Friday, October 19, 2012

The "New Math" of American History and the Unobscured Truth

By Michael David Rawlings

Virtually all leftists and the occasional libertarian confound the history of America's cultural-political heritage. For many, their ignorance is a function of a deep-seated prejudice against religion in general and especially against the notion that the tenets of Judeo-Christianity played some role in the articulation of the Republic's founding.


Like many leftists, lots of libertarians are "freethinkers." That is to say, they're atheists (See also "Objectivism:   The Uninspired Religion of 'Reason' ".).  Hence, there is a strain of libertarianism that like the contagious rot of progressivism is wont to go on about the supposed primacy of the democratic theory of Classical Greece or of the monolithic repudiation of religion in the thought of the Enlightenment. My favorite red herring along this line is something or another about the Founders and the naturalistic, nonthreatening religion of Deism.
[T]he much ado over the fact that many of the Founders were Deists is about nothing. First, most of them weren't. Second, it's the sociopolitical principles extrapolated from the Judeo-Christian moral tradition that matter. Both the Deist and the Christian of the Anglo-American Enlightenment embraced them. —Michael David Rawlings, "Abortion on Demand, Homosexual "Marriage": what will they think of next?"

The salient, recurring theme in all of this: only "benighted Christians" actually believe that Judeo-Christianity significantly influenced the development of democratic political theory. God Darwin forbid that the most gloriously prolific system of thought in world history might have had something to do with it!

Some months ago I received a private message from a self-described atheist-libertarian who apprised me of the "pronounced secularism and free, antireligious thought of the Enlightenment", which informed "the philosophy of government instituted by the Founders of our Republic." He was reacting to a piece I had posted on this blog a few days earlier about the connection between Judeo-Christianity and the governing philosophy of the United States. It was a terse message, consisting of his unsubstantiated claim and the suggestion that I had been dropped on my head as a child.

In response (before I showed him that his understanding of the Enlightenment was overly simplistic and biased), I told him that to the best of my knowledge I had not been dropped on my head as a child, but had crashed into a pole while riding my bicycle at a high rate of speed as a child, that my head had in fact collided with the pole, that this happened back in the day when kids didn't wear protective gear. Then asked, "Does that count?"

I was recently reminded of this exchange and, thinking that my response might be edifying, decided to post it on my blog.

The rest of my response reads. . . .

Your libertarianism of the Randian variety is showing.
The predominant sociopolitical theory of the Anglo-American Enlightenment was not antagonistic to religion. It eschewed the conflation of religion and government: state churches. Hence, the separation of church and state. The objective was not to banish or suppress religion. On the contrary, the objective, especially in America, was to encourage religion and protect religious freedom. It was the model of separation espoused by the rabid secularists of the Continental European Enlightenment (See "The Fuzz in Descartes' Belly Button".), particularly that of the French revolutionists, that was hostile to religion, as the Jacobin's scheme of separation was essentially the same as that imposed in the former Soviet Union. However, if you're referring to the general epistemology of the British Enlightenment and its influences on American thought and culture, that's a different matter altogether, which I will touch on momentarily.

You would do well to listen and learn. I'm not peddling mere opinion off the top of my head. I'm well-versed in the history of ideas and events of the Western world. If you're still operating under the impression of the trash that passes for history in the textbooks of the schools usurped by lefty, that is, when the public education system still bothered to teach America's heritage . . . stop! Go back and read the original works of the authors of the Anglo-American Enlightenment.

I could never be a member of the current Libertarian Party given the impracticalities of its half-backed philosophy and the historical revisionism sported by so many of its members inured as they are to Objectivism, rather than to the classical concerns of genuine liberty from their American heritage. Abortion on demand and the official approbation of same-sex marriage, for examples, are by their very nature statist propositions relative to their actual outcomes in the real world. They entail outrageous government impositions upon parental authority, free association and the concerns of private property—a reality the elites of the lunatic left appreciate, a reality that flies right over those libertarian heads which bob up and down in agreement with that which is in fact the collectivistic sloganeering of fairness and egalitarianism to the detriment of individual liberty (See "Abortion on Demand, Homosexual 'Marriage': what will they think of next?".).

As for the revealed wisdom ostensibly forsaken by revered sages, the likes of Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon were not only philosophers and scientists dealing with the secular concerns of the human condition, they were devout Christians and prolific theologians as well.

