Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mark Hall Singles Out Michael Meyerson as a Separationist

Earlier this year Jon Rowe told American Creation readers that Mark Hall has written a new book,  "Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth." After some delay, I have started reading Mark’s book that attempts to separate “modern myth from historical truth.”

When reading page 111, I found this line, “ Separationaists often think it significant that there is no contemporary account of Washington saying ‘So help me God’ when he took the oath of office. <71>  
By flipping to page 199 I learned that Mark has singled out Michael Meyerson as a separationist:  <71> See, for instance, Michael I. Meyerson, Endowed by Our Creator: The Birth of Religious Liberty in America . . . , 181-82.

I went ahead and tried to find out why Mark Hall has thought it necessary to single out Meyerson as a “separationist.” When I read the designated pages the only answer I could come up with is that Meyerson is similarly trying to separate modern myth from historical truth, much like Peter Henriques has done in his 1/11/2009 HNN article, So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth that Should Be Discarded.

I don’t know why Meyerson is being identified as a separationist by Mark Hall, but the following snippet taken from a 4/14/2014 Baptist Standard article, Revisionists get church & state wrong, law professor (Michael Meyerson) says, by Ken Camp & Daniel Wallace, should shed some light on the issue:

Equilibrium to avoid partisanship

The founders sought to strike equilibrium on the issue and compromised to produce a solution that avoided partisanship.
“They understood the complexity of this issue better than we do,” Meyerson said. “They understood the solution had to be nuanced and had to be complicated—not beyond understanding, but not a simple ‘never or always.’ And that’s what they worked on—that compromise.”
Founders of the nation agreed on a respectful vision that religion is scarred with unbelievable evil, yet also graced with equally unbelievable good, he noted. Their goal was to formulate a standard on the issue of church and state relations that united the nation, rather than creating a mandate that brought division.
“They wanted to separate church and state but not necessarily God and state,” he said. “They were most afraid of sectarianism, but they never intended to eliminate all discussion of God and religion from the public sphere.”

Sunday, June 28, 2020

John Wycliffe: Founding Father of Resistance Theory


To study Western culture and history is to witness the evolution of the concept of liberty as it shifted from the hands of a few elite into the public domain.  Of all the contributing influences that helped to steer the idea of liberty from the few to the many, Christianity is, without question, the predominant fuel that sustained the fires of change over the centuries.  This progression was not without its difficulties, since Christianity was also wielded as a weapon of mass distraction by the nobility ranks of Medieval Europe who meant to twist the message of Christ to bend the knee of all subjects to their will.  One predominant example of this subjugation was the way in which Paul’s admonition to the Romans was afforded significant (or even histrionic) significance in what the Medieval world would call the Divine Right of Kings.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation...For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.[1]

One would be hard pressed to find a set of verses in all Christian scripture that have caused more anxiety and debate than these few words from Paul.  For centuries they came to dominate much of the public discourse on the question of how a “good Christian” should submit to authority, and when “righteous rebellion” to God’s chosen leaders was warranted.  In modern times, historians have attempted to explain when and how the earliest advocates for what is sometimes called “resistance theory” (the justification needed to oppose God’s chosen leaders on earth) burst onto the scene.  Some scholars have posited that Protestant reformers of the 16th century deserve credit for the creation of resistance theory.[2]  And while it is true that the generation of the Reformation merits recognition for their contributions to the development of resistance theory, the seeds of opposition, which quickly grew in the rich soil of earlier centuries, is where the birth of opposition to authority, and the beginnings of popular liberty, had their inception.  Arguably the most vocal, persuasive, and intelligent voice of this opposition was that of John Wycliffe, a 14th century theologian and Oxford professor, whose teachings became well known throughout much of Europe.  As a spokesman of opposition, Wycliffe served to be more than a mere foreshadowing of later Protestant expressions of resistance to authority, but instead became the founding father of resistance theory itself, creating the very road map by which subsequent generations would also construct their justification for dissent to God’s supposed leaders on earth.   
To better appreciate the magnitude of Wycliffe’s contributions to resistance theory one must first understand the tremendous authority enjoyed by kings and popes of the Medieval world.  Divine Right Kingship was not some passing fad that simply faded with time but rather was the bedrock for organizing the whole of society.  As one historian of Divine Right Kingship put it:

