The View From 1776
Tradition & Morality
Monday, September 22, 2014
The Scottish Renaissance In America
Scottish scholars were the most influential single group of teachers during the founding of the United States. Today none of these great educators could find employment at major universities, because of their non-politically-correct understanding of reality.
Educating the Founders
By Robert Curry
“At age sixteen Jefferson and Madison and Hamilton were all being schooled by Scots who had come to America as adults.”
Garry Wills, Inventing America
This remarkable fact was no mere coincidence. Scholars from Scotland were held in the highest esteem in colonial America because of the preeminence of Scottish thinkers and Scottish universities at that time. The Scottish Enlightenment (it lasted from about 1730 until about 1790) was an explosion of creative intellectual energy in science, philosophy, economics, and technological innovation. It arrived just in time to have a decisive influence on the Founders.
Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton are the architects of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and The Federalist Papers. If we want to understand their thinking and their writings, we need to start with the fact that the Scottish Enlightenment provided their teachers.
Jefferson’s tutor, William Douglas, had studied at Glasgow and Edinburgh, but the great intellectual influence on Jefferson was William Small. Small was a powerful representative of the Scottish Enlightenment, and he was by far the most brilliant member of the faculty at William and Mary. He came to America to teach only from 1758 to 1764—at precisely the right time to guide Jefferson’s studies there. Small left America when he did in response to an urgent request from James Watt. Watt wanted his help with the development of the steam engine.
Madison’s tutor, Donald Robertson, was also a product of the Scottish Enlightenment at its peak, but the great intellectual influence on Madison was John Witherspoon, also a Scot. Witherspoon’s own education can help us see just how close the Founders were to the Scottish Enlightenment. Before coming to America, he studied with Adam Smith and Thomas Reid. When Madison entered Princeton in 1769, under the leadership of Witherspoon it had become the American university where the great thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment—Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and David Hume—were studied most intensely.
Hamilton had set out from the island of St. Croix to enroll at Princeton in 1772. He was sent by two sponsors, men who had recognized his astonishing gifts, his employer and Hugh Knox, a Scot and a Presbyterian minister who was a Princeton graduate. When Witherspoon did not accept Hamilton’s typically bold proposal that he be allowed to blaze through his studies at a rate only determined by his intellectual powers, Hamilton made the same proposal at King’s College (today’s Columbia) and was accepted. His tutor there, Robert Harpur, was also a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, having studied at Glasgow before coming to America.
The ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment were studied and hotly debated just about everywhere in colonial America. In the words of the eminent scholar Douglass Adair, “At Princeton, at William and Mary, at Pennsylvania, at Yale, at King’s, and at Harvard, the young men who rode off to war in 1776 had been trained in the texts of Scottish social science.” James Foster’s admirable book Scottish Philosophy in America states it this way:
The Scottish Enlightenment provided the fledgling United States of America and its emerging universities with a philosophical orientation. For a hundred years or more, Scottish philosophers were both taught and emulated by professors at Princeton, Harvard and Yale, as well as newly founded colleges stretching from Rhode Island to Texas.”
It is well known that the Founders were on the whole remarkable for their learning. It is fair to say that by modern standards they were as a group almost unimaginably learned. They knew their Aristotle, they knew their Cicero, and they knew the Bible—and often read the texts in the original languages; Jefferson and Adams read Greek, Latin and Hebrew. What is not so well known is how much the Scots contributed to the Founders’ thinking. Those who overlook the Scots’ contributions to the American Founding end up overlooking the American Idea itself.
Witherspoon is no doubt the most important example of the influence of Scottish educators. In the words of Jeffry Morrison in his excellent biography of Witherspoon:
“No other founder (not even James Wilson) did more to channel the Scottish philosophy into the colonies and thus into American political thought.”
In addition to Madison, Witherspoon’s students by one count included twenty-one U.S. senators, twenty-nine members of the House, twelve governors, three Supreme Court Justices, and five delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Is it any wonder that the ideas and arguments of Reid and Smith and their Scottish colleagues are everywhere in the writings of the Founders?
