hebrew tradition and studied alongside the leading Rabbis of his 17th-century community.

[Theological Political Treatise(1), p. 540]
“It was God alone, then, who held sovereignty over the Hebrews, and so this state alone, by virtue of the covenant, was rightly called the kingdom of God, and God was called the king of the Hebrews.”

“In short, there was considered to be no difference whatsoever between civil law and religion. Hence this form of government could be called a theocracy, its citizens being bound only by such law as was revealed by God.”

[Theological Political Treatise(1), p. 541]
”However, Moses appointed no successor, but left the state to be so governed by those who came after him that it could be called neither a democracy nor an aristocracy nor a monarchy, but a theocracy

[Theological Political Treatise(1), p. 544]
”Thus it clearly follows that after Moses’ death the state was left neither as a monarchy nor as an aristocracy nor a democracy, but, as we have said, a theocracy, and for the following reasons. First, the royal seat of government was the temple, and it was only in respect of the temple that all of the tribes were fellow citizens, as we have shown. Secondly, all their citizens had to swear allegiance to God, their supreme judge, to whom alone they had promised absolute obedience in all things. Finally, when a commander-in-chief was needed, he was chosen only by God.

[ Political Treatise(1), p. 719]
So it is plain that no man succeeds the king by right except the one whom the people wills to be his successor, or, in the case of a theocracy like the ancient commonwealth of the Hebrews, one whom God has chosen through his prophet.

1) In Spinoza, Complete Works with Translations by Samuel Shirley, 2002. Hacket. p. 967.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Nelson doesn't represent Spinoza as a deist; but he does (seemingly) represent him as a supporter of the concept of the "Hebrew republic."

As I read JRB's quotes, it doesn't seem as if he supported the concept.

On strictly theological terms, Spinoza seems to have the better argument; the Hebrew's didn't have a republic; they had something special where God was directly revealing to prophets. Then they chose a king.

Though through figures like Harrington, the notion that the Hebrews had a republic became popular. And in particular it was a popular rhetorical flourish in America to argue against the concept of monarchy/King of England.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

Re Tom's point, this is why I have to choose my words carefully. We live in a world of political hyperbole: Obama is a "socialist." Or, apparently if someone is a free market purist, there is a tendency to see someone to one's economic left as a "socialist."

Apparently, Ludwig von Mises termed among others Milton Friedman and Frederic Hayek "socialists" because they were willing to put up with slightly more government than he was.

Likewise, if Marxism is understood as necessarily including the abolition of private property the British promoters of the "Hebrew republic" cannot be termed "proto-Marxist." That's why I put Rawls in there.

Nelson mentions Rawls but doesn't quite explore him because Rawls, though an "egalitarian" in his vision of "distributive justice" accepts, in principle, the possible existence of a degree of economic inequality, that the British Hebraic republicans would not.

Even John Rawls, however strongly he might reject the perspective of his more libertarian critics, nonetheless insists that inequality per se is not inconsistent with the principles of justice. On his view, as long as the position of the least well-off social group is improved under a particular economic arrangement, it does not matter that the arrangement in question might improve the situation of the most fortunate to a greater degree. The only relevant question is whether some rival scheme might be envisioned that would make the least advantaged even better off; if so, the latter would be preferred even if it would result in greater inequality.

Nelson's argument is more refined. The term I would use is "economic egalitarians." He's actually saying that the British Hebrew Republicans are responsible for our "modern" economic system, which is government managed and regulated capitalism which seeks to redistribute excesses to those in need.

(Quotes will come in a subsequent post.)

Jonathan Rowe said...

It is a measure of Harrington’s remarkable influence that, from 1660 onwards, agrarian laws would remain permanently at the center of republican political thought. Writers from Montesquieu to Rousseau, and from Jefferson to Tocqueville, would regard it as axiomatic that republics ought to legislate limits on private ownership in order to realize a particular vision of civic life. Before Cunaeus and Harrington, European political theory had been dominated by the unequal contest between two views of property: one which saw the protection of private property as the central obligation of the state, and another which saw the abolition of private property as the ultimate salvation of mankind. Cunaeus’s innocuous semantic move in 1617 had opened up a “third way”—one which remains central to modern political thought and practice. Republican political theory would now embrace neither the protection nor the abolition of private property, but rather its redistribution. The coercive power of the state would be used to impose limits on private wealth, and to generate a roughly egalitarian diffusion of property throughout the commonwealth.

