Sunday, October 20, 2013

European Culture Older Than American Culture?

In the program VPRO Boeken writer Oek de Jong (rond 29:00) in commenting on a quote from Philip Roth said 'I'm affraid not of the extinction of the novel, but of the extinction of the reader..':
'the European culture is much much much older than the American culture. Therefore culture is, I think, much more anchored'
The more I read about the Scottish enlightenment, the American revolution and Transcendentalism the more I'm convinced that this is nonsense. American and European culture are just as old and closely linked to eachother. America influenced Europe, just think of the French revolution and of the influence of the American revolution on politics in England and Scotland. Think of the influence of American presbyterianism on Abraham Kuyper.

We can therefore discard European culture as a significant parameter in predicting the future of the Novel.

What I did like in the interview is Oek de Jong's short introduction of the history of the novel, especially the realistic novel in the 19th century that described all of society.

Measuring the decline of the novel isn't as easy as Oek suggests, especially considering the decline of the tv and the rise of the internet.

The CINEKID 2013 conference on Creativity & media literacy which according to Androulla Vasiliou is at the heart of modern, democratic societies, points to an increased awareness of the important role of content creation plays in society.

Could it be that, after decades of focus on technology we are moving towards an age of eloquence and content creation? A return to the 18th century of Shaftesbury, the giant of both European (England, Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands) and American culture (Witherspoon, Princeton), might be imminent.




Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Origin of the Teaparty, Liberalism & Original Sin

Daniel Salomon's advertisement 'Flat out: 's history of American racism is the Internet's best commentary on U.S. shutdown politics: .' made me read the article.

In it Zack Beauchamp makes several claims:
'the Constitution likely plays some role in making Americans more hostile towards government than citizens of other liberal democracies, but that does not explain why the South is so much more conservative than the rest of the nation'
'Progressives tend to think that America’s broadly liberal ideology — individual rights, democracy, the whole kit and kaboodle — is fundamentally opposed to a more sinister ideology that also shaped our founding — the black/white racism that sustained slavery'
'More radical leftists, especially those of a Marxist bent like Ackerman, disagree, believing that emphasizing racial exceptionalism obscures the ways in which the broader structure of American society makes the country’s political institutions intrinsically unfair and unequal.'
Offcourse a great way to frame the teaparty, but does this picture correspond to reality. How do we fit Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, a bunch of talkshow hosts, Iowa's Steve Deace, Van der Plaats, Marvin Olasky and others into this blurred picture of a very diverse movement?

I prefer starting out with a comment on the RedState website by a Tea Party supporter who quoted a statement by the Republican Mainstream Partnership in 2006/2007:
'The pro-active extreme agenda of Senator Rick Santorum and his fellow extreme right cohorts such as Falwell and Robertson were responsible for the loss of this key Senate seat, among others.'
This illustrates the fact that debating what the teaparty stands for, or should stand for, is a debate on the link between faith and politics. It should caution us to equate it immediately or intuitively with 'the south'. The influence of catholics and maybe even some Colson admirers indicates a broad coalition of or a perceived consensus among Christians. Marvin Olasky's praise of Ted Cruz in World Magazine years ago points in that same direction. This is not to say that a certain understanding of early American history plays some role in it as well. A good example is perhaps the popularity of David Barton's  instrumentalization of early American history. At the same time Martin Luther King has some good advice for us in this discussion:
'There is one phase of liberalism that I hope to cherish always: its devotion to the search for truth, its refusal to abandon the best light of reason. . . . It was . . . the liberal doctrine of man that I began to question. The more I observed the tragedies of history, and man's shameful inclination to choose the low road, the more I came to see the depths and strength of sin. . . . I came to feel that liberalism had been all too sentimental concerning human nature and that it leaned toward a false idealism'
Curiously David Brooks claimed some time ago that the tea party is radically anti-conservative:
'Both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty.'
Linking the tea party to the history of the South is counterproductive while it reinforces stereotypes while obscuring the fact that inside the tea party there are major influences of a diverse origin. We could point to the attempt by neoconservative like Bill Kristol, Tom Cotton and Liz Cheney to coopt the the teaparty. The fact that both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are associated with the tea party should caution us against oversimplification.

