Thursday, August 18, 2016

Pallas

'Pallas, drawn by hand is the glory of our Leiden, And as Goddess, she thinks she is safe because she is painted. A contrast she is to the living Utrecht Minerva; the will of the painted pallas is that she holds the greater power' - Daniel Heinsius

One could also argue that the intellectual content of Pindar's Odes is best seen not as centered around a key idea or motif but as the confrontation, expansion, and reconciliation of various opposed ideas, or "polarities". Thomas K. Hubbard jstor article

Sunday, February 7, 2016

John Kasich Threading the Needle Between Trump & Rubio

When I listened to Tim Scott's endorsement of Marco Rubio as the personification of the American dream it occurred to me how offensive this narrative sounds to those who live the reality of everyday struggle to survive in the United States.



Realize how counterproductive and damaging this narrative is for Marco Rubio if he wants to reach out to the traditional Republican base. It reminded me of a phrase in an excellent analysis of Donald Trump's appeal by Alastair Roberts:
"The American white working class—to which a disproportionate number of evangelicals belong—are well aware that they are hated and pathologized by upper middle class coastal liberals, who dominate key institutions in American life."
Through his extreme realism Donald Trump succeeds in channeling this anger and frustration, while Tim Scott only fuels it with the lie that every American can become a US Senator. History teaches us that a successfull Republican candidate for President will need to find a path that engages both today's realists and today's idealists.

With a little abstraction one can see how the approach proposed by Governor John Kasich could create this path to victory by threading the needle between these two extremes. On the one hand putting the hard work into engaging the voters, with compassion, dedication and fun. In stark contrast to Marco Rubio who visited New Hampshire only a few times until recently. And on the other hand boldly rejecting the harsh rhetoric on immigration reform, and health care reform.

After last night's debate, for which debate coach Todd Graham gave Kasich an A for his balanced performance, it looks increasingly likely that his strategy could pay off. A consistent debate performance from the start in Cleveland with a laser focused strategy built on the premise that Donald Trump would lose Iowa might hand him New Hampsire. Could the Ohio Governor be the one who will write, in the words of GOP founder Salmon P. Chase, 'Resurgam' on the tombstone of a disintegrating GOP? Several observers in New Hampshire are reporting the first signs that this is indeed the case:






Friday, August 7, 2015

John Kasich Won The Debate

The day had started great after his surprise late entrance into the FOX debate, welcoming his fellow debate participants in his home state of Ohio, the birthground of the Republican party, with these words:
"I am glad to welcome my fellow debate participants to our great state" 
And it got even better, he won that debate!




Perfect timing, perfect location and perfect rhetorical balance. I wouldn't be surprised to see John Kasich take his candidacy all the way to the 2016 RNC in Cleveland Ohio. I hadn't noticed it till today, but John Kasich is actually THE candidate that has a potential of beating Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee, both in Iowa and New Hampsire. As others drop, he moves up(Clark Judge). He emerged as a top tier candidate. He made Ted Cruz look Effete (Camille Paglia). An undecided Republican said "John Kasich is crushing it tonight. He'll see a huge bump tomorrow." He was the 'big winner' (John Kraushaar, National Journal). But people are still figuring out why. The answer is actually quite simple. He was able to appeal in an authetic way to both moderates and compassionate conservatives at the same time. Which is a rare accomplishment. A surprise to everyone.



He has been compared to John Huntsman, but he is actually a much more viable candidate because of his authentic appeal to traditional Republicans. As NPR writes:
'His parents became more conservative and eventually joined an Episcopal church. Then, in 1987, they were killed by a drunken driver while pulling out of Burger King after a coffee run. That accident spurred Kasich on his faith journey, as he detailed in Every Other Monday. He described how he had gathered a Bible study group that had been his rock for more than two decades. Kasich now attends an Anglican church.'