That the ideal State is the kingdom of God upon earth, and that no other can be an object of veneration to a Christian, is the notion that lies at the heart of Medieval Europe…the Pope, as most plainly the depositary of Divine Authority, afterwards the Emperor, as called to his office by God’s election and appointment, claims to be the true and supreme head of the Christian commonwealth, by Divine Right of the Lord of the world.[3]    

God’s division of responsibility between Pope and King meant that matters both spiritual and temporal had been given their divine sanction.  For the common Christian, this meant that both religious and governmental superiors exercised substantial influence on a laity now made fully dependent upon their will and pleasure.[4]
It does not come as a surprise to discover that this system of government was not without its flaws.  On an almost regular basis, kings attempted to subvert the authority of popes, while popes “were driven to minimize the prerogatives of the Emperor and to recognize in his less instead of more authority.”[5]  These blemishes did not go unnoticed by those with eyes to see.  Giles of Rome, an influential 13th century friar and philosopher, took note of the natural conflict that arose between popes and kings in the many inevitable battles for supremacy that were common in the Middle Ages when he wrote, “For we can clearly show from the order of the universe that the Church is placed above the nations and kingdoms.”  Giles then references the ever-present Romans 13 to demonstrate the church’s superiority to kings: “it is clear from what the Apostle says at Romans 13, who, when he had first said there is no power except of God, immediately afterwards added, ‘and the powers that be are ordained of God.’”[6]  Another 13th century theologian and philosopher, William of Ockham (famous for his methodological principle known as Occam’s Razor), suggested that it was the right and the duty of both popes and parishioners to know where their authority (or submission to authority) ended:

Subjects also should know what and how much power the pope has over them, because, as Gregory says, “subjects should be urged not to be more subject than is useful.”  But they cannot be on guard against excessive subjection unless they know what and how much power their superior has over them.  Further, to neglect the right of the community counts as a vice: for if to neglect a common possession is a natural vise, then it is certain that to neglect common rights is a vice, since a natural vice must be regarded as a vice.  But what is not known is neglected.  The pope’s subjects must therefore know the common rights of subjects.  But they cannot know this unless they know how much power the pope has, and how much he does not have, over them.[7]  

What these, and many other, references clearly demonstrate is that an active, vocal voice of opposition was expressing legitimate concerns on matters of authority.  These early seeds of resistance theory found fertile ground, but still needed the watering and nourishing that was soon to come. 
                The world into which John Wycliffe emerged is often misunderstood and underappreciated by scholars.  As Wycliffe Biographer Stephen Lahey put it, “What looked like a degenerate, inbred version of high medieval theology to scholars as recently as the mid-twentieth century now seems a century rich in innovation, particularly the theological arguments that raged before the Reformation.”[8]  Wycliffe is of particular significance because he took the already existing concerns regarding authority of his day, and turned them into a movement bent on opposition to that authority (the birth of resistance theory).  Wycliffe’s studies of the Christian scriptures, along with his assessment of the church in his day, convinced him that the “powerful and wealthy Church over which the bishops and Pope presided” was a flawed institution, undeserving of allegiance but rather a mere “institution that should be tested rigorously against the record of God’s purposes in the scriptures.”[9]
Wycliffe’s attack on the Church was not merely a critique of its institutions or practices but was a direct assault at the authority figures who dominated its ranks.  In Wycliffe’s mind, these bishops, priests, monks and even popes performed all their works “merely for outward show; and because of the hidden malice within their hearts, they not only hurt themselves to a considerable extent, bit also other people.”[10]  Wycliffe pulled no punches, labeling church leaders as “heretics” who “sacrifice into idols…even more than the sacrifices of the priests of Baal” whose form of worship “give their attention to ritual, flattery, detraction and falsehood, rejecting scripture and neglecting to rebuke sin.”[11]
Wycliffe’s critique of authority was not reserved exclusively for the church.  In his letter to King Richard, II, Wycliffe asserted the rights of all Christians to follow the dictates of their conscience on matters of religion, even if it meant leaving the Church “without hinderance or bodily pain” because “The rule of Christ…is most perfect, to be kept for state of living in this world; and each rule, of what kin, private sect, or singular religion, made of sinful men, is less perfect, than the rule of Christ, of his endless wisdom, and his endless charity, to mankind; therefore, it is lawful to each man or person of this singular religion and profession, to leave it cleave fast to the rule of Jesus Christ, as more perfect.”[12]  It is worthy to note that instead of supporting the Apostle Paul’s command to “let every soul be subject unto the higher powers,” Wycliffe suggests that it is a Christian’s first duty to shake off “sinful” and “less perfect” men and institutions in favor of allegiance to Jesus Christ’s “more perfect” way.  Or as Wycliffe himself put it:

