Search This Blog

Saturday, July 04, 2015

On this 4th of July

Myron Magnet on NRO:

What kind of nation did the Founders aim to create?


Men, not vast, impersonal forces — economic, technological, class struggle, what have you — make history, and they make it out of the ideals that they cherish in their hearts and the ideas they have in their minds. So what were the ideas and ideals that drove the Founding Fathers to take up arms and fashion a new kind of government, one formed by reflection and choice, as Alexander Hamilton said,
rather than by accident and force?

The worldview out of which America was born centered on three revolutionary ideas, of which the most powerful was a thirst for liberty. For the Founders, liberty was not some vague abstraction. They understood it concretely, as people do who have a keen knowledge of its opposite. They understood it in the same way as Eastern Europeans who have lived under Communist tyranny, for instance, or Jews who escaped the Holocaust.
...

 The Founders believed that the purpose of government was to protect life, liberty, and property from what they called the depravity of human nature — from man’s innate capacity to do the kinds of violence that slave-owners, to take just one example, did every day. But government, they recognized, is a double-edged sword.
...
 Even the democratic republic the Founders created had to be run by imperfect men, and thus even it could turn into what Richard Henry Lee called an elective despotism. So the second great Founding idea is this: The mere fact that you elect representatives to govern you is no sure-fire guarantee of liberty. Or, as Madison saw it in Federalist No. 10: Taxation with representation can be tyranny.
...

Washington was even more explicit about this, the third of the great Founding ideas: A democratic republic requires a special kind of culture, one that nurtures self-reliance and a love of liberty. Constitutions are all very well, the Founders often observed, but they are only “parchment barriers,” easily breached if demagogues subvert the “spirit and letter” of the document. They can do this dramatically, in one revolutionary putsch, or they can inflict a death by a thousand cuts, gradually persuading citizens that the Constitution doesn’t mean what it says but should be interpreted to mean something different, or even something opposite.

The ultimate safeguard against such usurpation is the vitality of America’s culture of liberty.
 ...

 The Founders well understood, as John Adams reminisced in 1818, that it was a change in the “principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections” of Americans that had sparked the Revolution. They considered that new culture of freedom that had arisen among them in the decades before Lexington and Concord, along with the new Constitution they created, to be the most precious inheritance they bequeathed to future generations of their fellow citizens. That vision offers us an instructive standard by which to gauge the present.


 Also, from David Goldman aka/Spengler (h/t Dinocrat):

Biblical Israel was America’s inspiration. Its successor, the State of Israel, yet may be America’s salvation, though usually the issue is put the other way around. America’s founders, to be sure, saw in their “new nation, conceived in liberty” a new Israel, and Lincoln dubbed Americans an “almost chosen people.” We long since put the notion of national election on the back shelf along with other memorabilia of the Revolution and Civil War. But Israel’s founding and fight for survival strike a chord in our national character that reminds of us what we were and still should be.

The notion of “national election,” to be sure, has scant purchase in a world where every identity group claims the right to the equality of its own narrative.
...
 All men are created equal, but not all nations. There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are “chosen,” because their inhabitants became citizens by choice rather than happenstance: the United States of America and the State of Israel. Every other nation in the world defines itself by common territory and heritage.
...
 This biblical vision of a free people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human monarch as its sovereign makes sense of the now-unimaginable courage of the American revolutionaries. They risked their lives, property, and social status because of their profound belief that the European political model was so prone to failure that an entirely different kind of polity was worth the risk of their lives and property. After the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century, it is hard to fault their judgment. What would the world be today if the United States were not there to sort out the ghastly mess that the Europeans made?
...

One does not have to view Israel’s accomplishments through a theological mirror to understand what the Jewish State tells us about statecraft. Freedom does not arise from the mere presence of democratic institutions, as we learned in Iraq, or from bursts of popular enthusiasm, as we learned in the Arab Spring, or from participation in elections, as we learned when Hamas swept the 2006 West Bank elections. It depends on the radical commitment to the premise that a higher power than human caprice is the ultimate arbiter in civic life. It requires willingness to take existential risk. That is the Jewish principle in politics, the civil content of the Sinai covenant, and the basis for the American Founding. To the extent we have forgotten this, the people who stood at Mount Sinai still are there to remind us. If we reject this reminder, we will un-choose ourselves as Americans.
 Just an important reminder.  I would advise any young person to be very careful not to squander such an inheritance.