I disagree with William A. Galston of the Brookings Institute who writes:
'Overall, however, the debate did little to expand the appeal of the Republican brand. With the exception of Bush’s advocacy of immigration reform, the candidates offered little that would make their party more palatable to the portions of the electorate—especially women, young adults, and minorities—where they have struggled in recent presidential elections.'
Exactedly on those core issues John Kasich succeeded in linking them to his convictions in a convincing way. As several observers noted:
Rob Frost, Chairman of  the Cuyahoga County Republican Party (Cleveland) said this (audio) after the debate:
"John Kasich showed tonight that he is the strongest conservative with the broadest appeal and that he is ready to lead the United States."
Ed Lee, senior director of debate in the Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education at Emory University, wrote on the CNN website:
"I expect Kasich's poll numbers to skyrocket after this performance."
His performance suggests he could be a serious alternative to Jeb Bush.(Linda Killian WSJ) Forget Trump: John Kasich is the real dark horse Jeb Bush should be worried about(Josh Voorhees, Slate July 10th),  and Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig(New Republic) made an accurate prediction when she wrote: John Kasich’s Compassionate Christianity Could Raise Hell in the GOP Primary(july 21st).  "John Kasich seems to understand why he is running and how it fits within the Republican consensus"(Henry Olsen, National Review June 23). When he dropped out of the primaries in 1999 he himself said "Iowa and New Hampshire haven't seen the last of John Kasich"

He was right!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Barbeyrac's Practical Leadership of the Polarized Huguenot Diaspora

This blogpost is my initial attempt to piece together the ideological background of Jean Barbeyrac, a thinker I discovered through my focus on the emergence of Glasgow and the important role it played in forming presbyterian ministers from England, Scotland and Ireland after the 1707 Act of Union. The correspondence between Gershom Carmichale and Jean Barbeyrac takes on increased meaning in the context of the emergence of the presbyterian church in America around that same period. My first thoughts and collection of sources for further investigation and creative reflection. Some information on his family background can be read in the Nobiliaire universel de France. Fabrizio Lomonaco writes in the Berlin Refuge, 1680-1780: Learning and Science in European Context:
'However, Barbeyrac deviated from leaders of the Huguenot party - such as Jean Claude and Pierre Jurieu-, through his intention to re-examine the problem of freedom of conscience in the light of natural law.'
'Jean Lecler, Locke's closest disciple and the principal early carrier of his ideas into continental discussion.' Barbeyrac declared that he agreed with the theses of his friend Le Clerc and quotes in particular Parhassia which contains 'Pensées sur la nécessité et su la manière d'étudier, pour les personnes qui ne font pas profession de lettres.' (This book is mentioned in the context of the thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau as well.) I disagree however with Lomonaco when he says that the dominant feature of Barbeyrac's work is juridical and not theological. Mark Goldie & Robert Wokler, in their history of 18th century political thought, cut to the core when they write:
'In attempting to meet the challenge of the French king's assertion of a right to sovereignty over his subjects' religious beliefs, Huguenot opinion had polarised.'
And propose Barbeyrac as the mediator between the two extreme positions of Jurieu and Bayle:
'The focus of these debates was conscience. Barbeyrac's importance lay in analysing this concept in order to rebut Bayle's scepticism and reach a more prudent political standpoint than Jurieu's.'
Tim Hochstrasser makes the same argument in his article 'The claims of conscience: Natural law theory, obligation, and resistance in the Huguenot diaspora'. This reconciliatory approach reminds immediately of the reconciliatory aims of Antoine Barbeyrac, Jean's father, in a january 1688 sermon on Corinthians 13:13. In this sermon Antoine Barbeyrac wades into the 'french prophet' debate alluded to by the Jesuite historian Leon Ménard in his history of Nimes like this:
'Tels furent les torts du monarque; ils n'auraient peut-etre pas suffi pour exciter la guerre civile, mais les ministres protestants exilés ne purent pardonner au gouvernement qui les avait bannis. il firent jouer tous les ressorts d'un aveugle fanatisme. Desécoles de prophétie s'éleverent; on osa prédire la chute de l'église catholique et la ruine de la monarchie francaise; des émissaires soudoyés soulèrent les peuples;...'
His father subsequently presided over the important conference of March 23 1688 in Lausanne to determine how to find places of refuge elsewhere. When Antoine Barbeyrac died in 1690 and his mother in 1691, Jean survived on funds for refugees in Lausanne.
Raúl Pérez Johnston agrees with Tim Hochstrasser that Barbeyrac's Huguenot affiliations are underappreciated in the quest towards the understanding of his thought. Johnston argues
 'that one of the keys to understanding the particular trajectory of their thought was the position they occupied in the Huguenot Refuge, who had sought to define the social space that could be allocated to rights of conscience under absolutist rule'
On the one hand I agree with Tim Hochstrasser that Jean Barbeyrac needs to be 'securely sited within the context of Huguenot theology after the diaspora.' On the other hand I disagree with Hochstrasser when he immediately adds 'within whose paradoxes he remained trapped.' The importance of Antoine Barbeyrac's role in his son's education not just as Jean's tutor in Montagnac, but also as a top leader of the Refuge, eloquently illustrated by Antoine's role at the 1688 conference in Lausanne and in the above quoted sermon, has sofar received little to no attention.

