Problems of Consensus: Responses to Goldman, Farrell, Wilson, Beltran and Miller

by Danielle Allen on June 26, 2015

Sam Goldman’s analysis of my treatment of religion in the Declaration is the most astute I’ve seen to date. Consequently, his criticism is also the most subtle. He rightly recognizes that the core of my argument is that the Declaration can be the object of an overlapping consensus in which citizens endorse the same basic laws or principles for different reasons. He then raises questions about the value of the secular component of that overlapping consensus, which is to throw doubt on the value of overlapping consensus as such when it comes to matters of religion.

As Goldman acknowledges, the religious language in the Declaration is compromise language. It studiously avoids commitment to any particular theological doctrine or sectarian view and made it possible for deists like Franklin and Jefferson to affirm the same document as a Puritan like Roger Sherman. In its religious language, the Declaration signals not only the profound need in democracies for compromise but more specifically the central importance of compromise around religion. The compromise that I identify as possible—between the faithful and the secular—goes beyond that effected in 1776 among Christians, deists, and closet atheists. I do not, however, believe that it goes much beyond it—so stark already were the disagreements that characterized the religious views of the men of 1776. My reading probes the contours of the space provided by the Declaration for religious compromise, and tests that space for capaciousness.

Goldman has three basic criticisms of my argument:

  • In analyzing the idea of God that underwrites the argument of the Declaration, I overweight Jefferson’s contributions to the text and don’t place enough emphasis on the additional religious language added by Adams, Franklin, and the Continental Congress; were I to do so, it would be harder for me to offer a secular alternative to the warrant provided for beliefs in basic rights and equality by the ideas of the Supreme Judge of the World and Divine Providence.
  • While people can accept the Declaration’s claims about rights for secular reasons, they are foolish to do so since the prudential argument for the source of rights (that a failure to acknowledge them introduces conditions of war into human relations) cannot protect the idea of rights in the face of successful oppression achieved at seemingly little cost to the oppressor.
  • Those who take rights seriously for secular reasons are less likely than those who take rights seriously for religious reasons to act in the ways necessary to secure rights; that is, they are less likely to make sacrifices and wage war. In other words, a secular basis for belief in rights cannot adequately motivate people. By stripping necessary political motivation out of the document, my reading neutralizes the value of the text for “the darkest moments of the nation’s history.”

Let me take each of these challenges in turn.

Although late in my book I do address Congress’s invocation of the “Supreme Judge of the World,” it is true that I restrict my early reading of the role of Nature’s God as an anchor for the argument about rights to the vocabulary immediately appearing in the relevant passage about rights. And this is mainly Jeffersonian vocabulary. Yet Goldman is right to identify the God of Exodus as evocatively present in the symbolic texture of the American Revolution generally, and in the Declaration too.

In Common Sense Thomas Paine analogized King George III to the Egyptian Pharaoh, a theme that ministers seem to have picked up in the spring of 1776. For instance, on May 17, 1776, the weekend after John Adams successfully secured a Congressional resolution to the effect that all the colonies should write constitutions for themselves, he went to hear one Mr. Duffil preach. Here is how he reported back to Abigail:

I have this Morning heard Mr. Duffil upon the Signs of the Times. He run a Parrallell between the Case of Israel and that of America and between the Conduct of Pharaoh and that of George. Jealousy that the Israelites would throw off the Government of Egypt made him issue his Edict that the Midwives should cast the Children into the River, and the other Edict that the Men should make a large Revenue of Brick without Straw. He concluded that the Course of Events, indicated strongly the Design of Providence that We should be seperated from G. Britain, &c.

Is it not a Saying of Moses, who am I, that I should go in and out before this great People? When I consider the great Events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and that I may have been instrumental of touching some Springs, and turning some small Wheels, which have had and will have such Effects, I feel an Awe upon my Mind, which is not easily described.

Goldman is right that a careful reading of the Declaration ought to draw closer connections than mine does between the religious language of the Declaration’s opening and of its closing. Yet Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston and even Congress did not draw the connection as closely as Duffil appears to have done. They did not directly link the idea of “the course of events” to providence, but only at a remove. Again, that space is meaningful, a sign of capaciousness in the architecture of justification used to forge solidarity among those with strong differences in matters of religion. Secularists too, in my view, can fit into that space.

But are secularists foolish to accept the idea of basic rights on a prudential basis? I think not. Oppression may be far more costly than Goldman acknowledges. Here, as in his point about motivation, Goldman’s claims are empirical, and I’m not sure we have an adequately researched basis for deciding the question. Still there are some indicators. Alan Taylor’s recent Pulitzer-Prize winning history, Internal Enemy, carefully details the toll taken on white Southerners by their fear of slave uprisings. This is not to say that the costs of slavery borne by the slavers in any way equate to, or balance out those borne by the enslaved. It is only to note oppression’s costs, and if those exist then the prudential argument for the reason to respect rights holds.

So can a secularist commitment to rights—whether its basis is prudential or something else— motivate people to the radical action necessary for social movements or war? Goldman writes: “People generally don’t fight for ‘commitments’ and ‘grounds.’ For better or for worse, they do fight for what they believe God demands.” As with the previous challenge, I’m not sure Goldman’s baldly asserted empirical claim is enough to resolve the question. One can also tell a story about motivation in terms of not morality but ethics, in terms, that is, of the desire to be the kind of person one admires. This motivational structure may also provide a basis for what moralists would dub as “self-sacrificing” choices. Of course, if those choices make you the kind of person you want to be, they’re not ultimately “self-sacrificing.” This is how the shift from “morality” to “ethics” changes the focus. (On this, see James Doyle, “‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ and modern moral philosophy.”) Finally, a third story about motivation can be told in terms of solidarity and its rewards. Both Goldman and I would have to do more work to determine which motivational story best captures contemporary human experience or whether, perhaps, all can work simultaneously.

There is, though, also one final point to make, which relates to the achievement of overlapping consensus. By exploring the Declaration for capaciousness, and arguing that both believers and non-believers have grounds to accept its arguments, I aim to safeguard a political world populated by a diversity of types of motivation, not only the theological or moral, but also the ethical and solidaristic. Although I ask the question of whether God can be left out of the Declaration, I don’t ask the question of whether God can be left out of politics, because I’m pretty sure this is unlikely to occur. There is, in other words, little likelihood that the sorts of motivational resources Goldman hopes for will disappear from our political life. The more pressing question, I think, is whether those who “fight for what they believe God demands” can work in solidarity with those whose motivations flow from other sources. Achieving this requires, I think, respect for the value of overlapping consensus.

Response to Henry Farrell, James Lindley Wilson, Cristina Beltrán, and James Miller

All three of the comments by Farrell, Wilson, and Beltran allude in one way or another to that element of my argument which is hardest to swallow: its celebration of compromise. Beltran puts the issue most pointedly:

The author’s discussion of group writing suggests one powerful opportunity for sitting with the Declaration’s contradictions and tragedy. Noting that Jefferson’s original draft was edited not only by a five-member committee but by Congress, Allen describes the process by which the founders deleted all references to slavery while adding numerous references to God. Despite the result — which, arguably, contributed to generations of violence and human devastation —Allen nevertheless characterizes this process as the “art of democratic writing,” a practice that while maddening is “necessary for justice.”[1]

I admit that such celebratory language leaves me perplexed. While group writing may be a democratic art — a messy but important practice that abets compromise — such compromises carry a price. What is democratic, after all, may not be just. And it’s here that, as a reader, I wanted Allen to resist a rush to romance and instead linger over the political implications of group writing.

Beltran and the other commentators rightly challenge me to have more to say about the obvious costs of compromise, and I will do my best.