The words were Dr. Nelson's; the bold was mine.

This is from the Amazon page of his book:

Nelson identifies three transformative claims introduced into European political theory by the Hebrew revival: the argument that republics are the only legitimate regimes; the idea that the state should coercively maintain an egalitarian distribution of property; and the belief that a godly republic would tolerate religious diversity. One major consequence of Nelson’s work is that the revolutionary politics of John Milton, James Harrington, and Thomas Hobbes appear in a brand-new light.

Nelson demonstrates that central features of modern political thought emerged from an attempt to emulate a constitution designed by God.

Again the bold is mine.

It seems Nelson is saying that the world in which Tony Blair and Bill Clinton gave us, their "3rd Way," the kind of capitalism that dominates post 11/09/89 was a creation of, or at least a good analog, the vision of these British Hebraic republicans like Harrington.

When I teach my students about the form of capitalism that prevails, I mention Clinton & Blair. But also John Rawls and John Maynard Keynes as examples of those who support the system as the kind of intellectuals they would turn to.

I don't remember enough about Hamilton & economics (I know he formulated one dumb idea that economists have refuted, the "protect infant industry" argument). But I do remember fellow Federalist James Madison arguing against this kind of "economic egalitarianism." This may have been more of a "liberal" view that prevailed during the time of the Founding. But what has prevailed today on global economic policy can be traced to these figures, like Harrington.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Keep in mind that "property" is very oriented toward real estate in 17th century England, which was limited in that tiny country and held by hereditary means by the "landed gentry."

The idea of wealth as "capital" and as money barely exists: Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" isn't published until 1776 and much political-economic thought before it is inapplicable to America. A Donald Trump was unimaginable to Locke or Harrington.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Property" presently defines as "ownership" of things. Back then ownership of land was not just associated with wealth, but also income (as in you needed to own land to produce income).

Yes, presently, it's a different country (as in "the past is a foreign country").

Some of today's economic egalitarians (of which Nelson appears to be one) are making an analogy to the past (to the republican economic egalitarians).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Whereas land is limited, wealth is not, as the latter can be created, exponentially. An agrarian society is Malthusian, merely arithmetic.

Malthus is useless for describing the economic reality today, as is this line of argument. What Bernie Sanders means by redistribution cannot be described in Old Testament terms.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Land is a species of the genus of "wealth." All land is wealth. Though not all wealth is land.

Agrarianism is something the republicans who influenced America's founding analogized to something from an earlier period (the biblical record). They made it "larger."

Harrington and the other European hebraic republicans who influenced America's Founding were doing exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing today.

Indeed, that's the subject of my newest OP. But instead of Sanders, I focus on Chomsky.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Harrington and the other European hebraic republicans who influenced America's Founding were doing exactly what Bernie Sanders is doing today.

Indeed, that's the subject of my newest OP. But instead of Sanders, I focus on Chomsky.

Economic illiterates. At least Harrington had an excuse, since Adam Smith hadn't been born yet.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Economic illiterates."

Yup I don't think they get the science of economics right. (I think both Rawls and Keynes, and Summers and Krugman for that matter, better understand either of them on economics.) Hamilton too made a dumb argument refuted by today's economists (the protect infant industries argument).

Tom Van Dyke said...

And also to protect workers in dying ones from the disruption. A good sentiment, but there's no point in continuing to make buggy whips.

The communist countries, particularly China, at one point kept unprofitable/obsolete factories running at great government expense to protect the workers, but that's a fool's game, good money after bad.

Art Deco said...

Hamilton too made a dumb argument refuted by today's economists (the protect infant industries argument).

Which 'today's economists'? This was certainly considered worthy of discussion when I was first a student of economics and would be addressed in less formal disciplines like geography.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Which 'today's economists'?"

All of those who don't believe in mercantilism or protectionism. That's 96% of them including the Keynesians, the Austrians, and the Chicago School.

If there is an externality problem and the market isn't delivering a product that corrects for the problem, then maybe government's special protection against market forces might be warranted. Think alternate energies. Solyndra or Tesla. Needed to overcome our reliance on fossil fuels

This is the extent to which I see the argument as viable. The Keynesians (like Tom Friedman or Paul Krugman) would support such protection of an infant industry. I don't think the Chicago or Austrian schools would support the protection here though.