Sandra Pott in her book 'Reformierte Morallehren und deutsche Literatur von Jean Barbeyrac'
mentions an anonymous author who sees a direct link between Antoine's sermon on first Corinthians and Jean's writings! Extremely interesting subject indeed. Sandra Pott herself writes:

'In einer Predigt, die er kurz nach der Revokation hält, entfaltet er jenes einfache Christentum als moralische une religiöse basis für die Gemeinde der Flüchtlinge ebenso wie für die Bürger der Stadt Lausanne'
Connecting the development of Jean Barbeyrac's political thought to his father's role in the Refuge might be an important key to understanding the history of Calvinism in the early 18th century. It might very likely uncover the strategic practical goal(s) Barbeyrac aimed to serve. Instead of trapping himself in the paradoxes of Huguenot theology after the diaspora, I see a picture emerging of a refugee aiming to serve the Huguenot Refuge living across Europe under constant threat of expulsion and/or xenophobia, by providing practical leadership. As Mark Goldie & Robert Wokler argue:
'The Lutheran philosopher's work had been adopted as an ally by leading Huguenots in the debates about their perilous situation after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, as is apparent in Gershom Carmichael's Glasgow lectures of teh 1690s and in his edition of Pufendorf's De officio hominis et civis (On the Duties of Man and Citizen). The crucial link was Jean Barbeyrac...'
His book Les Devoirs de l'Homme et Du Citoyen inspired a number of Reformed thinkers in Switzerland and the Netherlands. It was Barbeyrac's 
'Lockeified Pufendorf that continental audiences came to enjoy, and it was to become a central source for the language of 'natural and inalienable rights' that the American and French declarations of human rights later in the century were to solidify'.
That Jean Barbeyrac aimed for practical leadership is confirmed also in the article 'The Natural Jurisprudence of Jean Barbeyrac: Translation as an Art of Political Adjustment' by David Saunders who writes:
'This stance is provoked by the profound challenge that Pufendorf's radical post-Westphalian secularizing of civil authority posed for a Huguenot: how to grant that the state had legitimate authority to regulate all external conduct, but at the same time preserve an inviolable moral space for the exercise of individual conscience.'
Janet Glenn Grey wrote the article 'reformed protestant academies impact life in Berlin' in which she writes that several pastors and teachers at Berlin's Collège Francais were graduates of the Academy of Saumur, for example Pastor Jacques Abbadie and pre-Enlightenment figues Jacques Lenfant and Issac de Beausorbe. Here she investigates the content of the curriculum at the Academy of Saumur which impacted the French University in Berlin through the Huguenot diaspora. She writes:
'Calvin saw to it that a statement on eduction was included in Geneva's new ecclesiastical ordinances of 1541 which says: ...that we establish a college to instruct the children to prepare them for both the ministry and civil government'
Would William Penn have met some of these pastors in Berlin as fellow students when he studied in Saumur himself?