Counterproductive far-right populism, both in Europe and the United States, seems to me much more an illustration of what's wrong with communitarism as promoted by people like Michael Gerson, associated with the Dooyeweerd promoting Center for Public Justice. An ideology incapable of engaging a meaningfull dialogue with the grassroots, incompatible with the basics of how traditional whigs see politics and a tendency to pander to anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments by emphasizing 'values'.

However, the leadership demonstrated by Senators Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Alexander Lamar and Rand Paul (the Kentucky/Tennessean 'Quartet') on foreign policy, immigration and concerning Obamacare is aimed obviously at sidelining both the far-right and neoconservatives. It makes me optimistic about the future of the Republican party. It brings the party back to it's historic roots and limits the influence of communitarism.

Classic liberalism is closely related to the brand of Whig politics in the United States developed at Princeton during the 18th century. Also relevant in this context:
'According to William J. Novak, however, liberalism in the United States shifted, "between 1877 and 1937...from laissez-faire constitutionalism to New Deal statism, from classical liberalism to democratic social-welfarism"

And when talking about racism progressives should maybe include it's twentieth century anti-immigration and eugenic legacy. 

Equating the tea party with nostalgic longing for the racist South is the easiest way to easily dismiss someon, as David Frum did recently

'Glenn Beck: Rand Paul is the Charles Sumner of our time. Except for the anti-slavery, save-the-Union bit of course.'

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Weemoedigheid, die Niemand Kan Verklaren?

Willem Elsschot's gedicht  Het Huwelijk is populair onder onder politici en beleidsmakers. Denk bijvoorbeeld aan deze tweets:

Hoe moeten we de populariteit van deze weemoedigheid onder politici verklaren? Het is in dat verband leerzaam om Bart de Wever's column 'Sociaal Verkeer' van 8 maart 2011 te vergelijken met Ad de Bruijne's column 'Democratie Zwanger van Dictatuur' deze week. Bart de Wever stelt:
'Het individu dat zich poogde te ontvoogden van een almachtige God, wordt zo onderworpen aan het zachte despotisme van een almachtige bureaucratie. En dan nog schieten de wet en de ratio per definitie hopeloos tekort om een publieke moraal te funderen. Om ons op het rechte pad te houden blijft er die weemoed, feitelijk de levenswijsheid opgebouwd door 2000 jaar joods-christelijke traditie, die moeilijk te verklaren is omdat ze normaal onuitgesproken blijft. Het is niet omdat moraliteit zich ontkoppelde van religie en de Kerk zelfs afstevent op sociale irrelevantie, dat deze wijsheid geen waarde meer heeft voor ons leven. 'God is dood', zei Nietzsche, en wij teren op Zijn geërfd moreel kapitaal. Zolang we geen beter alternatief hebben, moeten we misschien omzichtig omspringen met dat kapitaal.'
Van de regen van een Almachtige God naar de drup van de almachtige bureaucratie, zou je kunnen zeggen. Ad de Bruijne stelt daarentegen deze week:
'De westerse democratie kun je zien als een typisch modern fenomeen waarin tegelijk christelijke invloeden doorwerken. Het democratisch model beschouwt mensen in de eerste plaats als afzonderlijke individuen met eigen belangen. Tegelijk leven mensen samen en kennen ze ook gedeelde belangen of zelfs een gemeenschappelijk goed. Daarvoor weten ze zich samen verantwoordelijk.
Onbewust of bewust gaan ze ervan uit dat waarheid en goedheid bestaan, en in beginsel voor iedereen gelden. Alleen, wat precies waar en goed is, daarover denken ze verschillend en dus gaan ze daarover met elkaar in debat. In dat publieke debat mag ieders stem gehoord worden, zoals in de nieuwtestamentische kerk zelfs slaven mochten profeteren. Je weet je verantwoordelijk om mee te spreken en naar elkaar te luisteren.'
In plaats van een weemoedigheid die niemand verklaren kan valt hier op de verwijzing naar de voor de gereformeerde politiek zo kenmerkende mondigheid, een verwijzing naar de klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift welke een centrale rol speelde in het denken van de founding fathers van de Verenigde Staten.

