July 4, 2012
LIBERTY RESOLVES THE CONFLICT BETWEEN FREEDOM AND SECURITY:Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? (Robert J. Samuelson, 7/03/12, Washington Post)
The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country's core beliefs.In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.There's plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between "freedom to pursue life's goals without state interference" and the "state guarantees nobody is in need." Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany's 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that "success in life" is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.The inconsistencies and contradictions won't soon vanish. But in today's politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether "liberal" or "conservative," Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.
Action regulated by law is free...not when the law is accepted voluntarily, or when it corresponds to the desires of the citizens, but when the law is not arbitrary, that is, when it respects universal norms (when it applies to all individuals or to all members of the group in question), aspires to the public good, and for this reason protects the will of the citizens from the constant danger of constraint imposed by individuals and therefore renders the will fully autonomous.
YOU'D THINK IT WOULD BE POLAND:
It may be America's birthday, but the United States isn't the only country that celebrates it. Denmark started throwing a Fourth of July bash in 1912 after thousands of Danes emigrated to the United States.Thousands of Danish Americans and U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe celebrate Independence Day at the annual outdoor festival in Rebild, Denmark. The Danish tourism office bills it as the largest Fourth of July celebration outside the United States.
A CONFORMITY, NOT A REVOLUTION:
Here are ten facts about the American founding that are worth knowing and contemplating as our country celebrates its independence on the Fourth of July.1. At the time of the passage and signing of the Declaration, roughly 2.15 million persons lived in the 13 colonies. Of those not enslaved, the vast majority was of Anglo-Saxon-Celtic descent and nearly 100% were Protestant. The "fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people on the earth. . . . Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired," Edmund Burke stated publically in 1775. "The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion." [...]4. The level of education for Americans at the time was astounding. Though no public schools existed in any recognizable sense in the eighteenth century, some "Common Schools" did. At a Common School, tutors and teachers drilled students for hours in Greek and Latin. Even if a student only attended school from, say, ages 6-8, he would learn only classical languages. Parents were expected to teach their children to read, almost always from the King James Bible. The colonists met with great success, and the American colonies probably contained the single most literate people in the world at that time. For those attending one of the several colleges in the American colonies (Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, King's College (Columbia)), a liberal education was the only real education. As the grand historian of the period, Forrest McDonald, has revealed, when a student entered college (usually at age 14 or 15), he would need to prove fluency in Latin and Greek. He would need to "read and translate from the original Latin into English 'the first three of [Cicero's] Select Orations and the first three books of Virgil's Aeneid' and to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin, as well as to be 'expert in arithmetic' and to have a 'blameless moral character.'" Keeping this in mind, Americans should not be surprised to see the seventy-plus classical references in The Federalist Papers or the architecture of the Capitol building. Americans were, second only to their Protestantism, a classically oriented people.6. The revolution was, therefore, not surprisingly, a "revolution prevented, not made," as Burke explained it. When asked, for example, where he derived the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson revealed how historical and "backward looking" the document was. "This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson explained in 1825, not long before his death. "Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."6. The first shots fired in what became the War for Independence were calculated to lead neither to a full-scale war nor to the independence of the colonies from her mother. Instead, the men of Lexington, Massachusetts, followed what they believed to be the strongest form of protest--not an act of secession. Jonas Clarke, the Calvinist pastor at the Lexington church and one of the leading intellectuals of the colonies, had been exploring Christian notions of liberty for well over a decade. "And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed," he stated in 1765, "that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness. They are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned." After debating a response to the British march toward Concord for hours in the local pastor's house, the town pub, and on the town green (all three places adjoining), about forty Lexingtonians stood on the village green at 5:00am, April 19, 1775, arms placed in parade formation.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SO WE GROAN:
Adams to Jefferson (Montezillo, May 12th. 1820.)
The question between spirit and matter appears to me nugatory because we have neither evidence nor idea of either. All that we certainly know is that some substance exists, which must be the cause of all the qualitys and Attributes which we perceive: Extension, Solidity, Perception, memory, and Reason, for all these are Attributes, or adjectives, and not Essences or substantives.
Sixty years ago, at College, I read Berkley, and from that time to this I have been fully persuaded that we know nothing of Essences, that some Essence does exist, which causes our minds with all their ideas, and this visible World with all its wonders. I am certain that this Cause is wise, Benevolent and powerful, beyond all conception; I cannot doubt, but what it is, I cannot conjecture.
Suppose we dwell a little on this matter. The Infinite divisibility of it had long ago been demonstrated by Mathematicians--When the Marquis De L'Hospital arose and demonstrated that there were quantities and not infinitely little, but others infinitely less than those infinitely littles, and he might have gone on, for what I know, to all Eternity demonstrating that there are quantities infinitely littles, and he might have gone on, for what I know, to all Eternity demonstrating that there are quantities infinitely less than the last infinitely littles; and the Phenomena of nature seems to coincide with De L'Hospitals demonstrations. For example, Astronomers inform us that the Star draconis is distant from the Earth 38. 000, 000. 000. 000. miles. The Light that proceeds from that Star, therefore, must fill a Sphere of 78. 000, 000, 000, 000, miles in diameter, and every part of that Sphere equal to the size of the pupil of the human Eye. Light is Matter, and every ray, every pencil of that light is made up of particles very little indeed, if not infinitely little, or infinitely less than infinitely little. If this Matter is not fine enough and subtle enough to perceive, to feel and to think, it is too subtle for any human intellect or imagination to conceive, for I defy any human mind to form any idea of anything so small. However, after all, Matter is but Matter; if it is infinitely less than infinitely little, it is incapable of memory, judgement, or feeling, or pleasure or pain, as far as I can conceive. Yet for anything I know, it may be as capable of Sensation and reflection as Spirit, for I confess I know not how Spirit can think, feel or act, any more than Matter. In truth, I cannot conceive how either can move or think, so that I must repose upon your pillow of ignorance, which I find very soft and consoleing, for it absolves my conscience from all culpability in this respect. But I insist upon it that the Saint has as good a right to groan at the Philosopher for asserting that there is nothing but matter in the Universe, As the Philosopher has to laugh at the Saint for saying that there are both Matter and Spirit, Or as the Infidel has to despise Berckley for saying that we cannot prove that there is anything in the Universe but Spirit and Idea--for this indeed is all he asserted, for he never denied the Existence of Matter. After all, I agree that both the groan and the Smile is impertinent, for neither knows what he says, or what he affirms, and I will say of both, as Turgot says of Berkley in his Article of Existence in the Encyclopedia: it is easier to despise than to answer them.
Oh delightful Ignorance! When I arrive at a certainty that I am Ignorant, and that I always must be ignorant, while I live I am happy, for I know I can no longer be responsible.
We shall meet hereafter and laugh at our present botherations. So believes your old Friend,
Jefferson to Adams (Monticello. Aug. 15. 20.)
[L]et me turn to your puzzling letter of May 12. on matter, spirit, motion, etc. It's croud of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it, and laid it down, again and again: and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne, 'I feel: therefore I exist.' I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it's creator, as well as that attraction is an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tracts of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us indeed that 'God is spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the antient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter. [...] All heresies being now done away with us, these schismatics are merely atheists, differing from the material Atheists only in their belief that 'nothing made something,' and from the material deist who believes that matter alone can operate on matter.
Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes deceived, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with the faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.
Though Adams' skepticism is quite obviously right, it is Jefferson's closing lines that are the kicker, for no man will deny that he loves and is loved and that this love is something quite real and independent of the world of mere material. That's not a reasoned argument, just an assertion (an expression of faith) but it is sufficient and just as sufficient now as it was then. And so, ultimately, we all groan with the Saint.
[originally posted: 9/24/03]
That immigrant passion for America was first described to me by a university president who noticed that foreign students are susceptible to a peculiar effect that warps their plans and bends their dreams. If they return to their homeland, they wish it were more like America, and will work to make it so. Often they choose not to go home, or choose to return to America after a while.Once you're crazy in love with America, you begin to see life in a cockeyed manner, even if you try to resist it. You begin to believe you can pen the script of your own life, instead of allowing your family or your culture to write it for you. You sulk on your visits back home that life there is too corrupt or inefficient or limiting.And while you're concerned about that legendary permissiveness in America, you also sense that these Americans aren't overly uptight, and something feels right about that. And when your children begin to drift from your heritage, as was the case with me and my father's other children, you might stay awake late fuming about this country, but you suspect your destiny is tied inextricably with it.That drifting involves a certain liberty, which has its roots all the way back to the settlement of this country by seekers of religious freedom. That basic value, fought and died for, has protected freedom of conscience to worship - or not - as one will.Similarly, that freedom is helping (slowly) moderate latter-day Islam, as Gallup and Pew polls of Muslim-Americans have shown.
IT MADE OUR LIST:
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAY:
Even or especially the Darwinians say that we find our purpose and significance as parts of groups or tribes or wholes greater than ourselves. We become too personally obsessive to ever be happy if we don't believe that there are people and personal causes worth dying for. We can't live well with the homelessness we can't help but experience as self-conscious persons if we don't experience ourselves as in many senses at home. Today, we should thank God as Americans that we're not stuck with only being displaced persons.We Americans, of course, know that we're not merely or even most deep down citizens. We're free from political domination, as Madison, for one, wrote, to discover our conscientious duties to our Creator--who's the God of all and so not the God of America in particular. We also know, of course, that our personal identities includes an awareness our irreducible individuality. We're not Spartans, thank God.As social or relational beings, our religious and familial attachments are more personal and so inevitably trump our political attachments. Even that doesn't mean that America doesn't require and deserve our personal attention and cultivation.We're also not Marxists or hyper-libertarians hoping and working for "the withering away of the state." We're not "statists" because we don't understand our country as an alien and oppressive state.
AS THE OTHER BROTHER REPORTS...:
Mitt Romney and his family will march today in the Wolfeboro Fourth of July Parade and possible running mate Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her family are expected to join him along the route.The parade, set to begin at 10 a.m., which will go right through Main Street of the town known as "The Oldest Summer Resort in America." Romney is expected to give brief remarks at the end of the parade route. This is the first public campaign event for Romney since last Thursday when he gave his statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.The parade is the topic of conversation everywhere from the docks to the restaurants to the long line for the famous Bailey's Bubbles ice cream stand. On Main Street Tuesday, residents were bragging to one another about their place in the parade, making sure everyone knew they'd be marching in the same parade as Mitt Romney. Hotel receptionists greeting newcomers with the anxious question: "Are you here for the Romneys?"
FROM THE ARCHIVES: DENY EVIL, DENY AMERICA:The new Nero (Francois de Bernard, 3/31/03, Ha'aretz)
[T]he time has come for us to open our eyes. The time has come to forget the old idea - forged during the course of two centuries - of the United States as the bridgehead of the "free world" and "democracy."
The reality that we are trying to keep at a distance is that the United States has become a theocracy and a pathocracy. It has become a theocracy because nearly all the important decisions of President George W. Bush's administration are taken "in the name of God" - an angry and vengeful God, not a God of love and compassion - and because this system is not encountering any serious opposition on the part of the legislative and legal institutions, not to mention the media.
We are Democracy, by the will of our angry God, and our role is to promote it in His name and for His sake. The fact that this democracy has only a marginal and metaphorical connection to 2,5000 years of political tradition is of no importance. The self-definition and the self-justification are the two breasts of the empire. Just as the United Nations is a negligible factor that can be ignored when it opposes our plans, we were established in order to impose on the rest of the world the idea of democracy that corresponds only to our convictions.
For two years now - and increasingly since September 11, 2001, there has been a great deal of focus in the discourse on the subject of "good and evil" and the strategy derived from it with respect to the "axis of evil." This has generally been based on the return, in full force, of the primitive moralizing that runs through a large part of the political and intellectual history of the United States. But in fact, it is something of an entirely different nature. It is the brutal transformation of an oligarchic republic tinged with democracy into a republic that is essentially theocratic.
If we realize this, then it is possible to understand that everything becomes possible from the point of view of Bush's administration, from the rejection of the Kyoto treaty to the perpetuation of the death penalty, from the attempt to marginalize the UN to the approaching exit from the World Trade Organization, from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.
But the United States has also become a pathocracy, that is, a regime that is neurotic in essence, the leaders of which are, quite simply, psychopaths. I offer the hypothesis that the American president is personally suffering from a paranoid psychosis and that the quartet he has formed with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld constitutes a government that is both theocratic and pathocratic.
Mr. de Bernard states the difference between Europe (and the Left generally) and America (and the Right generally) about as starkly and honestly as you'll find anywhere: the two sides divide over the question of good and evil. It is actually he and his ilk who deny the Western political tradition, for what does that tradition consist of if not the central insight of the Fall of Man, that we are inherently sinful and incapable of changing our nature, though we must strive to contain the evil of which we are all capable, towards which we may even be inclined? You'd be hard pressed to find a Founder more closely associated with the celebration of humanity than Thomas Jefferson, but recall his words when it comes to how men should be governed: "In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution." And, of course, the most famous passage in the Federalist Papers, and thus the most authoritative statement of how we view our political system, is Madison's (?) in Federalist 51:
[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other
that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.
