Monday, November 17, 2014

Nelson: "The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding"

Eric Nelson has a new book out entitled The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding.  Hat tip: Andrew SullivanHere is Jack Rakove's review.  This is from J.G.A. Pocock's blurb:
The unseen author of American independence, it turns out, was King George III, who chose to remain a parliamentary monarch, and declined (if he ever understood) the American invitation to become an emperor ruling through several independent parliaments. He obliged Americans to pursue a democratic empire and rethink the role of monarchy in their republic. Eric Nelson's brilliant revision displays both American and British history in their exceptionalisms. (J.G.A. Pocock)

Trinities: "podcast episode 54 – John Edwards vs. John Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity"

Here. A taste:
John Edwards (1637-1726) was an Anglican Calvinist and would-be defender of Christian orthodoxy. Seemingly at the last minute, he tacked on to his Some Thoughts Concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism (1695) a critique of Locke’s Reasonableness. Guns blazing, he charged Locke (among other things) with promoting “Socinianism” (aka “Racovian” theology, i.e. the type of unitarian theology famously expounded by the Polish Brethren, aka the Minor Reformed Church of Poland in the 17th c.), with despising the epistles of the New Testament, and so promoting biblical ignorance, perhaps, speculated Edwards, in service to Roman Catholicism! After a somewhat unsatisfying reply by Locke, Edwards followed with Socinianism Unmask’d (1696), in which he objects that if Locke is right, every Muslim is automatically a Christian – which, of course, is absurd.

Trinities: " podcast episode 53 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 2"

It's here. A taste:
Finally, we hear more from Locke, including the last portion of his book, a well-crafted plea that we should believe that God must have revealed as required for salvation only beliefs which ordinary folk are capable of understanding, and so, believing.

Trinities: "podcast episode 52 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 1"

There are a number of these up now. Since my posting has been light of late, I'm going to link to them one by one.

Here is a taste from Part 1:
But what are the essentials? Specifically, what are the essential teachings which one must accept to be a Christian? Many have a rather expansive view of those. But Locke suspected they had inflated something simpler. In the winter of 1694-5, he decided to be a good Protestant and to go back to the sources. What does the New Testament, he wondered, demand of us, as far as beliefs are concerned? Does it require, for instance, believing “grace” as taught by Calvinists? Or the contents of the “Athanasian” creed about the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus? The simplified but vague “deity of Christ” so insisted upon by present-day evangelical Protestants?
Locke examined this question, and found an explicit answer in scripture. All that Christians must believed, he argues, can be summarized like this: Jesus is the Messiah.
This relates to the study of the American Founding in the sense of whether the key Founders were "Christians." Under a more generous standard -- one that could, for instance rope Mormons who believe Jesus is the Messiah in -- the key Founders including arguably Jefferson were "Christians." Under stricter standards, like those conservative evangelicals tend to hold, the key Founders weren't "Christians" but something else.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"So Help Me God" Has a Complicated History in Military Oaths

Earlier this month, over at the Americans United website, Simon Brown wrote an article, Oath Offense? The Long Complicated History of SHMG In The Military. It’s basically a good article except for one missing detail, where the author simply writes:

That same month [of 1778, on 3 February] , the Continental Congress  [repealed the previous oath of 21 Oct. 1776, and] once again made minor changes to the oath for officers – but kept “so help me God.”

To see more about these “minor changes,”  here is the Oath of Allegiance, as presented by the U.S. Army Center of Military History website, Oaths of Enlistment and Oaths of Office,  to which the author, and many others, most commonly refer:
The revised version, voted 3 February 1778, read "I, _____ do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience, to George the third, king of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him: and I do swear (or affirm) that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States, against the said king George the third and his heirs and successors, and his and their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of _____ which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding. So help me God."
The missing detail, I’m talking about, is the fact that the religious codicil, so help me God, which appeared in the original version, does not  fall within the delimiting pair of quote marks. It actually followed the last quote mark. The U.S. Army Center of Military History website got it wrong.

 A copy of the original legislation can be seen  here, and here. Another instance, written in longhand, can be seen at  the Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801 ..., pgs, 703-707.

If this pair of quixotic quote marks was all there was to notice, this rarely noticed detal could easily be overlooked, There is, however, much more to the story that needs to be told, because three month later the Continental Army under the Command of General Washington, without any explanation, left out the so-help-me God tagline from the Officers' Oath. This can be seen by referring to the General Orders of General Washington of May 7, 1778, and the oath certificates that were distributed to the field. Another reference can be seen at the National Archives - Founder Online webpage - Lieutenant Colonel and his Aide De Camp to His Excellency The Commander in Chief (see handwritten version by clicking on IMAGES).

