Thursday, November 7, 2019

A lesson on how not to write an article

So on social media, I am friends with David Boaz, an author and executive who works for the Cato Institute. He posted a link to an article about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence that was critical of himself.

The author is one Robert Curry and the article appeared at The Federalist. Long story short, Boaz supposedly engaged in a mistake that is all too common among academics who study the American founding: he said Jefferson et al. took from Locke's 2nd Treatise and put such into the Declaration. And simply credits Locke for those ideas.

But when we read the article, we observe no "there there." Curry invokes a distinction between what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration and what Locke wrote in the 2nd Treatise but fails to tell us why the distinction is meaningful.

Curry notes that it has something to do with Jefferson's use of the term "unalienable" that was lacking in Locke's original which stressed "property." And how property was missing from the Declaration.  Rather it was replaced with "pursuit of happiness." But again, no clear explication of why the differences makes a difference.

But here is the strange thing; The Federalist article makes Curry look like an ignorant pedant. But he's actually not. When I googled him, I saw that fairly notable, informed people were supporting Curry's work and that he was affiliated with organizations, notably Claremont, with informed folks who do good work.

Indeed, Claremont published a longer article of Curry's which actually gets into better details on his thesis. Curry may still be wrong and I do think he uses too many words to make his point; but indeed there is a "there there" to his thesis.

You are just going to have to read the Claremont article to find out. And perhaps we can blame the editors at The Federalist for their weaker article.


Tom Van Dyke said...

But when we read the article, we observe no "there there." Curry invokes a distinction between what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration and what Locke wrote in the 2nd Treatise but fails to tell us why the distinction is meaningful.

I got it. According to Curry, Locke's theory of rights is conventional, that of property, whereas the American theory of rights is of inalienable, inherent, i.e., natural rights.

"Conventional" rights are those derived by convention, by political agreement. This is why Locke's theory of rights is known as "social contract." But as the great proto-Founder James Otis put it so clearly in 1764, THIS is the American theory of rights:

"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."

So, Curry may wrongly attribute Harrington's property theory to Locke, but his larger point about the innovation of the American theory of rights holds.

Founder James Wilson made a similar bifurcation. Again, the British theory of rights is conventional, political:

"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible?

Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone."

Natural rights vs conventional/civil/political rights. Wilson argues here that the British make natural rights subject to the will of civil society, to parliament. America rejects that. Rights are inalienable.

[Curry further argues that the French "general will"--politics and the state--exercises that same primacy over natural rights. That is how both the Reign of Terror and Emperor Napoleon each became possible, with no contradiction!!]

Jonathan Rowe said...

You have to get to Curry's 2nd article for him to explain. And he doesn't mention Otis, his distinctions (Harrington etc.).

Curry credits Hutchinson and Reid from the Scottish Enlightenment for the ideas.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Since I knew the background, Curry's Federalist article seemed fine to me. I guess not for those who are new to the subject. I have reposted my article from 2012. You may call it "A Lesson on How to Write an Article." :-D

The Founding theory of rights of rights not only differed from the European one, but differs from the theory of rights currently being peddled as "social justice," which is also conventional and political, not natural.

Eve Keneinan 𝛗☦️ن❌

What is JUSTICE?

It does not contain the sub-categories “natural justice” and “social justice”. These ideas are OPPOSED.

NATURAL JUSTICE is what we TRADITIONALLY mean by Justice.



That is, the aim of Social Justice is to ABOLISH Justice and to replace it with another thing.

Social Justice is anti-Justice.

Social Justice reputidates Justice, because it aims to replace Justice, something natural, with itself, a social construct.