Thus is American Republicanism deeply premised on the desire of men to encroach upon each others' rights. It is no exaggeration to say that America's genesis lies in Genesis, in the millennia old revelation that men are not angels, are not "good". The United States is not, of course, a theocracy, but it very much owes its existence and endurance as the world's freest and longest-lived democracy to Judeo-Christian theology. Yet this foundation is precisely what Mr. de Bernard is proposing should be viewed as our "pathology" and "psychosis".
Indeed, Mr. Benard's view--that there is no such thing as good and evil and that religion is a kind of dangerous neuroses--informs modern European intellectual life (and that of the American Left) and has driven Europe's seemingly inexorable decline. Everything from the massive Social Welfare states they've created, with their now thoroughly discredited assumption that men will not eagerly become dependents of the State; to their permissive moralities; to their willingness to cede national sovereignty to EU and UN bureaucrats; to their increasing isolation from world affairs, as in their refusal to confront Iraq; are all fundamentally outgrowths of a fantastical belief that man is essentially good, that we can impute the best of motives to all and sundry, and that every conflict between men is a function of mere misunderstanding, rather than a clash of values, some of which are superior
The Franco-European vacation from reality can in large part be traced to Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose philosophy Mary Ann Glendon describes as follows (since we, as Americans, basically ignore Rousseau as nonsensical utopianism, it will be appropriate to quote her at length):
He began his Discourse on Inequality by scoffing at previous attempts to account for the origins of government by describing what human beings must have been like in the "state of nature." The mythic tales told by Hobbes and Locke had recounted the progress of mankind from "a horrible state of war" (Hobbes) or from a "very precarious, very unsafe" existence (Locke) into a more secure way of life in organized society. According to Rousseau, such accounts had it backwards. Prior writers had failed to understand the natural condition of man, he claimed, because they "carried over to the state of nature ideas they had acquired in society; they spoke about savage man but they described civilized man." The complex fears and desires they attributed to our early ancestors could only have been produced by society.
Rousseau then presented his own version of pre-history as universal truth: "O man, of whatever country you are, and whatever your opinions may be, listen: behold your history as I have thought to read it, not in books written by your fellow creatures, who are liars, but in nature, which never lies." The earliest human, as Rousseau imagined him, was a simple, animal-like creature, "wholly wrapped up in the feeling of [his own] present existence." He was not inherently dangerous to his fellows as Hobbes had it. But neither was he fallen as the biblical tradition teaches. Rather, he must have led a "solitary," "indolent" life, satisfying his basic physical needs, mating casually without forming ties. He possessed a "natural feeling" of compassion for the suffering of other sentient beings that made him unwilling to harm others, unless (a big unless) his own self-preservation was at stake. He was not
naturally endowed with reason, but existed in an unreflective state of pure being. The transition from this primitive state into civil society represented a "loss of real felicity," in Rousseau's view, rather than an unambiguous step forward.
Rousseau next took aim at the social contract theories of his predecessors. As he saw it, what drew human beings out of their primeval state was not rational calculation leading to agreement for the sake of self-preservation (as Hobbes and Locke thought), but rather a quality he called "perfectibility." Previous thinkers, he claimed, did not pay sufficient attention to the distinctively human capacity to change and develop, to transform oneself and to be transformed. In other words, they failed to consider the implications of the fact that human nature itself has a history. Or that human beings, through their capacity to form ideas, can to some extent shape that history. These were the insights of the Discourse on Inequality that won the admiration of such a dissimilar personality as Immanuel Kant and stirred the historical imaginations of Hegel and Marx.
With the development of human faculties, Rousseau continued, came language, family life, and eventually an era when families lived in simple tribal groups. That centuries-long stage of communal living, succeeding the state of nature and preceding organized society, he wrote, "must have been the happiest and most stable of epochs," which only a "fatal accident" could have brought to an end. That accident was precipitated by the ever-restless human mind that invented agriculture and metallurgy, which led in turn to the state of affairs where human beings lost their self-sufficiency and came to depend on one another for their survival. ("It is iron and wheat which have civilized men and ruined the human race.")
In contrast to Locke, who taught that property was an especially important, pre-political right, Rousseau wrote:
"The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, 'Beware of listening to this imposter, you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.' "
Contrary to Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau contended that it was civil society, not nature, that gave rise to a state of affairs that was always in danger of degenerating into war. Civil society begat governments and laws, inequality, resentment, and other woes. Governments and laws "bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labor, slavery, and wretchedness." It would be absurd to suppose, he went on, that mankind had somehow consented to this state of affairs where "the privileged few . . . gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life."
Though Rousseau's evocative imaginary depictions of primitive societies were to swell the tide of nineteenth-century romantic "nostalgia" for the simple life, he himself insisted that there was no escape from history. There was no going back, he explained, because human nature itself had changed: "The savage and the civilized man differ so much . . . that what constitutes the supreme happiness of one would reduce the other to despair." Natural man had been sufficient unto himself; man in civil society had become dependent on his fellows in countless ways, even to the point of living "in the opinions of others." Reprising the theme of his Dijon essay, Rousseau concluded that modern man, though surrounded by philosophy, civilization, and codes of morality, had little to show for himself but "honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness."
The radical character of Rousseau's political thought is nowhere more apparent than in his treatments of reason and human nature. Together with early modern and Enlightenment thinkers, he rejected older ideas of a natural law discoverable through right reason. But by insisting that human beings are not naturally endowed with reason, he struck at the very core of the Enlightenment project, subordinating reason to feeling in a move that would characterize the politics of a later age. Like others within the modern horizon, he rejected the older view that human beings are naturally social or political. But by exalting individual solitude and self-sufficiency, he set himself apart from his fellow moderns, anticipating the hyper-individualism of a much later age--our own.
Not without justification, then, did Bloom call the Discourse on Inequality "the most radical work ever written, one that transformed the way people thought about the world." This one essay contained the germs of most of the themes Rousseau would develop in later works, and that would be further elaborated by others who came under his spell. Rousseau's lyrical descriptions of early man and simple societies fueled the nineteenth-century popular romantic revolt against classicism in art and literature. His criticism of property, together with his dark view of the downside of mutual dependence, made a deep impression on the young Karl Marx.
The thesis of the Second Discourse, that the most serious forms of injustice had their origins in civil society rather than in nature, foreshadowed Rousseau's famous charge at the beginning of The Social Contract that virtually all existing governments were illegitimate: "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." Having raised the explosive issue of legitimacy, and sensing that Europe's old regimes were about to crumble, Rousseau turned to his most ambitious project to date: the question of how better governments might be established. "I want to seek," he wrote, "if, in the civil order, there can be some legitimate and solid rule of administration, taking men as they are and the laws as they can be."
Like many critical theorists before and since, Rousseau was less successful at developing a positive political vision of his own than he had been at spotting flaws in the theories of others. In The Social Contract, he framed the problem of good government as that of finding a form of political association which would protect everyone's person and property, but within which each person would remain "as free as before." The solution he devised was an agreement by which everyone would give himself and all his goods to the community, forming a state whose legislation would be produced by the will of each person thinking in terms of all (the "general will"). The state's legitimacy would thus be derived from the people, who, in obeying the law, would be obeying themselves.
That solution to the problem of legitimate government would obviously require a special sort of citizen, a "new man" who could and would choose the general will over his own interests or the narrow interests of his group. The concept of the general will thus links The Social Contract to Rousseau's writings on nurture, education, and morals, particularly Emile, which contains his program for forming the sentiments of the young so that they will retain their natural goodness while living in civil society.
The legitimate state, as Rousseau imagined it, would need not only virtuous citizens, but an extraordinary "Legislator" who could persuade people to accept the rules necessary for such a society. Law in the properly constituted state would be, among other things, an instrument of transformation: "He who dares to undertake the making of a people's laws ought to feel himself capable of changing human nature." Rousseau had learned from the classical philosophers, however, that good laws can take root only amidst good customs. It was thus implicit in The Social Contract that many existing societies were already beyond help. "What people," Rousseau asked, "is a fit subject for legislation?" His answer was not encouraging to revolutionaries bent on overthrowing unjust regimes: "One which, already bound by some unity of origin, interest, or convention, has never yet felt the
real yoke of law; . . . one in which every member may be known by every other, and there is no need to lay on any man burdens too heavy for a man to bear; . . . one which is neither rich nor poor, but self sufficient. . . . All these conditions are indeed rarely found united, and therefore few states have good constitutions."
Once a legitimate state is established, it needs to be maintained and defended. Thus, according to Rousseau, there should be no "particular associations" competing for the loyalty of citizens; religion should not be left independent of political control; and those who refuse to conform to the general will would have to be "forced to be free."
The contrast between Rousseau's program and the practical ideas that guided the American Founders could hardly be more striking. The legacy of the most influential political thinker of the eighteenth century is thus at odds with the era's greatest political achievement--the design for government framed by men who believed that good governments could be based on reflection and choice. The pragmatic authors of The Federalist had their own, clear-eyed, understanding of human nature with its potency and its limitations. They knew that human beings are creatures of reason and feeling--capable of good and evil, trust and betrayal, creativity and destruction, selfishness and cooperation. In Madison's famous formulation: "As there is a certain degree of depravity in human nature 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."
And so we have Franco-European thinkers, the children of Rousseau, who imagine that governmental institutions--the State, the EU, the UN, etc.--will have a transformative effect on mankind, will create the "new man". This could not be more antithetical to Americans, children of the Founders, who erected an elaborate system of checks and balances even against fellow citizens and who know human nature to be immutable and who scoff at the idea of trusting the folk of other nations or the bureaucrats of transnational institutions with political power. Mr. de Bernard refers to us as "paranoid" because we do not trust the French, UN, the Taliban, Saddam, etc., but paranoia is a condition of irrational distrust. American distrust of their fellow Americans and even more so of non-Americans and even more than that of institutions that concentrate power is entirely rational and is justified by
long and bitter human experience. It is Franco-European faith in the good intentions of governments and bureaucrats and radical Islamicists that is in fact the product of irrational fantasy. It has been common, especially on the American Left, to dismiss the current split between America and Old Europe as driven by emotion and only temporary. Such folks contend that we are bound by more commonalities than are we divided by our differences. This is simply untrue. We diverged over two centuries ago and though it has taken some time for that to become obvious to all, the precipitous decline of Europe, as a result of the false path it has followed, is going to make it impossible to ignore any longer.
Desperately Wicked: Reckoning with evil. (Alan Wolfe, March/April 2003, Books & Culture)
"The problem of evil will be the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe," wrote Hannah Arendt in 1945. She was wrong. To be fair, her comment was not directed at the United States, and it applied to intellectual life in general rather than to academic trends in particular. Still, postwar thought in the West in the last half of the 20th century did not make evil central to its concerns. On the contrary: philosophers retreated even more deeply into analytic preoccupations with logic and language; social scientists reacted to the massive irrationalities of war and totalitarianism by treating all human behavior as if it were ultra-rational; both literary theorists and novelists were attracted to forms of postmodernism that denied any fixed distinctions, including the one between good and evil; and the most influential theologians studiously avoided neo-Augustinian[originally posted: 2003-03-31]
thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr. The one European thinker who comes closest to Arendt in breadth of knowledge and passionate concern with the fate of humanity--JŸrgen Habermas--has devoted his work not to exploring the horrors of the modern world, but to the conditions under which meaningful human communication is possible.
What was not true of the past fifty years, however, may turn out to be true of the next fifty. Evil is getting increased attention. Presidents Reagan and Bush used the term in their rhetoric to significant public acclaim. Popular culture addicts know all about Hannibal Lector and consume the plots of Stephen King. And the books under review here are representative of a much larger number of recent titles, suggesting that academic fields as diverse as philosophy, theology, and psychology are turning with increasing frequency to a subject they once ignored. It has taken a half-century since the end of World War II for the study of evil to catch up with the thing itself--perhaps, given the traumas of the evils uncovered at war's end, not an unreasonable amount of time.
Now that evil is once again prominent on the intellectual and academic radar screen, the problems of understanding it have only just begun. These books not only fail to agree on what evil is, they disagree on how it came into the world and whether it ever can be expected to leave. Consider them, as all of their authors save one would want them to be considered, provisional efforts to start an inquiry rather than foundational attempts to solve a problem. [...]
Although many of the thinkers who tried to make sense out of the Holocaust were Jewish, they were influenced by Christian theology; Hans Jonas was a student of Rudolf Bultmann, and Hannah Arendt, as Charles T. Mathewes reminds us, always worked in the shadow of Augustine. Evil and the Augustinian Tradition features Arendt, along with Reinhold Niebuhr, as representing alternatives to what Mathewes calls "subjectivism," which he defines as "the belief that our existence in the world is determined first and foremost by our own (subjective) activities."
Niebuhr is often assumed to be a conservative, but, as Mathewes points out, this cannot be easily reconciled with his political activism, most of which was concentrated on left-wing causes. Moreover, because American conservatism is so tied to a Smithian love of the marketplace, it has never--with the exception of now somewhat forgotten figures such as Whittaker Chambers or the Southern agrarians--been able to develop the ironic, and often pessimistic, stance toward modernity that any good conservative mood should reflect. In Augustine's theology Niebuhr found an alternative to the prevailing American optimism of his day.