Het teruggrijpen naar de vaderen als vaste grond in de politiek, tegenover abstracte bureaucratie en of de chaotische wirwar van stemmen van het volk, doet denken aan Hugh Blair's visie op de rol van welsprekendheid, Eloquence, in de 17de eeuw. In de visie van Hugh Blair stond het opleiden van een verlichte elite centraal.

Het contrast met John Witherspoon's opvatting over Eloquence is opvallend en brengt tot uiting de steeds terugkerende tegenstelling tussen een 'conservatieve' en een calvinistische opvatting over democratie. Bij Witherspoon is de klaarblijkelijkheid van de Schrift leidend. Onderwijs in eloquence wordt daar dan ook aan ondergeschikt gemaakt, bijvoorbeeld:
'In "Answers to the Reasons of Dissent," Witherspoon and his allies argued against the Moderates on the grounds that individuals have both "a right" and "an indispensable duty" to follow their conscience because it speaks from God, a higher power than any civil authority.'
Een scherpe tegenstelling tussen aan de ene kant weemoedigheid die niemand kan verklaren, en aan de andere kant de Schrift die ieder kan begrijpen door er in te lezen. Of, zoals Samuel Finley ooit zei:

'they who expect divine knowledge without studying Scripture; the Holy Spirit, without Prayer; saving blessings, without attending on gospel ordinances; or Deliverance from temporal enemies, without Fighting against them, discover their deep Ignorance of Scripture, of Reason, and the Whole scheme of divine government''

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Can Communitarians & Libertarians Find Common Ground?

In a way the debate between communitarians and libertarians on both sides of the Atlantic reminds me of the debate between Old Lights and New Lights in 18th century America. The Old Lights emphasized order and institutions while the New Lights emphasized the importance of personal conversion.

David Brooks wrote some time ago:
“Both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings."
Certainly a popular understanding of what conservatism is on both sides of the Atlantic. But it leaves out the other side of this 'original sin coin', the New Light on sin and atonement (Jonathan Edwards)  or the clarity of Scripture as 'origin and guarantee of our religious and political freedoms' (Herman Bavinck).

Just leaning back and trusting institutions clashes with the basic Calvinist understanding as articulated by Princeton President Samuel Finley:
'they who expect divine knowledge without studying Scripture; the Holy Spirit, without Prayer; saving blessings, without attending on gospel ordinances; or Deliverance from temporal enemies, without Fighting against them, discover their deep Ignorance of Scripture, of Reason, and the Whole scheme of divine government'
The idea of original sin does not help us while choosing between institutions and those who oppose them. The history of the great awakening, religious persecution in the 17th and 18th century and the fight of Radical Republicans is sufficient evidence of this fact.

That's precisely the reason Jim DeMint favorite bible verse is 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free', while this refers to the second half of 'the Whig equasion'.

The challenge of bringing the two sides together is what makes studying the period that preceded the American revolution so immensely interesting.

Balancing both is what makes a succesfull (Republican) politician. So, instead of pointing just to institutions as the solution to all problems, the huge role of citizens in a democracy should not be minimized, as Rand Paul points out at the end of his speech at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:
'Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mother gives birth to them, life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves'

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Immigration Reform Exposes Rift Among Republicans

Derrick Morgan, who worked for Dick Cheney in the past, is part of a loud segment of the Republican base that claims illegal immigrants are law breakers and giving them 'amnesty' is unfair to those 'standing in line'.

What's interesting about these folks is the fact that they ignore history, as Alexander Norwasteh explains in an excelent article:
Because so many could come legally, unauthorized immigration was rare.
That ended in the early twentieth century with the Progressive Era’s emphasis on protecting labor unions. Beginning temporarily in 1921, and then permanently in 1924, new national origin quotas limited immigration to countries from Northern and Western Europe, whose immigrants were more skilled and less likely to join unions.