We are used to thinking of the U.S. Constitution as a document built on the sand of compromise; so too was the Declaration, with the two biggest compromises having to do with religion and slavery. I’ve discussed the compromises on religion in my response to Goldman. As for the compromise on the subject of slavery, it consisted of the decision to leave “property” off of the list of basic rights and of the decision to cut a passage condemning the slave trade’s violation of the “sacred rights of life and liberty” of Africans. The text contains no compromises related to patriarchy or the genocidal treatment of native Americans. Here the men of 1776 were closer to being of one mind (which means, of course, that the problem may not be compromise….and therefore may not be emergent from democratic theory as such.)

But how is it that I can justify celebrating compromises that secured the political power necessary to complete, in essence, the genocide of native Americans? And how is it that I can justify celebrating compromise in a text where one of the leading examples is a compromise over slavery? Don’t we universally take this as the leading example of the injustice of compromise? Indeed we do and rightly so.

The challenge presented to us by the Declaration is that it contains a democratic theory that we can consider, abstracted from particular contexts. Democratic political institutions can’t survive without forms of moderation that give opposing factions real reasons to hang on to the shared set of political institutions. Yet no democratic theory ever operates outside of particular contexts, so in judging the operations of the theory we have to consider the effects it brings about in specific material circumstances. In 1776, the democratic theory of the Declaration simultaneously brought about equality/liberation and domination/genocide. Compromise was central to its achievement of both ends. The question, then, is whether the machinery of democracy is invalidated as a set of working mechanisms for achieving political equality within a given group because of the ends to which it is set. I think not. One can celebrate the discovery about political machinery, condemn the ends to which the discovery was put, and take responsibility for figuring out how to connect the machinery to a different set of ends.

This brings us to the most difficult aspect of this question about compromise. Many have suggested that the machinery of democracy invented in 1776 cannot be decoupled from the ends to which it was directed, that the machinery itself simply is machinery of domination. Again, compromise is a fundamental problem. Does it not, by definition, import injustice into politics? This would be a matter of logical necessity in any case where the compromise brokers an agreement between a just view and an unjust one, preserving essential features of the unjust view. If the machinery of democracy is to be tethered to good ends, it cannot be the case that we begin by assuming that any and every compromise is worthy. There must be limits to compromise. And there must be an answer to the question of what to do when compromise is impossible. I take it that theories of revolution serve in part to identify the limits beyond which compromise is inappropriate. In other words, any argument in favor of compromise needs to be yoked to a theory of revolution, as is the case in the Declaration.

Yet it is also the case that political judgments are often far more indeterminate than in the limit case identified above that would trigger consideration of revolution. Not all compromises are worthy, but there are many more good ones than we commonly believe these days. Still, because of the indeterminacy that will often characterize the justice claims on two sides of a political argument, it must be the case that errors will creep into our common decisions. In addition to limits on compromise, there must be an expectation that as our errors become evident to us, we will have the capacity to change direction. Not only a full-fledged theory of revolution, but also fallibilism and corrigibilism must travel alongside the commitment to compromise.

Indeed, in our contemporary circumstances, the entire argument about the value of compromise in democracy depends on the existence of political institutions and public spheres that are functional at some minimal level, in the sense either of already providing egalitarian political empowerment, or of being clearly reformable, given effort, in that direction. When political institutions are not functional at this minimal threshold, a theory of moderation—that is, of commitment to political institutions sustained by compromise—requires us to “alter and abolish” those status quo political institutions in order to institute new government that does provide that functionality. As I have said, accepting the positive value of compromise requires also embracing a theory of revolution.

Of course, the Declaration of Independence, masterwork of compromise, also contains its own theory of revolution. I’ve already spent some time dwelling on the expression of that theory in the second sentence about self-evident truths. The Declaration continues from that point thus:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

When, after a long train of abuses, a string of truth-telling actions, we finally recognize that someone else is our enemy, a yoke of necessity, as the ancient Greeks would say, falls upon us. Then the instinct to survive, welling up from deep within, demands a change. Not too soon. Just in time. Just before it is too late. Knowing, then, if it is time for revolution depends on a long pre-existing effort to alter existing institutional forms. The seriousness of any revolutionary undertaking requires that the causes be weighty and long-lived. Only such causes can justify radical action. A theory of revolution, then, in turn, first requires a theory of civic agency, and that brings us back to my response not only to Lebron but also to Winant. I can accept and celebrate the abstract democratic theory embodied in the Declaration, despite its patently unjust workings at the end of the 18th and early 19th century, because the Declaration also articulates a theory of revolution. But this makes me responsible in our own time and place not only for a theory of civic agency, but also for its actual cultivation.

Democracy somehow occurs in a zone of compromises, limited mainly by the willingness of its participants to make the case that the time for revolution has come, based on a long history of oppression and unrequited efforts to seek redress. Democracy has a revolutionary flame burning constantly, if quietly, in its heart. Farrell indicates that in the Ireland in which he grew up the rigors of revolutionary politics were softened by “gaps of a conversation that never quite took form, tacit and tactical silences that carefully skirted a complicated history.” He confesses that he finds strange the American habit of relying on old texts for that softening. Winant explained this reliance thus: “The appeal of grounding confrontational egalitarian politics in the national past has always been that it makes social conflict seem more palatable and less dangerous by linking it to inherited traditions.” This is surely right. The reliance on old texts provides solace to those who have benefitted thus far from the compromises. But what about the broken-hearted? For them, the solace must come, as for Lebron, from the theory of revolution.

But let me conclude then by addressing Wilson’s question of how to go beyond the Declaration, for there is no question of stopping at the point of inspiration. As Farrell says, the Declaration is not some “kind of ersatz holy writ.” Wilson asks whether we need to change the ideals of the Declaration or to expand more-or-less appropriate norms to a wider population. This is not quite the right set of questions, for it loses track of the crucial distinction posited by the Declaration between the principles that constitute the foundation for the political order and the choices made about how to organize the powers of government. The right ideals do not necessarily in themselves get you the right organizational form for government. I would say that the men of 1776 got further in the direction of endorsable principles than they did in the direction of endorsable organizational form.

Yet there is work to do not only on the organization of political form but also on the principles, and it is worth our while to separate out the to-do lists. With regard to principles, I take the five facets of equality articulated or embodied in the Declaration to be a reasonable starting point for a more fully developed account of political equality. With its theories of revolution and of a constitutional separation of powers (in the list of grievances), the Declaration does anchor an account of political equality: the grievances insist on the reservation of political power to the people and this refutes Wilson’s suggestion that the text is compatible with aristocratic liberalism. That account of political equality in the Declaration is, however, only imperfectly tethered to an idea of universal human moral equality. The issues that Wilson casts as matters to be addressed under the heading of “inclusion” in fact have to do with the philosophical work that would be necessary to achieve an indissoluble bond between moral and political equality while simultaneously also securing the inviolability of political equality as a basic right. As Philip Pettit argues in his recent book, Just Freedom, the new ascendancy of universal human moral equality from the middle of the 19th century onward was in fact accompanied by a weakening of commitments to political equality.

