Sunday, February 28, 2021

William Livingston's Political Philosophy

This article by Myron Magnet details the political philosophy of American founder William Livingston. I may have reproduced it before (from 2012); but I read it again and the following passage stuck out at me.

At its heart, the college debate was political, and it led Livingston to set forth his deepest political beliefs, the first public exposition of Lockean social-contract theory in the colonies, complete with Locke’s insistence on the right to resist and depose a monarch. Journalistic and unsystematic, his half-dozen essays on the subject add up to a coherent argument that provided the Revolution’s key justification. Untangled, it runs like this.

Before there was any government, nature made men free and equal and endowed them with rights. Yet people voluntarily “consented to resign that Freedom and Equality” and put themselves under “the Government and Controul of” a ruler, as “a Remedy for the Inconveniences that sprang from a State of Nature, in which . . . the Weak were a perpetual Prey to the Powerful.” To “preserve to every Individual, the undisturbed Enjoyment of his Acquisitions, and the Security of his Person,” men “entered into Society” and appointed magistrates or kings “to decide Controversies,” investing them “with the total Power of all the Constituents, subject to the Rules and Regulations agreed upon by the original Compact, for the Good of the Community.”

This was a choice of the lesser of two evils, for “Government, at best, is a Burden, tho’ a necessary one. Had Man been wise from his Creation, he . . . might have enjoyed the gifts of a liberal Nature, unmolested, unrestrained. It is the Depravity of Mankind that has necessarily introduced Government; and so great is this Depravity, that without it, we could scarcely subsist,” wrote Livingston, more strongly influenced by Thomas Hobbes’s vision of the State of Nature as a war of all against all than even Locke was. To guard against man’s inborn tendency to invade the “Person or Fortune” of his neighbor, he wrote, echoing Hobbes’s understanding of psychology, we “have ceded a Part of our original Freedom, to secure to us the rest.”

 

Some scholarly folks have noted that the philosophers' "state of nature"/social contract and rights theory is kind of ridiculous. 

Perhaps it was, but it was also fundamental to the American Revolution (more the Revolution than writing and ratifying of the US Constitution). 

I admit that this theory has nothing to do with the Bible or classical political philosophy. However, the interesting part of the story is many ministers bought into this theory, incorporated it into the pulpit in order to convince populations of American "Christians" to go along with it.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Move Over Dr. Zinn, Here Comes Dr. Seuss

Last year, I posted an American Creation blog, A New Book-oath on ‘A People’s History’ Has Come to Town, that reported the April 9th, 2019 swearing-in ceremony of JoBeth Harmon, who had been elected to the office of Oklahoma City Council. What was unusual about this occasion was the use of Howard Zinn’s A People History of the United States as the book upon which the newly elected office holder chose to take her oath.

As it turns out, a couple of months later on August 13th ,  a newly elected St. Louis County councilwoman, Keli Dunaway, made another unusual choice by placing her hand on a copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss. Here’s a snippet taken from a Boston Globe article, Why a county councilwoman was sworn into office on a Dr. Seuss book explaining her choice:

It was a choice with personal meaning. Dunaway said her single mom was a coal miner who would say if she believed in herself and worked hard, Dunaway could achieve anything.

‘‘In my experience in life, that’s been true,’’ the graduate of the University of California Los Angeles Law School said.

When Dunaway, a former Barack Obama field organizer, became pregnant with her daughter in 2012, she was looking for books that offered the same inspiration as her mother’s advice. ‘‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’’ was the book.

 



A few more details are available at the Raw Story website, ‘Places You’ll Go’ for swearing-in ceremony instead of ‘The Bible’, by Sara K. Burris.

 






Sunday, February 7, 2021

AU: "The Faith of Our (Founding) Father: George Washington Wasn't As Pious As Christian Nationalists Would Have You Believe"

 From Rob Boston. Check it out here. A taste:

While in private life, Washington attended church services about once a month. As president, he attended more often, and while he undoubtedly believed in faith as an important component of public virtue, nothing in his personal behavior indicates a high degree of attachment to conservative Christian dogma. He had a habit of leaving services before communion, a practice that angered some pastors.

Nor was Washington one to spend Sundays in quiet prayer and contemplation. Accounts of enslaved people from Mount Vernon plantation speak of frivolity on Sunday, with drinking and card playing being the norm.

Claude Blanchard, a French military officer who dined with Washington, later wrote in his journal that he was surprised there was no formal grace. Blanchard noted, “We remained a very long time at the table. They drank 12 or 15 healths with Madeira wine. In the course of the meal beer was served and grum, rum mixed with water.”

When Washington died in December 1799, he broke with custom of the day and did not call for a minister to be present at his bedside. Historian Joseph Ellis observed, “He died as a Roman Stoic rather than a Christian saint.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Andrew Seidel: "Leave God Out of the Presidential Oath"

 This is from Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. A taste:

The spoken words have been as deliberate as the written words. We know that Washington didn’t add the words to the oath. Edward Lengel, former editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington project, concluded, “any attempt to prove that Washington added the words ‘so help me God’ requires mental gymnastics of the sort that would do credit to the finest artist of the flying trapeze.”

Like so much U.S. mythology, including Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, and the Headless Horseman, we owe this Washingtonian myth to Washington Irving.

American Creation's Ray Soller has done a great deal of very important detective work over the years on this issue.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

John Milton and Isaac Newton: From Arianism to Socinianism

I need to put this book on my "to read" list. 

"In a book in progress, I will argue that Milton is an early adopter of a set of positions characteristic of the Newton circle of the late seventeenth century. Shared Arian belief in a preexistent Son precluded full agreement with Socinians, who believed that the Son did not predate the birth of Jesus. Nevertheless, Milton and Newton shared Socinian and quasi-Socinian positions, for example, an emphasis on reason and an attack on metaphysics in biblical interpretation, an insistence on toleration, opposition to infant baptism, and a focus on the exemplary character of the Christ’s passion as opposed to stressing the crucifixion as atonement. Complicating reliance on categories and labels, the boundaries between Arians and Socinians in the seventeenth century were sufficiently fluid that one of Newton’s circle, Hopton Haynes, described Newton as Socinian, while another, William Whiston, labeled him as Arian. Frank Manuel, a leading scholar of Newton and religion, describes Newton as some Milton scholars have described Milton, as Arian in theology and Socinian in religion."

This was often the kind of "Christianity" that elite philosophical types in the American founding lauded. Or at least they lauded Milton and Newton (and Locke, Clarke and others).