Also friars say, that if a man be once professed to their religion, he may never leave it, and be saved; though he be never so unable thereto, for all the time of his life; and they will need him to live in such a state ever more, to which God makes him ever unable; and so need him to be damned. Alas! out on such heresy, that man’s ordinance is holden to be stronger than is the ordinance of God. For if a man enter into the new religion against man’s ordinance, he may lawfully forsake it; but if he enter against God’s ordinance, when God makes him unable thereto, he shall not be suffered by Antichrist’s power to leave it.[13] 

In Wycliffe’s mind, a Christian’s first devotion was to his own conscience, linked to God, therein creating a new soul, saved by God’s grace and fully capable of making his own way in life, free from the weapons of mass distraction that were the church, its practices and its priests. 
Wycliffe’s message resonated deeply and spread quickly.  His followers, known as Lollards, became every bit as convinced as Wycliffe himself, effectively becoming missionaries for the new gospel of liberation.  The message became increasingly popular and eventually “brought a new and dangerous edges to this sort of charismatic religious culture” that was sweeping across England.[14]  The message carried by Lollards presented a clear opposition to the authority of the Church, which quickly sought to suppress the heresy.  The result was the trial and execution of Lollard sympathizers who left valuable accounts of their fierce opposition to the church and its leadership.[15] 
Contrary to what many notable historians have suggested, the Lollard movement and message did not die off with the death of Wycliffe or the many executions for heresy.  Dr. Fiona Somerset’s excellent work on the matter of Lollard influence post-Wycliffe demonstrates that the movement continued far into the decades leading up to the Protestant Reformation.  She writes:

The corpus of extant manuscripts produced somewhere between roughly 1375 and 1530 and containing materials translated, composed, or adapted by Lollard writers is very large.  After an initial phase of rapid and apparently highly coordinated production, Lollard writings continued to be copied, recopied, adapted, and further developed in a wide range of manuscript contexts, and for a variety of readers, across the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries…No religious movement persecuted as a heresy anywhere else in the history of Christianity has left behind a textual recording of anything like this in order of magnitude.[16] 

In addition, the fact that England already seemed to embrace a spirit of reform before the Reformation indicates that the fires of popular dissent were already spreading before Luther or Calvin ever came on the scene.  As one historian has noted, “The ingredients of early Protestantism proved already numerous in the reign of Henry VIII, yet among them Lutheranism may scarcely be regarded as predominant and Calvinism as yet remained almost negligible…we may now confidently ascribe a role of some importance on the popular level to the still vital force of Lollardy.”[17] 
The life and works of John Wycliffe are too often limited by modern historians.  He may receive praise for his work in translating the Bible into Middle English or given kudos for being a foreshadowing of Luther and other Reformers, but rarely is he given credit for his greatest accomplishment: father of resistance theory.  Wycliffe and his fellow Lollards were not some opening act for the later Protestant Reformer’s main stage show, nor did they simply plant seeds that Calvin and others would later grow and harvest.  Wycliffe and the Lollards literally built the foundations, walls, and roof of the resistance theory house.  Calvin and his followers certainly deserve recognition for adding drapes and interior decorating, but they did not construct the house that so many wish to deed to the Reformers.  Through his bold and vocal opposition to the authority figures of his day, John Wycliffe provided the very first template for resistance theory, which gave succeeding generations all the guidance needed to help place the idea of liberty into the hands of the people instead of the hands of the elite. 

