Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

God, Politics and American Indepndence

David Foster has opened up an interesting question. What would we think if we didn’t think like old Europeans? How independent would he have us become? What would truly independent American thinking be? As part of the effort to answer that question, I return (conveniently) to the last blog of Mickey Craig.

I am not sure I understand the second to last paragraph of that blog but it seems to me that Craig no longer claims that the true religion is reasonable and only reasonable. Instead he claims that “the teachings of the Bible and the teachings of the Lockean/Jeffersonian natural rights doctrine result, practically speaking, in the same understanding of what moral virtue is and what the obligations of citizenship require.” This I think is not true. There are passages in the Bible that sound like the Claremont cosmology (Craig, Masugi and I cited some) but Masugi implicitly pointed to the fact that the Bible does not draw the same conclusion as the Claremont cosmologists draw.

But however that may be, Craig argues that there was a consensus at the time of the Founding that reason and revelation “taught (more or less) the same moral virtues and moral and political obligations, especially the obligations of citizenship.” There may indeed have been such a consensus at the Founding but don’t we establish it simply by excluding from the Founding those who disagreed? In any case, if the consensus existed it had broken down by 1800. Jefferson was vilified in that election as a radical republican and an enemy of religion. This attack was only half-right. Jefferson was an enemy of any religion that was not reasonable and only reasonable. Therefore, he was an enemy of Biblical religion. He was not so foolish as to broadcast his views and, indeed, made use of Biblical imagery in some of his public speeches. But this was in his view a concession to the ignorance of his fellow citizens, which he hoped the passage of time and the spread of enlightenment would remedy. But this was not to be. The American people became increasingly Biblical as the nineteenth-century progressed. (Church attendance also increased.) The Founding was still revered but, rather than reason replacing biblical religion as Jefferson hoped it would, Biblical religion was increasingly brought to bear, in different and conflicting ways, to support or interpret the Founding.

This process continues today, which brings us back to the speeches of President Bush. These, I still contend, show a greater debt to biblical religion than to the laws of nature and of nature’s God.

Discussions - 2 Comments

As soon as you guys figure out compatibilities between the Declaration and Christianity... you will invariably run into problems with which interpretation of christianity you use, correct?
When the american people became increasingly Biblical in the 19th Century, in what sense did this reflect the influence of Kant upon protestant Christianity? i.e. reformers/abolitionists such as Garrison. The compatibility of christianity with politics in this time period seems to have switched allegiance to a different brand of Political Thought.
What about the thesis of Daniel Bell?
Are there cultural and moral contradictions between Christianity and Capitalism?
Will you dare say that the Reagan coallition solved all of this, and that its culmination is the "compassionate conservatism" of G.W. Bush?

Bell’s basic contention, partly flavored by Marxist polemics, is that the natural development of capitalist freedoms eventually conflicted with the moral cover of an ascetic kind of Christianity that held people in their place. This happened as the materialist nature of modern American values undid the ascetic elements. And now that Christianity, or for that matter Judaism, have loosened their strictures to the point of violating age-old restrictions commonly observed by believers, the government itself is the chief guardian.

The main difference with Communist cultures and Capitalist cultures is that Communism reinstated a sense of asceticism for the sake of sharing the kitty. But as we now see in Russia that kind of asceticism didn’t have the lasting power that religiously enforced asceticism had. Once the Enlightenment philosophers, such as d’Alembert, Voltaire and Hume, discredited religion, dreams of castles and cakes were bound to expand around the modernized world. Now, the right wing’s trying to take us back, but, my friends, the genie’s already out of the bottle. If you doubt that, take a peek into a true believer’s garage: it is customarily filled with toys and luxuries. Balckberries, PCs, cell phones and TVs abound. For the most part the main point of contention now is reduced to one’s opinion about abortion and school prayer. Ascetic restrictions have, for the most part, been moved to the Museum of Yesterday’s Values.

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