Puffendorf's Law of Nature and Nations with notes by Barbeyrac appears among a list of books proposed by Madison's committee purchased for the library(..) is printed as it appeared in the journal of the continental Congress. Craig Yirush in his book on the roots of early American political theory writes:

 'The Impact that Barbeyrac's editorial interventions had on the reception of natural law theory in the Anglo-American world in the eighteenth century remains to be studied.'
And :

'Barbeyrac was particularly concerned in drawing the reader's attention to the superiority of Locke's theory of resistance as well as his theory of property over those of Pufedorf.'

Barbeyrac's book 'An Historical and Critical Account of the Science of Morality; and the Progress it has Made in the World..' owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Andrew Fitzmaurice thinks 
'Like so many seventeenth-century natural law writers, Barbeyrac lived with the instability and danger caused by the Reformation and he sought the principles of a political order that would address those troubles.'
The introduction into the Refuge litterature might be a valuable resource as well. The book on Henri de Mirmand is certainly a must read to get a feel of the atmosphere and context in which Barbeyrac wrote his book. Many of the major players, like Charles Brousson and even Jean Claude have a link to Nîmes.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Presidential Termlimit & Burundi's Constitution

On thursday Paul Seger, the President of the Peacebuilding Committee for Burundi of
the United Nations, said that the third term which Pierre Nkurunziza wants is in the first place a concern between the people of Burundi. The concern of the United Nations, according to Paul Seger, is that Burundi will remain at peace. 

Does the constitution of Burundi give room for a third Nkurunziza term? Let's read article 96 of the Burundi constitution:
The President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years renewable one time."

It comes close to what US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Russ Feingold, said at the end of 2014(at 35:10:
"We indicated the United States position that the Arusha Accords were unambiguous in its intent, that this be two terms for one person. And we urge that the presidential election be consistent with the spirit of the Arusha Accords. The Arusha Accords have been the foundation of a decade long period of relative peace and stability in burundi. We do acknowledge that there is a constit provision that could possibly be interpreted  to permit a third term for the current president but our view is that would run counter to the language of the Arusha Accords which states quote 'that no one may serve more than two presidential terms' unquote. So the goal here is to not (sort of) get into some sort of legal debate but get to the bottom line, which is that stability and good governance will effect international perceptions and investors confidence in burundi. And so the spirit of Arusha needs to be followed in order to have that kind of benefit for burundi. And that we  still think that the Arusha Accords remain key to maintaining a still fragile stability in Burundi in the near term."

Stef Vandeginste at the University of Antwerp thinks it is very unlikely that the CENI will reject Nkurunziza's candidacy before the elections. This would mean that the constitutional court would only deal with the question after the elections. The Burundi constitution says however in article 95 that the President:
"is the guarantor of the national independence, of the integrity of the territory and of the respect for the international treaties and agreements"
After talks in Bujumbura with Ban Ki-Moon, Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza wrote on his website that he will organize elections:

 'in strict compliance with the Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.'  
This can only be interpreted as a confirmation that Pierre Nkurunziza sees himself as the guarantor of the respect for the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in conformity or at least analogical to what is stated in article 95 of the constitution.
 
On the executive branch of government the Arusha Agreement says in Article 7.3:
"She/he shall be elected for a term of five years, renewable only once. No one may serve more than two presidential terms."
In other words, the constitutional question might no longer be limited to an interpretation of article 96 of the constitution. Vandeginste does not discuss the articles 95 and 96 of the constitution, or the legality of a third term, but even if the constitutional court would not rule before the election, President Pierre Nkurunziza himself can't escape his responsibility of guaranteeing strict compliance to the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. As stated by the parties to the Arusha peace and reconciliation agreement:
 "stability, justice, the rule of law, national reconciliation, unity and development are the major aspirations of the people of burundi."
Or as the Chairman of the EAC, President Kikwete of Tanzania, recently said in his State of the EAC speech in Bujumbura:
“I appeal to the citizens of the country to adhere to the constitution of Burundi, the electoral laws and the Arusha Accord”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Open letter to Bloomberg News re Loretta Lynch and the ICTR