And here, to add a note of emphasis, is the image of the May 12th, 1778, oath certificate as signed by George Washington where the So-help-me-God tagline is absent:

Sidebar: The Feb. 3rd, 1778 Loyalty Oath and Veteran benefits:

Harold M. Hyman - To Try Men's Souls, Loyalty Tests in American History 
Ch. III - Insurrection Becomes Independence, pgs 82 - 83

Early in February, 1778, [the Continental] Congress agreed to a new loyalty test for all federal civil and military officers to swear:
"I --------- do acknowledge the United States of America to be free, independent and sovereign states, [dot – dot – dot].”

Since Congress particularly feared treason in high military office (eleven of the twelve generals had formerly held royal commissions, and three were English-born Royal Army veterans) it required that nonjurors be cashiered, forfeit two months' pay, and face perpetual exclusion from government service. Optimistically, Congress required all officers to subscribe the new test within twenty days of its proclamation. Washington had more pressing martial duties. Only after repeated importunities from Congress, and the threat of restricting post-war pensions  to those who signed immediately, did Washington finally sign the new oath himself and arranged for his subordinate officers to affirm their loyalty. Washington assembled his generals and all signed except the unpredictable Charles Lee, who hesitated at renouncing the Prince of Wales. Lee finally signed. Benedict Arnold was absent, but signed later.

The spring months of 1778 witnessed successive swearing ceremonies at Washington's belated but urgent orders impelled subordinate officers to repeat the new formula of loyalty. In fact, the process went too quickly, and supplies of the oath forms ran out. Special messengers hurried new stocks to Washington's headquarters a half-dozen times and still could not keep up with the demand. Other administrative complications ensued because of deficient camp communications to men on leave, in scattered outposts, or in hospitals. Washington appointed special officers in his provost corps to travel from Canada to Georgia administering the oaths, so none of his officers should incur the financial penalties of innocent nonjuring. The momentous events then occurring made loyalty-testing a requirement a vexatious, time-consuming detail.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thomas Hobbes, "Primitive Christian" and "Liberal"

Hat tip Jason Kuznicki.
"And so we are reduced to the Independency of the Primitive Christians to follow Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, every man as he liketh best: Which, if it be without contention, and without measuring the Doctrine of Christ, by our affection to the Person of his Minister... is perhaps the best: First, because there ought to be no Power over the Consciences of men, but of the Word it selfe, working Faith in every one, not alwayes according to the purpose of them that Plant and Water, but of God himself, that giveth the Increase: and secondly, because it is unreasonable in them, who teach there is such danger in every little Errour, to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man, or of the most voices of many other men; Which is little better, then to venture his Salvation at crosse and pile [i.e., coin flipping]. Nor ought those Teachers to be displeased with this losse of their antient Authority: For there is none should know better then they, that power is preserved by the same Vertues by which it is acquired; that is to say, by Wisdome, Humility, Clearnesse of Doctrine, and sincerity of Conversation[.]"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote For Thomas Jefferson Because John Adams Is A Blind, Bald, Crippled, Toothless Man

In honor of Election Day, via Joe Carter at the esteemed Acton Institute Power Blog [why just have a blog when you can have a power blog?]:

Friend of the blog JMS adds:

Good reminder that presidential and partisan party politics was hardly civil back in the "good ol' days."

"Jefferson's camp accused President Adams of having a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." In return, Adams' men called Vice President Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." As the slurs piled on, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Weller Reviews Frazer

Dylan Weller writing for the Law and Politics Book Review, Sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association here. A taste:
The first five chapters are the most enlightening, and well argued of the book. In chapters six and seven Frazer offers an examination of five other framers whose writings on religion were far less prolific than Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, but who Frazer argues should rightly be categorized as theistic rationalists as well. Because of the dearth of evidence available, there are greater leaps on the part of Frazer as he strains to group these figures under his heading. In one particularly surprising instance, Frazer writes of Gouverneur Morris' frequent sexual escapades, that the “…extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must at least call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian” (p.191). This is a perilous line to follow in that it unleashes a swarm of questions concerning which immoral actions preclude one from being a Christian. And strange that this argument should be made in relationship to Morris’ sexual liaisons, rather than say, Jefferson’s ownership of, and sexual relationships with his slaves.

Damon Linker: "What if Leo Strauss was right?"