Footnotes:

[1] Romans 13:1-2.  The Holy Bible: The King James Version (World Wide Bible Assoc.: 2019).

[2] Mark David Hall and Sarah Morgan Smith.  “Whose Rebellion?: Reformed Resistance Theory in   America” (Parts I and II). Faculty Publications - Department of History, Politics, and International Studies. 85. https://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1084&context=hist_fac.  Hall and Smith argue that the Reformed Calvinist tradition is where the nucleus of resistance theory is to be found, and that the teachings of Calvinism granted Christianity with all the authority they would need to justify opposition to their rulers.  Hall and Smith take this argument all the way to the American Revolution, suggesting that some of America’s earliest founders were both influenced by Calvinist teachings and found in the Reformed tradition all the needed ammunition to oppose King George, III.

[3] J.N. Figgis, The Divine Right of Kings (Cambridge, 1914).  Pp. 40.

[4] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 (Yale University Press, 2005).  Pp. 53-55.

[5] J.N. Figgis, The Divine Right of Kings, 44.

[6] Giles of Rome, On Ecclesiastical Power: A Medieval Theory of World Government.  Trans. By R.W. Dyson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).  Pp.19. 

[7] William of Ockham, A Short Discourse on Tyrannical Government.  Ed. Arthur Stephen McGrade, trans. John Kilcullen (Cambridge University Press, 1992).  Pp. 9.

[8] Stephen E. Lahey, John Wycliffe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Pp. 42.

[9] Diarmaid MacCullough, The Reformation (New York: Penguin Books, 2005). Pp. 35.

[10] John Wycliffe, Tracts and Treatises of John de Wycliffe, Book III.  Trans. Rev. Robert Vaughan (London: Blackburn and Pardon Hatton Garden, 1845).  Online Library of Liberty. https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/wyclife-tracts-and-treatises-of-john-de-wycliffe.  Pp. 202.

[11] Ibid, 202-203.

[12] Ibid, 259-260.

[13] Ibid, 222.

[14] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars, 376.

[15] John A. Arnold, “Voicing Dissent: Heresy Trials in Later Medieval England.”  Past & Present, Volume 245, Issue 1, November 2019, Pages 3–37, https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1093/pastj/gtz025.  Arnold’s work “examines the evidence from the entire range of surviving Lollard trials, and argues that we can see consciously ‘dissenting’ speech alongside the standard theological positions associated with (and perhaps imposed upon) Lollardy.”

[16] Fiona Somerset, Feeling Like Saints: Lollard Writings After Wyclif (Cornell University Press, 2014).  Pp. 2.

[17] Dickens, A.G., ed. Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1982).  Pp. 8.  http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.5040/9781472599421.


Mark David Hall: Responses to the Panel on Deism, Orthodoxy, and the American Founding at Cato

The conversation at this month's Cato Unbound has begun. This is Mark Hall's response. A taste:
Rather than simply state the uncontroversial fact that virtually all late eighteenth century Americans identified themselves as Christians, I chose to address the common assertion that “most” or “many” of America’s founders were deists. Far too many sensible scholars make these or similar claims, including Professor Allen (“The Founding Fathers were … skeptical men of the Enlightenment who questioned each and every received idea they had been taught”) and Professor Green (“Although many of the nation’s elites privately embraced deism, The Age of Reason and other works popularized irreligion among the laboring and working classes”).[1] 
In addition to Professors Allen and Green, academic and popular authors including Gordon Wood, Geoffrey Stone, Richard Hughes, Frank Lambert, Matthew Stewart, R. Lawrence Moore, Isaac Kramnick, Garry Wills, Steven Keillor, Richard Dawkins, and many others have claimed that America’s founders were deists.[2] Because this assertion is so widespread, it seemed worthwhile to set the historical record straight. In my short essay, and in Did America Have a Christian Founding?, I offer excellent reasons for rejecting this error. That Professors Allen and Green do not even attempt to refute my arguments suggest that I have succeeded.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Steven Green's Contribution to Cato Unbound