TO: Bloomberg News and Bloomberg News writer Del Quentin Wilber

RE: Bloomberg News Report, Rwanda Tribunal Taught Loretta Lynch Real Power of Prosecutors

News outlets have been praising Loretta Lynch's credentials as a former Special Counsel to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR). Whatever else Loretta Lynch's qualifications may be, this is not a credential to praise or take pride in. Those who know the disgraceful history of victor's justice at the ICTR, and its service to the predatory US/NATO agenda in the Global South, are aware of this. See my KPFA News produced with CIUT-Toronto host Phil Taylor and published on the San Francisco Bay View website, for a start, "Phil Taylor: ICTR celebrates 20 years of establising impunity."

For in-depth documentation and analysis, read "Justice Belied: The Unbalanced Scales of International Criminal Justice," by ICTR defense attorneys Sébastien Chartrand and John Philpot, from Baraka Books.

Thanks for your attention and I hope you may take this into account in future reporting on the ICTR and/or Loretta Lynch's role there.

No justice, no peace,
Ann Garrison, Independent Journalist

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Dull Winter in Brussels

Winter hasn't yet hit Brussels. At least, we have not seen snow, for now. Often a welcome distraction that pulls you and those around you out of the daily struggles for survival. Of course, many will label it an unwelcome mess. A boring nuisance. Especially in a city like Brussels where taking yourself from place to place by foot and by subway is the easiest.

But not for those who live on the streets of the capitals of Europe and depend on the Soup-counters or food distributors across the city. Beggars in the city, they are there. The homeless. Occasionally you see a report on tv about their plight and their stories. I remember a recent tv report from Liège where the city government had made a 'beggar zone' regulation. Staring in the ugly face of their daily struggle, their history.

And if the weather is boring, at least the terrorist threat has increased police and army presence across the city. Some say it would make more sense to deploy some soldiers to Central Africa. I don't know. I note. And sip my Marie Dufau wich, by the way, does NOT improve in the bottle. For a splitsecond I imagine myself a Bolchevik at the Winter Palace in 1917, "I know it is kinda cold outside".



Whether we are longing for a good storm to ride out, or just hunting for the right café or some cheap restaurant in Bruxelles I, regretting our bad choices or cursing our fate, there still are lessons to be learned, excentrics to be observed. Will we be able to discover Brussels?

We still have a race to run and a battle to win. Not a war against exotic ennemies far away. No heroic greek struggles against imagined beasts of mythical proportions. No high waves of wild seas that threaten to throw us on unknown shores. No! We are in a fierce battle to pierce the surface, to embrace opposition as true friendship. Will we engage, will we build our working concept. Will we feel the excitement? It is not a given. It is never a given. Will Providence guide us? Will we be able to acknowledge, when this dull winter is over, that this race is not to the swift? And that this battle is not to the strong?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Abraham Kuyper en Democratie in Amerika

Wie kent niet de naam van Alexis de Tocqueville als het over het Amerikaanse 'experiment' in democratie gaat? In zijn lezing 'Het Calvinisme, oorsprong & waarborg onzer constitutionele vrijheden' uit 1873 maakt Abraham Kuyper duidelijk hoe fundamenteel die negentiende eeuwse Amerikaanse geschiedenis in zijn denken was. Daarbij geïnspireerd door het uit 1835 daterende boek 'la démocratie Americaine' van de Tocqueville.

Herman Bavinck parafraseert de titel van die lezing uit 1873 in zijn Gereformeerde Dogmatiek aldus: 'De Klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift is oorsprong en waarborg van onze politieke en religieuze vrijheden'. Dat we de hoofdrol van deze stelling in de Gereformeerde politiek en theologie moeilijk kunnen overschatten blijkt uit het feit dat Klaas Schilder in 1934 de Klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift als hart van de afscheiding van 1834 aanwijst. Dat J.C. Baak het in 1945 nodig vindt om, met instemmend voorwoord van Herman Dooyeweerd, een artikel te wijden aan het onderuithalen van de door Abraham Kuyper aangehangen stelling, bewijst voldoende dat we hier niet te maken hebben met een onbelangrijke voetnoot uit de Gereformeerde politieke en theologische geschiedenis.

