Monday, May 25, 2020

Frazer Replies to Hall's 5/21 Comment

Gregg Frazer sends along the follow note, reproduced below, that responds to Mark David Hall's post on 5/21/20.


The critical issue is not who was first to come up with ideas, but who the rebels were actually influenced by.  They cited Locke.  And Lockean “resistance theory” is not the same as “Reformed” resistance theory; the “patriot” preachers reflect Locke’s argument, not Beza’s.  As far as I can tell, not a single “patriot” preacher made the “lesser magistrate” argument. I have asked numerous adherents to Mark’s view to give some examples, but no one has done so.  Locke did not cite or credit Reformers; Locke did not hold to the fundamentals of Reformed theology.

If you read my post carefully, I said that “this part” of the “Reformed political tradition” did not begin or end with Calvin because he did not subscribe to it.  I made no comment about “the Reformed tradition” – unless you think resistance to authority is all there is to “the Reformed tradition.”  This – as Mark is fond of saying – does not change my argument at all, either.  I have never argued that there were no “Reformers” who justified rebellion; I have never argued that Calvin justified rebellion.  My argument concerning Calvin was and remains that he opposed rebellion and that he – not Beza or others – was most influential in those churches that were “Calvinist”; consequently they opposed rebellion until Mayhew gave the rebels a path around Calvin’s teaching that was exploited by those promulgating rebellion.  This is why Calvin matters.

In my article explaining why the American Revolution was not a “just war,” I do, in fact, make that same argument on pgs. 49-50 – that Calvin was most influential and he did not support rebellion.  It’s not a “move,” it’s a reasoned and supported argument.

I find it interesting that despite Mark’s (and Mr. Van Dyke’s) repeated insistence that the proper identification is not “Calvinist,” but “Reformed/Reformers”, Mark uses the terms interchangeably – not just in these posts, but also in his book on Sherman (e.g. pgs. 26, 27, 29 etc.).  It is interesting that Mr. Van Dyke doesn’t “call” Mark on it. 

But then, he didn’t “call” Mark on the fact that Mark revealed in these posts that in his book he meant “orthodox Christianity” when he referred to “Christianity” in the American Founding.  My work is to be dismissed because it is based on my narrow conservative theological beliefs – even though it isn’t based on that at all, but on the definition of Christianity held by the 18th-century American churches (which I document). I am to be criticized because today there are other views of what Christianity means and, for some reason, it is appropriate and necessary to anachronistically transport them back to the founding era.  But Mark is not criticized when he specifically says that he meant “orthodox” Reformed Christianity when he claimed that America had a “Christian” founding.  hmmmm

I am surprised that, in his desire to discredit my work, Mark questions the professionalism and research of a fine historian: John Fea.  It is also disingenuous to suggest that only those who’ve come under my bewitching spell question Mark’s view of Calvin, the Reformers, and whose influence on the Revolution was most important.  My power must be great indeed if I influenced those who wrote before me, such as Steven Dworetz and Michael Zuckert and Thomas Pangle and Quentin Skinner and Harry Jaffa and Alice Baldwin and Robert Kraynak and others.  I had no idea I was so powerful and influential!  And I thought they influenced me.  Thanks for the compliment, though, Mark.

As for that “unpublished doctoral dissertation” to be differentiated from primary sources: I notice that Mark quotes his share of secondary sources (his definition of deism comes entirely from secondary sources). This particular dissertation is not, of course, a primary source, but it cites hundreds of them. The fact that a doctoral dissertation is not published has not kept scholars from citing them for decades.  One of the measurements of a dissertation is how many times – and by who – it is cited.  That particular dissertation cited by Fea was eventually published.  It was published by the University Press of Kansas as part of their prestigious American Political Thought series.  It was peer reviewed by perhaps the foremost living expert on early American political thought, Thomas Pangle, and by a distinguished professor from Dartmouth.  It has since been affirmed by the editor of the premiere edition of The Federalist Papers, the professor who coined the term “deliberative democracy,” a renowned scholar of the American Founding at Claremont Graduate University, a preeminent Founding era scholar at Stanford, scholars at Notre Dame, Colgate, the University of Georgia, University of Missouri, Grove City College, and others that don’t immediately spring to mind. 

Apparently, Mark was not too dismissive of the work in that dissertation, as he edited two books that included chapters that were adaptations of chapters in that dissertation. It was good enough for Mark and Daniel Dreisbach (perhaps the most respected scholar on religion and the Founding), but not for citation by Fea? And when Mark set up a roundtable discussion of that work, none of the discussants Mark selected had any significant criticisms of it – so the entire discussion time centered on a minor, throwaway comment in the book.  Jon Rowe no doubt remembers that, as he was a member of the panel. Jon was the only one who had a criticism until I explained why Richard Price was not included.

Yes, Adams mentioned Ponet – but couldn’t even do that without also mentioning Locke. Ponet no doubt influenced some, but Adams’s quote does not indicate that Locke “dilated” on Ponet’s work, but on the same essential principles as did Ponet.  In the article to which Mark refers, I also mention Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos on the pages he mentions and suggest that it apparently influenced some.  My contention is that a few “Reformed” writers influenced some, but the primary influence in Calvinist churches was … Calvin.  And again, that is why Jonathan Mayhew’s pivotal sermon was so important and earth-shaking. If the New England Calvinists were already on board with rebellion, why the big deal about Mayhew and that seminal sermon?

