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 1761–72, 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,1772–75, 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, 1775–89, 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.
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: