Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rodda on Barton and Jefferson-Scottish Common Sense

David Barton, in "The Jefferson Lies," claimed Thomas Jefferson was imbibed in Scottish Common Sense philosophy (also known as Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment).  Chris Rodda disagrees.  Interestingly, Garry Wills argued something similar (though Wills said David Hume influenced Jefferson and I doubt Barton would admit the "bad" Hume could influence the "good" Jefferson even if it were true).   The recently departed Ronald Hamowy, who was the preeminent expert on the Scottish Enlightenment, disagreed with Wills in this devastating attack.

At least two very important founders, by the way, were unquestionably strongly influenced by SCSE: John Witherspoon and James Wilson.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Chris Rodda is certainly correct---there's little evidence of the Scottish Common sense Enlightenment in Thomas Jefferson's thought.

That's kind of a duh for anyone who's read Thomas Jefferson and has even the faintest idea of what Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment even is.

Big duh---Jonathan Rowe is quite right that John Witherspoon and James Wilson, both of whom signed the Declaration of Independence and neither of who were the least bit hostile to "revelation"---in other words Christianity and the Bible---were among the most educated thinkers of the Founding.

That's not to say they were Bible literalists, not at all. As James Wilson, who signed the Declaration and was a major Framer of the Constitution put it:

"The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other."
---James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804

Can you imagine if Chris Rodda put her Energizer Bunny energies into finding truth instead of David Barton's errors? Read the discussions here at the American creation blog?

The world would shake, surely.

and now that David Barton has screwed the pooch with his "Jefferson Lies" and even the evangelicals have turned against him, perhaps my buddy Chris will have more time to hang around the American Creation blog and we can benefit from her doggedness in research.

And we'll all learn a thing or two.

[Hi, Chris. I think of you as a friend of the blog, surely not an enemy, and firstly as a person. FTR, I'm not sarcastic here atall. Your doggedness is first-rate. Barton's amateur errors are just fish in a barrel, is all. You've earned a promotion out of the minor leagues.]

Jonathan Rowe said...


Did you read the Hamowy piece?

Joe Winpisinger said...

There was a post a while back about the Scottish influence overall he at AC. I believe it was a book review. Anyway, it stated that the American thought was aligned with the British thought but yet different. The difference was more moralistic from what I remember. Both were very distinct from the French...

So overall I think Barton has a point but picking out Jefferson who was the most French egalitarian leaning of the bunch is just plain foolish..

Joe Winpisinger said...

BTW... Blogger is able to support Facebook comments now. I have it for my sites. Great way to promote any blog because they have to option to share their comment on the Facebook wall. I can do it if you guys want I just need the sign in info... There are about 10 other simple hacks or gadgets that Blogger supports now too that make all the difference in the world...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Jon, I missed the Ronald Hamowy piece but have read it now. Not only does it comport with my own understanding of Jefferson's shallowness, I'm also NOT a Garry Wills fan and it was good dirty fun to see Hamowy kick Wills to the curb bigtime.

To Joe, I'm not sure there's too much of the French philosophes in Jefferson either. He's really much wider than deep.

The most interesting thing was how often Algernon Sidney turns up in Hamowy's assessment of Jefferson's influence. Along with Montesquieu and Trenchard and Gordon's "Cato's Letters" from the 18th century, it's Locke and Sidney representing the 17th and civil war-era Britain.

And of course, of the Calvinist churchman John Ponet, John Adams wrote he set forth “all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterward dilated on by Sidney and Locke.”

So there. I just set you up to hit one out of the park.