Niebuhr's voice was tragic. Evil, the realist in him recognized, is "a fixed datum of historical science"; not for Niebuhr the kind of naivete that has often characterized religious leaders' involvement in politics. At the same time, our sins are not of such a depraved nature that any hope has to be ruled out of order. We can take responsibility for our acts, and Mathewes is especially good as describing this Niebuhrian sense of responsibility. "We have no intellectual resources for 'handling' evil," he writes, "if 'handling' it means managing it." Our thought is always torn open at its side, as it were, and bleeds from the knowledge that we sinners, we evil doers, are at fault and are yet the vehicles whereby God's salvation is made manifest." [...]
We live with evil because evil has chosen to live with us. The best we can do is to be as ambitious as we can in trying to tackle one of the great mysteries surrounding us, without becoming so ambitious that we bring evil down to the level of ordinary existence. As Richard Bernstein concludes in an especially reflective summary of what we know and what we do not, evil is "an excess that resists total comprehension." Yet, he continues, "interrogating evil is an ongoing, open-ended process" which requires not only a reaffirmation of the importance of personal responsibility but also a commitment to rethinking what responsibility means. Whether we are followers of Augustine or Kant, we are individuals with free will. Faced with the Holocaust, some people chose to do the right thing--even while far more chose evil.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SOUL MEN:
Bored on the Fourth of July (Peter Lawler on July 4, 2011, Big Think)
[T]oday we're celebrating by sharing our allegiance to truths we hold to be self-evident. We are, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, "a nation with the soul of a church." Churches are held together by common belief in particular dogmas. We're held together by common belief in the principles set forth, Chesterton wrote, with "dogmatic lucidity" in the Declaration.
The not-so-silent Calvin Coolidge wrote that those principles are restful because they're final. We believe that no progress can be made beyond them--just as we believe that our progress comes from more faithfully and consistently actng in accordance with them. The Fourth of July, in that light, should be a day of rest for the same reason every Sunday should be. We need to take a break from our incessant activity to remind ourselves of the foundation that makes our free and restless prosperity possible.
So we can criticize the authors and signers of the Declaration for not acting in full accordance with their principles. Jefferson knew that all human beings--including those imported from Africa to be slaves--we're created equal and had inalienable rights. But he didn't always act according to what he knew.
But we remember that it was the Abolitionists, from the very beginning, who talked up more than other Americans the stirring words of the Declaration as the foundation of their liberationist cause. So did our first strong proponents of the rights of women. And the southern slaveholders ended up openly denying the Declaration's truth, saying that Jefferson didn't know what he was talking about. It was in the context of the spilling of a huge amount of blood for a new birth of freedom that Lincoln rededicated us to the Declaration's proposition that all men are created equal.
[originally posted: 7/04/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE ANTI-NATION:
How the Complete Meaning of July Fourth Is Slipping Away (Gordon S. Wood, July 4, 2011, New Republic)
[F]or Americans the Declaration has a special significance. It infused into our culture most of what we have come to believe and value. Our noblest ideals and highest aspirations--our beliefs in liberty, equality, and individual rights, including the right of every person to pursue happiness--came out of the Declaration of Independence. Consequently, it is not surprising that every reform movement in American history--from the abolitionists of the 1830s, to the feminists at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the civil rights advocates of the 1960s--invoked the words and ideals of the Declaration. It was Abraham Lincoln who made the most of the Declaration, particularly its assertions of human equality and inalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson, the principal drafter of the Declaration, said Lincoln, "had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression." A century later, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. took inspiration from this abstract truth embodied in the Declaration.
For us Americans, the words of the Declaration have become central to our sense of nationhood. Because the United States is composed of so many immigrants and so many different races and ethnicities, we can never assume our identity as a matter of course. The nation has had to be invented. At the end of the Declaration, the members of the Continental Congress could only "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." There was nothing else but themselves that they could dedicate themselves to--no patria, no fatherland, no nation as yet. In comparison with the 235 year-old United States, many states in the world today are new, some of them created within fairly recent past. Yet many of these states, new as they may be, are under-girded by peoples who had a pre-existing sense of their ethnicity, their nationality. In the case of the United States, the process was reversed: We Americans were a state before we were a nation, and much of our history has been an effort to define that nationality.
In fact, even today America is not a nation in any traditional meaning of the term. We Americans have had to rely on ideas and ideals in order to hold ourselves together and think of ourselves as a single people. And more than any other single document in American history, the Declaration has embodied these ideas and ideals. Since it is our most sacred text, the day, July 4, 1776, that gave birth to it ought to be understood with all the significance and solemnity that John Adams gave to it.
[originally posted: 7/05/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A NEIGHBORHOOD, NOT A NATION:
Who Are Americans?: What Christians contribute to the search for a national identity. (Chuck Colson with Catherine Larson, 6/21/2010, Christianity Today)
Can a Christian worldview inform us as we wrestle with our national identity?
Any kind of racially or ethnically intolerant society would be incompatible with Christian principles.
Further, we know that the core values of our creeds, which in particular promote the dignity of all people, resonate with Scripture and are worth preserving. American patriotism does not rest on jingoistic nationalism but on a universal creed that says, "All men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
Liberty is one of those unalienable rights. And this core value, also emphasized in Scripture, teaches us that we cannot force beliefs on others. Our founders understood, however, that freedom of religion is not synonymous with expunging religion from public life, a problem that I and others addressed last fall in the Manhattan Declaration. So if Huntington is in fact right that the U.S. needs a reinvigorated religious commitment, it won't come from a nation-mandated religion but rather from a reinvigorated populace.
I believe, then, that for national identity to be salient in the midst of our changing society, we need to promote a recommitment to our creeds, a respect for American history, and a proper role of patriotism, rooted in love of neighbor. Our founders' Judeo-Christian heritage helped produce a culture in which moral responsibility, transcendent ethical principles, and the dignity of all people could flourish--a culture in which our creedal values made sense. This is why our role as leaven within society is so important, and why we must continue to bring a biblical influence to the public square, reinvigorating society.
As we do so, we must guard against the easy tendency to embrace xenophobic notions or fall into the equally perilous trap of promoting subcultural identities over national identity. People will not live with, let alone die for, a nation that has abandoned its religious moorings and adopted a creed that suggests we simply live together in cosmopolitan bliss. Millions of us, however, have been willing to live and die for beliefs rooted in our deepest convictions about God and man--convictions that were expressed so well in the stirring words of our national creed, the Declaration of Independence.
An immigrant's trip to Arizona: The columnist's mother finds much to like -- and much to be concerned about -- on a visit to California's neighbor. (Hector Tobar, July 10, 2010, LA Times)
In Sedona, she was reminded of the growing tension between the two worlds she has lived in since she was 20 -- one English-speaking, the other mostly Spanish-speaking, both filled with people she respects.
She found some English-speaking friends a little glib in their dismissal of people's fears.
"Mercedes, how could you be concerned about the new law?" one asked her. "There's no profiling. You're only going to be stopped if you're breaking the law!"
This same longtime friend, who before had seemed apolitical, was upset at the immigrants rights groups calling for a boycott of the state.
My mother was surprised by the sudden anger.
Being in Arizona made her reflect on her own immigrant experience. She thought about the people who've arrived in the U.S. after she did and was inspired to write down a list of principles all current and future immigrants should follow.
"1. Learn the language. 2. Obey and respect the law. 3. Be careful of the image you project -- without losing your identity. 4. Imitate the good things -- but don't get caught up in [the Americans'] bad habits. 5. Never be embarrassed to say where you are from. 6. Be grateful for the opportunities you are given. 7. And give something back that will enrich your adopted country."
Words of wisdom, of course.
But she kept feeling rankled, despite all her perspective.
"Our governor is only trying to protect our borders because we don't have any federal help," another of her Anglo friends told her.
"Somehow, the word 'protect' bothered me," my mother wrote, because it was said with a "tone of discrimination."
The new Arizona law is meant to "protect" Americans from danger -- and it bothers my mother that so many Americans think of their Latin American neighbors as a source of danger.
Her Mexican-born friends spoke of strange encounters with local police. Some involved traffic stops made with what seemed like the flimsiest of excuses. A son-in-law of a friend, she was told, was pulled over for "leaving a dog on the street corner" -- even though he's never owned a dog.
"All I know is that before I felt free to go anywhere," said Antonia Rodriguez, a native of Agua Prieta, Mexico, and a naturalized U.S. citizen. "And now if I don't have my passport with me, I feel scared."
Those who aren't citizens, her Mexican-born friends told her, fear being deported and separated from their U.S.-born children.
After listening to all these stories, and seeing the fear in her friends' eyes, my mother wrote: "Just the idea of seeing a police car behind you, and knowing they can stop you and ask you for your papers does something to your dignity."
"I've never been a person with a complex," my mother wrote, by which she meant she's never been hung up on the idea that she was the victim of discrimination. "But this new law makes me feel sad."
[originally posted: 7/11/10]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: PROFOUNDLY AMERICAN:
Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July. Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgement of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.
Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience.
It is not so much then for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound. Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken. Whatever perils appear, whatever dangers threaten, the Nation remains secure in the knowledge that the ultimate application of the law of the land will provide an adequate defense and protection.
It is little wonder that people at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear to the uninstructed as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell of a former time, useless now because of more modern conveniences, but to those who know they have become consecrated by the use which men have made of them. They have long been identified with a great cause. They are the framework of a spiritual event. The world looks upon them, because of their associations of one hundred and fifty years ago, as it looks upon the Holy Land because of what took place there nineteen hundred years ago. Through use for a righteous purpose they have become sanctified.
It is not here necessary to examine in detail the causes which led to the American Revolution. In their immediate occasion they were largely economic. The colonists objected to the navigation laws which interfered with their trade, they denied the power of Parliament to impose taxes which they were obliged to pay, and they therefore resisted the royal governors and the royal forces which were sent to secure obedience to these laws. But the conviction is inescapable that a new civilization had come, a new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual than that which characterized the Old World. Life in a new and open country had aspirations which could not be realized in any subordinate position. A separate establishment was ultimately inevitable. It had been decreed by the very laws of human nature. Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.
We are obliged to conclude that the Declaration of Independence represented the movement of a people. It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions. It had the support of another element of great significance and importance to which I shall later refer. But the preponderance of all those who occupied a position which took on the aspect of aristocracy did not approve of the Revolution and held toward it an attitude either of neutrality or open hostility. It was in no sense a rising of the oppressed and downtrodden. It brought no scum to the surface, for the reason that colonial society had developed no scum. The great body of the people were accustomed to privations, but they were free from depravity. If they had poverty, it was not of the hopeless kind that afflicts great cities, but the inspiring kind that marks the spirit of the pioneer. The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.
The Continental Congress was not only composed of great men, but it represented a great people. While its members did not fail to exercise a remarkable leadership, they were equally observant of their representative capacity. They were industrious in encouraging their constituents to instruct them to support independence. But until such instructions were given they were inclined to withhold action.
While North Carolina has the honor of first authorizing its delegates to concur with other Colonies in declaring independence, it was quickly followed by South Carolina and Georgia, which also gave general instructions broad enough to include such action. But the first instructions which unconditionally directed its delegates to declare for independence came from the great Commonwealth of Virginia. These were immediately followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts, while the other Colonies, with the exception of New York, soon adopted a like course.
This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion, it did not partake of dark intrigue or hidden conspiracy. It was well advised. It had about it nothing of the lawless and disordered nature of a riotous insurrection. It was maintained on a plane which rises above the ordinary conception of rebellion. It was in no sense a radical movement but took on the dignity of a resistance to illegal usurpations. It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.
When we come to examine the action of the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence in the light of what was set out in that great document and in the light of succeeding events, we can not escape the conclusion that it had a much broader and deeper significance than a mere secession of territory and the establishment of a new nation. Events of that nature have been taking place since the dawn of history. One empire after another has arisen, only to crumble away as its constituent parts separated from each other and set up independent governments of their own. Such actions long ago became commonplace. They have occurred too often to hold the attention of the world and command the admiration and reverence of humanity. There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation, great as that event would be, in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but was everywhere to ennoble humanity.
It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.
If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows as a matter of course that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed. While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination. But remarkable as this may be, it is not the chief distinction of the Declaration of Independence. The importance of political speculation is not to be under-estimated, as I shall presently disclose. Until the idea is developed and the plan made there can be no action.
It was the fact that our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion and by the armies of Washington already in the field, which makes it the most important civil document in the world. It was not only the principles declared, but the fact that therewith a new nation was born which was to be founded upon those principles and which from that time forth in its development has actually maintained those principles, that makes this pronouncement an incomparable event in the history of government. It was an assertion that a people had arisen determined to make every necessary sacrifice for the support of these truths and by their practical application bring the War of Independence to a successful conclusion and adopt the Constitution of the United States with all that it has meant to civilization.
The idea that the people have a right to choose their own rulers was not new in political history. It was the foundation of every popular attempt to depose an undesirable king. This right was set out with a good deal of detail by the Dutch when as early as July 26, 1581, they declared their independence of Philip of Spain. In their long struggle with the Stuarts the British people asserted the same principles, which finally culminated in the Bill of Rights deposing the last of that house and placing William and Mary on the throne. In each of these cases sovereignty through divine right was displaced by sovereignty through the consent of the people. Running through the same documents, though expressed in different terms, is the clear inference of inalienable rights. But we should search these charters in vain for an assertion of the doctrine of equality. This principle had not before appeared as an official political declaration of any nation. It was profoundly revolutionary. It is one of the corner stones of American institutions.