34 comments:

Clovis e Adri said...

Well, I wish you all a happy independence day.

I also would wish that, in order to highlight how special the USA is (and it really is!), some of you wouldn't feel the need need to express such non-sense things like "There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are “chosen,”".

I must also tell you that, coming from people who do not believe in God (and actually thinks the whole idea to be very weird to say the least) your ode to "free people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human monarch" can sound a bit fake. Or more than a bit.

I am sure you can find a great many number of reasons to elevate America that doesn't include you to swear for things you don't really believe in.

Peter said...

Take it from a Canadian, Clovis. Best to give this one a pass and just say "Yeah, sure, whatever. Happy Fourth of July."

erp said...

I support Israel for the same reason I love my country, they, like We, the People, took their destiny into their hands.

Just as I thank my own father for arranging that I be born in the U.S., I thank the founding fathers for arranging for the U.S. be a place of which I could be so thankful to be a part.

Turn up the volume as high as it goes.

Clovis e Adri said...

Oh, well.

Yeah, sure, whatever. Happy Fourth of July.

Harry Eagar said...

Spengler, like erp, just makes crap up. You can read all about the founding of the U.S. Constitution (I am this weekend going through Michael Kammen's documentary history of the founding) without finding any references to Biblical Israel.

So that's pure bullshit.

Unfortunately, when we took our destiny into our own hands, we took a lot of other peoples' destinies along with us, and that hasn't turned out so well.

On the God issue, CNN (of all people) has a good essay. Need I add it finds more BS?

http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/02/living/america-christian-nation/index.html

Bret said...

Harry Eager wrote: "You can read all about the founding of the U.S. Constitution ... without finding any references to Biblical Israel..."

It's certainly possible your extremely narrow (yet deep) slice of historical study could've missed the many references to the torah/old testament philosophy and religion that were part of the founding, but no, one certainly can't have read ***ALL*** about the founding and miss it. On the other hand, I can also believe the literal phrase "biblical Israel" never was written during founding times, but if you consider the meaning of Spengler's phrase as opposed to the literal words, then yes, Spengler's dead on.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "Yeah, sure, whatever. Happy Fourth of July."

Thanks Clovis. Happy Fourth to you too!

erp said...

Bret, perhaps Harry doesn't realize that during founding times, there was no other Israel than the biblical one, so it would have been unnecessary to differentiate it from the modern state.

The depth of lefty anti-Semitism is astonishing and mindless. It's vey scary.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

---
but if you consider the meaning of Spengler's phrase as opposed to the literal words, then yes, Spengler's dead on.
---
Sorry to disagree, but he can't be right. For if we are to believe the majority of settlers and founders were Christians, they were well aware of Paul's message:

"... for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27: For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29: And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

When Spengler invokes the "biblical Israel", i.e. the Old Testament as you recognize above, it means that old Israel made by and for the Jews only - the chosen people.

The newly founded America those Christians envisaged was one to embrace Jews or Greeks, anyone and all who looked for freedom of conscience, as it in fact did over the following centuries.

That's why the reference in Howard's post ("There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are “chosen,”") looks so odd to me. It is not because I am not American, hence would feel excluded by it. It is because anyone saying so looks to have not understood the people who settled and founded the Country you guys profess to love so much.

Peter said...

Founding myths (in the true sense of the word) are not history, but they aren't proven "wrong" by historical analysis either. Obviously the "chosen" sentence is problematic. If it means voluntarily chosen to be settled, that's going to sound very bizarre to Canadian ears. If it means divinely chosen, what's this about just two?. But that's not the point.

It's like a man who believes his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world and that their love was fated. And then Harry comes along to tell him that, according to one of his obscure books, it was just a genetic impulse grounded in time and place and that statistical analysis shows a very high probability that they would have found other partners if happenstance hadn't put them together at the very moment those synapses were firing. Besides, his wife's background shows she isn't quite the angel he sees. Fun guy at an anniversary party.

Meanwhile Clovis is a little perturbed because he thinks his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world.

All together, now.

erp said...

Peter, How typically Canadian. Ya got the words right, but forgot the music. :-}

Harry Eagar said...

Obscure book? 'The Origins of the American Constitution: a DOCUMENTARY History'

As opposed to Spengler's imaginary history.

