Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Babka Replies to Frazer

Jim Babka has emailed me a response to Frazer's post, which I've reproduced below. Here is Babka's reply:

Gregg, First, I must say, that because of Jon's work, I almost feel like I've read your thesis. What I've read by Jon, up to this point, I've largely agreed with and appreciated.

I should say up-front that I know my Bible and I'm convinced that God is a libertarian. I don't have to distort or ignore facets of Scripture to demonstrate my case. This message will be a long one, so I won't devote any time to that, except for the specific references you've questioned.

I should also say, again up-front, that I'm interested in history, but not a historian and certainly not of your caliber. What follows may be off-base. I may be all wet. If so, I eagerly await being set-straight where that is the case.

Looking over your response to my questions and statements, I think only one of my questions/challenges has been answered, and that about how widespread Unitarianism was (even if it was "underground"). I'll simply accept your argument, but with a caveat, which I will cover below.

It was merely a parenthetical note on my part that Rutherford influenced Locke. In my comment, I didn't extend the claim to influence of the Founding Fathers, though I will add the following observation. Perhaps the Divine Right of Kings was absolute, as the quotes by Calvin might seem to suggest, and maybe it extended over the church in Calvin's era. But the principle was broached and the battle joined in the arena of church government well over 100 (and arguably as many as 220) years before the American Revolution; and still several decades before Locke wrote his Second Treatise.

And it was from this atmosphere, these battles, that Rutherford derived his thoughts on limited government...

* Natural law instructs us that man is born free.
* This means no one is born a ruler by right. As Rutherford put it, "no man bringeth out of the womb with him a sceptre and a crown on his head."
* Kings were also subject to the law. And those who behaved otherwise were tyrants.
* Tyrants were to be resisted.

These ideas weren't Rutherford's, exclusively. In varying degrees they were shared by many others, many of which I will cite below.

Rutherford did not limit his comments to the battle over church government. For example, he advocated a vigorous self-defense, and was clearly concerned with what the Biblical perspective was. He lived in an era of civil war -- the "Bishops wars." His family had taken a side in them. Rutherford spoke of the use of violence in self-defense, as well as opposing a tyrant by force, and that led libertarians and gun rights advocates like Dave Kopel to cite his influence on our 2nd Amendment.

Oh, and I almost feel embarrased mentioning this, but several writers on the web, including Wikipedia, suggest that Rutherford was influential on Locke.

But seriously, is it reasonable to insist that Locke wasn't influenced by Rutherford? The best hypothesis should be that he was. Locke was also caught up in a not-too-distinct political intrique, himself -- down the road a-piece and in virtually the same era. It would seem almost certain that a man of letters like Locke would've been aware of Lex Rex. Given the topics he wrote about, it likely he read it.

If Rutherford and the others I'm about to list inspired Locke, Trinitarian thought would have at least an indirect influence on the Founders. And were it notfor the "Rutherfords" of that era and the battles within the church, would we have had Puritan settlers pioneering the first communities in this country? Would so many preachers, of various stripes, have played a role in the American revolution?

But I can go further. The idea that the Calvinism of the revolutionary period, reprehensible though it may be, was knee-jerkingly in support of the Divine Right of Kings, and worse, that Unitarianism was required to get around it, seems to be false. [Note: I'm not a Calvinist. I think Calvinism portrays God in a negative and inaccurate light.]

There were Calvinist works saying the King was under the law and could be resisted if he became tyrannical more than 200 years before the American revolution and more than 100 years before Locke's 2nd Treatise. For example...

* How Superior Powers Ought to Be Obeyed by Their Subjects, Christopher Goodman (1558). Goodman justifies the Christian's right to resist the rule of a tyrannical Catholic leader. He claimed Calvin himself approved the piece.

* The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, John Knox (1558). Moving now to the land of Rutherford, the great Calvinist reformer launches a strong critique of "Bloody Mary's" reign and advocates resistance. There are those who claim that Calvinist/Puritans who fought in the American Revolution were devotees to Knox's doctrines as published in this document.

* Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563). This work told of the bloody persecutions of Puritans during the reign of Mary I. This incendiary book is believed by several historians to be second to the Bible in its popularity in the American colonies. It remains in print and is readily available to this day.

* The Right of Magistrates Over Their Subjects, Theodore Beza (1574). This work by Calvin's successor in Geneva was published in response to the growing tensions between Protestant and Catholic in France, which culminated in the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre in 1572. Beza suggests that it is the right of a Christian to revolt against a tyrannical King.

Which sets the stage and brings us to who influenced Locke, and even the Founders. Who influenced the Founders? John Adams seems to have a great deal of credibility with both you and Jon, so we'll cite him first.. There are Trinitarian Christians on Adam's list -- even Calvinist/Puritans.

For example, A Short Treatise on Political Power by John Ponet (1556). Adams credited this work as being at the root of the theory of government adopted by the Americans. According to Adams, Ponet's tome contained "all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke" including the idea of a three-branched government.

Adams went on to say, "In the course of those twenty years (1640-1660), not only Ponnet and others were reprinted, but Harrington, Milton, the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos, and a multitude of others, came upon the stage."

* The Commonwealth of Oceana (1646) by James Harrington

* Areopagitica (1644), as well as A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes; Showing That it Is Not Lawful For Any Power on Earth to Compel in Matters of Religion by John Milton (1659).

* Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (English title: A Vindication Against Tyrants) (1579). It would be fair to call this a Calvinist work. It is also one of the first to set forth the theory of "social contract" upon which the United States was founded.