Hoe paradoxaal is het dan dat de Amerikaanse schrijvers en denkers die zo bepalend zijn geweest in die Amerikaanse geschiedenis voor de meeste mensen volkomen onbekend zijn gebleven. De Tocqueville en inmiddels ook Kuyper zelf genieten in Amerika meer bekendheid dan de Amerikaanse thoughtleaders die die geschiedenis zelf vormden.

Historicus John Fea hield onlangs een lezing over de vergeten hoofdrol van Presbyterianen in de Amerikaanse revolutie.  Een verslag van die conferentie vind je hier. Randy Barnett, hoogleraar aan de rechtenfaculteit van Georgetown schreef in 2013 een helder verhaal over de constitutional abolitionists, de vergeten hoofdrolspelers in de strijd voor de afschaffing van de slavernij die uiteindelijk leidde tot de verkiezing van Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Twee voorbeelden die de stelling van Abraham Kuyper uit 1873 ondersteunen.

Je kunt een parketvloer leggen met de biografiëen over Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abraham Kuyper, Jonathan Edwards en George Whitefield, maar waar zijn de studies naar het werk en leven van hoofdrolspelers als John Mitchell Mason, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, William Jay, Robert Hamilton Bishop, John Finley Crowe, James Blythe, Erasmus Darwin Mac Master, Jonathan Blanchard, Samuel Schmucker, Benjamin Parham Aydelott en Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase?

Zou je de stelling kunnen verdedigen dat Abraham Kuyper, net als de dochter van één van de oprichters van de Republikeinse partij in Illinois (Jane Addams), juist worstelde met de erfenis van de constitutional abolitionists? De vraag die Jane Addams zich stelde 'how do we nurture and sustain our democratic birthright so that we... can pass it on?' illustreert in ieder geval hoe zij worstelt met Lincoln's erfenis.

Schaeffer's L'abri, vaak in verband gebracht met het Kuyperiaanse denken van Dooyeweerd, zou met netzoveel recht in rechtstreeks verband gebracht kunnen worden met de vraagstelling van Jane Addams. De naam L'Abri is in ieder geval rechtstreeks terug te voeren op Hull House in Chicago. De titel van het artikel 'Jane Addams: A Pilgrim's Progress' heeft veel weg van Herman Bavinck's 'Grace restores Nature' motief. Je zou kunnen zeggen dat het spanningsveld tussen realisme en idealisme niet specifieke een karaktertrek van het neocalvinisme is. Er is verwantschap tussen de manier waarop Abraham Lincoln zijn coalitie smeedde en de aanpak van Kuyper, Bavinck en Jane Addams. De stelling dat Abraham Kuyper slechts een vorm van idealisme promote, lijkt mij daarom onjuist. De manier waarop Abraham Lincoln het Duitse idealisme gebruikte, sommigen kunnen dat nog steeds niet waarderen, doet denken aan Abraham Kuyper. Lincoln's temperance address uit 1842 lijkt bijna een toepassing van Bavinck's 'grace restores nature' motief. Lincoln's onverwachte invalshoek uit die speech zorgt ervoor dat hij in staat was aansluiting te vinden bij de gematigde kiezer in Kentucky, vertegenwoordigd door Robert Breckenridge, the temporary chair of the 1864 Republican National Convention, en de bekende presbyteriaanse theoloog Charles Hodge. Lincoln's bekende woorden 'I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.' staan symbool voor die strategie. Tegelijkertijd passen ze prima bij de visie zoals verwoord door Reverend Benjamin Parham Aydelott in een verwijzing naar de Apostel Paulus: 'quit yourselves like men, be strong' en zijn ze te vergelijken met het begrip discipelschap in Mark zoals uitgelegd door Hans Bayer, of zoals hij het samenvat:
'the account of Acts is intended to give a description of external and internal growth, despite external opposition and internal tension'.
Of zoals Benjamin Parham Aydelott de strijd tegen Puseyisme en slavernij in de context van discipelschap plaatst in verwijzing naar Paulus onderweg naar Rome:
'And yet there is such a thing as a manly spirit, a spirit which, recognizing equally in one's self, as in all others, the great attributes of a common human nature, refuses to bow down in abject servility to any; and dares to attempt anything to which Providence calls, whatever difficulties may lie in the way.'
Al met al genoeg aanknopingspunten om de stelling van Abraham Kuyper te toetsen aan wat er zich nu werkelijk in de Amerikaanse geschiedenis heeft afgespeeld. Het is daarvoor vandaag echt niet nodig om blind te varen op enkele observaties van Alexis de Tocqueville.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Makemie, The Strategist

