Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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What is the Meaning of the Declaration of Independence: The President and the Professor

Yes, David Tucker raises some important issues, both scholarly and eminently practical.

The links to the Declaration in the President’s speech remain, and I think more clearly than he allows. Based on his analysis, does Tucker intend to put a wedge between the Massachusetts Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence? President Bush is not Harry Jaffa, and does not have his understanding of equality, nor, just as important, of God. Yet the President winds up where the Professor is heading. For Jaffa, equality means that men are between the Divine and the bestial. Equality is revealed in our freedom. I think this follows from his emphasis on nature as being something different from God, binding God as though nature was like Kant’s imperative. (By the way, I think it is important to take the Declaration as modified by Congress as an "expression of the American mind," not of Jefferson’s quirks.) For President Bush, equality is a result of a creating God.

The Declaration allows us to see God both as the philosopher sees Him and as the pious man does; that is, it takes the perspective of the good citizen in a good regime. But His commandments are surprisingly harmonious, at least on the political level. thus the Declaration speaks universally, when it comes to the issue of justice.

There is no John Locke for Islam, and it may be the case that Islam does not permit such a figure to arise. (There may have been an Islamic Thomas Aquinas in Averroes or Al-Farabi, but I’m not sure what political commands would issue from them.) That appears to be the philosophic issue we’re dealing with today. And, while the struggle be long, the need to apply the best technology of war is more compelling than the wish that Islam would uncover its John Locke post haste. In other words, I would agree with David that "I recognize that the God of the Declaration is not necessarily incompatible with the God that speaks to Bush and Rice but which God we have in mind when we think about politics and act politically makes a difference. This is especially so as we confront an implacable enemy inspired by his own special revelation."

But I think the problem is less one of special revelation but rather one of not accepting the authority of reason. By combining the two, the American Founding can be both particular and universal at the same time, just as the universal God was first revealed to a particular, chosen People. This separates civilized people from barbarians.

Discussions - 2 Comments

This is where the famous distinction of Socrates in the Euthyphro comes into play. Is the good so because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?
Bush and Jefferson are "ethical autonomists" (in particulars this is equivalent to saying that God is bond by Kant, althought I wouldn’t choose Kant as the measure of the good).
Part of the problem of course rests in this. Determining who, what, or which principles are to determine what the good is. The real problem in my opinion is that on an epistemic level this distinction collapses. If God can only command the good, then a command of God is essentially good if he commands it. If we know that God commanded something we also know that it is good. So we could say that the thing is good because God commanded it. (How do we know? because God commanded it, and God only commands those things which are good.) This is the move that the Islam makes via the Qu’ran. (religious, pious?)
What Jefferson did, was collapse the distinction in the opposite direction. This is to say that by knowing the good (via Lockean Natural Rights) we are able to speak for God. We know the good therefore we know what God has commanded or what he would command if he would interfere in the world and command. (secular, philosophic)

I am not sure if Bush collapses this distinction at all, or if he does he collapses it in both directions according to some unknown calculus. I think he is still playing with it. Sometimes Bush sounds as if his basis was the Declaration and at other times he sounds as if his basis was the Bible, and sometimes his basis seems to be secular and philosophic, but non- D.I./Lockean.

Given my overall confusion, and the bundle of contradictions that seem to make up most people,(Is it in object or subject?) I am more inclined to view individuals as expressing unique quirks or variations on themes rather than some collective expression of mind(American or otherwise). Jefferson in the D.I. might be an exception. But we might miss out on something important in Jefferson if we sterilize/distill his quirks. Likewise with Bush, and perhaps likewise with religion or man universally speaking.

Sorry that my points may not be directly relevant to this discussion (and in addition I’m a New Zealander so I don’t know as much as you people on these matters) , but I think there is a belief among Christians that is very crucial to this understanding. As Christians we know that the human nature itself (even when we are saved) is sinful and far from the perfectness that God possess. Because of this all human documentations (such as the US Declaration of Independence) can NOT override the authority of God’s infallible word, the Bible.

Consequently a Christian’s (such as Bush) position on the American founding is this: wherever the documents line up with what the Bible says, it is right and we should heed them. But if they contradict the Bible, we have to discard them. For example, a prominent American Christian author has these words illustrating what I have said regarding political positions a Christian should stand (liberal vs conservative). He touches briefly on the authority the US founding documents should have among Christians’ minds:

"The answer is, we cannot do all these things if we are first and foremost either liberals or conservatives. We can do all these things only if we are first and foremost followers of Christ. We can do them if and only if we are governed not by temporal political affiliations, but by eternal allegiance to Almighty God. Our governing document must be neither the Humanist Manifesto nor the Contract with America nor even the U.S. Constitution (great a document as it is), but by the authoritative Word of God.

Neither the judicial, legislative nor executive branches of our government is the ultimate solution to America’s problems. Isaiah 33:22 tells us the solution--" For the LORD is our judge (judicial), the LORD is our lawgiver (legislative), the LORD is our king (executive), it is he who will save us."

May God preserve us from a liberalism hell-bent on liberating us from what is good. And may He preserve us from a conservatism hell-bent on conserving for us what is bad.

Let’s change the bad and preserve the good. In doing so we will sometimes look like conservatives, sometimes liberals. But what we look like to men shouldn’t matter. What we look like to God, the Audience of One, should. (He is neither Republican nor Democrat. He rides neither on elephants or donkeys. He is the ultimate independent.)

God doesn’t care about conservative and liberal, he cares about what is true and right and just and compassionate and biblical. (He does therefore care about political party beliefs, platforms, moral positions and policies. Before standing behind any party we better be sure these harmonize with his Word. That’s part of being a Christian first.)

So, when the status quo is right, let’s conserve it. When the status quo is wrong, let’s get liberated from it.

Is Jesse Jackson right about some things? Sure. About everything? No way. So if you defend Jesse Jackson, you better qualify your defense. If you attack him you better qualify your attack.

"Rush is right" cries out for clarification. Right about what? Some things? Sure. (Keep this in mind if you’re a Rush basher. Better qualify your attack.) Most things? Maybe. All things? No way. So if you defend Rush Limbaugh, you better qualify your defense. After all, Rush is no more God than he is the devil.

I happen to believe that despite its limitations, conservatism is right more often than it is wrong. Still, it is sometimes wrong, it often does not resonate with the compassionate heart of God, and it never saves the soul.

"Rush is Right" is only true sometimes. "Jesus is Lord" is true always. "Rush is Right" requires qualification. "Jesus is Lord" does not."

(From Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministries)

I have noticed because of this, many Christians privately do express some suspicions on some of the ideas that found America (for them, ideas from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are of particular concerns. Among today’s Christians they aren’t regarded as true Christians). More studies and discussions are needed to see if this concern is valid.

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