But if these truths to which the declaration refers have not before been adopted in their combined entirety by national authority, it is a fact that they had been long pondered and often expressed in political speculation. It is generally assumed that French thought had some effect upon our public mind during Revolutionary days. This may have been true. But the principles of our declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker of Connecticut as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that--
"The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people"
"The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own allowance."
This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise, of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andros in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist, Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise, entitled "The Church's Quarrel Espoused," in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.
While the written word was the foundation, it is apparent that the spoken word was the vehicle for convincing the people. This came with great force and wide range from the successors of Hooker and Wise, It was carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina, showing its influence by significantly making that Colony the first to give instructions to its delegates looking to independence. This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his "best ideas of democracy" had been secured at church meetings.
That these ideas were prevalent in Virginia is further revealed by the Declaration of Rights, which was prepared by George Mason and presented to the general assembly on May 27, 1776. This document asserted popular sovereignty and inherent natural rights, but confined the doctrine of equality to the assertion that "All men are created equally free and independent." It can scarcely be imagined that Jefferson was unacquainted with what had been done in his own Commonwealth of Virginia when he took up the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. But these thoughts can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710. He said, "Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man." Again, "The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, and so forth . . . ." And again, "For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine." And still again, "Democracy is Christ's government in church and state." Here was the doctrine of equality, popular sovereignty, and the substance of the theory of inalienable rights clearly asserted by Wise at the opening of the eighteenth century, just as we have the principle of the consent of the governed stated by Hooker as early as 1638.
When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say "The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven."
No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.
Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.
If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.
We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.
In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government--the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that "Democracy is Christ's government." The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.
On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.
It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook the balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.
Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.
No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.
[originally posted: 7/04/06]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: WE'RE ALL OLIGARCHS NOW:
What's So Special About Democracy? (HARVEY MANSFIELD, July 26, 2006, NY Sun)
The answer to [What is special about modern politics?], Mr. Dunn indicates, is representative government, invented by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century. Hobbes (followed by Spinoza and Locke) argued that government is properly instituted by contract among individuals in the state of nature who authorize a sovereign over themselves to represent them. The crucial new concept in this theory is the state of nature that precedes all society, is therefore insecure and full of violence, and is further characterized by the rough equality of all those who experience or imagine it. Men are equal in the state of nature, according to Hobbes, for the very realistic reason that no one can be sure of always getting the better of (i.e. killing) anyone or everyone else. Here, democracy is installed as the foundation of all government.
Democracy in the basement, however, is not necessarily democracy in the house above. A representative government may not hold elections (such as the hereditary monarchy that Hobbes wanted), and if it does, the elections may not be democratic, with universal suffrage. Representative democracy came later, in the American and French Revolutions, and of course women's suffrage was still later.Yet the nature of democracy is changed when it becomes representative. No longer does the people meet in a body to deliberate on and decide the most important questions of government, but rather the task of actual governing is delegated to a few elected (and non-elected) representatives. In this delegation, as we are often reminded, lies a hidden oligarchy dressed up as democratic. If every representative government is fundamentally democratic, every modern democracy is in practice oligarchic. The ancients knew of a mixed regime composed of democracy and oligarchy, but this is a mixed regime of a new kind in which no one speaks of oligarchy in its principle though everyone find it useful in practice. [...]
Mr. Dunn's analysis turns sober and profound when he presents the opposition between democracy as a form of government and as a way of life. As a way of life (best shown by Tocqueville) democracy is not satisfied with existing equality but tries relentlessly to equalize everything. In this sense democracy is open-ended, or points toward a goal of no power or government at all. As a form of government, however, democracy tries to contain this infinite democratization. One mode of containment is to accept, as democratic electorates even in Europe have done recently, the "order of egoism" that socialists like Babeuf and Buonarroti hate. Mr. Dunn worries that "malign consequences" will follow from the separation of the democratic ethics of equalization from the democratic reality of surrender to egoism.
One may agree that it is harmful to the souls of intellectuals, as Mr. Dunn worries, when they cherish their own moral purity as against the evils of reality. But a remedy can be found in the notion of "self-interest well understood" that Tocqueville attributes to Americans. "Egoism" in America, both in business and in government, is more about ambition than greed for money. The socialists, obsessed with money as they believed their capitalist enemies to be, always missed the point. Money is a sign of success, and success is the satisfaction of one's ambition. It is not necessary to go against egoism or self-interest in order to be public spirited. Ambition was in Aristotle's list of virtues and it is featured in James Madison's famous discussion of the separation of powers in "The Federalist." The history of democracy is the democratization, not the elimination, of oligarchic ambition.
Robert D. Kraynak, a former student of Professor Mansfield, has a better handle on the flaws of democracy.
THOUGH THE IDEA OF AMERICA DOESN'T REQUIRE AMERICA:
When the last Frenchman dies, France will die with him. America will long outlive Americans.There is something inherently fragile about the United States of America. France will be France and Slovakia will be Slovakia so long as French and Slovak are spoken, irrespective of their mode of government. But if Americans cease to govern themselves in a way that no people ever governed itself before, America will not be America. We are the only nation founded on an idea, rather than on blood, territory or culture. We look back at our founders with reverence. Each day we should ask ourselves whether we are good enough to keep the republic which they bequeathed us. We came close to losing it more than once. If we continue to drift into dependency, we might lose it now.That is why it behooves us to sing a national anthem that begins and ends with questions. In this respect, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an unusual poem. To begin a poem with a rhetorical question is a common enough device ("Why! Who makes much of a miracle?," "What is so rare as a day in June?" or "Who rides in the night through wind and wild?"). Key's opening question, though, is not rhetorical, but existential. The hearer from whom the poet demands a response has kept the poet's company in an anxious vigil the dawn. The question itself thus places the hearer alongside the poet in that vigil.The poet withholds the name of the object we are trying to espy in the first light: It is "what so proudly we hailed", "whose broad stripes and bright stars" streamed valiantly over the rampart as the poet and his interlocutor watched through the perilous night. And this precious thing could be glimpsed intermittently only by the light of the enemy's munitions, through the glare of rockets and the flash of exploding bombs: these, the missiles of the foe, gave proof through the night that the our flag - at last the object is named - was still there.But now the first light of the dawn has come. The bombardment has ceased. The poet asks that the listener say whether, in the dim sunrise, he still can see the flag above the ramparts. It is an anxious moment; the hearer has watched through the night to see if the US position has held or fallen; in a few moments he will see in the first light of day whether the flag is still there. All the fears of the nightly vigil are bound up in this moments of anticipation. Even more: the hopes and fears of generations hang upon what the hearer will see as day breaks..And then the poet repeats the injunction "Say!" and changes the question. The opening question -- can you still see our flag? -- is a synecdoche of sorts for a bigger question -- does that flag "yet wave/O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?" The second question refers not only to the battle at hand, but to the destiny of the country. The question is not only whether the flag of freedom still flies over America but also whether America itself is still brave and free.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THAT WHICH GIVES THE CITY ITS SHINE:
Abraham's promise and American power: a review of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod, edited by R Kendall Soulen (Spengler, 2/08/05, Asia Times)
American Christianity is personal rather than political, in contrast to the Protestant Separatism that founded the United States. The evangelicals who now comprise nearly half of the US electorate entered the political arena with reluctance. Except for the institutions it built, nothing remains of the New England Puritanism that brought to a New Promised Land a New Chosen People. Only the words etched into the marble of Abraham Lincoln's memorial remain of the biblical politics that guided the Union side of America's Civil War. For that reason, I have maintained, it is misguided to think of Americanism as a religion.
Not until I read Michael Wyschogrod's new book Abraham's Promise did it occur to me the long-departed spirit of American Puritanism might once again become flesh. US evangelicals might awaken one morning as a New Israel not merely in metaphor, but self-aware as a New Chosen People in a New Promised Land. The most paranoid imagining about the Christian Right pales beside this prospect. We are talking about the real thing, not a Straussian imitation: a politicized Protestantism in the mold of the 17th-century Separatists. A "Judaizing heresy" made the United States of America possible to begin with, I have argued on other occasions, and Professor Wyschogrod argues a strong case for the evangelicals to Judaize yet again. I do not know whether Wyschogrod anticipates the strategic consequences of his theology, and rather doubt that this is the case, but it is no less radical for absence of intent.
On the surface, his innovation is a way for Christians to think of themselves as a special case of Judaism. That is only the conning tower of his submarine, however. The intellectual resources of US evangelicals have not grown in step with their membership, and the movement is ripe for a re-examination. Wyschogrod provides them with a biblical (as opposed to a philosophical) framework to "understand itself ... [by] coming to terms with the Judaism within it". To a movement founded on the premise of Scripture alone, this may constitute an offer the evangelicals cannot refuse.
Wyschogrod has drawn some jeers from co-religionists (including the neo-conservatives at Commentary magazine), but sympathetic interest from Protestant theologians. To one of them, R Kendall Soulen, a professor at Wesleyan University in Washington, DC, we owe the present volume and a helpful introduction.
An uninvited thought crosses my mind that this might be one of the most important books of the 21st century. Not since the 17th century could anyone make such a statement in earnest about a work of theology. But in the presence of a single superpower, the chief strategic issue of the 21st century is whether the West has the will to continue living. Islam will have assimilated childless Western Europe by the end of the century. If America follows Europe into nihilism, the 21st century will go out in fair imitation of the 5th. That is why the evangelical mind will be the great issue of the next decade or two.
Spengler is often wrong but seldom silly. So when he tosses off that "except for the institutions it built, nothing remains" it's quite startling to see a thought so shallow. After all, those institutions include the Declaration, Constitution and the Republic itself all of which were deeply influenced by Puritan theology and can have no other secure basis but Christianity.
-ESSAY: Orthodox Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Dr. Michael Wyschogrod)
-REVIEW: of The Lonely Man of Faith by Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Commonweal, Jan 15, 1993, Michael Wyschogrod)
-REVIEW: Reflections on Eva Hoffman's Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and The World of Polish Jews. (Michael Wyschogrod, Sarmatian Review)
-REVIEW: of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod, ed. by R. Kendall Soulen (David Hazony, Commentary)
-REVIEW: of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod (Benjamin Balint, Azure)
-ESSAY: In the end shall Christians become Jews and Jews, Christians?: On Franz Rosenzweig's apocalyptic eschatology (Gregory Kaplan, Winter 2004, Cross Currents)
-ESSAY: God's first love: Michael Wyschogrod on Israel's election (Kendall Soulen, July 27, 2004, Christian Century)
I FIRST READ Michael Wyschogrod when I was in graduate school. The experience was electrifying. As I sat in the library finishing his essay "Israel, the Church, and Election," I remember being overcome by an almost physical sense of discovery, as though I had bumped into a hitherto invisible rock. What I had just read was undoubtedly the most unapologetic statement of Jewish faith I had ever encountered. Yet instantly I knew that Wyschogrod had helped me to see something in Paul that his Christian commentators had not. It was the theological relevance of the distinction between gentile and Jew.
Of course, the distinction was not wholly unfamiliar to me; far from it. I was accustomed to writers who treated the distinction as a useful bit of historical, sociological or religious description. Above all, I was familiar with the traditional Christian view that held that since Christ's coming the distinction between Jew and gentile had lost whatever theological significance it may once have had. This, after all, was Paul's own view, at least according to his commentators.
But Wyschogrod treated the difference differently. For Wyschogrod, the distinction was the indelible mark of an irrevocable divine choice: God's choice to enter history as the God of Israel. The distinction therefore mattered not only in the past, but also in the present and future. What is more, Wyschogrod treated the distinction as something that mattered not just to Jews, but also to Christians. He addressed Christians not merely as Christians but quite specifically as gentile Christians. With a shock of discovery, I realized that in this respect Wyschogrod was closer to Paul than were his Christian interpreters.
[originally posted: 2005-02-07
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE SHUT-MOUTHED MAN AND THE GOLDEN PRINCIPLE:
Lincoln and the Will of God (Andrew Ferguson, March 2008, First Things).
What Herndon didn't know was that, after his own visit to the Falls, Lincoln had been moved to write an extraordinary note to himself, apparently for his eyes only. The note, as it's come down to us, is a single page, incomplete and trailing off in mid-sentence. It wasn't discovered until after his death and wasn't made public for another thirty years. In it we hear Lincoln talking to himself.
"Niagara Falls!" it begins. "By what mysterious power," Lincoln wonders, "is it that millions and millions are drawn to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself."
No mystery? It quickly becomes apparent that this dismissive remark is intended ironically. Niagara, to Lincoln, is nothing if not mysterious. He ticks off the ways in which men have used scientific means to dispense with the mystery of so great a wonder. Geologists will determine the angle of the water's plunge, and measure the volume of the water, and calculate the speed with which it passes over the precipice. "Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder." Other scientists and philosophers will admire Niagara's role in the purely physical process of the water cycle: "This vast amount of water, constantly pouring down, is supplied by an equal amount constantly lifted up by the sun"--and so on and so on.
