Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Levinson on the Republican Party Platform & Misunderstanding the Declaration

At Balkinization, law professor Sandy Levinson dissects the Republican Party platform in a critical way. He writes:
I assume that Michael Pence, or for that matter Ted Cruz, has no trouble embracing this part of the Republican Party platform, which clearly subordinates any laws passed by legislatures or any other governmental institution to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."  We could, of course, get into long debates about the difference between the "laws of nature," which could be Aristotelian, and non-dependent on any belief in God, in contrast to subordination to "Nature's God," which sound more in Revelation and divine sovereignty than in Reason.  In any event, we have a clear hierarchy of norms, with Divine commands at the top and everything else beneath.

We might compare the Republican platform, in this respect, to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: ...
I think the Christian nationalists who helped write this part of the platform might agree with what Professor Levinson wrote in the first quoted paragraph (not the comparison to Iran). However, the analysis is wrong. As I wrote in the comments section, the term "Nature's God" DOES NOT ground belief in special revelation. That's what the Christian nationalists revisionists argue.

The point Levinson makes on the laws of nature and Aristotle is correct. As the term was used, "nature" defines as discoverable by reason unaided by special revelation. As it were "Nature's God" is God insofar as we can discover and understand Him through our reason unaided by revelation. "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is a double invocation of reason.

I think they added God because, as America's Founders understood the natural law, they needed a God of some sort to make it binding in an "ought" sense. The quotation below by John Adams perfectly sums up this point of view.
To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason.

– John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson’s, “The Founders on Religion,” p. 132.

1 comment:

Jonathan Rowe said...

Another comment I posted there which sums up how I understand the zeitgeist.

... Divine Providence + future state of rewards and punishment. A God who created the world and established a natural law where men by their rational faculties alone could understand it, that was the "minimum" of their worldview.

The Founders had a concern to the point of paranoia about sectarian squabbles and persecution. And those squabbles were far likelier to take place on how to properly understand special revelation as opposed to how to properly understand the law of nature. That made the law of nature as opposed to "the Bible" a more attractive place for a lingua franca. The Bible was far more important to use by way of illustrative example and metaphor as opposed to proof texting for divinely commanded authority.

Thomas Jefferson for instance, may well have believed in the parts of the Bible that didn't make his razor's cut. But he thought St. Paul was full of it. The right to revolt against tyrants was discovered in nature through the use of reason. Romans 13 on its face seems to teach the very opposite of this. For Jefferson that's not a problem because he didn't believe anything Paul wrote was divinely inspired. But for those who did, they had to use the discovery from nature and then go back and reexamine Romans 13 in light of such.