Alongside this work at the level of principle, there is also work to do at the level of organizational form or policy. Miller asks, “What is to be done?” As my responses to previous commentators have indicated, I take the first step to be efforts to revive civic agency, and to build on the revival of participatory politics that we are currently witnessing. But there is also the question of in what direction. I, for one, am focused on the following compass points:

  • Overturn the status quo legal structure of the U.S. drug economy; develop effective reintegration programs for the formerly incarcerated (more,more);
  • Rebuild economic strength at the lower levels of the income distribution by focusing on re-organization of regional and municipal distributional structures (tax, funding, housing policy, transportation policy, etc.) (more, more, more, more, more, more,more);
  • Improve access to high quality education for those at lower levels in the income distribution by building on state-level constitutional rights to education in order to pursue funding equity as well as universal Pre-K 9 (see work by Michael Rebell and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity); by pursuing mixed-income housing; and by supporting socio-economic mixing in schools (see work by Edward Rothstein and others); by allocating spots at elite colleges via a geographical lottery at the level of zip code; and by shifting to a three-year model for college education (more on funding equity, more on Residential and schooling desegregation, more on geographic lottery, more on three years for college
  • Educate in K-12 not only for college and career readiness but also for participatory, or civic, readiness; aim to close the “participation” gap between those with and those without college educations.

I’m sure this should be a longer list, but for this civic agent there is value in focus.

[1] Our Declaration, p. 101.

{ 59 comments }

1

John Quiggin 06.27.15 at 1:28 am

I don’t ask the question of whether God can be left out of politics, because I’m pretty sure this is unlikely to occur

I disagree. God has disappeared from politics nearly everywhere in the developed world, even in countries like Australia where nominal Christians are a majority. More precisely, God has been excluded in the sense that an appeal to religious faith in political argument is regarded as illegitimate, as is the political advocacy of a position based in specific religious dogmas (eg Catholic opposition to contraception) as opposed to general ethical principles which may be supported by religious faith.

Everywhere except in the US, the fact that a political leader (for example, Tony Blair) is more than nominally religious is notable in the same way that being openly gay used to be. For example, here’s an article in the rightwing British Daily Mail, noting that Angela Merkel has “admitted” to holding strong religious beliefs, and drawing the comparison with Blair.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2228664/Angela-Merkel-believes-God-strong-Christian-beliefs.html

There’s every reason to think the US will go the same way once the proportion of non-believers becomes large enough.

2

oldster 06.27.15 at 3:44 am

Goldman writes: “People generally don’t fight for ‘commitments’ and ‘grounds.’ For better or for worse, they do fight for what they believe God demands.”

True, people’s belief that God demands it has been a fairly reliable motivation to fight, over the years.

But it’s not the only way. Stalin’s troops fought, without believing it was demanded by God. Many (though not all) of Hitler’s troops fought without believing it was demanded by God.

It’s clear that appeals to religion can motivate people to fight. It’s also pretty clear that many other things work, too. Nationalism, racism, personal charisma, ethnic solidarity and the like seem to work just fine, if you want to start wars. And at the small-unit level, apparently individual interpersonal bonding works pretty well.

3

c 06.27.15 at 12:22 pm

Repeat from earlier comment: The claim that theistic belief is a stronger motivator for equality activism than non-theistic beliefs lacks empirical evidence. Here are some causes where significant numbers of people have made taken risks, made sacrifices *and* achieved political change in a wide range of countries without most of them being theistically motivated: feminist politics, LGBT rights, animal welfare protection and environmental activism. Some theists take part in those causes too of course, but so does many non-theists.

The prudential/theistic motivation dichotomy Sam Goldman makes is false. Allen takes a few steps away from it, but not far enough and gets tripped up by unusual terminology.

A person may have theistically flavored motivations (motivations that involve the belief that there is an almighty god) and still be motivated prudentially (god will reward me in afterlife!) or altruistically (helping others, removing inequality and domination is the right thing to do even if I don’t personally gain from it, and thinking through religion has helped me understand that moral fact!). Just like the non-theist (believing that there exists no god) can be motivated prudentially (it is in my own long term interest to remove inequality and domination!) or altruistically (helping others, removing inequality and domination is the right thing to do even if I don’t personally gain from it, and I need no belief in any god to figure that out!).

Non-theists can believe in moral facts, facts independent of any human or superhuman attitude or belief. That view in the philosophy subfield of meta-ethics is called moral realism and is the majority view (56.4%) of the 1803 philosophy PhDs participating in the recent PhilPapers Surveys, http://philpapers.org/surveys/ .

As has been known since at least Plato’s euthyphro dilemma argument it is doubtful if theism can supply a coherent and plausible account of God created moral facts. A not uncommon view today is that theists will have to pass the buck morally: God does not create moral facts by commanding them – the moral facts exist independently of God and God at most convey information to humans about those independently existing moral facts.

4

F. Foundling 06.27.15 at 2:42 pm

Goldman: Atheists or even secularists can’t do the right thing (in politics). The only conceivable reason why they would do the right thing is because of their own selfish interests (the “prudential argument”), but even that won’t work.

Allen: That is “astute” and “subtle”. But there may be other reasons for atheists and secularists to do the right thing, for example maniacal narcissism (self-admiration) or other kinds of selfish interests (hoping for a “reward”). But we do have to “do more work” on this.

In 2015, we’re pretty much having a learned discussion about whether atheists, nay even secularists, are capable of being good humans. This seriously makes me want to throw something at both of these highly sophisticated academics, but I must remind myself that I’m not an adherent of the God of stonings (and Ebola).

It’s infinitely cute that both of these intellectuals agree that only religious people, but not atheists, act for truly non-selfish reasons and are capable of self-sacrifice, whereas atheists’s choices are “not ultimately self-sacrificing”. Religious people expect a reward in Heaven and I don’t see how this is not selfish (some of the more sophisticated among them will claim that it’s not for the sake of the reward they are supposed to be acting – yet the fact remains that they do expect to get the reward, and they cannot possibly remain uninfluenced by that expectation). Indeed, a religious person who sacrifices his life expects to continue existing and to spend an eternity of blissful life in Heaven, so it is arguably *his* choice that is “not ultimately self-sacrificing”; an atheist who sacrifices his life expects nothing for himself, he loses everything in the world, including himself, and only hopes to benefit the life of others, so his choice is infinitely more of a self-sacrifice. The only reason why the self-sacrifice of religious people is impressive is because of the inconvenient fact that they actually *aren’t* sure that their religion is true and *aren’t* confident about what will happen to them after death (and for bloody good reasons).

I’ve already commented on the assertion that “For better or for worse, they do fight for what they believe God demands.” Again, while Allen notes that it is “baldly asserted”, she does not try to dispute it. This is truly maddening. That anyone would say, in the 21st century, that people have never fought for an idea without a religious motivation, and that he should, in response, be complimented on his “astuteness” is … I’m out of words. This is despicable, it’s spitting on the graves of people. And it’s also pure idiocy.

The learned academics here have speculated upon various hypothetical non-religious reasons which could explain why anyone would be so weird as to be good even without a religious motivation. To these, I’d suggest adding one more: benevolence. You know, the outlandish tendency to wish humans well. Just because you wish humans well. Because somehow humans tend to feel happy when they know that everybody else around is happy, and vice versa. In the specific case of human rights, you might fight for them, because, incredible as it sounds, you strongly believe in human rights. Just because you believe in human rights. Instead of strongly believing in the sovereign/ownership rights of the Creator of the Universe to dispose freely of the feeling and sentient subjects that he has created, even to the point of bestowing human rights upon them if he happens to feel like it, and that somehow he has had that particular whim (even though he hasn’t made it unambiguously clear in his scriptures, to say the least) – this is apparently supposed to be the “simple and natural” motivation for supporting human rights, but maybe you should at least acknowledge that other motivations could exist.

And, of course, there are also selfish motivations for fighting (for rights and in general), such as simply defending or advancing your peceived interests. Actually, I think these have always been very important, they were very important in the American Revolution and will always be very important. Objectively, it’s a fact that people usually manage to find some ideological formulation that justifies the defence of their perceived interests, so I wouldn’t worry so much about that particular problem – they are sure to find one in the future, with or without God.