But who could the "multitude of others" be? Well, in the time frame Adams cited you have...

* John Lilburne of the Leveller movement, who has been cited in Supreme Court opinions and was probably the primary human inspiration for our 5th Amendment.

* Rutherford, whose work was published in 1644. He wrote, "The Scripture's arguments may be drawn out of the school of nature." This is not a novel concept to the Founder's era. And I think it's also important to note that via Rutherford and his contemporaries this idea preceded the Enlightenment. Some would even say Rutherford was merely quoting a 1500 year old idea by the Apostle Paul (see Romans 1:16-24, especially verses 19-20).

Jefferson seems to have drawn inspiration from Calvinist sources as well. There's the Dutch Plakkaat van Verlatinge (a.k.a., the Dutch Declaration of Independence)(1581). In his autobiography Jefferson indicated that the "Dutch Revolution" gave evidence and confidence to the Second Continental Congress that the American Revolution could likewise commence and succeed. A University of Wisconsin, Madison professor has suggested that Jefferson may have consciously drawn on this document when he drafted the American Declaration. John Adams said that the Dutch charters had "been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every State" in America, and he stated that "the analogy between the means by which the two republics arrived at independency... will infallibly draw them together."

At least one Founder was, almost certainly, directly influenced by Rutherford; John Witherspoon, President of what was to become Princeton University and signer of the Declaration of Independence, came from the Scotland (the land of Knox and Rutherford) where he was trained as a Presbyterian minister. His students included James Madison and Aaron Burr, Jr., and there's solid evidence that his influence on Madison was profound.

But Gregg, you appear to be making a claim for which I haven't seen any data. You wrote: "while Baptists and Methodists and others played a role in the Revolution, they were minority groups. The key for the revolutionaries was to find a way around Calvinism (because it was the majority theology – particularly in the hotbed of New England) in order to fill the ranks of the revolutionary armies."

It appears you're suggesting that Calvinists were the dominant majority and, if I'm reading you correctly, that it was the Unitarians that had the next largest plurality. Are you counting all Anglicans as Unitarians? That would seem to be a leap.

According to Roger Finke and Rodney Stark in their book, The Churching of America, here are the rates of religious adherents by denomination as of 1776:

Congregationalist 20.4%
Episcopalian 15.7%
Presbyterian 19%
Baptist 16.9%
Methodist 2.5%
Catholic 1.8%

How do we know how many Unitarians there were? Washington, Jefferson, and Adams all felt they needed to hide or disguise their views. Perhaps you know the answer. But from what little I know, it doesn't appear that there's sufficient data amongst the general public. I would expect still less available data on who fought in the revolutionary military.

Unitarianism may have been widespread -- especially amongst the Founders (the elite of their day). But were Trinitarians in support of the revolution? Did they need the prompting of Unitarians to get them to fight? I don't see sufficient reason to adopt that idea.

Finally, I come to the subject of my use of Scripture. While everything I've said about history to this point has the risk of being incomplete and presented from ignorance, now we're on my turf.

I cited two Scriptures as, for lack of a better term, "libertarian." With explanation, I could cite several more. Those two Scriptures were I Samuel 8 and Acts 5:29.

Excuse me for saying so, but your analysis of these passages seems like you wish to miss the point.

Where is the political liberty in I Samuel 8 you ask? In God's warning about Kings! It's so libertarian that David Boaz, the Executive VP of the CATO Institute, and a non-believer, cited it right in the beginning of his anthology, Libertarianism: A Primer.

Acts 5:29 is cited in several of the works I've mentioned in this piece as an example that ecclesiastical authorities are not under the King. Or, put another way, the King has no Divine Right. But you want to know why the apostles didn't organize a rebellion? It wasn't their mission! One doesn't have to organize a single soul in order to be libertarian. The bloggers at Positive Liberty speak about many things and stake many claims for which they'll never march, organize, or outright rebel. That doesn't make their statements any less libertarian.

The Divine Right of Kings was promulgated in an era when magesteriums still controlled the study and interpretation of scriptures. With increasing literacy and Bible's in their own languages, people began to discover that their self-interested leaders had sold them a bill of goods. As illustrated above, when they began to do their homework, they found ample justification in Scripture to stand up to tyrants. They didn't need to wait for Unitarians to do so.

By the way, I find it interesting that the Christian-nation crowd has never, to my knowledge, covered any of the stuff I just mentioned. Perhaps I missed something. It seems to me that they choose to twist facts about the Founders, invent quotes, or just plain make things up. Writing this piece leaves me wondering about these guys, more than ever. Are they purposely lying?

Writing this response was an interesting exercise. I've learned from it, as I learn from Jon Rowe (and indirectly, from you) on a regular basis. I look forward to learning more from you, including where I've gone wrong in this piece. -- Jim Babka

1 comment:

Phil Johnson said...

Of course, I don't know Babka from Boobka; so, what do I know about him? Nothing.
But, reading this paper, leads me to think about how Strauss deals with history. It's as though it has completed its major cycle and that, from here on out, everything is just an abstraction of everything that has gone on before. Or, what we need to do is to learn from this cycle that isn't going to go anyplace new or different than it has in the past.
Who does that make sense to?
In all of this, there does seem to be a "Let's organize and take the world over for the preservation of this thing we're calling natural rights". And, subsequently, the curtailment of too much liberty, ie., liberalism. Maybe I'm reading something between those lines that isn't there?
We'll have to see about that as things unfold.
What is being said about the Founders in this paper is the thing that reminds me of how Strauss might talk about the same subject matter. That's why we need to flesh this kind of thinking out.