And yet, "still there is more" to Niagara, much more to this wonder of the world--something inexhaustible, he writes, some immensity that human reason can't explain or quantify or otherwise bottle up and before which men are powerless. What appears as "no mystery" to the literal-minded man, to the skeptic, is mysterious indeed. Lincoln, even in speaking to himself, is mute as to what that mystery might be. The fragment is the work of a man suffused with awe, awakening to a slightly uncomfortable appreciation for the limits of human understanding. It is a religious rumination, and, as far as we can trace it, the feeling it expresses would only grow as Lincoln himself grew older.
From fifteen years later, we have another, much better known fragment. Like the Niagara note, Lincoln wrote this to himself and stashed it away. It too reveals Lincoln's religious sense but in a different, more profound phase. From an awed appreciation of the physical world, it had deepened into a much darker apprehension of a Providence that haunts human affairs. The catalyst for this change, of course, was the Civil War--the torrent of suffering and blood that threatened to destroy the country and that Lincoln himself had played a part in unleashing. His secretaries, who found the scrap among his private papers, dated it September 1862, though it could have been written later. They called it "Meditation on the Divine Will."
It is written with a logician's care, in the categories of a lawyer. "The will of God prevails," it begins. "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time."
Yet the bloody back-and-forth of the war gives no hint as to which of the two parties God has chosen to side with. That very inconclusiveness raises the terrible possibility that God is on neither side--or, rather, that God is simply in favor of the war itself for reasons unknowable. "I am almost ready to say this is probably true--that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet." The will of God, after all, prevails; his sovereignty, Lincoln has come to believe, is the necessary condition of human affairs. "He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."
Note the bloodless phrasing: "I am almost ready to say this is probably true." Almost . . . probably. It is the expression of a cautious, legalistic mind being shaken up--confronting something too large to fit the intellectual compartments he has used to understand experience. But he is also being led, or leading himself, to a definite conclusion: This is no ordinary war, because this is no ordinary country.
The question of why Providence should have willed such a calamity is foreshadowed in one final fragment to consider, written (most likely) in the early days of the war. In it Lincoln plays with the figure from Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."
To Lincoln, the image illuminates the distinction between the picture and the frame, between a thing contained and that which contains it. In his reading, the Union is the frame that contains the golden principle: the proposition of liberty and equality--that all men are created equal--advanced by the Declaration of Independence. "The assertion of that principle, at that time [of the Revolution], was the word, ' fitly spoken' which has proved an 'apple of gold' to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple-- not the apple for the picture."
Read together, the fragments show Lincoln's mind as it matures toward his two greatest utterances, the fullest expressions of his most fundamental ideas. These are, of course, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. They are not merely works of statecraft but homilies in a civil religion of his own devising, steeped in the cadences and rhetoric of the King James Bible. They were the consequence of Lincoln's deepest contemplation and belief, arrived at with some care and (we may suppose) discomfort. At Gettysburg, Lincoln explained why the country--the Union--was worth preserving. It was not any Union that was being preserved, it was a particular kind of Union: a Union dedicated to a timeless proposition that existed before the Union was even conceived.
The war would determine whether such a proposition could be safely entrusted to human institutions. By the time of his Second Inaugural, with the end of the war in sight and the preservation of the Union a near certainty, he could say with confidence that the proposition had survived. And this "fundamental and astounding" conclusion had come about under the watchful and unfathomable eye of a Providence whose ways are ultimately beyond explanation but "whose judgments are true and righteous altogether."
This is what we know for certain of Lincoln's religion.
[originally posted: 7/05/08]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE DEFIANT ONES:
(via ef brown):
On Hating the Jews: The inextricable link between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. (NATAN SHARANSKY, November 17, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
[I]srael and the Jewish people share something essential with the United States. The Jews, after all, have long held that they were chosen to play a special role in history, to be what their prophets called "a light unto the nations." What precisely is meant by that phrase has always been a matter of debate, and I would be the last to deny the mischief that has sometimes been done, including to the best interests of the Jews, by some who have raised it as their banner. Nevertheless, over four millennia, the universal vision and moral precepts of the Jews have not only worked to secure the survival of the Jewish people themselves but have constituted a powerful force for good in the world, inspiring myriads to fight for the right even as in others they have aroused rivalry, enmity and unappeasable resentment.
It is similar with the United States--a nation that has long regarded itself as entrusted with a mission to be what John Winthrop in the 17th century called a "city on a hill" and Ronald Reagan in the 20th parsed as a "shining city on a hill." What precisely is meant by that phrase is likewise a matter of debate, but Americans who see their country in such terms certainly regard the advance of American values as central to American purpose. And, though the United States is still a very young nation, there can be no disputing that those values have likewise constituted an immense force for good in the world--even as they have earned America the enmity and resentment of many.
In resolving to face down enmity and hatred, an important source of strength is the lesson to be gained from contemplating the example of others. From Socrates to Churchill to Sakharov, there have been individuals whose voices and whose personal heroism have reinforced in others the resolve to stand firm for the good. But history has also been generous enough to offer, in the Jews, the example of an ancient people fired by the message of human freedom under God and, in the Americans, the example of a modern people who over the past century alone, acting in fidelity with their inmost beliefs, have confronted and defeated the greatest tyrannies ever known to man.
Fortunately for America, and fortunately for the world, the United States has been blessed by providence with the power to match its ideals. The Jewish state, by contrast, is a tiny island in an exceedingly dangerous sea, and its citizens will need every particle of strength they can muster for the trials ahead. It is their own people's astounding perseverance, despite centuries of suffering at the hands of faiths, ideologies, peoples, and individuals who have hated them and set out to do them in, that inspires one with confidence that the Jews will once again outlast their enemies.
Due to the problems of demographics and assimilation, we're less sanguine than Mr. Sharansky about the future of Judaism, but Judaism is so central to the West and to Christianity that so long as America remains Western/Christian, Judaism's legacy will endure.
[originally posted: 11/17/03]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: "GREAT EXAMPLES ARE BEFORE US"A Discourse in Commemoration of the Lives and Services of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (Daniel Webster, August 2, 1826, Faneuil Hall, Boston)
No two men now live, fellow-citizen, perhaps it may be doubted whether any two men have ever lived in one age, who, more than those we now commemorate, have impressed on mankind their own opinions more deeply into the opinions of others, or given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. Their work doth not perish with them. The tree which they assisted to plant will flourish, although they water it and protect it no longer; for it has struck its roots deep, it has sent them to the very centre; no storm, not of foce to burth the orb, can overturn it; its branches spread wide; they stretch their protecting arms braoder and broader, and its top is destined to reach the heavens. We are not deceived. There is no delusion here. No age will come in which the American Revolution will appear less than it is, one of the greatest events in human history. No age will come in which it shall cease to be seen and felt, on either continent, that a mighty step, a great advance, not only in American affairs, but in human affairs, was made on the 4th of July, 1776. And no age will come, we trust, so ignorant or so unjust as not to see and acknowledge the efficient agency of those we now honor in producing that momentous event.[originally posted: 2003-08-05]
We are not assembled, therefore, fellow-citizens, as men overwhelmed with calamity by the sudden disruption of the ties of friendship or affection, or as in despair for the republic by the untimely blighting of its hopes. Death has not surprised us by an unseasonable blow. We have, indeed, seen the tomb close, but it has closed only over mature years, over long-protracted public service, over the weakness of age, and over life itself only when the ends of living had been fulfilled. These suns, as they rose slowly and steadily, amidst clouds and storms, in their ascendant, so they have not rushed from the meridian to sink suddenly in the west. Like the mildness, the serenity, the continuing benignity of a summer's day, they have gone down with slow-descending, grateful long-lingering light; and now that they are beyond the visible margin of the world, good omens cheer us from "the bright track of thier fiery car"!
There were many points of similarity in the lives and fortunes of these great men. They belonged to the same profession, and had pursued its studies and its practice for unequal lengths of time indeed, but with dilligence and effect. Both were learned and able lawyers. They were natives and inhabitants, respectively of those two of the Colonies which at the Revolution were the largest and most powerful and which naturally had a lead in the political affairs of the times. When the Colonies became in some degree united by the assembling of a general Congress, they were brought to act together in its deliberations, not indeed at the same time but both at early periods. Each had laready manifested his attachment to the cause of the country, as well as his ability to maintain it, by printed addresses, public speeches, extensive correspondence, and whatever other mode could be adopted for the purpose of exposing the encroachments of the British Parliament, and animating the people to a manly resistance. Both were not only decided, but early, friends of Independence. While others yet doubted, they were resolved; where others hesitated they pressed forward. They were both members of the committee for preparing the Declaration of Independence, and they constituted the sub-committee appointed by the other members to make the draft. They left their seats in Congress, being called to other public employments at periods not remote from each other, although one of them returned to it afterwards for a short time. Neither of them was of the assembly of great men which formed the present Constitution, and neither was at any time a member of Congress under its provisions. Both have been public ministers abroad, both Vice-Presidents and both Presidents of the United States. These coincidences are now singularly crowned and completed. They have died together; and they did on the anniversary of liberty...
And now, fellow-citizens, without pursuing the biography of these illustrious men further, for the present let us turn our attention to the most
prominent act of their lives, their participation in the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE...
It has sometimes been said, as if it were a derogation from the merits of this paper, that it contains nothing new; that it only states grounds of
proceeding and presses topics of argument, which had often been stated and pressed before. But it was not the object of the Declaration to produce any thing new. It was not to invent reasons for independence, but to state those which governed the Congress. For great and sufficient causes, it was proposed to declare independence; and the proper business of the paper to be drawn was to set for th those causes, and justify the authors of the measure, in any event of fortune, to the country and to posterity. The cause of American independence, moreover, was now to be presented to the world in such manner; of it might so be, as to engage its sympathy, to command its respect, to attract its admiration; and in an assembly of most able and distinguished men, THOMAS JEFFERSON had the high honor of being the selected advocate of this cause. To say that he performed his great work well, would be doing him an injustice. To say that he did excellently well, admirably well, would be inadequate and halting praise. Let us rather say, that he so discharged the duty assigned him, that all Americans may well rejoice that the work of drawing the title-deed of their liberties devolved upon him...
The Congress of the Revolution, fellow-citizens, sat with closed doors, and no report of its debates was ever made. The discussion, therefore, which accompanied this great measure, has never been preserved, except in memory and by tradition. But it is, I believe, doing [n]o injustice to others to say, that the general opinion was, and uniformly has been, that in debate, on the side of independence, JOHN ADAMS had no equal. The great author of the Declaration himself has espressed that opinion uniformly and strongly. JOHN ADAMS, said he, in the hearing of him who has now the honor to address you, JOHN ADAMS was our colossus on the floor. Not graceful, not elegant, not always fluent, in his public addresses, he yet came out with a power both of thought and of expression, which moved us from our seats...
The eloquence of Mr. Adams resembled his general character, and formed, indeed, a part of it. It was bold, manly, and energetic; and such the crisis required. When public bodies are to be addressed on passions excited, nothing is valuable in speech farther than as it is connected with high intellectual and moral endowments. Clearness, force, and earnestness are the qualities which produce conviction. True eloquence, indeed, does not consist in speech. It cannot be brought from far. Labor and learning may toil for it, but they will toil in vain. It must exist in the man, in the subject, and in the occassion. Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire to it; they cannot reach it. It comes, if it comes at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous, original, native force. The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men, when their own lives and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country hang on the decision of the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then patriotism is eloquent; then self-devotion is eloquent. The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit, speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man onward, right onward to his object this, this is eloquence; or rather it is something greater and higher than all eloquence, it is action, noble, sublime godlike action...
Let us, then, bring before us the assembly, which was about to decide a question thus big with the fate of empire. Let us open their doors and look upon their deliberations. Let us survey the anxious and care-worn countenances, let us hear the firm-toned voices, of this band of patriots.
HANCOCK presides over the solemn sitting; and one of those not yet prepared to pronounce for absolute independence is on the floor, and is urging his reasons for dissenting from the declaration.
"Let us pause! This step, once taken, cannot be retracted. This resolution, once passed, will cut off all hope of reconciliation. If success attend the arms of England, we shall then be no longer Colonies, with charters and with privileges; these will all be forfeited by this act; and we shall be in the condition of other conquered people, at the mercy of the conquerors. For ourselves, we may be ready to run the hazard; but are we ready to carry the country to that length? Is success so probably as to justify it? Where is the military, where the naval power, by which we are to resist the whole strength of the arm of England, for she will exert that strength to the utmost? Can we rely on constancy and perseverance of the people? or will they not act as the people of other countries have acted and, wearied with a long war, submit, in the end, to a worse oppression? While we stand on our old ground, and insist on redress of grievances, we know we are right, and are not answerable for consequences. Nothing, then, can be imputed to us. But if we now change our object, carry our pretensions farther, and set up for absolute indpendence, we shall lose the sympathy of mankind. We shall no longer be defending what we possess, but struggling for something which we never did possess, and which we have solemnly and uniformly disclaimed all intention of pursuing, from the very outset of the troubles. Abandoning thus our old ground, of resistance only to arbitrary acts of oppression, thee nations will believe the whole to have been mere pretence, and they will look on us, not as injured, buut as ambitious subjects. I shudder before this responsibility. It will be on us, if, relinquishing the ground on which we have stood so long, and stood so safely, we now proclaim independence, and carry on the war for that object, while these cities burn, these pleasant fields whiten and bleach with the bones of their owners, and these streams run blood. It will be upon us, it will be upon us, if, failing to maintain this unseasonable and ill-judged declaration, a sterner despotism, maintained by military power, shall be exhausted, a harassed, misled people, shall have expiated our rashness and atoned for our presumption on the scaffold."