I’m glad to see that, while I’ve been writing this post, others have made many of the same points, though somewhat less emotionally, and have added more valid objections. I’m posting it anyway, since numbers matter, too.

5

F. Foundling 06.27.15 at 7:47 pm

@oldster 06.27.15 at 3:44 am

>True, people’s belief that God demands it has been a fairly reliable motivation to fight, over the years.

> But it’s not the only way. … Nationalism, racism, personal charisma, ethnic solidarity and the like seem to work just fine…

>Stalin’s troops fought, without believing it was demanded by God.

Yeah, and before Stalin, there was this little thing called the Russian Civil War. Where plenty of people actually fought but for this thing called socialism, with explicitly atheistic slogans. I assume you think that they should have fought for the restoration of Czarism and/or for the restitution of the land to the landlords instead, but it still remains a fact that quite a few did the exact opposite, so much so that they even ended up winning the war. Maybe you think that this was such a terrible thing that it should never have happened, but that’s not a reason to act as if it never actually happened.

So yeah, please observe that stuff like social and political justice in itself can be, and has been a motivation for fighting, too. Similarly, in the French revolution, the clearly anti-clerical and sometimes even atheistic tendencies meant that there was little emphasis on God, but, surprise, surprise, social justice was still present as an independent motive. So it’s natural to conclude that ideas of social and political justice are real, independent motives, and are probably present even in revolutions that don’t have an explicit atheistic component (maybe – gasp – even in the American one?)

As for Hitler’s troops, I’m under the impression that even the most loyalist Nazis were mostly Gottgläubig, if not Christian, and Hitler regularly claimed in his speeches to be doing the work of the Almighty Creator, so whatever ordinary people took him seriously could have believed that. But of course, it is very doubtful that the religious soldiers seriously thought God was the one commanding them to fight either, any more than when the German soldiers fought in World War I under an officially theistic regime. Nationalism was the primary ideology in both cases. Actually, it’s pretty clear that most of the religious people who have fought for officially theistic states throughout history (the Greeks at Thermopylae, Alexander’s conquests and the Roman ones, the soldiers of Qin and those of Qing, the conquests of Genghis Khan, most medieval intra-European wars) haven’t thought of their fighting as being particularly connected to religion of all things, even if their official cults have generally encouraged loyalty to the state. You don’t actually have to go to an explicitly atheistic regime to find a non-religiously motivated war. I mean, it’s just incredible that one should even have to say such obvious things, but judging from Goldman’s wording and the reactions to it, it certainly seems as if one has to.

6

John Quiggin 06.27.15 at 11:17 pm

Agreeing with FF, Goldman’s assertion that theism is the essential basis of democracy or republicanism is so bizarre to a non-US person that I assumed there must be some more subtle, historically and culturally specific, tie to the Declaration and subsequent US history. But as far as I can see, it’s the same kind of parochialism that characterizes a vast amount of US political discussion, leading to assertions that are obviously false to anyone who chooses to look.

7

Lee A. Arnold 06.28.15 at 12:55 am

I think that part of the theological debate might benefit from learning that the millennial notion of how god was connected to the world flipped entirely in the educated Western public consciousness in around the third quarter of the 18th century. It was a quite sudden change in public expression which came after only a few centuries of new emergence. It was a momentous change in an old framework which goes back to Plato, and which gave the cosmology which underlay traditional religion. This inversion happened without discarding god, which became “nature’s God”. But the new intellectual framework, in its very structure, also immediately programs the eventual discarding of god. The story is told in Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being. This is the time and intellectual milieu in which the Declaration was written. The Declaration, as one of its best mental products, could not help but have both aspects: the faith in, and due paid, to nature’s god, and a complete moral and intellectual framework that can function without it. In this respect it is not all that different from Romanticism, a major artistic offshoot of this same period.

8

geo 06.28.15 at 1:26 am

I can’t speak for Goldman, and I certainly don’t want to rehash the thread that followed his post, but I think he might reply to the above on something like these lines:

JQ@1: The developed world is still quite a small fraction of the world. In the less developed world, the influence of Hinduism, Islam, and evangelical Christianity is great and growing.

oldster@2: I don’t think Goldman meant that only theists become soldiers. Soldiering is, in general, a coerced activity; hence the enormously high rates of desertion in all times and places. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia were particularly coercive states with regard to military service.

c@3: “The claim that theistic belief is a stronger motivator for equality activism than non-theistic beliefs lacks empirical evidence. ” I have a feeling that equality activism is not exactly what Goldman has in mind.

FF@4: “Atheists or even secularists can’t do the right thing (in politics). … whether atheists, nay even secularists, are capable of being good humans … only religious people, but not atheists, act for truly non-selfish reasons and are capable of self-sacrifice …” I suspect Goldman would simply roll his eyes at these wildly overstated versions of his argument.

JQ@6: “Goldman’s assertion that theism is the essential basis of democracy or republicanism” John, I’m surprised at you.

Allen herself takes a much more fair-minded view of Goldman’s argument, which is, as far as I can see, simply that an acceptance of divine authority and/or transcendent truths has been, for most people at most times and places, a more likely motivator of heroic self-sacrifice than a purely secular idealism, if only because a purely secular idealism is a fairly recent historical phenomenon. So far from being “bizarre,” this is a very common feature of the conservative critique of modernity, voiced by, among many others, Burke, de Maistre, Dostoevsky, Unamuno, Russell Kirk, and in our own day, John Gray and Marilynne Robinson. I’ve staked my life, my fortune, and my sacred honor — or anyway, all my hopes — on these very distinguished thinkers being wrong. But I can’t bring myself simply to give them the back of my hand, as some of you seem willing to do.

9

geo 06.28.15 at 1:33 am

PS – I left out two of the most important conservative secular moralists: Freud and Philip Rieff.

10

LFC 06.28.15 at 3:17 am

JQ @1
A lot of the stuff bandied about re US ‘exceptionalism’ is rubbish, but the US really *is* exceptional among most countries of comparable economic profile in the number of Americans who say they believe in a deity — 75% according to a 2013 Harris poll (which comes up rapidly on Google), down from 82% in earlier polls. Religion and politics have been intertwined throughout US history. I’m reading a book about the ‘culture wars’ in the US of the 1980s and 1990s (A. Hartman, A War for the Soul of America); one of the points the author makes is that while the societal authority of organized religion in the US declined starting esp in the ’60s, the number of religious people (or believers, at any rate) did not really decline much, and that discrepancy helped fuel much of the cultural politics of the period by prompting conservative Christians, a numerically fairly large group, to think that their values were ‘under assault’ by an increasingly secular society. The vast majority of evangelical Christians voted for Nixon in ’72, and ditto for Reagan in ’80 when the Christian Right gained recognition as a major political force. This is all fairly well-known recent history, but goes to show that even for recent decades it’s hard to talk about US politics without also talking about religion’s role in politics.

There’s a difference between parochialism and recognizing the particularities and specificity of certain national histories. French presidents routinely refer to ‘the Republic’ and its values; U.S. presidents talk a somewhat different language, one more likely to focus on a word like “union” than “republic.” (Obama yesterday after the marriage-equality decision referred to making “our union” a “little more perfect” [obvs. referencing the preamble to the US Const.]). Even when US presidents strike ‘civic republican’ themes, the rhetorical register is often distinctive. These differences in rhetoric reflect differences in nat’l histories. For similar reasons, it is v. common, though not absolutely required, for U.S. presidents to end a major speech w “God bless the U.S.” No French president says “God bless France,” no British prime minister says “God bless Britain,” and I presume no Australian prime minister says “God bless Australia.” Given the persistence of these differences over some time, I wd not be so confident that the US eventually “will go the same way” as the rest of the developed world on these matters.