Check it out here. A taste:
In the 12 years since this conversation (or one very much like it) sparked a million ill-informed, fantastical hit pieces on Strauss for his insidious influence on the administration of George W. Bush, a series of Strauss' students and admirers have stepped forward to defend his work: Steven Smith, Thomas Pangle, Catherine and Michael Zuckert, Peter Minowitz.

There's much to recommend in each of these books. But for my money, the best by far is Arthur Melzer's just published study, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. And yes, I would have come to that judgment even if I hadn't studied with the author in graduate school. Melzer has written the most compelling, surprising, and persuasive defense of Strauss's thought that I have ever read. It deserves a wide and appreciative audience. And if it gets one, the consequences could be enormous.

Because if Strauss was right in the way he interpreted the Western philosophical tradition, then much of modern scholarship — and, by extension, our civilization's understanding of its intellectual and political inheritance — will need to be radically revised.

Thockmorton: "Reactions to the New Book by George Barna and David Barton, Part One"

Read it here. A taste:
My first reaction was disappointment that George Barna would team up with document collector Barton. It is hard to imagine a more unified reaction from scholars, Christian and not, against Barton’s approach to history than occurred in 2012-2013. In August 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson due to lost confidence in the books facts. The book was voted least credible history book in print by readers of the History News Network. Academic reviewers were uniform in their criticism of the book. In 2013, the Family Research Council removed from view a video of Barton’s Capitol tour, and Focus on the Family had to admit that they edited radio presentations to remove errors. The actions taken by FRC and Focus on the Family followed complaints to the organizations by over three dozen Christian historians.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Star Wars & Culture

George Lucas, in both the original and the prequels, based some of his fictional sci-fi fantasy concepts on aspects of various cultures that exist right here on this Earth. You don't have to be a Star Wars aficionado to appreciate this.

In the first three originals, Lucas did this very cleverly; in the prequels, somewhat crudely.

There is a lot of "Asianness." Darth Vader in a samurai like outfit. Light-sabers as samurai like swords. Yoda as an ancient wise Sensei. And of course the philosophy of "the force" is quite Taoistic.

Yet, there's also some Greco-Romanism there too. A theme of Star Wars is how noble "republics" transform into ignoble "empires."

This is what happened to Rome. And this relates to my study of the American Founding in the sense that the Founders had an affinity for noble republican Rome and its caution against the imperial tyrants, i.e., "Caesar." 

So here is another Star Wars analogy: The noble Stoics as the Jedi, the ignoble Caesars as the Sith. And indeed from my study of the Stoics, the Caesars basically killed or otherwise persecuted the last of them out of existence (i.e., what the Sith did to the Jedi).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throckmorton: "Barton and Barna: If We Don’t Do Something We Didn’t Do Before, We’re Doomed"

From Warren Throckmorton here. A taste:
There is nothing new about this. This is the same Christian nationalist doctrine Barton has pushed for decades. Unless we do something we didn’t do before — make Christian doctrine the “center of our process” — then we are doomed as a nation. This simplistic prescription is based on a tendentious reading of history which is nothing new for Barton. For instance, Barton says the Constitution quotes the Bible verbatim. This, of course, is not true but is consistent with the faulty reading of history Barton wants us to believe. If he can get us to believe we once had the evangelical God at the “center of our process” and once self-consciously operated “in strict accordance with His principles,” then Barton has leverage to press these concepts today as political objectives.
David Barton has apparently co-written a book with George Barna. Is this the same George Barna who is a respectable Christian market research guy? If so, what on God's green earth possessed him to co-write a book with a figure as tarnished as Barton?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kidd: "Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?"

From Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
My graduate students and I recently read James Byrd’s terrific Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. This book is a treasure trove of information about how the Patriots and Loyalists actually used the Bible during the Revolution. The most surprising fact I learned from the book is that Romans 13 – in which Paul commands submission to the “higher powers” – was the most commonly cited biblical text in Revolutionary America. This passage, alongside a similar passage in I Peter 2, are precisely the texts I might have imagined that Patriots would have avoided. How does one “honor the king” while engaging in revolution?

Brayton Calls Out Billy Graham

Check out Ed's remarks here. A taste:
... Franklin’s motion for prayer was ignored by the other attendees at the Constitutional Convention and that prayer he proposed, to bring together the two fractious sides, never took place. So his claim that this convention was “based on prayer” is absurd. Indeed, one could just as easily argue that it was based on drunkenness,...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What's Horsa to him, or he to Horsa?