After having read scattered elements of his work I come to the conclusion that he was much more than just the apostle of presbyterianism to the Colonies. He was a strategist of Empire. A comment in the Oxford History of the British Empire: The eighteenth Century, volume 2:
'in the spirit of what he saw as a new religious epoch for the Empire in the heady aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, Makemie wrote Truths in a True Light'

and in the New England Mind:
'They marked the skillful strategy of Francis Makemie, who wrote from Barbados a book published in Edinburgh in 1699, copies of which soon reached Boston, Truths in a True Light...laid down for Dissenters the line which seemed, after 1689, to be most promising: they agree with the Church of England on all essential matters, therefore, differences should not be magnified, and all Protestants should stand together.'
Too bad this short pamphlet 'truths in true light' isn't yet available online.

Friday, September 19, 2014

American Exceptionalism & Natural Rights

Senate candidate Ben Sasse from Nebraska said in an interview:
"What motivates me first is the identity we have as Americans, and we have to celebrate the Constitution, and we have to be having these discussions. And if we don’t have more people who run for office for the purposes of having that civic conversation, we will lose the republic. I don’t think that’s going to happen, because I think people are going to demand more serious leadership that talks about these issues. The next generation does not wake up in the morning understanding American exceptionalism and the fact that natural rights predate government, and government is just a tool to secure those rights. And we’ve got to teach it.”
The identity we have as Americans? Understanding American exceptionalism? Natural rights predate government? Codephrases that function as sjiboleths among today's Republicans. No wonder Marvin Olasky eagerly retweeted this interview. And it is true, you can find American Exceptionalism on the GOP website as part of the partyplatform. But is American exceptionalism really something we should teach our children? Is it really something we inherited from our parents? Does American exceptionalism represent the history of the party or the early history of America?

Intuitively to me American exceptionalism comes across as an example of the influence of 19th century Romantic nationalism on American politics. Romantic nationalism as imported by folks like Philip Schaff. Using the term American exceptionalism is equal to capitulating for attempts by folks like De Tocqueville or contemporaries like Seymour Martin Lipset. The book American Exceptionalism by Deborah L. Madsen proves that Ben Sasse can't use the term without creating confusion.

To pretend that the American revolution took place in a vacuum and had no relationship whatsoever to other events in the history of the world, like for example the slave revolt in Haïti, is untennable. In addition Ben Sasse ignores the huge role Presbyterian and Episcopalean missionaries from England and Scotland played not just in the period leading up to the American revolution, but long after. The builders of Ohio, the state where the Republican party emerged, were in part funded by the English Anglican church. John Mitchell Mason, a leading federalist pastor, started a seminary with help from Scotland. He educated hundreds of missionaries that subsequently preached across the west.

But then we get to the declaration of independence and the claim that natural rights predate government. I'm not sure exactedly what that means. First of all, the emphasis on natural rights means very little outside of the Calvinist context from which they emerged. It was the link with the right to private judgment that made the abolitionist movement so strong. And secondly, government and natural rights both have their place simultaneously. One does not predate the other.

To avoid confusion, and to avoid alienating some voters it would be best if politicians could develop a sensibility to these difficulties involved in just spreading around codephrases like 'American exceptionalism' or 'natural rights'. Instead qualify your statements, be precise and educate your electorat on history and be honest about your own position in these debates.