Witherspoon’s course in moral philosophy, which he dictated year after year in largely unchanging form and which his students copied down faithfully, is almost certainly the most influential single college course in America’s history.
Beyond his enormous influence as an educator, Witherspoon was also one of the most important of the Founders. He was an early and influential champion of American independence, and much more than merely a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, he played a central role in the signing.
When the Declaration was completed and ready to be signed, the signers-to-be wavered. For two days they hesitated to affix their signatures. To sign it, after all, was to provide the British with documentary evidence of treason, punishable by death. John Witherspoon rose to the occasion, speaking in his famously thick Scottish accent:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of time. We perceive it now before us. To hesitate is to content to our own slavery. That noble instrument upon your table, which ensures immortality to its author, should be subscribed this very morning by every pen in this house. He that will not respond to its accents and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions is unworthy the name freeman.”
His speech broke the logjam and, as we all know, the delegates then swiftly signed the Declaration.
Robert Curry is the author of the forthcoming book, Common Sense Nation. You can visit him at https://www.facebook.com/CommonSenseNationBook
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Today’s Secularity vs. Constitutional Liberties
In his latest book, Professor Ellis Sandoz explores the origins and nature of personal freedoms in the Western world, especially as those freedoms came to be embodied in the Constitution of the United States.
Professor Sandoz is director of the Eric Voegelin Institute at Louisiana State University. The first portion of his book (Give Me Liberty: Studies in Constitutionalism and Philosophy, St. Augustine Press, 2013) , is devoted to exploring the grounding of Western civilization in individuals striving toward religious and political rectitude, exemplified in the American founding experience. In the later portion of his book, Professor Sandoz relates these matters to the philosophy of Eric Voegelin, who is generally regarded as one the 20th century’s greatest philosophers of history.
As Professor Sandoz writes in the preface to his work, “The drift of [the book] is to show the connection of the individual consciousness with Liberty in persons and in politics as this has emerged in Western and endured in Anglo-American civilization…In the teeth of our witheringly secularist times, the argument raises the banner of human nobility through participation in the infinite Good as the foundation of all we hold dear and worthy of devotion…”
The book’s back-cover copy tells us, “The Liberty for which Patriot Patrick Henry was willing to die was more than a rhetorical flourish. The American Patriots and Founders based their ideas about Liberty upon almost 200 years of experience on their own as well as the heritage of English Common Law and even back to the natural order of Thomas Aquinas, not to mention the philosophy of Aristotle and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.”
Of particular importance was John Adams’s claim for the origin of political liberty: “Rights antecedent to all earthly government - Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws - Rights derived from the great Legislator of the universe…” Needless to say this conception stands in diametric contrast to the secular and materialistic position advocated by liberal-progressive-socialistic government. Think of President Obama’s assertion that “You did not do that yourself,” with the clear meaning that what individuals possess is given to them by collectivized government, things which liberal-progressive-socialistic government is therefore entitled to take from individuals to satisfy government’s vision of social justice. Think also of President Obama’s abrogation, through ObamaCare, of individuals’ religious liberties that, in the past, were guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
This decadent, liberal-progressive-socialistic conception of human nature and of mankind’s place in the order of being grew to crisis proportions in 19th century Europe and was imported into the United States after the Civil War by newly secularist major universities. Darwinian evolutionary theory and the philosophical doctrine of materialistic determinism led, on the one hand, to a view of humans left adrift, without spiritual sustenance, and, on the other hand, to the proclaimed necessity of heavy-handed, collectivized government as the only source of people’s well-being. Hence Nietzsche’s observation in the late 1800s that God was dead. As Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s champion of the evolutionary hypothesis, earlier had asserted, evolution “proves” that there is no good or evil, just the struggle for survival. Powerfully collectivized, arbitrary government thus is both obliged and entitled to regulate the populace into conformity to preconceptions of the self-anointed elite.