11

John Quiggin 06.28.15 at 3:34 am

@geo Burke, de Maistre, Dostoevsky etc. I’m not familiar with all of these, but I think of them as invoking God against democracy, self-determination and so on, and in favor of submission to divinely ordained (typically royal) authority. And, conditional on accepting their theism and anti-humanism, I’d say they make a pretty good anti-democratic case.

As you say, secular idealism is a relatively recent idea. So is democracy in the modern sense of the term, and the correlation between the two is strongly positive, in my view. Even if you regard the two as independent features of modern (Enlightenment and after) thinking, it still seems bizarre to suggest that one is inconsistent with the other.

12

John Quiggin 06.28.15 at 3:42 am

@LFC I agree that the US is exceptional: that’s why I tried, and failed, to parse Goldman’s claims in US-specific terms.

As to whether the exceptional status will remain, I’d observe that Ireland was even more exceptional a generation ago, and the same was true to some extent of Italy (though much more contested)

Arguably, the US has already changed, to the extent that religion is seen (as in many European countries) as being associated exclusively with one side of politics. That doesn’t eliminate religion from politics, but it does disqualify it as a basis for civic unity.

13

Marshall 06.28.15 at 4:28 am

but it does disqualify it as a basis for civic unity.

… which is also a good argument for getting politics out of religion, so that it can perform its proper functions. Jesus himself advised not getting mixed up as to which was for Caesar and which was for God. However your morals do have to come from somewhere if they come at all, as many places they do not, and that is a problem. Possibly the main thing is merely to have a habit of thinking things through. As some of us understand.

14

JPL 06.28.15 at 4:40 am

Barack Obama’s eulogy in Charleston yesterday was suffused with Christian principle together with aspirations for social policy clearly flowing from those principles. The expressions in the Declaration of the fundamental ethical principles mention the creator as a deontic source, but their validity does not logically depend on the existence or belief in the existence of such a creator. It’s difficult to see, for me at least, how any positive community- building political goals can be achieved without love and the capacity to love. When I look at the Republican tea- party — I didn’t say “evangelical”– right, I always say, “Where is the love?” The capacity to love is not restricted to those who are religious, but it seems like an effective condition for positive social change. (We’re not talking about “taking up arms” or being coerced into unjustly initiating a war.)

15

Harold 06.28.15 at 4:43 am

The key thing about the traditional world view (which Lovejoy termed “the Great Chain of Being) is the presupposition that the universe was ordered according to principles of divine harmony. You can call that “theistic” if you like. Whatever you call it, it was a rather static view in which there was a place for everything and everything in its proper sphere; and it was believed that if everything kept its place, harmony would prevail. This is why Darwin’s theory, which showed that boundaries were not fixed and species were not eternal, scandalized the religious.

In the old view, the secular sphere was a place among many and was not conceived as in opposition to the divine plan, on the contrary. According to St. Thomas Aquinas there were four kinds of law: Eternal law (identical with the mind of God); Divine law (laws of revelation), natural law (unwritten but imprinted in the hearts of men by nature and shared by all humanity), and customary law (the “positive”, or written) laws of particular states or nations. In the traditional world picture, none of these laws cancelled out any of the others because all were supposed to harmonize with the transcendent.

The founding fathers had the Ciceronian (and Aristotelian) view (which was not held to be incompatible with Christianity) that human beings were social creatures whose highest purpose on earth (the secular sphere) was to exercise their reason and live together in universal friendship and harmony. This was a given for them.

The use of the word “secular”, which literally means temporal, as opposed to eternal, has only in the last hundred years or so come to be synonymous with atheistic. Unless people understand that fact, they cannot understand the mentality of the founding fathers.

I think this historical context helps us understand the Declaration of Independence, but this understanding is not the same thing as “belief in God” pace Professor Goldman. Nor, in my view, should we throw out the Declaration of Independence because of Darwin and the discovery of the atom.

16

js. 06.28.15 at 6:14 am

geo @8:

Goldman explicitly advanced the thesis that there couldn’t be a stable democratic regime based on non-theistic principles (nor linking right now, but you it’s there), so it’s a little less of a milquetoast-y historical claim than you’re making it out to be. I think.

17

ZM 06.28.15 at 8:08 am

John Quiggin,

“I disagree. God has disappeared from politics nearly everywhere in the developed world, even in countries like Australia where nominal Christians are a majority. “

Professor Kevin Donnelly of Australian Catholic University had an article in The Herald Sun on Friday about the continued role of The Lord’s Prayer in our Parliaments in Australia.

“Should daily sessions of the Victorian Parliament, as they currently do, begin with the Lord’s Prayer? The practice is a well-established part of the Westminster parliamentary process that we have inherited from Britain and, with the exception of the ACT, is carried out in all state, territory and Commonwealth Parliaments.

As argued by the Liberal member for Kew, Tim Smith, when criticising the Greens MP for not attending the opening session when the Lord’s Prayer is recited, it “exhibits a total lack of respect and almost contempt for the ancient traditions of this House”.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz, when the Greens tried to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the Commonwealth Parliament, made a similar argument when he said that the Lord’s Prayer “is a very rich part of our cultural tradition and a humble acknowledgment by the Parliament collectively of its responsibilities”.

While we are a secular society where there is a clear division between the church and the state, it is also true that we are a Western, liberal democracy where Christianity plays a central role in our culture and how society operates. Our political and legal systems are based on Christian principles like the sanctity of life, not lying under oath and having free will and being responsible for one’s actions. It should not surprise that the Preamble to the Australian Constitution includes the phrase “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”.

As argued by legal expert Dr Augusto Zimmermann, from Murdoch University, in a recent speech to the Tasmanian Parliament, the Magna Carta “is first and foremost a religious document that underlies the biblical justification for limited government under law”. Zimmermann also argues the concept of common law, that Australia has inherited from Britain and that underpins our legal system, owes its origins to Christianity. He writes, “common law owes much to the influence of Christian natural law theory. This legal system was originated and largely influenced by the moral convictions of lawyers, philosophers and politicians who believed in the existence of a higher law reflecting enduring principles of freedom, justice and morality”.”

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/a-prayer-to-protect-our-heritage/story-fnpp4dl6-1227415127726

18

Harold 06.28.15 at 8:43 am

Common law had origins in Canon law which in turn was influenced by Roman (not Christian) law. The Church was run as a republic on the Roman model until the Council of Trent, when the Vatican insisted on its superiority over the Church councils, to which it had hitherto been subordinate.

19

ZM 06.28.15 at 9:18 am

That’s interesting Harold.

I have read about the Institutes of Justinian (as that is where I read the Public Trust Doctrine has its origins), which were Roman laws — but they would have been written in the era when Rome was Christian as they were written in the 6th century A.D.

Would Christianity have had much impact on Roman law from 400 A.D. onwards?

20

Lee A. Arnold 06.28.15 at 11:08 am

I think it is possible that “equality” will slowly become the sacred (not supernatural) object of ritual for democracy. Inequality was always excused by the expositors of the modern system, until now, because it was the result of the selection and reward of individuals by their merits, plus, the system of rewards spurred and enabled the innovation and development of labor-saving machines. It served a dual purpose. However, the era when everybody still had a chance to get ahead at this, the era of “opportunity”, while it was realistically always remote, is now logically drawing to a close. It is also visibly drawing to a close, no longer masked by asset bubbles. An increasing number of people are likely to begin to understand that the promotion of “liberty” is making inequality worse, because the natural mechanics of market system + financial investment + technological development = inexorably increasing inequality. Equality before nature’s god may come to be replaced by equality of outcomes as the only possible independence-principle by which we can all live together.

