Saturday, September 2, 2017

Library of Law and Liberty on Danielle Allen's Book

I think I missed this when it was posted in 2014. A taste:
This is an impassioned book about the Declaration of Independence. It comes from specific personal and pedagogical experiences, as its author, a classicist and political theorist at Princeton, winsomely reports.

Danielle Allen employs several techniques, some old, some new, in engaging and expositing her book’s central object: what she calls a close, “sentence by sentence” reading of the document, one that sometimes lingers over the meaning of a single term but that also draws upon modern theories of the uses to which language can be put. But while the methods are specific, the aim is quite grand and ambitious: to make the Declaration “our Declaration,” with “us” being not just all Americans, of whatever race or socioeconomic condition, but all humanity.

The Declaration has stirred Allen mightily. She describe teaching it as a transformative experience, and she has responded with all of her being, as a scholar, a citizen, and a human being. This is engaged scholarship in a fulsome sense.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality is also clearly conceived and written. ...
It even mentions our friend Gregg Frazer's book:
Like many today, she wants her egalitarianism to rest on a secular foundation. This, one suspects, is the deeper meaning of her oft-used term, “commitment,” which is what human beings do when they cannot affirm a principle on the basis of either faith or reason. Certainly, the naturalistic egalitarian anthropology she teases out of the text is more sketched than demonstrated, and with significant lacunae. For a better treatment of the character of the deity affirmed in the Declaration, one should consult Gregg L. Frazer’s The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (2012) and his useful concept of “theistic rationalism,” halfway between Deism and 18th century Christian orthodoxy. Allen gets close, but her manner of reading precludes her from considering, in a comprehensive view, the Declaration’s teaching about the deity.
Also check out this comment at the bottom by W.B. Allen who is, I'm pretty sure, Danielle's distinguished father. He swings to the Right; she swings to the Left. 


Tom Van Dyke said...

I wish I knew what she's saying, what her father's saying, and what you're saying, Jon.

The word or concept of religion, specifically Christianity, is completely missing here.

The fundamental equality of all human beings is a [Judeo-]Christian concept. Philosophy alone cannot support that assertion, for we are not all self-evidently equal under the Laws of Nature.

We are equal only in the eyes of God.

Jonathan Rowe said...

In terms of what I've been arguing, I think I'm at the same place I have been since I wrote this post.

I would link to the original at Ed's Science Blog site; but it has since disappeared from the Internet.

Timothy Sandefur, among others, makes the case that you don't need God for the "Brooding Omnipresence in the Sky" of the natural law that guarantees our rights to equality of moral worth under the law.

However, I do agree that God provides a very firm place to anchor this theory to; whether philosophy absent from God, or even an atheistic philosophy that rejects God can do it, is debatable.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The fundamental equality of all human beings is a [Judeo-]Christian concept"

I know you have problems with the term "theistic rationalism," but "Judeo-Christian" is every bit as subject to critique. It's actually a needlessly exclusive term.

Prager's term "ethical monotheism" is better and fairer.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I like "ethical monotheism," although Islam remains problematic in this respect, as Allah comes first over man.

This is also arguably true of the Old Testament, but is not the normative Judaic understanding these days [beyond some of the Orthodox].

There is the question whether a non-Christian understanding of natural law can get us to the fundamental equality of man, although Hugo Grotius agrees with that great philosopher Mr. Sandefur.

Dutch Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius declared, in his De Iure Belli ac Pacis (1625):

"What we have been saying would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God."

But I think you're agreeing that attempts at a "Christianity without Christ" remain of questionable efficacy. As the ["functionally atheist"] Jurgen Habermas put it:

"Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an auonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."

Habermas does indeed hope for a de-Christianized Christianity--or a post-secular secularism--

but I see little evidence for its prospects so far: See Mary Ann Glendon's work on how "universalizing" [de-Christianizing] the natural law as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights has resulted in their gross deformation.

As CS Lewis said in another context, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function."