It was for Mr. Adams to reply to arguments like these. We know his opinions, and we know his character. He would commence with his accustomed directness and earnestness.
"Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at
independence. But there's a Divinity which shapes our ends. The injustice of England has driven us to arms; and blinded to her own interest for our good, she has obstinately persisted, till independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth to it, and it is ours. Why, then, should we defer the Declaration? Is any man so weak as now to hope for a reconciliation with England, which shall leave either safety to the country and its liberties, or safety to his own life and his own honor? Are not you, Sir, who sit in that chair, is not he, our venerable colleague near you, are you not both already the proscribed and predestined objects of punishment and of vengeance? Cut off from all hope of royal clemency, what are you, what can you be, while the power of England remains, but outlaws? If we postpone independence, do we mean to carry on, or to give up, the war? Do we mean to submit to the measures of Parliament, Boston Port Bill and all? Do we mean to submit, and consent that we ourselves shall be ground to powder, and our country and its rights trodden down in the dust? I know we do not mean to submit. We shall never submit. Do we intend to violate that most solemn obligation ever entered into men, that plighting, before God, of our sacred honor to Washington, when, putting forth to incure the dangers of war, as well as the political hazards of our times, we promised to adhere to him, in ever extremity, with our fortunes and our lives? I know there is not a man here, who would not rather see a general conflagration sweep over the land, or an earthquake sink it, than one jot or tittle of that plighted faith fall to the ground. For myself, having, twelve months ago, in this place, moved you, that George Washington be appointed commander of the forces raised, or to be raised, for defence of American liberty, may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I hesitate or waver in the support I give him... "
And now, fellow-citizens, let us not retire from this occasion without a deep and solemn conviction of the duties which have developed upon us. This lovely land, this glorious liberty, these benign institutions, the dear purchase of our fathers, are ours; ours to enjoy, ours to preserve, ours to transmit. Generations past and generations to come hold us responsible for this sacred trust. Our fathers, from behind, admonish us, with their anxious paternal voices; posterity calls out to us, from the bosom of the future; the world turns hither its solicitous eyes; all, conjure us to act wisely, and faithfully, in the relation which we sustain.
We can never, indeed, pay the debt which is upon us; but by virtue, by morality, by religion, by the cultivation of every good principle and every good habit, we may hope to enjoy the blessing, through our day, and to leave it unimpaired to our children. Let us feel deeply how much of what we are and of what we possess we owe to this liberty, and to these institutions of government. Nature has, indeed, given us a soil which yields bounteously to the hand of industry, the mighty and fruitful ocean is before us, and the skies over our heads shed health and vigor. But what are lands, and seas, and skies, to civilized man, without society, without knowledge, without morals, without religious culture; and how can these be enjoyed, in all their extent and all their excellence, but under the protection of wise institutions and a free government? Fellow-citizens, there is not one of us, there is not one of us here present, who does not, at this moment, and at every moment, experience, in his own condition, and in the condition of those most near and dear to him, the influence and the benefits, of this liberty and these institutions. Let us then acknowledge the blessing, let us feel it deeply and powerfully, let us cherish a strong affection for it, and resolve to maintain and perpetuate it. The blood of our fathers, let it not have been shed in vain; the great hope of posterity, let it not be blasted.
The striking attitude, too, in which we stand to the world around us, a topic to which, I fear, I advert too often, and dwell on too long, cannot be altogether ommited here. Neither individuals nor nations can perform their part well, until they understand and feel its importance, and comprehend and justly appreciate all the duties belonging to it. It is not to inflate national vanity, nor to swell a light and empty feeling of self-importance, but it is that we may judge justly of our situation, and of our own duties, that I earnestly urge you upon this consideration of our position and our character among the nations of the earth. It cannot be denied, but by those who would dispute against the sun, that with America, and in America, a new era commences in human affairs. This era is distinguised by free representative governments, by entire religious liberty, by improved systems of national intercourse, by a newly awakened and unconquerable spirit of free inquiry, and by a diffusion of knowledge through the community, such as has been before altogether unknown and unheard of America, America, our country, fellow-citizens, our own dear and native land, is inseparably connected, fast bound up, in fortune and by fate, with these great interests. If they fall, we fall with them; if they stand, it will be because we have maintained them. Let us contemplate, then, this connection, which binds the prosperity of others to our own; and let us manfully discharge all the duties which it imposes. If we cherish the virtues and the principles of our fathers, Heaven will assist us to carry on the work of human liberty and human happiness. Auspicious omens cheer us. Great examples are before us. Our own firmament now shines brightly upon our path. WASHINGTON is in the clear, upper sky. These other stars hae now joined the American Constellation; they circle round their centre, and the heavens beam with new light. Beneath this illumination let us walk the course of life, and at its close devoutly commend our beloved country, the common parent of us all, to the Divine Benignity.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SHARE THE IDEALS AND IT'S YOUR FLAG TOO:
The Banner That Binds Us (JAY AKASIE, July 3, 2007, NY Sun)
[A]s we approach Independence Day, it's time to practice some basic flag etiquette. It's all spelled out in the United States Code, the permanent laws of the land. Title 4 of the Code, Chapter 1, outlines the federal rules and regulations governing the display and treatment of our flag. [...]
The final section of Title 4 captures the essence of why the American flag is so important -- and so different -- from any other flag: "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."
The exceptional nature of our country and its flag wasn't lost on the founding fathers. Consider what Benjamin Franklin wrote in his post-war pamphlet, Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, an effort to advertise the wide-open American nation to the best that Europe had to offer.
Franklin wrote that in America "people do not enquire, concerning a stranger, What is he? but What can he do? If he has any useful art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him; but a mere man of quality, who on that account wants to live upon the public by some office or salary, will be despised and disregarded."
Franklin was attempting to explain to a muddled mass of European peasants and nobility alike that hard work, intelligence, and character are what matter in America.
Unless he looks German....
[originally posted: 7/04/07]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: EQUALITY, NOT EGALITIE (via Mike Daley):
Gentlemen Revolutionaries: a review of
Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different by Gordon Wood ( Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review)
In the introduction to his new book, a collection of previously published and newly revised essays, Wood observes that our "special need for these authentic historical figures" does not have its source in our concern with "constitutional jurisprudence and original intent," or even in the determination to "recover what was wise and valuable in America's past." The true source, he says, is the peculiar manner in which the nation was constituted:
The United States was founded on a set of beliefs and not, as were other nations, on a common ethnicity, language, or religion. Since we are not a nation in any traditional sense of the term, in order to establish our nationhood, we have to reaffirm and reinforce periodically the values of the men who declared independence from Great Britain and framed the Constitution. As long as the Republic endures, in other words, Americans are destined to look back to its founding.
But the spirit in which we explore our inheritance is a matter not of destiny but of choice, and a more learned or lucid guide to the founding than Gordon Wood would not be easy to find.
Contrary to the dominant tendencies of his profession, Wood is a historian who, without scanting the impact of larger social forces, respects ideas and the actions of outstanding historical figures -- not least, in the case of America's founders, the actions they undertook to implement their ideas about constitutional government. He has sympathy for the common opinion among nineteenth-century Americans, still shared by many Americans today, that the founders were great men, larger-than-life figures, brilliant thinkers and bold politicians who brought forth a new kind of nation dedicated to principles of universal appeal and application. He rejects for good and sufficient reason the effort to reduce the founders to place-holders for somebody else's favorite -- or despised -- ideology and the attempt to reduce the founders to instruments of their time and circumstances. Wood is acutely aware that the founders' Constitution involved a compromise with evil, but he inclines to Lincoln's position that the ideas about freedom and equality on which it was based and the political institutions it established set the country on the path to slavery's eventual extinction. In the process of examining the founders' characters and principles, and the distinctive importance they attached to both, Wood restores the founders' complexity and humanity while making their achievements all the more vivid and worthy of study. [...]
John Adams was a cantankerous character whose political principles put him at odds not only with Hamilton and the team of Jefferson and Madison, but also, and perhaps even more, with the theory of government on which the Constitution was based. The first vice president and second president of the United States, Adams is slighted in historical memory, and he felt acutely during his lifetime that his achievements were slighted by his contemporaries. As Wood suggests, this neglect is related to his 1776 pamphlet Thoughts on Government and his A Defense of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America, published in 1787 and 1788, the very writings that established Adams as eighteenth-century America's foremost student of constitutional government. His emphasis in these documents -- and in outspoken public and private remarks -- on the necessary limits on egalitarian politics, even in a country based on liberty and equality, was hardly novel. Other founders agreed that although America was a land blissfully free of distinctions based on rank, it could not eliminate ambition or the desire for distinction, which fed competition, vanity, the love of luxury, and corruption. But Adams harped on the theme.
The genius of the Republic is that it assumes men equal at birth but rejects egalitarianism of results during their lives.
[originally posted: 7/04/06
FROM THE ARCHIVES: PROPOSITION NATION:
The Boy and some friends are practicing the Gettysburg Address today, so they can deliver it at a Muster Day assembly (Memorial Day for you in the subsequent states). Found these MP3s of Johnny Cash, Sam Waterston, and Jeff Daniels doing it at the great American Rhetoric site.
[Originally posted: 5/06/06]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SAFEGUARDING DIGNITY:
The Inalienable Right to Dignity (Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D., 7/04/11, Catholic Exchange)
Fireworks. Baseball games. Picnics. This is what the Fourth of July means to most Americans today. But July 4, 1776, was a very solemn day for the 55 men who affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence. For in so doing, they were risking their lives and fortunes to defend the proposition that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Liberty was a corollary of human dignity, and to safeguard human dignity was the reason for their war of independence.
So what does the Fourth of July have to do with the teaching of the Catholic Church? [...]
The Second Vatican Council does nothing but draw out the implications of this biblical witness.
It bases the right to freedom of religion on human dignity. It teaches that morality can never just be imposed from without, as so many rules and regulations, but must be internalized in a sanctuary called conscience. It teaches that not just a select few, but all, are called to the heights of holiness, regardless of their state in life or occupation. It teaches that if all are created in God's image and likeness, then all are equal in dignity, whether man or woman, adult or child, born, or unborn, cleric or lay. It teaches that societies must strive to bring about living conditions that correspond to human dignity.
[originally posted: 7/04/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: ROOTS OF THE MATTER:
What Silent Cal Said About the Fourth of July: The late president believed American freedom had religious roots. (LEON KASS, 7/01/11, WSJ)
Coolidge, citing 17th- and 18th-century sermons and writings of colonial clergy, provides ample evidence that the principles of the Declaration, and especially equality, are of American cultural and religious provenance: "They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit." From this teaching flowed the emerging American rejection of monarchy and our bold embrace of democratic self-government.
Coolidge draws conclusions from his search into the sources. First, the Declaration is a great spiritual document. "Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man . . . are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. . . . Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish."
He also observes that the Declaration's principles are final, not to be discarded in the name of progress. To deny the truth of human equality, or inalienable rights, or government by consent is not to go forward but backward--away from self-government, from individual rights, from the belief in the equal dignity of every human being.
Coolidge's concluding remarks especially deserve our attention: "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. . . . If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things which are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped."
[originally posted: 7/04/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE SUN MAY NOT SHINE EVERY DAY, BUT IT DOESN'T CEASE TO EXIST:
The American Crisis (Thomas Paine, 1776)
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
Iraq's Fourth of July: Democracy won't come easy--but then, it never has anywhere else. (DANIEL HENNINGER, July 2, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
Most of those stating their doubts in public about democracy in Mesopotamia are conservatives who supported the war itself but have come to believe that Middle Eastern history, culture, religion and an unseemly fascination with explosives and blood feuds makes self-government unlikely. Most liberals, meanwhile, concluded before the war that Iraqi democracy was a neoconservative plot and so are pretty much sitting out this turn in history. In his realpolitik phase a while back, John Kerry announced that notions like democracy and even human rights (a crown jewel of the modern Democratic Party) should be back-burnered.
Iraq: The Visionaries (Charles Rousseaux Published 07/02/2004, Tech Central Station)
[P]resident Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been castigated for the casualties that have come for their dream of a democratic Iraq. Many more may die, despite the recent transfer of sovereignty. Their critics will continue to insist that a watchful status quo would have been far preferable to the troublesome, toilsome bloody road Messers Bush and Blair took. [...]
Messers Bush and Blair have delightful dreams of the good that democracy might do in the entire region. The liberated citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan could serve as shining examples to their neighbors and become a bulwark against terror. Free states established in the heart of the region could slash at terrorists' bases of support and show potential recruits that ballots are better (or at least healthier) than bullets and suicide bombers.
The disease of democracy could be catching (heaven help the country that gets Florida-itis). In June, Jordan's King Abudullah said that although Mr. Bush's push towards freedom in the Middle East, "frightened people" it also changed the debate in a fundamental way, and "started a process you can't turn back." As The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl noted, King Abdullah is quietly making many reforms in his own country. According to Mr. Diehl, even Europeans and Democrats (can anyone tell the difference? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?) support Mr. Bush's democratic ends even if they deplore his direct means.