In contrast, as Professor Sandoz notes, the historic American tradition was a politics of aspiration, in Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of happiness.” This aspiration, in the Declaration, was enumerated under God-given, inalienable rights. But under the now regnant paradigm instilled by our education establishment, individual pursuit of happiness is merely an excuse for selfishness and, worst of all, the pursuit of business profit. Our callow youth are schooled to believe the Marxian doctrine that profit is money stolen from the workers and that government’s job is to confiscate profits and redistribute them to the working masses. Unfortunately, as we know too well, membership in the employed, working masses has sharply dwindled under the tender mercies of liberal-progressive-socialistic government.
Professor Sandoz explores in considerable detail the philosophical understandings of Eric Voegelin, one aspect of which was, Professor Sandoz writes, “For while the physical safety of a society may be the cardinal political priority, the spiritual health nurtured by truth and justice in the public order and civic consciousness is essential to the happiness of individuals and to the thriving of the societies they compose.” He quotes Voegelin, “…the divine reality lets the light of its perfection fall into the soul; the illumination of the soul arouses the awareness of man’s existence as a state of imperfection; and this awareness provokes the human movement in response to the divine appeal.”
In contrast, liberal-progressive-socialists, in some quarters, deny the existence of the human soul, and in all quarters dismiss the spiritual realm and human relationship to Divinity as ignorant superstition that impedes the progress of materialistic socialism, which is explicitly an atheistic ideology.
Professor Voegelin was among the first philosophers of history in modern times to understand that liberal-progressivism in all its forms - American liberalism, Marxian socialism, Mussolini’s Fascist state capitalism, and Hitler’s National Socialism - is a gnostic, secular religion. The unbridgeable difference between liberal-progressivism and the Constitutional ethos of our founding generations is liberal-progressivism’s conviction that it is the sole possessor of ultimate knowledge. Professor Sandoz notes that, “…Voegelin insists, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom, never its possessor, for only God is wise and can have knowledge of the Whole.”
In Voegelin’s analysis, a gnostic, secular religion such as liberal-progressivism hubristically claims exclusive, secret knowledge of the proper ordering of political society. Since only the elite have such knowledge, they are entitled to regiment the rest of us, compelling conformity to their vision of society. The views of traditionalists and conservatives, and most of all believers in Judeo-Christian morality, are properly subjects of ridicule and suppression.
Liberal-progressivism’s gnosticism leads to the view the world is a fallen version of the Garden of Eden’s perfection and to interpret society’s fall as resulting from the advent of private property. Property rights, of course, were among the rights that formerly prevailed under the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, hence the continuing attacks on the Fifth Amendment.
The Judeo-Christian tradition postulates that only God has knowledge of perfection and that perfection cannot be created by man here on earth. Salvation is a matter for transcendent reality. Voegelin noted that however much liberal-progressives and other gnostics yearn to create an earthly society of perfect social justice, reality remains unchanged. Liberal-progressivism cannot change reality, but it can dangerously derange political and social order.
Professor Sandoz remind us that, “Now as always before, resistance and conviction form the sine qua non of any Liberty worthy of the name.”
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Read Robert Stapler’s analysis of American presidents succeeding or failing to meet the challenges of their times (it’s presented as a comment on another recent post).
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Wednesday, July 02, 2014
The Religious Foundation Of The United States
While the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any official religion at the Federal level, Judeo-Christian moral values and religious faith were inseparably interwoven with all political issues in 1776 and in 1787, when the Constitution was crafted.
Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831, traveling from New England to New Orleans. The year before, in 1830, France had been convulsed by one of its repeated political upheavals after the 1789 Revolution. Tocqueville’s purpose was to discover how the United States had managed to avoid the episodic armed rebellions and bloodshed in the streets of Paris that plagued French political life under socialistic egalitarianism, the societal condition called social justice by liberal-progressives.
His observations were set forth in Democracy in America, often cited as one the best surveys ever written regarding American political, social, and religious life.
Two things struck Tocqueville forcibly as he traveled across the United States. Everywhere there was a strong attachment to the equality conferred by political liberty, and everywhere there was an unwavering devotion to Christianity. The two, he concluded, were inseparably connected.
“On my arrival in the United States,” he wrote, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”
“[Christianity] contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs; and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never [as of 1831] been dissolved.”
“The sects that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man…. all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.”
“In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state…. Thus, while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash and unjust. Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.”
“When [people in France] attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.”