21

Ronan(rf) 06.28.15 at 1:39 pm

I’m not sure if early 20th century Ireland was that much of an exception. If compared to the industrialised and Protestant north Europe then perhaps, but if compared to the agrarian and Catholic South then the exception runs closer to the other direction, that Ireland was one of the few countries not to descend into authoritarianism.
Certainly ‘secular’ Western Europe(and AUS, New Z) is the historic and contemporary exception rather than the norm.
I’d also have my doubts seeing the entirety of the US as a ‘developed’ country. Surely the most religious parts (although Ill admit I might have a caricatured view of which are ‘the most religious parts’ * ) ie the South, have only transformed from authoritarianism in the past 50 or so years, and are still at a lower stage of socio-economic development; moving from an agrarian economy embedded in strong inerpersonal social relationships and traditional institutions, to something approaching the advanced norm ?

* I remember a history prof in college railing against the title ‘the bible belt’, which he said (in so many words ) was an ahistoric nonsense and journalistic soundbite. He was talking about the grand sweep of US history though so I dont know if religious belief is regionally patterned in the US nowadays. (all corrections welcome)

22

steven johnson 06.28.15 at 2:03 pm

“…the conservative critique of modernity, voiced by, among many others, Burke, de Maistre, Dostoevsky, Unamuno, Russell Kirk, and in our own day, John Gray and Marilynne Robinson….Freud and Philip Rieff.”

I’m not familiar with all these thinkers, but everything I do know suggests this crew should be struck with the back of the hand. For instance, the most generous interpretation of Freud I find plausible, in psychology he cuts a figure somewhat like Paracelsus in chemistry. The notion that psychoanalysis is to be taken seriously as an ethical or social critique is astounding.

23

Marshall 06.28.15 at 2:08 pm

@ZM: There is the odd statue in the rotunda, but nobody in the mainstream West seriously debates policy from eg a Biblical perspective, unlike the ISIS folk with their Koran. Rather examples like those you mention seem to be thrown in as window-dressing so that policy-makers can get on with the business of calculating relative rates of future return. That was true in America concerning “compassionate conservatism”, these days the Teaparty fundamentalists have started down the ISIS road, although personally I don’t think they read their NT very well.

Christianity is at basis a religion in and of history, not static: Christ came, lived, died, will come again, his Kingdom is even now emerging into the world, we should direct our steps in that direction. Materialism does pretty good boiling the juice out of that idea.

@JPL: Thx. Love, yes.

24

Plume 06.28.15 at 2:17 pm

What “liberals” often miss is the power of the religious right in America. They dismiss it. Ignore it. Poo poo it. But it controls all too much of the narrative.

We saw that happen when the entire “attack on our religious freedom” meme turned into law — RFRA, Hobby Lobby and the like — laws which openly discriminate against women and LGBT and could expand into far more categories.

Sometimes, there actually is a “slippery slope.” So when “liberals” expend a lot of energy trying to protect and defend “religious belief,” whether they like it or not, they are giving aid and comfort to bigots — usually right wing bigots. By elevating “religious belief” into a category above the law, you enable and empower millions to turn their bigotry into state-protected action.

I almost always avoid the Sunday talk shows, because they’re too depressing. It’s basically, “If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Conservatives!!” But I tuned into This Week and caught Ken Blackwell spouting nonsense about the supreme court decision on same-sex marriage and how it’s supposedly against deeply held convictions and what will photographers and so on do!!! This pisses me off to no end. And it is a direct result of us elevating religious belief — as in, myths and superstition — above all other thought in America. It doesn’t matter if the ruling goes against the Iron Age beliefs of some Americans. We’re a secular society, not a theocracy — as the framers and the founders intended. Blackwell also wondered what would happen in schools, and how this would change so many things and go against those deeply held beliefs. Again, so? We teach actual science instead of creationism. That goes against your deeply held religious beliefs, Ken. I think your kids can survive the latest bit of progress in Civil Rights too.

To me, Goldman’s thesis is dangerous, as it’s a kind of passive-aggressive attempt to sanction this absurd idea that “America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” There is no evidence that this is true, and a ton of evidence that the framers and founders were quite anti-church. Their feelings regarding organized religion are among the truly great things they left us. They screwed up on far more things than they got right, and they weren’t all that “revolutionary,” in most cases. But the idea of a secular society? That truly is brilliant, a stroke of genius, and revolutionary for its day.

It still is.

25

LFC 06.28.15 at 3:55 pm

Ronan @21
I’d also have my doubts seeing the entirety of the US as a ‘developed’ country. Surely the most religious parts (although Ill admit I might have a caricatured view of which are ‘the most religious parts’ * ) ie the South, have only transformed from authoritarianism in the past 50 or so years, and are still at a lower stage of socio-economic development; moving from an agrarian economy embedded in strong interpersonal social relationships and traditional institutions, to something approaching the advanced norm ?

Outside the Northeast U.S. (and, to a cursory extent, the West Coast), my personal experience is limited: namely, one year spent living in a small town in West Virginia a long time ago. Without going into details, there the churches played a pretty important role in the community.

But to one of your points: I don’t think the South, taken as a whole, is *notably* different in terms of ec. dev. now than the rest of the country; still behind prob. in per capita income vs. other regions, but not drastically. There are rural/urban divides, of course, but those exist in other parts of the country as well.

On the other point: religious belief, I think, *is* still regionally patterned in the US: stronger in the South and, yes, the ‘bible belt’, which as far as I’m aware is a real thing and still exists. That doesn’t mean things haven’t changed at all, but I don’t
think your prof was right to denounce ‘the bible belt’ as nonsense. (Though he may been right that the designation has been thrown around too loosely as a historical matter.)

26

LFC 06.28.15 at 4:03 pm

s. johnson @22
The notion that psychoanalysis is to be taken seriously as an ethical or social critique is astounding

It was not intended mainly as an ethical or social critique, and when Freud veered in the direction of social theory he was probably at his least convincing. But Freud had a large influence on big swaths of 20th-c. culture and for that reason alone will be read for a long time. The clinical case studies (Little Hans, Dora, the Wolf Man, etc), where he is closest to direct observation and drawing inferences from it, will esp. be read for a v. long time, I suspect.

27

Harold 06.28.15 at 4:49 pm

ZM @19 re-Roman law — The Institutes of Justinian may have been compiled in the sixth century but they date from a much earlier time, Cicero was a lawyer, after all, who argued his first case in 81 BC. His writings influenced later conceptions of natural law (a contribution of the Stoics).

According to wikipedia: as far as the concept of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” as a rule of evidence:
“The sixth century Digest of Justinian (22.3.2) provides, as a general rule of evidence: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat[1]—(Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies).[2] It is there attributed to the second and third century jurist Paul. ”

This Paul was not the Apostle Paul, bien entendu, nevertheless it was the Christian Apostle Paul who proclaimed, “Civis romanus sum” — i.e., as a holder Roman citizenship (which he inherited from his father), he was exempt from torture. (I read that anecdote recently in Alan Ryan’s useful book “On Politics”.)

As I said, the Christian fathers adopted Roman law, and especially Cicero’s writings, as appropriate and just for the secular (temporal) sphere (with modifications as needed). That is why you later had a Holy Roman emperor, etc. And why the church governed itself in a republican manner — though not as a democratic, bottom-up republic. After the fall of the Rome, the bishops, typically acted as magistrates of cities, collected taxes, built cathedrals, and so on. In Italy, they even allowed the cities to have republican governments, pretty much.