It's quite fitting, actually, that the only ones left believing that the Iraqi experiment in liberty will work are the Iraqis themselves and American theocons, the last tenders of the flame of the Founders.
So we have the rather unedifying spectacle of neocons bailing out on their own core beliefs, just because the transition hasn't happened overnight, as in the following:Shattered illusions (Francis Fukuyama, 29jun04, The Australian)
OF all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neo-conservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the US could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy and go on from there to democratise the broader Middle East.
It struck me as strange precisely because these same neo-conservatives had spent much of the past generation warning about the dangers of ambitious social engineering and how social planners could never control behaviour or deal with unanticipated consequences.
If the US cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, DC, how in the world does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?
Several neo-conservatives, such as Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, have noted how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratise. Krauthammer asks: "Where
is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?" He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs.
It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy,
and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism.
But possibility is not probability, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions - something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight.
Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history's arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through simple political will.
Here is what Mr. Fukuyama wrote in The End of History:
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankinds ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Apparently "universal" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.
But it is, of course, not Mr. Fukuyama who is most closely associated with the truth that time's arrow points towards democracy, but the Founders and, in the modern world, George W. Bush. So, where Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." Mr. Bush has said:
Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.
We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not know -- we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.
The difference here--the reason that Mr. Fukuyama has waffled, while Mr. Bush has kept the faith--is that for the Founders and for the religious today the eventual triumph of liberty is not merely an intellectual conjecture but a fulfillment of God's Creation. The denial of human freedom, no matter how persistent or seemingly intractable, can never be more than temporary, because freedom is God's gift to Man.
It's all well and good to be dubious about Iraq's immediate prospects, but to question its long term prospects, or those of the rest of the Islamic world for that matter, is in the precise sense unAmerican. It requires the disavowal of our Foundational premises:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
The problem is that those on the far Right don't believe all men to be equal--especially not the brown ones--while the Left and the secular Right (most Libertarians, neocons, etc.) don't believe man was Created. We're left then with a situation where it's pretty much only conservative Jews and Christians who still believe in the truths that America represents.
Fortunately, at the present time, their number happens to include the President.
[originally posted: 2004-07-04]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A CREED, NOT A BREED:
Why We Keep This Creed (Michael Gerson, July 4, 2007, Washington Post)
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that America has a "schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself." But we are redeemed, he argued, by our creed, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which manages "to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the 'isness' of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the 'oughtness' of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood." Americans, he said, believe in "certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. . . . They are God-given, gifts from his hands."
"You may take my life," King said, "but you can't take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can't take my right to liberty." And this creed of "amazing universalism" calls "America to do a special job for mankind and the world . . . because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large."
The privileged and powerful can love America for many reasons. The oppressed and powerless, stripped of selfish motives for their love, have found America lovely because of its ideals.
It is typical of America that our great national day is not the celebration of a battle -- or, as in the case of France, the celebration of a riot. It is the celebration of a political act, embedded in a philosophic argument: that the rights of man are universal because they are rooted in the image of God.
Which is why the nativist, with his particularist claim that America is for him and his, can not succeed in the long run.
[originally posted: 7/05/07]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: MAKING ROOM:
This Fourth of July, why I love America, like most Muslim Americans: Americans may not be able to name all the articles of the Constitution, but they've been taught its ethic for most of their lives. Equality and tolerance are instilled in them. After religious persecution drove me from my native Pakistan, that is why I gratefully call America "home." (Faheem Younus / July 1, 2011 , CS Monitor)
Talk to Muslim Americans and you will hear just how valued, how precious, this tolerance is to them. Some would strongly disagree with the American foreign policy, and some would lament about a personal experience of discrimination. But in my experience, all would agree on one thing: that the United States provides them with more freedom, more security, more opportunity, and more peace than the country from which they emigrated.
Since that day on the Jersey shore, I have made it a habit to make room for my fellow citizens wherever I can. It's only my way to reciprocate to you, America, for you have made room for millions of immigrants like me and provided us the opportunity to live with equality, justice, and freedom.
[originally posted: 7/02/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE MARCH OF LIBERTY BEGINS WITH A STEP:
'All men are created equal' is not hypocrisy but vision (Jeff Jacoby, July 4, 2010, Boston Globe)
[Y]es, it is easy to damn Jefferson and the other Founders for not living up to their highest ideals. But if that is all it takes to be convicted of hypocrisy, how many of us would escape conviction? Surely what is more remarkable about Jefferson is not that he owned slaves, but that he acknowledged forthrightly and repeatedly that slavery was wrong. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia,'' for instance, he characterized slave ownership as "the most unremitting despotism'' -- an outrage bound to provoke divine wrath. "Indeed,'' Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.''
The Founders weren't stupid. Of course they knew that the universal ideals embraced in the Declaration were not matched in reality across the colonies. The controversy over slavery was intense; but even more intense was the need for a united front against England. The urgent choice in 1776 was not between slavery or abolition. It was between hanging together, as Benjamin Franklin supposedly quipped in Philadelphia, or most assuredly hanging separately. They chose to hang together, and the confrontation over slavery was left for later.
But in that confrontation, the lofty ideal of equality enshrined in the Declaration -- precisely because it was enshrined in the Declaration -- imparted enormous moral authority to the abolitionists' cause. Those who indict the Founders because their treatment of African slaves didn't come up to the standard of "all men are created equal'' should be asked: Would the Declaration of Independence have been improved if those words had been omitted? Would slavery have ended sooner had abolitionists not been able to invoke that "self-evident truth''?
[originally posted: 7/04/10]
ANDY'S AMERICAN REVOLUTION:MORE: The Folksy TV Sheriff From Mayberry (DOUGLAS MARTIN, July 3, 2012, NY Times)
Mr. Griffith was already a star -- on Broadway in "No Time for Sergeants" and in Hollywood in Elia Kazan's film "A Face in the Crowd" -- when "The Andy Griffith Show" made its debut in the fall of 1960. And he delighted a later generation of television viewers in the 1980s and '90s in the title role of the courtroom drama "Matlock."
But his fame was never as great as it was in the 1960s, when he starred for eight years as Andy Taylor, the sagacious sheriff of the make-believe town of Mayberry, N.C. Every week he rode herd on a collection of eccentrics, among them his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, and the simple-minded gas station attendant Gomer Pyle. Meanwhile, as a widower, Andy raised a young son, Opie, and often went fishing with him. "The Andy Griffith Show," seen Monday nights on CBS, was No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings its first year and never fell below the Top 10. It was No. 1 in 1968, its last season. After the run ended with Episode No. 249, the show lived on in spinoff series, endless reruns and even Sunday school classes organized around its rustic moral lessons.
The show imagined a reassuring world of fishin' holes, ice cream socials and rock-hard family values during a decade that grew progressively tumultuous. Its vision of rural simplicity (captured in its memorable theme song, whistled over the opening credits) was part of a TV trend that began with "The Real McCoys" on ABC in 1957 and later included "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres" and "Hee Haw."
But by the late 1960s, the younger viewers networks prized were spurning corn pone, and Mr. Griffith had decided to leave after the 1966-67 season to make movies. CBS made a lucrative offer for him to do one more season, and "The Andy Griffith Show" became the No. 1 series in the 1967-68 season. [...]
[T]he show's 35 million viewers would have been reassured to learn that even at the peak of his popularity, Mr. Griffith drove a Ford station wagon and bought his suits off the rack. He said his favorite honor was having a stretch of a North Carolina highway named after him in 2002. (That was before President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.)
FROM THE ARCHIVES: CAUSE WAY:
Defending the American cause (Lee Wishing, 5/31/10, World)
Concerned about evidence that Korean War (1950-53) POWs were "easy targets of Communist indoctrination," Kirk wrote his little classic in 1957 to teach American servicemen the basic principles of American civilization. He believed all Americans need to understand the principles that make our country exceptional in order to defend her vigorously abroad and at home. Publishers reprinted The American Cause in 1966 during the Vietnam War and again in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks. In this age of the modern Tea Party, Intercollegiate Studies Institute research suggests we may be even more susceptible to indoctrination by foreign and domestic radical ideologues.
Kirk wrote, "Civilization grows out of religion: the morals, the politics, the economics, the literature and the arts of any people have a religious origin. . . . And in America, it is the Christian religion." Moreover, Kirk defines the American cause as the "defense of principles of a true civilization." If Kirk is right that America's greatness flows from the Christian religion--and I believe he is--it is evident that Christians must bear the weight of perpetuating and defending America. And we must begin at the beginning by understanding how Christian teaching connects to the founding principles of our country. This will take some work, some study, some homework, and we can begin by reading The American Cause. It's an easy and short read.
Kirk cautions that we not make an idol of the USA, and become jingoistic and the self-appointed "keepers of the world's conscience." But it's clear he thought we should work to preserve, protect, and promote the Christian ideals that make American society thrive, such as belief in an unchanging God who made people in His image and entitled to life, liberty, and the protection of their property; punishing actions that violate these inalienable rights; an understanding that mankind and societies are not perfectible through government tinkering and revolution; recognizing that leaders who think otherwise are dangerous ideologues; tolerating other religious faiths and valuing liberty of conscience; and cultivating free and orderly markets to improve the human condition.
[originally posted: 6/02/10]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: A CONTRADICTION THAT COULD ONLY BE RESOLVED ONE WAY:
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: How did these words become the most important in the Declaration of Independence? The answer starts with a small band of motivated Americans. (Eric Slauter,
July 3, 2011, Boston Globe)
To members of the small antislavery movement of the time, the language of the Declaration must have arrived as a blessing - a national document, signed by some of America's leading citizens, that included a claim that "all Men are created equal." Almost immediately, it seems, antislavery activists such as Lemuel Haynes of Massachusetts incorporated those words into their arguments against slavery. Haynes had a black father and a white mother and called himself a "Mollato." He had experienced life as an indentured servant and as a soldier, but never as a slave, and he embraced the key sentence as an epigraph for a manuscript he had been working on with the characteristically lengthy (and loosely spelled) 18th-century title of "Liberty Further Extended; or Free thoughts on the illegality of Slave-keeping; Wherein those arguments that Are useed in its vindication Are plainly Confuted. Together with an humble Address to such as are Concearned in the practise."
There, in unedited prose on the title page, he cited the words of Congress: "We hold these truths to Be self-Evident, that all men are created Equal, that they are Endowed By their Creator with Ceartain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happyness."
Haynes's essay was not published in his lifetime, but he was part of a bigger social and political movement, and other similar uses of the phrase did see print. In a sermon given in 1778, a white antislavery minister from Hanover, N.J., asked his listeners and later his readers "if 'tis self-evident, i.e. so clear that it needs not proof, how unjust, how inhuman, for Britons, or Americans, not only to attempt, but actually to violate this right?" That same year, a Quaker from Pennsylvania named Anthony Benezet suggested that a nation that made the public declarations of equality and rights present in the Declaration while simultaneously supporting slavery risked divine punishment during wartime. In 1783, David Cooper of New Jersey published an address directed to "the Rulers of America" in the Continental Congress on the inconsistency of slavery in a land of liberty, using the second paragraph of the Declaration to hold them to account. Could Congress, he asked, have truly meant only "the rights of whitemen" and not of "all men"?
Invoking the language of the Declaration became a powerful part of abolitionist rhetoric. Indeed, a search for the phrase "all Men are created equal" in digitized newspapers and nonperiodical publications reveals that a majority of the citations in the 15 years after 1776 were by opponents of the slave trade. Formal abolitionist societies in Pennsylvania in 1788, in Maryland in 1791, and New Jersey in 1793 all worked the sentence into the constitutions of their organizations. Abolitionist sympathizers in Congress invoked the sentence on the floor of the new House of Representatives in 1790, even though the Constitution itself denied Congress the power to prohibit the migration and importation of slaves before 1808.
And long before abolitionism became a potent political force in America, the Declaration's language of rights became a linchpin of the move away from slavery. In writing it, Jefferson and Congress built on intellectual foundations from John Locke and other and had followed the sweeping language of Virginia's Declaration of Rights, a draft of which circulated in June of 1776 and enumerated the natural rights of life and liberty as well as the right to pursue happiness. Vermont's Declaration of Rights of 1777 opened with similar language, but followed these abstractions with a specific prohibition on slavery. In Massachusetts, the constitution adopted in 1780 began with a Declaration of Rights, which held that "All men are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights," including life, liberty, "safety and happiness." In 1783, citing that article, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared slavery unconstitutional, forestalling the necessarily difficult political wrangling and costs that might have ensued with a direct legislative solution for emancipation. As the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, legislators in Rhode Island prefaced an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery with a direct citation of the claims of rights and equality from the Declaration's second paragraph.
By 1792, when almanac maker Benjamin Banneker, an African-American, quoted the "true and invaluable doctrine . . . 'that all men are created equal' " back to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in an exchange of letters reprinted in papers across the new nation, abolitionists had been working for a decade and a half to make Americans identify the Declaration of Independence with the cause of enslaved peoples.
The Declaration itself began to take on its iconic status in the early 19th century, as the nation emerged from a second war with Britain and as revolutions in Latin America led to the creation of new declarations of independence. Early in the 1820s, Congress authorized the production of a facsimile of the engrossed parchment copy, and by the time of the Declaration's jubilee in 1826 it was not just abolitionists who were invoking the self-evident truths of the second paragraph as a founding creed of the nation.