Here is a link to the Steven Green contribution to the Cato Unbound symposium on the faith of the American founders. A taste:
The incidence of religious language and discourse among leaders of the founding generation more likely tells us something different. As public figures, they understood the power of religious rhetoric to motivate and inspire people. That public speakers used those familiar idioms is unsurprising—everyone did it, including that “filthy little atheist” Tom Paine, as Theodore Roosevelt called him.[6] One must not lose sight of the significant challenges—with the high likelihood of failure—that the founders faced in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Both political and religious figures purposefully drew on Biblical types to legitimize their revolutionary and governing efforts. Political and religious leaders sought to score symbolic points by identifying America’s successes with divine providence; another favorite was to analogize Britain and King George to Egypt and pharaoh and the colonists to the Children of Israel (with George Washington as Moses, leading them to the promised land). This purposeful use of religious imagery served an important political purpose of anointing the struggle with a transcendent purpose. In light of the extraordinary times and the commonality of religious discourse, it would have been remarkable if the founders had not employed biblical terminology in their public statements.[7]  
An undue focus on the religious upbringing of leading Founders, or on the religious discourse during the Founding, also undervalues the significance of Enlightenment rationalism and secular Whig political ideas on the founding generation. By the second half of the century, both strains of thought were significantly impacting the emerging ideas about revolution and republicanism.[8] The writings of figures such as John Locke, Baron Montesquieu, Hugo Grotius, and David Hume not only influenced the thinking of political leaders, they were adapted and integrated into the thought of clergy.[9] ...

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Thomas Kidd's Contribution to Cato Unbound

Here is a link to Thomas Kidd's contribution to the Cato Unbound symposium on the faith of the American founders. A taste:
The problem is that people in eighteenth-century Anglo-America did not always use our textbook definition of a deist. Deist could mean a person who denied God’s providence, but it could mean other things as well. Sometimes it referred to a person who was critical of Reformed theology and its emphasis on humankind’s lack of free will. Or someone who did not believe that the whole Bible was the Word of God. Sometimes “deism” meant monotheism. Sometimes the use of deism had no skeptical connotations at all, such as when it was used as an antonym for “atheism.” Franklin and others rarely unpacked all those variant meanings, but it would have surprised few people in Revolutionary America to find that a “deist” also believed in God’s providence. Among the various “Enlightenments” of the era, the French Enlightenment tended to be the most radically skeptical, even producing some atheists. Advocates of the British-American Enlightenment, scholars now understand, were mostly friendly to theism, if not Christianity per se. Often British Enlightenment thinkers had a reformist agenda for institutional Christianity, such as disestablishing the official state churches, ending tests of faith for elected officials, or repudiating Reformed or Calvinist doctrines such as predestination.  
Another reason that the founders’ faiths are elusive is that even the “deistic” founders, such as Jefferson and Franklin, knew the Bible and quoted it liberally. As Hall notes, George Washington, typically quiet about his own faith, loved to quote Micah’s peaceful image of the vine and the fig tree. ...