28

Ronan(rf) 06.28.15 at 4:58 pm

Lfc- I’ll stand corrected on the developmental aspects as im pretty ignorant on the topic (I guess I’m just throwing out speculations ; ) )
More broadly on the question at hand ; wasn’t religious homogenisation (replacing folk religions and local religious variations ) part of the state and national identity building process (replacing local political structures and identities with centralised and national ones) ? From that position , if you think that nationalism and a meaningful centralised state is an important precondition for contemporary democracy (which I do), then religion *was* an important factor institutionalising democracy and social solidarity ?

29

Ronan(rf) 06.28.15 at 5:15 pm

….although on the topic of the South , the same prof made the argument (which I’ve read on other places, snd I think is half conventional wisdom?) that the invention of affordable aid conditioning was one of the most important factors uniting the south and the rest of the country and crating a national identity ?

30

Stephen 06.28.15 at 5:52 pm

Ronan@21: I would have thought that your description of the southern US states as “still at a lower stage of socio-economic development; moving from an agrarian economy embedded in strong interpersonal social relationships and traditional institutions, to something approaching the advanced norm” was a fairly accurate description of Ireland until well into the later part of the 20th century. As for Ireland being non-authoritarian but the southern US states being authoritarian, I have difficulty in understanding that.

31

Ronan(rf) 06.28.15 at 6:07 pm

Afaict The political structures and institutions of the southern united states explicitly excluded African Americans , nothing equivalent existed in Southern Ireland. Irelsnd wasn’t institutionally authoritarian even if it was socially and politically conservative .
And the position of religious or ethnic minorities in Southern Ireland was never comparable to that of African Americans in the US South.
However, I agree that my description of the US south you quoted could also describe Southern Ireland up to the 60/70s.

32

LFC 06.28.15 at 6:54 pm

Ronan
wasn’t religious homogenisation (replacing folk religions and local religious variations ) part of the state and national identity building process … ?

I’m not sure, but I suspect this process may have been more important in certain European contexts than the US one. There are definitely still “local religious variations” (and “local identities”) in the US. But I wouldn’t know how to accurately describe the balance betw. ‘national identity’ and local variations, so I’ll leave that to someone else.

33

Harold 06.28.15 at 7:50 pm

Saying one has to believe in God to accept the Declaration of Independence is like saying we have to throw out Darwin an Einstein, since the founders were ignorant of them.

Conversely, however, we don’t have to throw out everything the Greeks and Romans bestowed on us, just because atoms and evolution.

As things stand now, we really don’t have a choice about acceptance of atoms and evolution, but we do have a choice about acceptance of religion /(s), which religious people ought to realize is a not such a bad thing.

34

ZM 06.29.15 at 2:20 am

Harold,

“ZM @19 re-Roman law — The Institutes of Justinian may have been compiled in the sixth century but they date from a much earlier time, Cicero was a lawyer, after all, who argued his first case in 81 BC. His writings influenced later conceptions of natural law (a contribution of the Stoics”

Thanks Harold, I didn’t know that. Would you happen to know how to find the legal antecedents of a law in the Institutes of Justinian?

I’m looking at 2.1 and would be interested if there were earlier influences, and if there was any interaction and changes from the earlier laws to what is in the Institutes of Justinian.

35

Neville Morley 06.29.15 at 12:11 pm

@ZM #34: presumably because they’re intended partly as a basic introduction to principles of Roman law, the Institutes don’t indicate sources (unlike the Digest, which is vastly more helpful in this regard). Most of the text is recognisably drawn from the Institutes of Gaius, sometimes word for word, and legal historians have identified other likely authors – again, from centuries earlier. Identification does depend on whether we have texts of the originals – in a lot of cases, we know jurists simply because they’re named or quoted in the Corpus Iuris Civilis.

36

Bloix 06.29.15 at 8:49 pm

“I don’t ask the question of whether God can be left out of politics, because I’m pretty sure this is unlikely to occur.”

There was a time when we appeared to be well on our way to this. Younger people may not recall a day when presidents did not say “God Bless the United States of America” at the end of every speech.

Here is JFK making it clear that God had nothing do with his campaign for the Presidency:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference…

I believe in an America … where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials..

Whatever issue may come before me as President–on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject–I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Politics/2000/09/I-Believe-In-An-America-Where-The-Separation-Of-Church-And-State-Is-Absolute.aspx?p=3#l6oJtigCvSyEGIqK.99

Sounds pretty quaint today, doesn’t it?

37

Jay 06.29.15 at 11:59 pm

I can’t help but notice that an “overlapping consensus” by definition has more internal disagreements, and therefore more opportunities for an enemy to divide it, than an ordinary consensus.

38

ZM 06.30.15 at 3:06 am

Thanks Neville Morley, I’ll have a look at the Institutes of Gaius.

39

joanblondelle 06.30.15 at 5:02 am

Ronan(rf) 06.28.15 at 6:07 pm
“The political structures and institutions of the southern united states explicitly excluded African Americans , nothing equivalent existed in Southern Ireland. Irelsnd wasn’t institutionally authoritarian even if it was socially and politically conservative.”

Nothing equivalent to the landscape of the US South, but I have to disagree that the Ireland did not participate in institutional authoritarianism in collaboration with the Catholic Church by incarcerating young women in the Magdalene Laundries without trials and with sealed records: they could be warehoused for life.

40

joanblondelle 06.30.15 at 5:07 am

Prior to the creation of the welfare systems, the Irish gov left it to the Church to operate orphanages, reform schools, homes for “fallen women,” and other asylums. These were essentially prisons.

41

joanblondelle 06.30.15 at 5:21 am

“Those who take rights seriously for secular reasons are less likely than those who take rights seriously for religious reasons to act in the ways necessary to secure rights; that is, they are less likely to make sacrifices and wage war. In other words, a secular basis for belief in rights cannot adequately motivate people. By stripping necessary political motivation out of the document, my reading neutralizes the value of the text for “the darkest moments of the nation’s history.”

I strongly disagree. As for what motivates people to go to war, I think Goldman may be over- estimating the piety of people who do go to war. There are as many motivations to engage in combat as there are people, and I’m afraid sociopathy or ignorance of youth probably have far more to do with it than either ethics or morals.

42

Harold 06.30.15 at 6:05 am

The idea that atheists or agnostics cannot be patriots is a wee bit anachronistic, verging on the offensive. Be that as it may, I think people traditionally went to war more out of a desire for glory, than religious devotion, though industrial warfare put something of a damper on the glorious aspects.

My grandfather was a patriot, but not a religious believer. He enlisted in WW1 because he had had (years before) at the technical high school that he had attended, a British teacher whom he very much admired, so he told me; and because he was a fan of the rather bellicose Theodore Roosevelt (who was ashamed of his father’s non-participation in the Civil War). At 27 Grandpa was a little too old to train as a pilot, but since he was a professional athlete they accepted him anyway at officer’s training school. Fortunately for his grandchildren, he never saw combat.

Of course, for some, belief in God might be a motivation, I imagine. However, myself , I think sincere religious belief might lead one rather to be a conscientious objector an/or join the ambulance corps than to engage in combat.

Did Leo Strauss serve in the war, I wonder?

43

Harold 06.30.15 at 6:36 am

People seem to forget that the founding fathers had a rather low opinion of war. They knew that when countries have standing armies, those armies are not going to be content to sit on their hands but will want to get a chance to show their stuff, with promises that all would be over in a few months if not weeks.

This proved to be true in 1914, when European countries such as Austria and Germany not only had large armies, but also employed professional secret services who were ready and willing to supply “incidents” that could be used as a casus belli, not to mention choruses of academic flaks ready to beat the war drums.

44

Ronan(rf) 06.30.15 at 8:45 am

Joanblondelle 38/9- yeah fair points on complicating my position.