A century later Bancroft Prize-winning historian Clinton Rossiter, who described himself as a centrist, somewhere between labor union radicals and the late Senator Barry Goldwater, wrote in The First American Revolution (1956):
“Finally, it must never be forgotten, especially in an age of upheaval and disillusionment, that American democracy rests squarely on the assumption of a pious, honest, self-disciplined, moral people. … Whatever doubts may exist about the sources of this democracy, there can be none about the chief source of the morality that gives it life and substance. From Puritanism, from the way of life that exalted individual responsibility, came those homely rules of everyday conduct – or, if we must, those rationalizations of worldly success – that have molded the American mind into its unique shape. … The men of 1776 believed that the good state would rise on the rock of private and public morality, that morality was in the case of most men and all states the product of religion, and that the earthly mission of religion was to set men free.”
Tocqueville would have said that present-day American liberal-progressives’ advocacy of libertine license in personal life and smothering regulation of economic activity and public expression of religious faith represent all the worst elements of French political life, the very sources of France’s social and political instability. French revolutionaries had destroyed the monarchy and the Catholic Church, making the nation a secular and socialist republic. It was the absence of religious moral restraint that had permitted the slaughter in the Reign of Terror of more than 70,000 people in the name of perfecting humanity. This same secular irreligion in the 20th century was to murder as many as one-hundred-million people in Soviet Russia, National Socialist Germany, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, Cambodia, and other liberal-progressive-socialistic countries.
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Sunday, June 22, 2014
Liberal-Progressivism Is Not Liberalism
Robert Curry, who from time to time favors this blog with one of his posts, has written a brief explanation for The American Thinker.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Our Unconstitutionally Established Religion Of Socialism
Is socialism a secular religion? And is inculcating it at public expense in our schools violating the First Amendment’s prohibition of establishing a religion?
Socialist intellectuals have repeatedly affirmed that socialism is a religion, not just an economic doctrine.
The late Bertrand Russell, one of the world’s most prominent spokesmen for socialism, said of the World War I German socialist party,
For Social Democracy is not a mere political party, nor even a mere economic theory; it is a complete self-contained philosophy of the world and of human development; it is, in a word, a religion and an ethic. To judge the work of Marx, or the aims and beliefs of his followers, from a narrow economic standpoint, is to overlook the whole body and spirit of their greatness. (from Lecture One, German Social Democracy).
Liberal-progressive historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., notes in The Politics of Upheaval that Mussolini in 1931 referred to communism and fascism as the new socialist religions with the power to move mountains by faith.
Irving Howe was a leading New York socialist intellectual after World War II, as well as the founding editor of Dissent magazine. In A Margin of Hope: An Intellectual Autobiography, he wrote,
Call it liberal, call it social democratic, a politics devoted to incremental reform even while still claiming a utopian vision— how can such a politics satisfy that part of our imagination still hungering for religious exaltation, still drawn to gestures of heroic violence, still open to the temptations of the apocalypse? ... Perhaps it was recognition of this fact that led the leadership of the European social democracy in the years just before the First World War to maintain some of the “revolutionary” symbols and language of early Marxism, though their parties had ceased to be revolutionary in any serious respect. Intuitively they grasped that the parties they led were not just political movements but, in some sense, branches of a “church” ...
In A Yippie Manifesto, published in May 1969, Jerry Rubin wrote,
America and the West suffer from a great spiritual crisis. And so the yippies are a revolutionary religious movement… A religious-political movement is concerned with people’s souls, with the creation of a magic world which we make real… We offer: sex, drugs, rebellion, heroism, brotherhood. They offer: responsibility, fear, puritanism, repression.
Rubin was a founder of the Yippies (Youth International Party) and one of the more prominent student radicals in the mid-1960s protesting the Vietnam War at the University of California - Berkeley.
Liberal jihadists are intent upon transforming the United States, both culturally and economically. Liberals are not just employing the democratic process to advocate policy modifications. They are motivated by their intensely religious drive to change American society into a collectivized, socialistic state in which an intellectual elite will regulate all aspects of your life.
Current examples are ObamaCare and EPA regulations designed to destroy the coal industry and impede petroleum exploration and development, along with mandates eventually forcing everyone to buy unsafe, uneconomical, and difficult to use “green” automobiles.
The liberal-progressive jihadists’ picture of the world and of human nature is the opposite of the understanding upon which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based. Jihadists, therefore, necessarily must work to destroy the original ideas of individual moral responsibility under a government of limited powers. Their secular religion of socialism teaches that human beings and human societies can be made perfect when societies are correctly restructured and regulated in ways that only the intellectuals understand.
Liberal-progressive-socialism’s religiosity explains two of its most pronounced characteristics: first, its rule-or-ruin nature, and second, the willingness of its followers to keep pushing an ideology that always fails to live up to its own mythology.
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Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Living On The Dole Or In Debt
Liberal-progressives can take pleasure in the Wall Street Journal’s report today that U.S. household debt posted the largest quarterly increase since before the recession. This while the country remains adrift in the doldrums of the worst economic “recovery” since the liberal-progressive Great Depression of the 1930s.
Given the liberal-progressive apotheosis of self-indulgence and immoral hedonism, it’s not surprising. The Federal Reserve has been lavishing fiat money on the stock market, aiming to create a “wealth effect” that will induce people to resume their profligate use of debt that created the housing bubble and implosion of the banking system in 2007-2008.
Rising household debt represents continuation of the long-term trend away from the ethos of hard work and savings for a better future, a trend that gladdens the hearts of liberal-progressive-socialists whose religious catechism includes Keynesian economic doctrine. Our educational system, from grade school to college, has for more than five decades inculcated the unconstitutionally established national religion of socialism: the belief that saving causes recessions, that capitalism is no more than greed and anti-social competitiveness, that only the collectivized, all-powerful national political state can dispense social justice.
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Saturday, January 25, 2014
Sacredness Of Life: A Central Focus Of Judeo-Christian Morality
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Sunday, January 12, 2014
The Moral Content of ObamaCare
Desiring universal, affordable medical care is commendable.
But incorporating within ObamaCare a Procrustean transfer of wealth from the young to other political interest groups is hardly a defensible moral proposal. Nor is creating a bureaucratic Leviathan that costs more than our society is producing, one that will survive only on ever-expanding Federal deficit spending.
Lenin’s and Stalin’s slaughter of tens of millions of Russians in the 1920s and 1930s was defended in the United States by liberal-progressives as a necessary process to attain the nirvana of a socialist state characterized by harmony and social justice.
Stalin reportedly said that a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is just a statistic. Stalin’s assessment apparently remains the view of American liberal-progressives, who defend ObamaCare’s crushing impositions on millions of Americans as necessary to implement their socialistic collectivism of power.
My post of Saturday, January 15, 2005, provides background on liberal-progressives’ contention that they alone know what is best for citizens of this country, that they are justified in forcing compliance to ObamaCare by tax penalties (which even liberal-progressive icon Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. acknowledged as the power to destroy).
Liberal-progressives have always arrogated to themselves the right to define social good and brook no interference from the Bill of Rights, which defends individual, God-given rights to life, liberty, and property against the tyranny of mob rule.
Who are the Moral Free Riders?
Is the Judeo-Christian tradition trespassing on liberal-socialist territory?
In economics and political theory, free riders are people who benefit from actions of others, without doing anything to merit it. I asserted in The Moral Free Rider Problem that liberal-socialists are free riders on the social order of Western civilization, which they did not create and do not support.
Western civilization is founded upon the moral rules of conduct deriving from our Greek philosophical and Judeo-Christian religious traditions. Atheistic and agnostic liberal-socialists are moral free riders who benefit from living in a society ordered by the morality of spiritual religion, while sneering at spiritual religion and moral codes as simple-minded ignorance. At best, they do nothing to contribute to social order. Too many of them do everything in their power to discredit or to destroy the very source of social order. Without Judeo-Christian morality, they would be in the position of scientists and scholars in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia: working under orders for the collectivized National State.