Worse, those laws were also inspired by the Progressive eugenics movement at the time.
Derrick Morgan sounds more like a progressive democrat then a principled Republican who knows the history of the party when he writes:
'Congress should pass only immigration reform measures that are good for American workers.'
Similar argument is offcourse made by the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute:
'those hurt by higher immigration may be low-skilled workers who already are having a hard time economically.'
Completely irrelevant to the problem you are trying to solve, if you ask me.

 The anti-immigration segment of the Republican party offcourse ignores history, just like it does concerning the Princeton's thoughtleadership at the founding of our Republic.

Both are signs of a fundamental shift away from neoconservative and communitarian politics to a more traditional Whig approach to Republican politics. The Republican party will either go back to it's radical roots, or it will seize to exist.

People are beginning to see that the David Barton wing of the party (Glenn Beck etc etc) has no idea what it's talking about and has nothing to offer but unpleasant obstructionism and shallow ahistoric nationalism, as illustrated in the piece by Derrick Morgan. It party explains why this segment is ganging up against Mitch McConnel.

Both Club for Growth and FreedomWorks have said:
'they intend to be active either supporting or opposing the legislation that is expected to emerge.'
Amazing. Apparently the fate of millions of immigrants isn't important enough to discuss. It's clear CATO is doing a much better job and much closer to the current center of gravity of the emerging Republican consensus on immigration.

Evangelical Republicans can easily go back to their traditional Whig roots and still stay Republican. Modern day libertarians will end up in about that same place.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Role of Religion in Birthing the American Revolution

I have repeatedly written on my understanding of Princeton's thoughtleadership and the American revolution. With that in mind I would like to compare my understanding with those of some contemporary and popular historians.  Miles S. Mullin, II helps us limit the scope of this comparison to a few people:
'Albeit with greater quality, effectiveness, and persuasiveness, historian Thomas Kidd offers a similar corrective, while Richard Bushman, Nathan Hatch, and Rhys Isaac and others have demonstrated the crucial role that religion played in birthing the revolution.'
So, let's start with Thomas Kidd who mentioned John Witherspoon in a blogpost on the Top Five Forgotten Founder, claiming:
'The best book on Witherspoon is Jeffry Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic.'
In a review of this book by Bradley J. Longfield in the Journal of Law and Religion we read:
'In his lectures on moral philosophy, Witherspoon became the chief conveyor to America of the moral system of Francis Hutcheson and the Scottish Common Sense Realism of Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart.'
If this is what Bradley J. Longfield learns from Jeffry Morrison's book I would not recommend it to those who want to understand Princeton's thoughtleadership leading up to the American revolution. The claim that Witherspoon introduced Scottish Common Sense Realism to America is misleading to say the least. Reverend Ashbel Green's opposition to Samuel Stanhope Smith's teachings circled precisely around this issue: how should we understand Witherspoon's link to Scottish Common Sense Realism. To just claim, as does Bradford Bow in his article, that reverend Ashbel Green was anti-enlightenment illustrates that there is a whole army of folks who don't understand the direct link between Presbyterianism and Scottish enlightenment.

John Witherspoon was not a simple conveyor of Hutcheson's moral system or Scottish Common Sense realism, but a Presbyterian who used both in his democratization project. At the heart of this democratization project was the Clarity of Scripture, which continued to play a central role in reformed theology during the 19th century. The fact that the Clarity of Scripture had been at the core of Princeton's educational endeavour all along was underlined again by Reverend Abraham Gosman at the inauguration of Geerhardus Vos as professor of biblical theology in 1894:
´the student cannot take with any satisfaction or certainty the books of the Bible as trustworthy or authoritative without an investigation of his own´
Let's see what Thomas Kidd writes in his review of Jeffry Morrison's John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic.

Matt Reynolds links Thomas Kidd's approach to a classification by John Witte, which goes like this:

'religiously and politically, the American founders were a diverse lot. Emory University scholar John Witte has helpfully assembled them into four groups: Puritans, who favored the Godly commonwealth model of colonial Massachusetts and Connecticut; civic republicans, who synthesized non-sectarian Protestant morality with an ethic of public spiritedness redolent of ancient Greece and Rome; evangelicals, who preached the redeeming power of the new birth; and Enlightenment skeptics, who sought the scientific axioms behind a divinely-ordered cosmos.'
It's obvious from this little quote that the reunification of the old and new side presbyterians was a major event in American history.