Friday, June 19, 2020

Allen Responds to Hall

Over at Cato Unbound,  Brook Allen has written her response to Mark David Hall. You can read it here. A taste:
Dr. Hall has put the founding in philosophical context but not the wider historical context, which is all-important. “Enlightenment ideas indisputably had some positive influence,” he allows, “but a more important reason Americans embraced religious liberty was because of their Christian convictions.” No, no, and no! For there were Christians and Christians—though Dr. Hall writes as though the various sects formed a monolithic bloc. In fact, for more than two-and-a-half centuries—ever since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses—Christians had been torturing and slaughtering each other all over Europe. Bitter warfare in France, culminating in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants by Catholics in 1572, endured until the very end of the century, and recommenced, just as brutally, in 1685. It was still going on during deliberations over the American constitution. The Netherlands suffered 80 years of warfare before the Protestant provinces finally succeeded in detaching themselves from Catholic Spain. Germany and other parts of Central Europe were torn apart by the inconceivably savage Thirty Years’ War (1618-48), in which entire regions were devastated and the population of the area was reduced by 30 percent. Britain, closer to home for most American colonists, had seen Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, Mary I’s persecution of Protestants, and finally the bloody Civil War (1642-51), in which Puritan parliamentarians took on Anglican royalists, divided the nation, and executed the monarch.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

This Month's Cato Unbound

I'm happy to see that this month's Cato Unbound is on "the faith of the American Founders," with Mark David Hall providing the lead essay.

This is Dr. Hall's first essay. A taste:
The Liberty Bell is one of the most prominent symbols of American freedom. It is inscribed with the words “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof,” which are taken from Leviticus 25:10. In Did America Have a Christian Founding?, I contend that the connection between the Bible and liberty is no accident. America’s founders drew from their Christian convictions, and ideas developed within the Christian tradition of political reflection, when they created a constitutional order committed to protecting and expanding freedom.[1] 
The book’s argument is, to put it mildly, controversial. Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation asserts that the Bible and liberty are fundamentally incompatible.[2] Similarly, Matthew Stewart proclaims that the skeptical philosopher Benedict de Spinoza is the “principal architect of the radical political philosophy that achieves its ultimate expression in the American republic … ”[3] Both authors agree that America’s founders were deists who created a godless Constitution and desired the strict separation of church and state.   
Far too many scholars make similar claims. ...  
I will have more to say later. I also look forward to reading the contributions from Steven GreenThomas Kidd, and Brooke Allen

Monday, June 15, 2020

Law School Grad Chris Cuomo Learns the Constitution


The "Ramen King" is now a viral superstar as CNN's "Fredo" gets his:



By way of context, from a recent dialogue here at American Creation:

How far would that extend? If 1,000 people are peacefully marching and one person or three breaks a window or throws a firecracker does that make it a riot?
This is a prudential question, not one of principle. You are also conflating individual rights with that of the assembly itself.
"or the right of the people peaceably to assemble..." 

Let's be clear: The Founders explicitly exclude unpeaceable assemblies here. Whether an unpeaceable assembly can be tamed is a prudential assessment on the ground, and one that cannot be made with any certainty. As a judge I would give law enforcement wide latitude unless a pattern of bad faith could be established [as was provably the case in Bull Connor's Birmingham].

Are all the people culpable for the actions of one or even a few?

The assembly is [prudentially] responsible for policing its own peaceable conduct if it wishes to continue. The assembly is not constitutionally protected unless it is peaceable. This is explicit in the text. 
https://www.voiceofsandiego.org/topics/public-safety/police-have-wide-discretion-over-when-to-deem-a-protest-unlawful/
Takeuchi said San Diego police only made the declarations after objects like “rocks, bottles were thrown at us. … Whenever that action started, we immediately announced an unlawful assembly.”
It wasn’t long after that police used force to disperse the crowd. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