[originally posted: 7/03/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE BEST OF ALL GUIDES:
Inventing the Gettsyburg Address (Garry Wills) (Harry V. Jaffa, Fall 1992, First Principles)
Let us consider further how the relationship of independence and union was looked back upon in the after-light of the Founding. In 1825, Jefferson asked Madison for his recommendation of books or documents that ought to be made authoritative--norma docendi--for instruction by the law faculty of the new University of Virginia. In response, Madison did recommend--and Jefferson incorporated his recommendation into a resolution adopted by the Board of Visitors of the University--some of the "best guides" to "the distinctive principles of the government of our own State, and of that of the United States." The first was the "Declaration of Independence, as the fundamental act of Union of these States."
In his earlier book, Wills refers to the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address together as "war propaganda with no legal force" ( 362). But this is to ignore the testimony of Madison and Jefferson, that the Declaration was "the fundamental act of Union.""Act" here means "law." Article VI of the Constitution declares that:
All debts contracted and engagements entered into before the adoption of this Constitution shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution as under the Confederation.
Article XII of the Articles of Confederation declares, in like manner, that all debts contracted under the authority of Congress before the Articles went into effect shall be considered charges against the United States, and honored as such. This more than confirms Lincoln's contention that the legal and moral personality of the United States, as a Union, extends continuously not only to the Declaration of Independence, but before that to the Congress of the Union that declared independence, and which had incurred debts from the beginning of the war in 1775. The Declaration of Independence is today the first of the four organic laws of the United States, according to the United States Code, as adopted by the United States Congress.3 Article VII of the Constitution, as signed by George Washington, and submitted to the states for ratification declares that it was "done in Convention in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth." All acts and deeds of the United States are by the Constitution itself dated from the Declaration of Independence. How anyone could write two books on this topic, as Garry Wills has done, and remain ignorant of these most elementary historical and legal facts, is difficult to understand.
The enduring significance of the Declaration of Independence--embodied in the Gettysburg Address--is accordingly less in marking the separation of the colonies from Great Britain, than of marking the union of the states with each other. This enduring significance, however, is constituted less by the legal fact of union, than by the moral fact that--according to Madison and Jefferson--the Declaration embodies the principles of government of the States severally, and of the United States corporately. Moreover, the Constitution of 1787 guarantees "to every state of this union a republican form of government," without ever defining that form. Can there be any doubt that, as indicated by the testimony of the aforesaid witnesses, such form is best defined in the Declaration of Independence?
What made the Declaration of Independence the best of all guides to educating the guardians of republican freedom? In 1978, as we have seen, Wills, following Kendall, thought that the equality mentioned in the Declaration referred to the collective legal equality of the States with each other, not to the moral equality of the human persons who were their "inhabitants." We have seen Wills quote with full approval--in opposition to Lincoln--the assertion that:
. . . the statesmen who founded the government . . . were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that Negroes were their equals. . . .
That the Declaration of Independence included Negroes in the proposition of human equality is the heart of hearts of Lincoln's alleged "new past." Wills also inherited this thesis from Kendall, who had charged Lincoln with "a startling new interpretation of . . . 'all men are created equal'" ( 39). The denial that Negroes had been included in the humanity of the Declaration had also been the contention of Chief Justice Taney in his opinion for the Court in Dred Scott. By a strange twist of fate, what was an article of faith for the old defenders of slavery has become unquestionable orthodoxy among "black power" historians and their allies of the radical Left, who take it as proof of the racism of the American Founding.
Where does the truth lie? Are individuals equal, or are only "peoples" collectively equal? Consider the Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780--whose author was John Adams, a member of the committee charged by the Congress in 1776 to draft the Declaration:
The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good . . .
And the premise upon which this voluntary association is formed is that:
All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
Here is an authoritative gloss upon the doctrine of the Declaration, prefaced to a Revolutionary state constitution.
In 1835, after being engaged in mortal combat against the doctrine of state rights enunciated by Calhoun during the nullification crisis (1828-33), James Madison drafted an essay on the meaning of sovereignty in constitutional jurisprudence. He wrote:
To go to the bottom of the subject let us consult the theory which contemplates a certain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in order that the rights, the safety, and the interest of each may be under the safeguard of the whole.
The first supposition is, that each individual being previously independent of the others, the compact which is to make them one society must result from the free consent of every individual.
Therefore, there can be no doubt that the consent that brings the body politic into existence, the consent upon which majority rule and the "just powers of government" depend, is "the free consent of every individual." It is true that communities of men founded in this way are themselves equal to other independent communities. But this collective equality is a by-product of the equality that individuals enjoyed, as contracting parties, prior to forming themselves into a people. The equality enjoyed by citizens and persons under the constitutional law of a free society is a consequence of the antecedent equality belonging to them under the laws of nature and of nature's God. It is this natural equality that defines the ends, and limits the powers, of all legitimate governments. This is the philosophical core of the idea of limited government.
[originally posted: 7/04/08]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: NO ONE BELIEVES hE'S OMNIPOTENT:
Philosophy, faith and the Fourth of July (Jeff Jacoby, July 3, 2011, Boston Globe)
Not only are all persons endowed by nature with the unalienable rights of equality and freedom, it avowed, but "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.''
No lawful government without consent and self-rule: It was an extraordinary doctrine for its time. It had never been the springboard from which a new nation was launched. Yet to pursue this "theory of democracy,'' as Coolidge called it, "whole congregations with their pastors'' had pulled up stakes in Europe and migrated to America.
Steeped in the imagery of the Hebrew Bible, the colonists believed that God had led them, as he had led ancient Israel, from a land of bondage to a blessed Promised Land. Thomas Jefferson suggested in 1776 that the seal of the United States should depict the "Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night.'' In that wilderness, Americans knew, God did not simply impose his rule on Israel. First the Hebrews had to give their consent: "And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do.'' Only then was there the revelation at Sinai, the Ten Commandments, and the Law. If God himself would not govern without the consent of the governed, surely King George had no right to do so!
[originally posted: 7/03/12]
SO OUR AUNT NOTICES A GUY OUT ON HER TRAMPOLINE IN THE LAKE...:
The Romneys aren't the only interesting thing about Wolfeboro, N.H. or Lake Winnipesaukee, however. There's plenty to know about this quiet little lakefront town:"Winnipesaukee," a Native American word, means "smile of the great spirit" or "beautiful water in a high place," both of which seem fitting names for this idyllic town.The population of Wolfeboro is a mere 6,296, and the town's largest single employer is the local school district.Dr. Leo Marvin's ruined family vacation in "What About Bob" is set in Lake Winnipesaukee, but those portions of the film were actually shot in Virginia, not New Hampshire.Lake Winnipesaukee is also referenced in the beginning of Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town." -- While not set there, some scenes from "On the Golden Pond" were shot on Lake Winnipesaukee. Ernest Thompson, the author of the play that inspired the movie, now lives there.Jimmy Fallon has mentioned on his show, "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," that he has vacationed in the area.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE OPTIMAL SOLUTION...:
A view of America's independence: INDEPENDENCE: The Struggle to Set America Free By John Ferling (Chuck Leddy, July 4, 2011, Boston Globe)
From the opening pages, Ferling's ambition is clear. He starts with a British debt crisis triggered by military spending to oust the French from much of North America.
After peace arrived in 1763, writes Ferling, "Great Britain was swamped with debt brought on by years of war. The national debt had doubled during the previous seven years'' of war. Parliament, supported by overstretched British taxpayers, asserted that the American colonies, clear beneficiaries of Britain's military victory, should pay their fair share of the debt burden.
So began a decade-long period of futile British efforts to compel the colonies to pay levies and recognize Parliament's authority to tax them. [...]
[F]erling digs deep into a few important themes, which he handles in a fresh way. For instance, Ferling makes it clear that until early 1776, American moderates seeking reconciliation played a powerful role in Congress.
Pennsylvanian Dickinson, for instance, argued passionately for seeking a negotiated settlement with Britain over the tax issue, one that would keep the colonies inside the empire. On the other side of the Atlantic, reconciliationists in Parliament like Edmund Burke sagely warned that "Great Britain must offer conciliatory terms or risk the loss of its American colonies.'' Burke would be proven right.
"Leaders on both sides had many opportunities to choose an alternative course,'' writes Ferling, but the king and his ministers "spurned every American proposal for change, accommodation, and negotiation,'' instead pursuing a stubborn policy of colonial submission through military force. Congress actually sought talks with the king after the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. George III responded to this offer by declaring war on the colonies and demanding their complete submission to British rule.
...would have been for George to grant us a separate parliament with himself as the monarch of the new polity.
[originally posted: 7/04/11]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: SOMETIMES THEY MAKE IT TOO EASYThe Idea of America: What some wise men had in mind (Mackubin Thomas Owens, July 2, 2003, National Review)
[M]ulticulturalism couldn't exist if even those Americans who praise the Declarations didn't misunderstand its principles. How widely they are misunderstood is driven home by a piece by a piece in the July 2 Washington Post by David Broder. In his penultimate paragraph, Broder makes it crystal clear that he misses the point.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Is our belief in equality truly self-evident? How does it jibe with the growing inequality of income and wealth and opportunity in this country? And is the pursuit of happiness, as now understood, wedded to the same sense of duty and responsibility that animated the men in Philadelphia?
To answer Broder, the equality of which Jefferson speaks is that arising from the equal natural rights all men possess, antecedent to the creation of government, and the political right not to be ruled by another without the former's consent. As Jefferson wrote to Roger C. Weightman on June 24, 1826, "all eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them...."
As we celebrate the Fourth of July this week, we should reflect on the uniqueness of American nationhood arising from the Declaration of
Independence. We have, of course, not always lived up to the "self-evident truths" articulated in this document, as the history of slavery attests. But these truths constitute what Lincoln called the "central idea" of the American republic without which republican government will fail and the American nation will dissolve.
Note how neatly Mr. Broder's misunderstanding of the Declaration's equality fits this assertion: "The student of political philosophy has the antagonism of equality and liberty constantly forced upon him." [originally posted: 2003-07-04]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: #1 WITHOUT BULLETS:
Silent Cal Had a Lot To Say (Gary Galles, Lew Rockwell)
Historians have trivialized Calvin Coolidge as a do-nothing President naïve enough to believe that "the business of America is business," and many have rated him as one of the worst of all time. However, he produced remarkable results without sacrificing our freedoms. And given that he was born on the 4th of July, there is no better time than our Independence Day to remember him.
Under Coolidge, the top income tax rate of 65% under Wilson was eventually cut to 20%. The stock market began its unprecedented "roaring 20s" climb as it became clear through 1924 that Coolidge's tax reduction bill would pass.
In both his first and last year in office, federal receipts were $3.8 billion and expenditures were $3.1 billion, and in between, he cut the national debt from $22.3 billion to $16.9 billion.
His policies took more than a million people off the income tax rolls, and 98% of Americans paid no income tax at the end of his term. As a result, America prospered under Coolidge. Real economic growth averaged 7% per year while he was in office (the highest growth on record), while inflation averaged only 0.4%. Investment, manufacturing output, and disposable income rose dramatically, and unemployment averaged 3.3%.
That remarkable record explains why, after Coolidge outpolled his Democratic opponent by nearly 2 to 1 in 1924, he would have won in another landslide if he had run again in 1928.
But unfortunately for America, he did not.
For the most part we only consider presidents truly great if they helped the nation weather an existential crisis: Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, Bush. But of the presidents who governed during peacetime, Coolidge is the very model of what an American president should be--unobtrusive, reverent and humble--while his policies--rather minimalist--are archetypal.
-BOOKNOTES: Coolidge: An America Enigma by Robert Sobel (C-SPAN, August 30, 1998)
[T]he difference between Coolidge and the
presidents we have today is that you had a different kind of a
presidency back then. Franklin Roosevelt revolutionizes the
presidency, as he did so much other things in American life. After
Roosevelt, a person becomes president because he wants to do
something. He wants to change things. Calvin Coolidge did not want
to change things. He wanted to carry out the pledges that Harding had
made, and then he made a few of his own in the next election, and he
wanted to cut the taxes, which he did. The national debt was
two-thirds of what it was when--after he left office, when he came in.
You had peace, prosperity, low inflation, low unemployment. He never
took credit for this, by the way. He--this--the economy did that.
And he wanted to maximize freedom for the American people, and freedom
for the American people meant taking the 10th Amendment to the
Constitution very seriously: `Those powers not given to the federal
government are retained by the states.' And so when Coolidge was
governor of Massachusetts, he was a very strong governor, had a large
legislative operation. When he becomes president, he says, `That's
not my job. It's the governor's job. And I'll take care of the other
[originally posted: 2004-07-04]
FROM THE ARCHIVES: ALL MEN:
On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. "Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved."
Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation's history - the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.
Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.
From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day - cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.
The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.
The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too--great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.
They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.
They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.
How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!
Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.
Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation's jubilee.
Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.
I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait - perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.
I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!
My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.
"Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead."
We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child's share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have "Abraham to our father," when they had long lost Abraham's faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham's great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die fill he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout - "We have Washington to our father." Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.
"The evil that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft' interred with their bones."
"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?"
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been tom from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."
But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY.
" Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
[originally posted: 2004-07-05]