45

Harold 06.30.15 at 1:03 pm

To answer own question – Strauss did one year’s service in WW1. Not a believer in God, nor fighting for human rights, as a matter of fact.

46

bianca steele 06.30.15 at 3:38 pm

My own grandfather rebelled against his father, the rabbi, and joined the Communist Party (in which he remained active until, I think, 1928 or so?). If that’s activity attributable to religion, it’s on the roundabout side.

My other grandfather, on the contrary, having lost his roots by emigration at a much earlier age, was compelled to be a workingman.

47

LFC 06.30.15 at 4:10 pm

Harold @42
People seem to forget that the founding fathers had a rather low opinion of war.

Attitudes toward war, or at least toward the ‘martial virtues’, in the early republic were complicated and contained contradictions. See John Kane, Between Virtue and Power: The Persistent Moral Dilemma of US Foreign Policy (Yale U.P., 2008), pp.60-61. (I don’t have time to type out the passage right now.)

48

bianca steele 06.30.15 at 10:10 pm

Actually now that I remember, that grandfather did enlisted during WWI, and got his citizenship that way, I think, though he wasn’t sent overseas. (That makes me seem older than I am: my grandmother’s brother and my husband’s grandfather were in WWII.). So that’s another reason people historically have fought.

49

Harold 07.01.15 at 6:07 am

LFC. There was a reason the Founding Fathers didn’t want to have a standing army. The endless European wars of succession and wars of religion were very much on their minds.

50

LFC 07.01.15 at 2:45 pm

Harold:
I agree the founders, or at least many of them, didn’t like standing armies. (Whether in fact standing armies contributed to the “endless European wars of succession and wars of religion” is another question, one that wd take the discussion too far afield. Many of those wars were fought partly w/ mercenaries.) The attachment to citizen armies as opposed to standing professional armies is a feature of the ‘civic republican’ tradition (found notably in, e.g., Machiavelli and Rousseau), and the founders might have been (probably were) influenced by that. And yes, they were also influenced by some 18th-cent writings criticizing war in general as a retrograde activity that the progress of commerce and civilization eventually would eliminate. There is a letter along these lines from George Washington to Chastellux (which I’m aware of b/c it’s referred to in D. Bell’s ‘The First Total War’).

51

Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 5:21 pm

Opposition to the institution of a standing army was a core tenet of the Whig ideology of the Glorious Revolution, an ideology that suffused the political thinking of the American Revolution.

In the 17th century context that fused Tory and Whig support for the Glorious Revolution, the issue was tangled up with the experience of rule by Cromwell with the support of The New Model Army, as well as examples of the mischiefs attendant on Louis XIV’s ability to maintain an army of 100,000, and the Stuart attempts to nurture Catholicism under a claim of divine right, against popular Protestantism. It was a complex and contradictory experience, that gave birth to an ideology of high principle disguising subtle compromise and justified by theory disguising political paranoia.

Whig ideology, discredited during Walpole’s long development of regular Parliamentary administration and no longer needed with the final failure of Stuart pretensions, was eclipsed in Britain on the accession of George III, when the new King showed he favored an active role for himself and a Tory ministry, but it was vigorously revived in the Committees of Correspondence organized in America to resist imperial taxation. “a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism” is very nearly pure Whig paranoia as political theory, a political theory of revolution well-suited to men already occupying positions of establishment power. It isn’t the magnitude of oppression that justifies rebellion so much as a perception of the underlying design, and the revolution begins with a declaration of principle, well after an accomplished assumption of institutional power. The overthrow of institutions does not happen at all, and any reform takes the form of a renovation or restoration.

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Bruce Wilder 07.01.15 at 5:29 pm

The use of mercenary armies in the 18th century wars of succession, especially in Germany, was at least partly attributable to the Whig aversion to instituting a standing British Army of sufficient size to sustain Britain’s diplomatic ambitions, which led to a reliance on the superior financial capacity of the British state, itself an outcome of the political and economic evolution underlying the Civil War, Restoration and Glorious Revolution.

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Harold 07.01.15 at 7:44 pm

I can’t prove it offhand, but I’d be amazed if the view of war as depicted in Voltaire’s Candide, one of the most influential books ever written, didn’t influence the founding fathers’ view of war.

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LFC 07.01.15 at 8:10 pm

BWilder
“a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism” is very nearly pure Whig paranoia as political theory, a political theory of revolution well-suited to men already occupying positions of establishment power. It isn’t the magnitude of oppression that justifies rebellion so much as a perception of the underlying design [etc.]…

The word “paranoia” is perhaps a bit loaded, but I wdn’t quarrel too much w the rest, though I’m not up on the contending interpretations of the Am. Revolution, other than a general awareness that there are contending interpretations.

Opposition to the institution of a standing army was a core tenet of the Whig ideology of the Glorious Revolution, an ideology that suffused the political thinking of the American Revolution.

Ok, that sounds like a more immediate influence than the civic-republican dislike of standing armies that I cited, but do you think the latter had no influence at all on the Am. revolutionaries? Since you didn’t bother to comment on my comment directly but rather proceeded to write about the Whig ideology of the Glorious Revolution, I have no idea whether you thought there was any merit in my suggestion or not.

George Washington did write a letter to F.-J. de Chastellux in 1788, saying in part: “It is time for the age of Knight-Errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end… for the sake of humanity it is devoutly to be wished that the manly employment of agriculture and the humanizing benefits of commerce would supersede the waste of war and the rage of conquest….”* (Chastellux was in d’Holbach’s circle, author of Essay on Public Happiness.) I suppose this doesn’t *necessarily* have a connection to the standing army issue, but it might.

______

*Quoted in D.A. Bell, The First Total War (2007), p.74.

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Harold 07.01.15 at 11:46 pm

I don’t suppose that the original whigs planned for standing armies to be replaced by mercenary ones. In any case, abhorrence of war was pretty much a boiler plate tenet of Enlightenment thought, beginning with Fénelon, a favorite author of Jefferson (and almost everyone else in the 18th c.). That is what later made De Maistre so shocking.

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Bruce Wilder 07.02.15 at 4:13 am

LFC @ 54

Émile and Du Contrat Social were sensations in their day and their timing could not have been better. Figures like Montesquieu and Rousseau helped to re-vivify the Whig ideological framework and adapt it to new circumstances and possibilities, particularly the impulse to write constitutions that so absorbed the American Revolutionaries.

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Harold 07.02.15 at 4:35 am

Many, if not most, of the American colonists would have been de-barred from serving in the English Parliament regardless of their colonial status, owing to the fact that they were members of dissenting religions. At least that is my impression.

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LFC 07.03.15 at 3:05 am

Harold @55:
abhorrence of war was pretty much a boiler plate tenet of Enlightenment thought … That is what later made De Maistre so shocking.

A (partial, at least) exception is Wilhelm von Humboldt, brother of the naturalist and explorer Alexader v. Humboldt, best remembered now (or so I gather from a v. quick bit of research) for his work in linguistics and related areas, whose dates of birth and death are fairly close to de Maistre’s. There is available online a 19th-cent. English translation of W. v. Humboldt’s 1792 The Limits of State Action (I’m not going to type out the orig. German title): see link in next box and go to the opening of chap.5 for the comments on war. Short version (cribbed from Bell, op. cit., pp. 81-2): Humboldt hoped for an eventual perpetual peace (in Enlightenment fashion), but thought it shdn’t come about through “artificial paralysis” and thought war was good (‘healthy’) for the character and the species (the ‘race’).

I don’t know whether Humboldt experienced war firsthand, and I forget whether de Maistre did or not. Clausewitz, who did of course experience it firsthand, did not rhapsodize about it in this way (afaik).

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LFC 07.03.15 at 3:08 am

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