Adams raved about Mayhew: “If the orators on the 4th of July really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study … Dr. Mayhew’s sermon on passive obedience and non-resistance…” and Adams said it was “read by everybody.” [my italics]

As for Mark’s closing quote from Adams, it refers not to the political theory of the Reformers, but the Reformation itself which created Protestantism and subsequently produced the vast bulk of American colonists.  The “exertions” and “sufferings” of these guys were for separating from the Catholic Church – not rebellion against kings.


Mark David Hall said...

To my way of thinking, if one is interested in Calvin's view of resisting tyrants one should read Calvin, not rely on an unpublished dissertation no matter how good it is. But perhaps that is just me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gregg Frazer writes:

The critical issue is not who was first to come up with ideas, but who the rebels were actually influenced by. They cited Locke. And Lockean “resistance theory” is not the same as “Reformed” resistance theory; the “patriot” preachers reflect Locke’s argument, not Beza’s.

The problem exhibited over and over in Gregg's method in this discussion is that he never quotes John Locke directly. Gregg asserts in his book

that Mayhew's premises were "Lockean." The reader should assess this claim for himself. While Jonathan Mayhew is credited for getting the theological ball rolling, it is important to realize that that famous sermon was given back in 1750, and his source authority is not John Locke, but the apostle Paul.

FTR, in the text, God is mentioned 27 times, "the apostle" [Paul] 21 times, and the Devil/Satan 5 times. Locke is invoked zero times! Gregg is prudent to say Mayhew's "premises" are Lockean, but the text suggests that the premises are theological.

Mayhew's arguments here may have "ignited" the American revolution, but this was decades before the Intolerable Acts and the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord, and the arguments are the same as 100 years before during the Puritan Revolution and 60 years since the Glorious Revolution--both of which occurred before Locke's Two Treatises were even published!

For all his criticism of Hall's use of "Christian," it is nowhere stated exactly what Gregg means by "Lockean," except by implication, non-Biblical. But this will not do: Even among the religious, the purpose of theology is to "tease out" what the Bible means, wants permits, and bans.

And for the scholar with no sectarian dog in the fight, these are subjective judgments, injudiciable by scholars. It can only be said that Calvin says x, but Beza and the rest say --and even that's up for debate!!

Gregg already concedes above that the prior Reformers "influenced" Locke, but it's time to get your Locke on, Gregg, and hit the source texts. Merely repeating the summaries and conclusions of the Straussians* about what Locke said simply will not suffice.

For his thesis to get anywhere, Gregg must provide argument and evidence somewhere what was uniquely "Lockean," what was not part of the growing stream of what we are calling "Reformed Resistance Theory."**

Gregg doesn't do it here at American Creation among his tens of thousands of words on this topic, and he doesn't do it in his book either. This is the lacuna in his thesis. He may be right about Locke and the Reformed preachers, but he hasn't begun to prove it.

[notes to follow]

Tom Van Dyke said...


* I broached this in a previous response to Gregg, and it is even crucial to the discussion now:

As I often ask about Locke, the "real" Locke [say of the "Straussians"] or the Locke the Founders fashioned out of his writings for their own purposes?...

Thus: Whose Luther? Whose Calvin?

Milton's Luther and Milton's Calvin were quite sufficient to their project and I expect most others were satisfied with them too. This is why I have found the "Straussian" scholars like Michael Zuckert fairly useless to the actual historian.

What Luther and Calvin actually thought is a curiosity. How the Founders appropriated them is the historian's task at hand.

Re Locke, Gregg himself here invokes Tom Pangle and Michael Zuckert, who are prominent "Straussians"-- which is to say scholarly readers who believe that most philosophers were circumspect in their writings for fear of persecution--think Socrates and the hemlock, and indeed Algernon Sidney who was hanged for his unpublished works, which is no doubt why John Locke published his famous Two Treatises anonymously!

I have no problem with Zuckert's interpretation of the "real" Locke buried underneath the exoteric one, but do not accept that the Founding-era readers took him that way. To the Straussians, Locke's fulsome praise of the "judicious" Rev. Richard Hooker is merely cover for his disagreement with him. But to the great mass of men--even perhaps the foremost intellectual Founder James Wilson--that praise was taken at face value.

In any case, the Straussians are completely uninterested in theology--Calvin, Beza, Ponet. In fact few have done more than leaf through Aquinas and the Schoolmen as undergraduates. They cannot be of any real help to Gregg's case, since they don't know John Calvin from Adam! They cannot tell us where in pre-Lockean Christian political theology Locke departed.

** Gregg objects that

I find it interesting that despite Mark’s (and Mr. Van Dyke’s) repeated insistence that the proper identification is not “Calvinist,” but “Reformed/Reformers”, Mark uses the terms interchangeably – not just in these posts, but also in his book on Sherman (e.g. pgs. 26, 27, 29 etc.). It is interesting that Mr. Van Dyke doesn’t “call” Mark on it.

Previously asked and answered in a previous comment section. I wrote

The proper term is "Reformed," but when read without context, it means little on its face. [Just as Gregg Frazer's trademark "theistic rationalism" means little without Gregg there to explain what he means by it.]

When we say "Calvinist" the meaning is clear even if it's a bit inaccurate.

So yes, I do not object when Mark Hall uses the terms interchangeably. I have asked Gregg to show us the Founders citing Calvin directly. I take his silence to be agreement that they did not. He is technically correct, but for historical purposes re the American Founding, Gregg is making a distinction without a difference. To the general reader, "Calvinist" is far more helpful.