Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Newest Debate Influenced By East v. West Coast Straussianism

This time the two players are Robert Reilly, batting for the West; and Patrick Deneen, batting for the East. Both are traditional religiously conservative Roman Catholics.

The issue is how the politics of the American Founding -- philosophy and theology included -- squares with "Christianity" (scare quotes meant to denote all of its inherit meanings).

Adam Seagrave joins the conversation.

There are too many points for me to address in a brief blog post; so I will choose to focus on one by Professor Deneen:
... Indeed, inasmuch as for Locke the first form of property is ownership of our own selves, protection of expression of selfhood is a predictable form of how our “diversity in faculties” is likely to find expression. And, as his 1792 essay on property makes clear, Madison’s understanding of property as exclusive possessions of individuals, which includes not only external wealth but also opinions and belief, is extensively the same as the Lockean view.

Reilly claims that Locke and Madison—in distinction from Hobbes and Machiavelli—are part of a continuous tradition that reaches back to ancient and Christian philosophy. However, one would be hard-pressed to find a justification of res publica from pre-modern thinkers that rests on the claim that protection of private differences is the “first object” of republican government. The classical tradition—expressed, for instance, in the writings of Aristotle or Aquinas—encouraged public-spiritedness, self-rule, concern for the common good, and cultivation of virtue as the essential elements of a polity or republic. While classical thinkers also recognized differences (and the potential for factions) as a major challenge, they commended the harmonization of differences and cultivation of virtue rather than promoting pursuit of private differences as the best avenue of avoiding political division. Indeed, the ancient Greeks reserved the word idiotes to those mainly concerned with private things. Classical thinkers encouraged the formation of small-scale regimes over large ones as more likely to promote participation in a shared common good. Aristotle argued for a limit to acquisition, believing that excess was as dangerous to civic and personal virtue as deficiency.

In calling for a large and extended republic, a relatively small political class whose ambition would promote national greatness, and a citizenry with a main focus on private pursuits, both Madison and Hamilton were cognizant that they were building a nation based on a new science of politics, as Hamilton readily acknowledges in Federalist 1 and 9.
I agree with Deneen that Madison, Hamilton, following Locke were positing something "new" that broke with the "classical" tradition that traces from Aristotle, whom America's Founders lauded, to Aquinas, whom they didn't.

However, the Lockean liberal tradition was one of a number of different core ideologies that made up the the synthesis of the origins of the American founding. Perhaps the "civic republican" ideological thought found in such thinkers as Harrington resonates more with the classical tradition from which Locke and Madison broke and adds balance to the perspective, especially to those who laud the classical tradition and wish to find more of it in the American founding. 

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree with Deneen that Madison, Hamilton, following Locke were positing something "new" that broke with the "classical" tradition that traces from Aristotle, whom America's Founders lauded, to Aquinas, whom they didn't.

The Founding era lauded Richard Hooker and Hugo Grotius, who were direct theo-philosophical descendants of Aquinas and his Salamancan progeny Francisco Suarez respectively.

https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/article/other/57jnv9.htm

As for Locke being into something new, this is perhaps true, but the Founding era didn't read him that way [see Founder James Wilson].

Daniel Shinkle said...

Wilson is probably the most Thomistic of the key Founders. (Although I agree that the same influence was strong throughout the Founding.) But it was a Thomism without Thomas. The Enlightenment impulse denied that anything worthwhile came out of the Middle Ages. The Republican influence favored the Roman Classical influences over the Greek. Aquinas was a very strong influence on the Founding era (albeit indirect), but he was unacknowledged (as far as I am aware).

It makes the claim of a Thomistic Founding quite interesting. Most Founders would decry any Catholic or Medieval influence, yet it was all around them. Terms like "Common Sense" and "Self-evident" were almost anti-Cartesian, but they were dressed in the garb of empiricism and set to do the work of organizing an Enlightenment society. Do you have any clear indication whether even Wilson understood that many of his ideas were rooted in Aquinas?

Ian F. Shield said...

I suspect that Patrick Deneen would be surprised to learn that he is an East Coast Straussian, or any kind of Straussian.

Jon Rowe said...

Ian, I'm using the term somewhat broadly. It's their argument he's making. I don't think he'd deny this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Daniel Shinkle said...
Wilson is probably the most Thomistic of the key Founders. (Although I agree that the same influence was strong throughout the Founding.) But it was a Thomism without Thomas. The Enlightenment impulse denied that anything worthwhile came out of the Middle Ages. The Republican influence favored the Roman Classical influences over the Greek. Aquinas was a very strong influence on the Founding era (albeit indirect), but he was unacknowledged (as far as I am aware).

It makes the claim of a Thomistic Founding quite interesting. Most Founders would decry any Catholic or Medieval influence, yet it was all around them. Terms like "Common Sense" and "Self-evident" were almost anti-Cartesian, but they were dressed in the garb of empiricism and set to do the work of organizing an Enlightenment society. Do you have any clear indication whether even Wilson understood that many of his ideas were rooted in Aquinas?


Welcome, sir. As a Straussian might say, Aquinas is conspicuous by his absence. :-)

Glib, but true. Anti-Catholicism was a hallmark feature of Anglo-American Protstantism in that era, and Catholic giants such as Aquinas, Suarez, de Vitoria, and Bellarmine are easily located in the work of the Protestant philosophical progeny. Locke [and Wilson] often refer to "the judicious Hooker," the father of Anglicanism, Rev. Richard Hooker, who is a thorough Thomist.

Now, it is said [esp by Straussians] that Locke is subtly disagreeing with Hooker and only pretending to follow him, but even where this is so, lesser minds like James Wilson take Locke at face value.

Remember, Locke does not have a coherent theory of natural law, although you'll find Hamilton lumping him in with the great "natural lawyers" of the time.

Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius. Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend, diligently, to these, you will not require any others.

The Founders, in Straussian parlance, were not themselves philosophers, they were "gentlemen," informed by philosophy but also following their own prerogatives. They did not read Locke as closely as Leo Strauss did. THEIR Enlightenment was not that of the philosophes, but of the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment, which unlike the continentals, was quite congenial to religion and the body of Christian thought. [I can't lay me hands on where I read it, but I believe Aquinas was taught at Harvard until about 1700.]

Let us also note that Aquinas had been around for 500 years. He was in the philosophical air they breathed; one could echo his thought without even knowing he was the source.

https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/common-misconceptions/catholic-sources-and-the-declaration-of-independence.html

Perhaps my favorite piece of anti-Catholicism is from Algernon Sidney, c. 1650. They were despised, but still read and admired.

Tho the Schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: They could not but see that which all Men saw, nor lay more approv'd Foundations, than, That Man is naturally free; That he cannot justly be depriv'd of that Liberty without cause, and that he does not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself.