The View From 1776

§ American Traditions

§ People and Ideas

§ Decline of Western Civilization: a Snapshot

§ Books to Read

§ BUY MY BOOK

Liberal_Jihad_Cover.jpg Forward USA

Friday, November 05, 2004

Left-wing Lies

Liberal-socialists have been pawning off a phony version of history for so long that either they have come to believe it themselves, or they really think that we red-state red-necks are ignorant.

—————
The New York Times’s edition for November 4, 2004, carries an opinion piece on the op-ed page by celebrated liberal-socialist thinker Gary Wills.  Professor Wills titles it The Day the Enlightenment Went Out.

The burden of the article is that the United States has abandoned the Enlightenment heritage that he maintains formed the nation.  He says, “The results [of the election] bring to mind a visit the Dalai Lama made to Chicago not long ago… He seemed to envy America its Enlightenment heritage.

“Which raises the question: Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?

“America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity.

“The secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate. It is not what they had experienced from this country in the past. In fact, we now resemble those nations less than we do our putative enemies.

“Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity?”

The facts of history do not support this bloviation.

First, America never had an Enlightenment heritage.  The Enlightenment by general consensus refers to the period starting in the mid-1700s with the French Revolutionary philosophers, whose forty-plus years of propaganda fomented the French Revolution.  By the time of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Social Contract,” the American colonies already were more than a century old.

Second, the American colonies were settled primarily for the purpose of pursuing Christian worship outside the strictures of the established Church of England.  Governor John Winthrop famously envisioned the Massachusetts Bay colony as a beacon of religious truth and piety for the rest of the world.

Third, the model for the American War of Independence in 1776 was England’s Glorious Revolution of 1689, half a century before the excrescence of the Enlightenment.  Samuel Adams, the organizer of the committees of correspondence that led to convening the first Continental Congress, expressly stated that John Locke’s 1689 “Second Treatise,” England’s justification for ousting autocratic James II, was exactly the statement of the colonists’ case against Parliament and George III.

Far from advocating the egalitarian socialistic views of the French Enlightenment, Locke based his political theory on the natural-law doctrine that was the foundation of Western civilization, running from Plato and Aristotle, to the Bible and St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

Fourth, the only Enlightenment writer who exercised any influence at all on the 1787 Constitution deliberations was Montesquieu, whose “Spirit of the Laws"was well known to the delegates and often quoted in the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention.  Montesquieu, however, expressed none of the secular and materialistic revolutionary doctrine that characterized his French contemporaries.  To the contrary, he lauded the theory of checks and balances to create a government constrained from arbitrary exercise of power at the expense of individual political and property rights.  Moreover, Montesquieu’s model for the ideal government was not the collectivism of the Enlightenment socialists, but the checks and balances of the English constitution, in which the authority of the crown was circumscribed by Parliament, and by the tension within Parliament between the Commons and the House of Lords.

Finally, as Madison and Hamilton made abundantly clear in the Federalist papers, the most widely read articles during the ratification debate between 1787 and 1789, the United States is a federal republic, not Professor Wills’s “first real democracy in history.”  The rights of individuals were at all times to be protected from the mobocracy, and the rights of small states, against the larger and more populous ones, via the structure of the two houses of Congress.