To this, a reader retorted that it’s conservatives and moralists who are taking the free ride. Liberals contend that all of what we consider to be modern society, with its vast improvements of living standards, is exclusively the product of the rational human mind, in a world of secular materialism and moral relativism. Progress toward human knowledge therefore is diverted by concerns about unreal things like God and moral virtues.
Liberal dogma comes from a very ancient philosophical position, first articulated in classical Greece. Plato, in the “Theaetetus,” quotes Protagoras as having said that man is the measure of all things, meaning that there are no such things as God, morality, or eternal truths. Each person is governed only by his pursuit of sensual pleasure and his avoidance of sensual pain. Each person makes his own standards, based solely upon the perceptions of his physical senses.
Plato, of course, takes the opposite position: the physical senses are no guides at all to truth, which exists in Ideal form, manifested only as indistinct shadows in our physical world.
Obviously, if Protagoras is our guide, the reader’s retort is correct. Conservatives and moralists really would be taking a free ride on secular society and in so doing making life more difficult for everyone. Religion and morality, far from being a force for social good, would oppress human freedom and oppose scientific knowledge.
This is the message given to American students for the past century. As William F. Buckley’s “God and Man at Yale” described it, most textbooks espoused socialistic and secular doctrine, and most social sciences professors at Yale in 1951 were socialists and either agnostics or atheists. The same was true of other elite universities and had been so since the first decades of the 20th century. Professors in the social sciences don’t hesitate to dismiss spiritual religion as ignorance and, in the physical sciences, to dismiss morality and religion as value judgments having no place in science.
Everything we know of history tells us that this is a false view. How then did religion and morality come to be identified with oppression and ignorance?
The first answer is the brutal Thirty Years War (1612 – 1648) that devastated Europe during Galileo’s and Newton’s era, when rival Protestant and Catholic princes fought for political control of Western Europe. This mass slaughter and destruction led Voltaire, in his 1766 satire “Candide,” to attack Christianity as the enemy of the people and the senseless cause of European warfare and strife. The Thirty Years War, however, was only nominally about religious differences. Fundamentally it was a struggle for political power, as modern nation-states took shape.
French intellectuals nonetheless identified the Church with autocratic political rule and suffering of the masses during the Thirty Years War. Cardinal Richelieu served as French Minister of Foreign Affairs and War early in the 1600s, and Cardinal Mazarin, as first minister in the middle 1600s.
A present-day variation on this theme is the belief of some feminists that religion was fabricated by men to subjugate women.
The second factor was French Revolutionary philosophers’ assumption in the 18th and 19th centuries that they could discover secular and materialistic laws controlling social behavior and political activity that would be analogous to Newton’s laws of gravity governing the motions of planets. Among them, Saint-Simon and Comte claimed to have discovered the Immutable Law of History that predicted inevitable historical Progress away from the age of spiritual religion and into the new scientific age of secularity, rationalism, and socialism, which Comte called The Religion of Humanity.
History tells a different story. The popular idea that religion prevented scientific inquiry is simply not correct. Ironically, the Catholic Church’s preservation of learning after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was all that kept scientific inquiry alive.
The Renaissance, beginning centuries before the 18th century Enlightenment, was preeminently a period when all of the talents and energies of poets, architects, builders, sculptors, and painters were focused on glorifying God. It was the Renaissance’s flowering of new perspectives in art and literature that led to renewed interest in nature and the beginning of the physical sciences.
The most widely known and admired person in this humanist revival was Erasmus, a devout Catholic priest. One of his closest friends, humanist scholar Thomas More, died to defend his Catholic faith.
The greatest leaps of knowledge in mathematics and the physical sciences occurred in the 17th century, many decades before the revival of Greek sophists’ secular materialism by French Revolutionary philosophers. It is from this period that liberals build their religion vs science case. Galileo is usually the only exhibit entered in evidence.
Despite the generally propagated myth, Galileo got into trouble with the Church, not because he advocated the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, but because he was a man with a colossal ego and a startling lack of judgment.
For a number of years the Church had raised no serious objections to Galileo’s heliocentric theory, so long as he expressed it as one of the several theories explaining movements of the planets and did not present it as the only true doctrine. But for Galileo this wasn’t enough.