That's a question to which Bradley J. Birzer alluded in our last post. Wayne Dynes answers and it is not pretty. A taste:
... Yet Jefferson’s interest in the Saxon heritage went far beyond matters of philology. He held that the forward movement of British settlement in North America was a continuation of the original migration of Hengist and Horsa. It was all part of the vigorous expansion of a superior group of people. Jefferson even went so far as to suggest that the form of government being adopted in the emerging United States represented a restoration of the sublime Anglo-Saxon principles. It was now North America that represented these verities, not a corrupt England under the rule of foreign monarchs.

Thomas Jefferson held that the basis of the common law was shaped in the immediate aftermath of the arrival of Hengist and Horsa in the mid-fifth century. Since England was not converted to Christianity until two centuries later, the common law is by definition pagan.

Bradley J. Birzer: "Virgil: Forgotten American Founder"

Check it out here. A taste:
The American Founders ... were as much in line with Cicero, for example, as they were of John Locke or Baron Montesquieu. Sadly, though, while historians and scholars have readily found innumerable (or sort of) references to the thinkers living rather near (relatively speaking) to the founders, they have forgotten those who seem more at a distance. It is comparatively easy to show paraphrases from Locke. It is far more difficult to determine exactly where Horsa fits into it all.


John Adams once wrote that the “Aeneid is like a well-ordered Garden, where it is impossible to find any Part unadorned or to cast our Eyes upon a single Spot that does not produce some beautiful Plant or Flower” [Source: Meyer Reinhold, Classica Americana: The Greek and Roman Heritage in the United States (1984), 232].

Virgil’s influence went well beyond his story, The Aeneid. His Georgics as well as his Eclogues influenced the founders as well.


One direct and obvious example of Virgil’s influence can be found on the 1782 Seal of the United States,...

Christianity & Self Sacrifice

This was a post from 2008 that I am proud of. A taste:
Jim Babka's recent comment to one of my posts brought to mind just how much Christians -- even those who purport to believe the Bible infallible -- differ on the proper interpretation of specific doctrines. Sometimes the differences don't really matter; sometimes they do. I asserted Christianity teaches self-sacrifice. Babka replied: "Christianity is not about self-sacrifice, but living for a higher cause. The distinction is important." I await his explanation. When you google the terms “Christianity” and “self-sacrifice” you see there is a strong current in biblical Christianity that teaches this is what Christianity is about.

Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis teaches Christianity is about self sacrifice. Indeed, he sees tension between that and the idea of “enlightened self interest” or “self preservation” as put forth by Locke et al.

I’ve come across a number orthodox Christians who don’t like [this] interpretation ... of biblical Christianity precisely because it’s so similar to how Rousseau and Nietzsche characterized Christianity (before Marx) as a temporal opiate and hence something where tyrannical rulers can make Christians into good slaves. Yet, I find this interpretation of Christianity to be authentically biblical and well within the tradition of orthodox hermeneutics. After all, Nietzsche and Rousseau weren’t shabby thinkers. ...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Men Who Lost America [?]

Don't miss David Moore's excellent interview of Andrew O’Shaughnessy on The Men Who Lost America (Yale, 2013), hosted over at Tommy Kidd's groupblog, The Anxious Bench. A few riffs that caught my eye:

[To Look Inside, click HERE]

Moore:  It seems incredible that the British lost the Revolutionary War given their military superiority.  Many have concluded that it must have been due to incompetent leaders, but you want to challenge that popular notion, correct?

O’Shaughnessy: This is correct.  The idea that it was lost by incompetent leaders is most apparent in movies and the popular media which have much greater influence on public opinion than books.  It even permeates popular history and college textbooks. It should be said that such images were if anything more common in Britain.  It is a curious thesis because it diminishes the achievements of patriot leaders in winning the war. 

Moore:  Your chapter on George III rehabilitates him in a big way.  There is much to like about King George III.  Among other things there is his character and intellectual curiosity.  Do you think his legacy among Americans will change as more is learned about him?

O’Shaughnessy: The reader will indeed find many attractive qualities in George III. George III was not a tyrant who was responsible for the policies that led to the American Revolution.  He had little to do with colonial policy.  However, after the Boston Tea Party, he became the leading war hawk and may actually have helped to perpetuate the war by several years.  He wanted to continue after Yorktown.  It was revelation to me that he felt so passionately that Britain would cease to be a great power if it lost America.

Moore:  What were the views among Parliament with respect to the Boston Tea Party?