American States of Nature

The book American States of Nature looks informative and relevant to my interdisciplinary interests regarding America's founding. Below is what the latest edition of the American Political Science Association’s Perspectives on Politics journal (published by Cambridge) has to say about it:
In American States of Nature, Mark Somos makes the simple but important argument that the concept of the state of nature is central to the American founding, an idea comparable to rights, liberty and property” in importance (p. 2). Its centrality, he contends, nevertheless has been largely missed by scholars for the past two centuries. For Somos, the state of nature discourse proceeds through four stages. The first, the buildup to the Revolution from 176172, saw the concept of a state of nature invoked as a source of rights that supported the colonists’ grievances against the actions of Parliament. In the second stage,177275, the concept was invoked to justify independence, as the colonists increasingly saw themselves as effectively abandoned by England and left on their own. In the third stage, 177589, a constitutional framework was built on the basis of this distinctively American state of nature, and in the fourth the concept was adapted to developing the nascent state. In this book, Somos explores the first two stages, leaving the latter two for future work. Following John Adams, Somos finds the beginning of the movement for independence in a speech by James Otis in a court case in 1761. It was Otis, he argues, who first began to transform the concept of a state of nature into a revolutionary idea for the colonists. The idea evolved into a constitutive sense of American state of nature, in which the colonists formed a natural community” (p. 161). This constitutive meaning, which carries well beyond the works of Otis, formed a basis for colonial arguments for independence, whether partial or total, well before 1776. As early as 1772, and certainly after that, every side in every colonial constitutional debate ... regarded the state of nature as a crucial component of the intellectual and ideological debates concerning imperial reform and the colonies’ future” (p. 216).
See more here and here.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Frazer on Riots and Resistance

Gregg Frazer sends along the following note on rioting and resistance. His comments are below.

---------------------------------------------------------
I’m curious: what is the reaction of you guys (esp. Mark) who believe in a “right of resistance” to the riots in Minneapolis and other cities?  Americans generally celebrate the exercise of rights – so are you cheering the exercise of their “right of resistance” by people who claim to be tyrannized?  I know that you are required to approve of it, I just wonder if you’re enthusiastically supporting it.

Mark is writing a book claiming that the American Revolution was just. The current rebels have probably destroyed as much private property (in terms of value) as those who did the Boston Tea Party (but without the charming Indian outfits).  Should it be revered in future textbooks?  Face masks aren’t nearly as picturesque as feathers and moccasins. But they claim to be resisting tyranny, so are you celebrating their efforts?

We know that people who don’t like duly-passed government policies have a right to use force and violence to impose their will against that of the legal authorities because they have a “right” to do so.  We know that efforts by the legal authorities to enforce the law are themselves tyrannical and that governments do not have a right to maintain order if a particularly noisy portion of the population objects.

Has the bottle- and rock-throwing of these freedom fighters been enough to venerate – even though they couldn’t goad the authorities into a Boston Massacre-type end result?  Is their attempt to do so enough to warrant a Freedom Trail in Minneapolis or outside the White House, or does someone have to die?

Have they looted enough private property (big-screen TVs, etc.) and assaulted enough law enforcement personnel to be celebrated with the hallowed ranks of the mobs who attacked Loyalists, stamp agents, and government officers in the 1770s?

They have fallen somewhat short of the sterling example set by the 1776 “patriots” because they haven’t confiscated the property of those who simply hold a different political view and they haven’t yet imprisoned their political opponents without due process of law.  They’re not even requiring their fellow citizens to sign oaths of allegiance to their cause or threatening the freedom and livelihood of those who refuse – but give them time. They haven’t denied freedom of religion by closing churches, denied freedom of the press by destroying the presses of their opponents and burning their publications, or denied freedom of speech by sending mobs to the homes of those who express a different opinion.  But they’ve made a good start, haven’t they? You can at least hope that some tarring and feathering is in the works.

Apparently, carrying on the honored tradition of the Committees of Correspondence, many of these rioters are organized and shipped in from outside the community. The rabble-rousers of the 1770s (e.g. Sam Adams and John Hancock) would be proud.

Perhaps they’ll achieve the level of rebellion and social disruption of your heroes: the “Patriots” in 1776 and the Southerners in 1861.  After all, the U.S. government today taxes millions of Americans without representation – in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Samoa, the Northern Marianas, and the nation’s capital: Washington, D.C.  The time to “resist” is long overdue – right?  These “patriots” focused on “systemic injustice” are perhaps the vanguard of a larger movement.  Perhaps they’ll get the support of 1/3 of Americans; we know that level has been established as sufficient to justify war and to cast off the authority of a government.