Though he was a materialist of sorts and a non-Trinitarian, John Locke considered himself to be a Christian. His humanism appertained to the necessities of secular government in opposition to theocratic monarchism, his empiricism, to the curiosities of science in contrast to the a priori impressions of human consciousness. While his political theory readily lends itself to the political concerns of the American conservative, his repudiation of innate ideas and traditions (as well as his sexual egalitarianism) is, admittedly, irreconcilable with the traditionalist's worldview.

Also, some conservatives are critical of his constructivism, but like the classical liberals Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, I view his transformational contract theory from the state of nature to the state of civil society as a model that merely accentuates the distinction between the ideal applications of natural law to the theoretical state of nature, and the practical applications of the same to the body politic of the real world. After all, Locke was preeminently concerned with the necessity of throwing off monarchism by means of violent revolution if necessary and forming a new social contract predicated on the divinely endowed and, therefore, inalienable rights of natural law. Well, that's precisely what the Founders did in the real world! That is to say, they went from one real-world form of government to another.

In any event, if and when you get done reading Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government (after you've waded through the voluminous biblical justifications for his sociopolitical theory) get back to me and let me know if you still believe what others have been telling you.

I'm a few decades older than you and went to school at a time when most of the truth was still being taught in the public schools, and I have read the original works of the Enlightenment. I attended public school before and during the time textbooks began to feature more and more of lefty's version of history. I apprehended the gradual, systematic blurring of the distinctions between the historical principles of American government and the democratic theory of Continental Europe from both the Enlightenment and Classical eras. I witnessed the gradual, systematic de-emphasis of the precious concerns of the former in favor of the collectivistic obscenities of the latter.

And again, generally, the Anglo-American thinkers of the Enlightenment didn't forswear religion, let alone the ethics of Judeo-Christianity. They merely rejected the prevailing, prescientific explanations of empirical phenomena adopted by religious authorities without the benefit of any formal methodology of falsification. I agree with that, especially given the fact that the Bible is not a scientific treatise, but a theological work to which a number of empirical claims were errantly contributed over the centuries, including the age of man and the age of the universe. Aristotle's geocentric cosmology was thought to be affirmed by the Bible. Wrong! The centrality of the Earth in scripture goes to the soteriological perspective of divinity, not to any human perspective, or to the spatial relations among or to the astronomical interactions between the Cosmos' heavenly bodies.
On the other hand, the Continental Europeans of the Enlightenment, particularly the French, generally viewed religion to be an impediment to their political agenda rather than an ally of any kind. According to the Jacobins of the French Revolution, for example, religion was an oppressive conspiracy of sorts which diverted the peoples' attention away from their economic and political interests.

Sound familiar?

Some scholars trace the Counter-Enlightenment as spearheaded in Continental Europe by French and German Romanticists back to the relativist thinker of the Enlightenment slavishly adored by today's leftists: namely, Rousseau. The romanticists rejected the excesses of Enlightenment thought, particularly those generally espoused by the Continental Europeans who were emphatically hostile to religion and devalued the efficacy of beauty, the art of history and the spiritual or mystical aspects of the human experience in favor of a sterile ontological naturalism (See also "Abiogenesis:  The Unholy Grail of Atheism".). However, Rousseau prized the arts, after a fashion, given his aesthetic of the so-called Noble Savage, and was more interested in the philosophy of government than in the objectives of science.

But the classical romanticists, unlike many of their counterparts who embraced both the idealized heroics and the supposed primal authenticity of the late French Revolution, were appalled by the Rousseauean deconstruction of the "affectations" of civilized art, including its "fanciful" regard for transcendent morality, in favor of the purer, instinctual expressions of man as emotive animal in nature.

Sound familiar?

In other words, they objected to the barbarism of reducing man to a soulless machine, on the one hand, or to a "free-spirited" vagabond, on the other, for they intuitively understood that just as the former did not explain the totality of the human experience, the latter did not divulge the wisdom of its sublimities.

In truth, human nature is utterly corrupt, an aggrieved and restive beast below the surface that when unencumbered by the restraints of civilization becomes a pitchfork-wielding Neanderthal. La Guillotine of the Committee of Public Safety's Reign of Terror. Robespierre, that effeminate fop of benevolent despotism. Loyalty oaths. Uniformity. Comrade! Citizen! Appropriated property. The Jacobins of the new social order: "Burn it down!" La Tricoteuses! The infamous Moira! Madame Defarge's busy fingers furiously knitting that malevolent train of blood. . . .