O’Shaughnessy: The Boston Tea Party helped to unify all parties in favor of punishing Massachusetts.  It was regarded as violation of private property and an overt act of civil disobedience.  It should be remembered that many future patriots disowned the radical behavior of Boston.  Benjamin Franklin even offered to compensate Britain.

Moore:  In speaking about the French Revolution, Lord North predicted the “anarchy and bloodshed which will soon overwhelm that unhappy country.”  What gave him the ability to make such a prediction?

O’Shaughnessy: Lord North was not alone in predicting the blood baths of the French Revolution.  It was Edmund Burke who most famously predicted that it would end in dictatorship in his Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Burke is often seen as a father of modern conservatism because of his belief that society should change organically rather than radical change which would destroy the fabric of the state.  

North was fluent in French and had spent time in France.  He was an admirer of Burke although the two had been opposed on the subject of the French Revolution.   He was also a product of his class and society who feared the egalitarian and leveling tendencies of the French Revolution.  It should be remembered that even the patriots rarely used the word democracy but rather spoke of republicanism. The former was associated with anarchy.

Moore:  Cornwallis was willing to pay for various war expenses out of his own pocket.  Not only does this showcase his generosity, but does it not also demonstrate how convinced he was that the British were on the right(eous) side of the war?

O’Shaughnessy: Cornwallis had actually opposed the policies which led to the war in America.  He was one of only six members of the House of Lords to vote against the Stamp Act.  However, he was very much the professional military man who believed he should obey orders regardless of his personal feelings. 

Moore:  You rightly mention the stellar character of George Washington.  No one is perfect of course, so I am curious what you think about him not helping Paine out later on when Paine had helped Washington so much?

O’Shaughnessy: The change of attitude towards Paine was largely because of his atheism and his book The Age of Reason.  Paine was a permanent revolutionary who supported the opposition to Washington in the 1790s.  He was much more radical than the general and famously derided the president in an article which made the breach permanent.  

Washington fell out with those revolutionary leaders who joined the Republican opposition to his government in the 1790s.  It was a bitterly partisan decade not least because each party believed that it alone represented the true spirit of the American Revolution.  They thought that their opponents would destroy America.  It is a lesson for us today because the country has been enriched by both these traditions even though they were often in conflict.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bradley J. Birzer: "Happiness: Did the Greeks and the Founders Share a Definition?"

This is a very interesting article by Bradley J. Birzer in "The Imaginative Conservative." Though I'm not sure I "get" it.

The thesis of the article seems America was Cicero's country not Aristotle's. America's Founding had a strong "Greco-Roman" component (however they "re envisioned" that heritage). And yes, if you draw a distinction between the Greeks and the Romans, it was the latter who more influenced the American Founding than the former.

The author is also aware that Thomas Jefferson, in "his famous letter of 1825 to Henry Lee," claims Aristotle as one of the four principle sources of the Declaration along with "Cicero, Locke and Sidney.”

But then, like a scholar with a thesis, Birzer explains away the import of that quotation.

(It's possible, as Birzer notes, to draw a distinction between the "Founding" or "Foundings" as represented by the Declaration and by the "Constitution." John Locke, for instance, profoundly influenced the Declaration in the sense that Jefferson quoted part of Locke's Second Treatise on Government and the Patriotic Preachers likewise quoted Locke for the principles of revolution in the face of Romans 13; but Locke's influence on the Constitution is debatable. Perhaps Aristotle was like Locke in this sense.)

Here is nice passage from Birzer's article:
When James Wilson, one of only six men to sign the Declaration as well as the Constitution, and a future member of the U.S. Supreme Court, gave his famous lectures at what is now the University of Pennsylvania in 1790 and 1791, describing the meaning and philosophy of the American founding, he offered an almost purely Ciceronian vision of Natural Law and Natural Rights. Though he draws upon Aristotle here or there, he constantly refers back to Cicero, though his Cicero is, admittedly, more mythologized than real. As with John Adams, the two revered Cicero, focusing almost exclusively on the Roman’s Stoic ethics.
Note the lead to Birzer quoting George Washington's first inaugural address:

"When Washington famously submitted the following on April 30, 1789, he did so much more as a Roman than a Greek:
"There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. (First inaugural address)"
This article, to me, smacks of the logical fallacy of the "false-dichotomy"; yes Washington thought of himself more as a Roman Statesman than a Greek; but did not one system of thought lead to the other? And how is Aristotle incompatible or in any way not complementary to Cicero?

Likewise the notion that there is an "indissoluble" connection between virtue and true happiness is, as far as I understand him, Aristotle's Ethics 101. (Groundhog Day was a wonderful representation of that teaching.)