Friday, April 21, 2023

The American and French Revolutions: Locke, Calvin and Hobbes

A short time ago I briefly engaged an author who wrote a book on Christianity and the American Founding that purported to "defend" America in a "trial" sense of the term. I only engaged him on one point. It was about Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau and their respective understandings of "the state of nature." We didn't even get to Rousseau, rather it was just the relationship between Hobbes and Locke. 

I kept the conversation brief because I didn't feel like going down the Straussian rabbit hole with him (other people are doing that with him). And he was just trying to "shoo away" a fly. He said something to me like (me paraphrasing from memory, not necessarily an exact quote) "Locke's state of nature had nothing to do with Hobbes'." Yes, the A has nothing to do with B is an effective arguing technique. But in his case, it's simply not true. The concept of "the state of nature" itself, regardless of whether Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau's all differ on it, connects them to one another. This was the "low but solid" modern ground on which the three of them argued and differed and on which modern liberal democracies were built. As of course, Leo Strauss observed. 

I have noticed a tendency among social and religious conservatives who wish to defend America's Founding as "Christian" to overly attempt to distinguish America's Revolution and Founding from the French Revolution. Yes, the two events differed in meaningful ways. But also yes, the two events were connected at a deep level. They were viewed by America's founders as "sister events,"  at least at the very beginning before things started to go terribly wrong in France. France after all was key in securing America's victory from Great Britain. 

John Locke greatly influenced America's Founding. But, there were other influences as well. John Locke and the America's Revolution influenced the French Revolution. But there were other influences as well. Influences that didn't take hold in America (Rousseau). 

But let's turn our focus onto Locke, because he influenced BOTH the American AND French Revolutions. As noted above there is an "inside baseball" debate about how much Locke was "esoterically" influenced by Hobbes. We all agree that 
America followed Locke and its Founders had nothing positive to say about Hobbes. 

But this is what I don't get about the conservatives who wish to separate Locke from Hobbes (and Hobbes, by the way, claimed to be a "Christian" too, just as Locke did): 
Locke's understanding about human nature (with his Tabula Rasa and "state of nature" teachings) seemed really naïve and Hobbes' much closer to the reality of what it looked like in caveman times when the Alpha males brutally ruled over the tribes. And that's where we humans derive our DNA.

But here is where America perhaps made better use of Locke than France did. As noted, Locke was not the only influence on America. Locke influenced both the Declaration of Independence AND US Constitution, but significantly influenced the Declaration more. 

On the US Constitution, James Madison made CLEAR in Federalist 55 that "there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence."

Note, even though there was a strong "Calvinist" component (with the other components) to the American Founding, this does NOT, in my opinion, reflect John Calvin's "Totally Depravity" of human nature. But rather a "Partial Depravity." 

France (and Jefferson would go for this) left this out of the equation and took the Tabula Rasa from Locke. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Bogus Patrick Henry Quotation

First off, I'd like to thank "Rational Rant" for alerting me to this. I've long known that the below mentioned Patrick Henry quotation is fake; but only recently figured out the origin.

I know that in the past I may have been overly harshly critical of folks making "Christian nation" claims. I'm consciously trying to tone done my rhetoric and be more civil because I don't like how divided the country is and "Christian nationalism" is part of that division.

With that, Patrick Henry has been purported to say:
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Now, first, there's no evidence Henry said such a thing. Second, there's good reason to believe Henry during the time of the purported quotation would NEVER have said such a thing. (He didn't think the US was a "great nation" to begin with, as opposed to a confederation of independent states.)
And third, we don't just have absence of evidence, we know who said it and it wasn't Henry. The words come from the author of a 1956 linked article. There is a real quotation from Henry's Will that demonstrates his fervent Christianity.
Some sloppy "historian" along the way quoted the author of the article, as Patrick Henry's exact words. Henry's words are there, from his Will. They quoted the wrong words.
David Barton has called these and other quotations "unconfirmed." But they are bogus. Or at least this one is.
There is a President of a college whom I often disagree with, but whom I consider to be a reputable scholar of the history of theology. And in 2022, he spread this fake Patrick Henry quote.