The classical liberal Alexis de Tocqueville, as anyone who has read his Democracy in America knows, rejected the general ideological bent of the Continental thinkers, particularly its fanatical humanism and, consequently, its unreasonable hostility toward religion. He also rejected the baser propensities of the Revolution later enshrined by the unwashed romanticists. He described an American people, the heart and the soul of the fledgling nation, who were hardly enamored with the secularism of certain elites both here and abroad.

To be sure, the body of opinion comprising the Anglo-American tradition of the Enlightenment was not monolithic, but the faction within that echoed the antireligious sentiments of the Continental thinkers was a relatively insignificant voice during the formative decades of its most influence thought. Also, it cannot be denied that the sentiments voiced by some during this "Age of Reason," as depicted by Thomas Pain, seemed, at times, to overshadow the initially respectful regard for Judeo-Christianity in America and Great Britain.

But that does not change the fact that America's founding is steeped in the sociopolitical ramifications of Judeo-Christianity's moral system of thought. It does not change the fact that this faction was vehemently denounced by a number of the leading lights of classical liberalism such as Burke and Smith. It does not change the fact that Paine's artless, anti-Christian screed roused strong rebukes from John Adams, Zephaniah Swift, John Jay, Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon, even Benjamin Franklin and many others.1 It does not change the fact that the Great Awakening swept Great Britain and America and restrained this particular brand of secularism at least up until the mid-Twentieth Century in the latter, though not so successfully in the former (See "Schisms".). It does not change the fact that America remains the most religious nation in the West, which should tell you something about the efficacy of Judeo-Christianity, given that America is also the freest and arguably the greatest nation in all of world history!

Finally, it does not change the fact that while Paine sneered at Judeo-Christianity's theological edifice, he nevertheless recognized that its ethics were indispensable to liberty.

Now consider the fact that the rise of big government in America seemingly coincides proportionately with the decline of revealed ethics in American popular culture.

Causation or mere correlation?

You decide.

You are mistaken, profoundly so. If you were suddenly imbued with my learning, that is to say, if you suddenly became aware of the extent to which your understanding of this history has been skewed by leftist historical revisionism, you'd be aghast.

There is a distinct and profound difference between the early classical liberalism of Great Britain and America, and the alternately totalitarian political theory and collectivist democratic theory of Continental Europe. Namely, it's the difference between thg mindless mob of the French Revolution and the valiant self-sacrifice of the American Revolution predicated on the declaration "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . ." (Declaration of Independence).

If reading the original works of the Enlightenment seems too daunting a task for now, then I recommend you begin with the works listed below, which discuss, variously, the pertinent ideas and history of the Enlightenment, citing chapter and verse, and the recent history of the ideological bait and switch in the American public education system:
  • John Locke's Political Philosophy: Eight Studies (J. W. Gough)
  • The Political Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the "Two Treatises of Government" (John Dunn)
  • The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America (Richard B. Sher)
  • Religion and the Enlightenment:  From Descartes to Kant (James M. Byrne)
  • The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture (Jonathan Sheehan)   
  • God, Locke, and equality: Christian foundations in Locke's political thought (Jeremy Waldron)
  • Edmund Burke: The Enlightenment and Revolution (Peter J. Stanlis)
  • Natural Law: An Introduction to Legal Philosophy (Alessandro Passerin d'Entrèves)
  • The Two Democratic Traditions (George H. Sabine)
  • The Foundations of Conservative Thought: An Anglo-American Tradition in Perspective (William R. Harbour)
  • The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (Russell Kirk)
  • When Benjamin Franklin Met the Reverend Whitefield: Enlightenment, Revival, and the Power of the Printed Word (Peter Charles Hoffer)
  • Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life (Nicholas Phillipson)
  • The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Gertrude Himmelfarb)
  • 48 Liberal Lies About American History: That You Probably Learned in School (Larry Schweikart)
  • Telling the Truth About History (Appleby, Hunt and Jacob).
As for a work of fiction that alludes to the historical dispute between the Anglo-American and the Continental European traditions of the Enlightenment, read Walter M. Miller's brilliant comedic tragedy, the allegorical sci-fi A Canticle for Leibowitz, though not before you've read at least a few of the works of nonfiction listed in the above. Otherwise, you won't be able to connect the dots. Also read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which indicts the French primogenitors of progressive utopianism by way of its allusions to European Bolshevism and Fascism, and certain trends in the American popular culture of the left, namely, the threats to individual liberty posed by materialism, subjectivism, relativism, sexual promiscuity and the sentimental emotionalism of government altruism.
1David Miller, PhD.; "Deism, Atheism, and the Founders", Apologetics Press (2005).

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