Without this reunification effort, which was in full swing in 1751 and was succesfully concluded in 1758, the fundraising for Princeton in England and Scotland by Samuel Davies and Gilbert Tennent would probably not have succeeded.

The fundraising tour by Davies and Tennent to Great Brittain 1753 should also be placed in the context of the 18th century London dissenters lobby network.

Appointing John Witherspoon was obviously in line with Princeton's longterm goal and in line with the old side - new side reunification.

Mark Reynolds points to Thomas Kidd's focus on the virtue-generating potential of religion. This seems to me a typical anachronistic reading into the 18th century of views popular in some (evangelical) circles today.

A review of John Witte's book Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Libertie.

A really great book on the origin of the American revolution is Gary Will's Inventing America: Jefferson's declaration of Indepencence:
'Hutcheson’s system of moral philosophy particularly, Wills contends, contains the key to decoding the theory of the nature and proper functions of government embedded in the Declaration.'
This comes very close to my own interpretation which is that Hutcheson and Reid's ideas would have never led to a revolution without the radicalized Calvinist interpretation by Samuel Finley & John Witherspoon.

The fact that Jefferson did his undergraduate work at the College of William and Mary under William Small of Aberdeen who taught moral philosophy, rhetoric, and belles-lettres, underlines how popular Hutcheson's moral philosophy was in America in the period leading up to the American revolution.

Caroline Robbins writes:
'For an explicit statement, thirty years before Lexington of "when it is that colonies may turn independent," one must turn to the work of Francis Hutcheson'
'Hutcheson's debt to Locke and the tradition he represents was shared by all his contemporaries'

However, a strong argument for Hutcheson as major source of the declaration (distinguishing him from John Locke) of indepencence is his argument against slavery.

A comment by Ronald Hamowy which links Locke and Hutcheson together over against other Scottish thinkers:
'Almost all the evidence Wills has marshalled to support his assertion that the Declaration is really a document of Scottish moral philosophy collapses when one recognizes how far the sentiments expressed by Jefferson differ from those of Hume, Smith, and Ferguson, and how closely they accord with Locke. In writing the Declaration, Jefferson had either Locke or Hutcheson in mind, but certainly not the other Scottish writers.'
Telling how John Witherspoon became the champion of the American revolution while Hume, Smith and Ferguson became half-hearted supporters of rebellion against tyranny. If Ronald Hamowy is correct that 'the general drift of Scottish political thought was in the direction of moderation and reform in conflicts with civil authority.' it immediately reminds of Witherspoon's role in the conflict in the Scottish Church before he left to teach at Princeton.

This confirms that when Witherspoon talked about common sense this was much more a reference to Shaftesbury then to Thomas Reid.

Libertarian Ronald Hamowy did his doctoral thesis under F.A. Hayek at the University of Chicago in the 1960s and is obviously out to prove that Hutcheson had limited influence in revolutionary America. It's interesting how Hamowy provides ammunition against his fellow libertarian Rothbard who could not understand how presbyterianism and enlightenment could go together.

This topic is discussed  at American Creation as well, especially the link to Chris Rodda's review of David Barton's book is valuable:
'I expose one of his big anachronisms — that Thomas Jefferson was taught Scottish Common Sense philosophy as part of his own education'
'Either David Barton is wrong that the differing Enlightenment philosophies were a simple matter of religion vs. atheism and secularism or the Rev. John Witherspoon was teaching a philosophy that spawned secularists and deists like Hume and Smith!'
Apparently a big debate raged on this in 2012 among the historians. 

It's crystal clear Chris Rodda is 100% correct on this matter while Mike Huckabee exposes themselves as a fact-free populists by claiming:
“David Barton is maybe the greatest living historian on the spiritual nature of America’s early days.”
Same holds true for Bachmann and Gingrich and the Republican National Committee who hired him to mobilize Christians for George W. Bush.