In 1623, Galileo’s long-time personal friend Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII. Barberini had always championed Galileo’s right to express his theories and gave his blessings for Galileo to publish a discussion of the theories of planetary motion. Galileo then repaid his friend’s support by ridiculing him publicly.
Galileo published his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.” It is cast as a conversation among three gentlemen, one of whom is given the name Simplicio (or simpleton). The arguments, even the exact words, attributed to Simplicio were known to all as the arguments advanced by Galileo’s old friend Barberini. Galileo was, in effect, declaring to the world that the new Pope was a fool and that the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church was ridiculous nonsense. He had punched the Church in the nose and dared the Church to hit back.
Unfortunately for him, Galileo’s ridicule came at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was under attack, and Europe was ablaze with the Thirty Years War between Protestant and Catholic states. His action was comparable to France’s diplomatic stab-in-the-back of the U.S. at the UN after Al Queda’s 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center buildings.
Given the prevailing state of war and its struggle for survival, the Church was remarkably restrained in giving Galileo a choice between excommunication and cessation of further writing on the subject. Galileo accepted the ban on writing and remained a Catholic until his death.
As a final note, at the time, Galileo had no conclusive evidence to support the view that only the Copernican theory was correct. A rival theory by noted astronomer Tycho Brahe had as much evidence in its favor and was as accurate in its predictions as Galileo’s. We now know, in fact, that Galileo’s assertion that the planets travel in circular orbits was incorrect.
Note also that the greatest of all the 17th century mathematical geniuses was Isaac Newton, whose laws of motion and the equations for predicting gravity’s effects on movements of heavenly bodies, not to mention invention of calculus and the physics of optics and light, were the foundations of modern science. Newton was a life-long, devout Christian who never questioned the existence of God. Nor was publication of his work proscribed by the Church.
Liberals can only make the case that believers in spiritual religion have argued against secular materialism, not that religion has suppressed scholarship or scientific investigation. Today the shoe is really on the other foot. It is liberals who attempt to suppress spiritual religion and personal morality.
A final point of considerable importance is liberal-socialism’s antagonism toward private property and corporate enterprise. Think, for example, of the knee-jerk reaction from liberals that the Bush administration invaded Iraq solely to enrich corporations like Halliburton. It is impossible to reconcile this with my critic’s assertion that the great successes of modern economic and technical society are the product of liberal-socialist rationalism and its amorality.
Since the early 19th century, especially in Karl Marx’s works at mid-century, liberals have preached that private property and Big Business are oppressors of the workers and are the chief bulwarks against perfection of human society in a socialist political state. Wars, crime, poverty, and other social ills are said to be the product of private business activity, whose profits represent the stolen part of labor’s full wages.
Moreover, liberal-socialist theoreticians like Max Weber and R. H. Tawney have linked the rise of capitalism (taking that term as a synonym for private property and corporate enterprise) to what they term the Protestant Ethic. This Christian ethic is criticized by liberals, because it is highly individualistic and thus at odds with socialist collectivism.
The facts, of course, are that the industrial revolution was just getting a full head of steam at the time that Saint-Simon and Comte were promulgating the secular religion of socialism. From that time forward, the living standards of the whole world, especially of the West, have risen far faster than ever before in history. And that improvement, until after World War II, was overwhelmingly the result of individualistic initiative by entrepreneurs in Christian societies. Far more than half the world’s industry and commerce in that period was accounted for by the two greatest Christian nations, England and the United States.
Contrary to my reader’s retort, demonstrating that secular materialism has benefited humanity, let alone that it is the sole source of scientific knowledge and economic well-being is an impossible task.
The bitter fruit of liberalism’s secular materialism has been, not social harmony and prosperity, but the mass murders of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Hitler’s National Socialist Germany, Mao’s Red China, and Castro’s Cuba. Without the moral restraints of our Judeo-Christian heritage, on rulers and ruled, there would be precious little science and improvement of living standards. The implosion of Soviet Russia and the slow withering of socialist France and Germany make this clear for all who will see.
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Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Have A Joyous Christmas
From the Commentary website: Nobody Should Fear a Merry Christmas