There's nothing in there about the Iroquois Confederation either.





erp said...

Harry, apparently Kammen's book is about the evolution of the constitution, not the origins.

“The Origins of the American Constitution: a documentary history,” by Michael G. Kammen ... Describes the evolution of the American Constitution by analyzing material from state constitutions, ...

Gosh, I'm glad Spengler didn't make the same mistake as you did by using a book with a misleading title.

Harry Eagar said...

erp, why don't you READ the book? Then maybe (but I am not certain even then) you'll learn something.

Spengler does not explain why, if the inspiration was Israel, the Founders chose a republic. Israel experimented with several forms of government but never a republic.


Sydnor pointed out years ago that the main source of the constitution of 1787 was the Americans' experience of governing themselves.

Only in Boortzlandia would anyone doubt that a book entitled "Origins of the American Constitution' was not about the origins of the American constitution.

erp said...

Harry did you follow my link? The book is about the evolution of the constitution, but apparently your only concern was that Spengler didn't mention the Iroquois Confederation (or League). My books use both words. I didn't read Spengler either. I already know about the constitution, its origins ..., so there's no need to read about it and you must be joking if you think I would read a book about American history written in the '80's by an Ivy league history professor?

Oh and he won a Pulitzer, so we know what that means. He's following in the footsteps of a former "historian" named Durant who's been defrocked, but last time I looked is still on the list with nary an asterisk next to his name.

Harry Eagar said...

Yes, I followed to your contentless link. And, no I don't think you would read -- or ever have read -- either the Constitution or anything about its history. Your ignorance is perfectly hermetic. Nothing passes in or out.

Bret said...

Clovis wrote: "When Spengler invokes the "biblical Israel", i.e. the Old Testament as you recognize above, it means that old Israel made by and for the Jews only - the chosen people."

Ah, well, I'm certainly very, very far from an expert on Jewish faith and philosophy, but not being an expert rarely stops me, so I'll try to explain why Spengler's statements resonated with me (a non-religious person of Jewish ancestry).

Consider the "chosen people" thing. I find a wikipedia quip reflects my personal interpretation pretty well: "The idea of chosenness has traditionally been interpreted by Jews in two ways: one way is that God chose the Israelites, while the other is that the Israelites chose God."

My interpretation is that it's both, a covenant or an agreement, where the Israelites chose to follow God and his rules/teachings/whatever and so God chose the Israelites for some "mission or purpose."

In the case of the founders, I think they chose liberty as their sort of divine inspiration and, in a parallel with the covenant between the Israelites and God, became sort of a chosen people - as in chosen to promote liberty among themselves and the world. It's not a perfect metaphor for sure, but it certainly resonated with me and my interpretation of history around the founding, it seems to me that this was one of many things influencing at least some of the founders. Given that Goldman is a practicing Jew and co-blogger Howard who posted this is a not particularly religious Jew, if they both were exposed to roughly the same sorts of thinking as I was, I can easily see why Goldman wrote that and why Howard excerpted it.

Note that anybody can convert to Judaism. You simply choose to do it and put in the effort required. No one will ever try to convert you and you won't be encouraged but no will stop you so there's nothing exclusive about the chosen thing.

Harry Eagar said...

'It depends on the radical commitment to the premise that a higher power than human caprice is the ultimate arbiter in civic life.'

I guess Spengler never heard of France.

Or of Germany, which was also a chosen country by his definition.

So long as we are quoting not-very-observant Jews, let us call on Isaiah Berlin, who learned at great personal cost to distrust idealists.

http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2014/10/isaiah-berlins-critique-of-idealism.html

Bret said...

Harry,

I have no idea how to decipher any of your comment.

Howard said...

Bret, I think I can help. Harry, like Isaiah Berlin, has grave concern with the danger posed by idealism and idealists. I too have this concern because it can become a motive force for all kinds of radicalisms. On the other hand, as Whitehead makes the point, idealism can be aspirational. This gives people an ideal to move towards without necessarily becoming radical. The underpinnings of the founding are of this nature. Our friend, on the other hand, seems unable to grasp the most practical idea of human political arrangements, the importance of limiting the concentration of political power. In this respect it is clear why he can identify with African women. They put forth so much physical effort for so little material reward, he puts forth so much mental effort for so little insight.

Clovis e Adri said...

Bret,

Thank you for your interpretation.

To the extent I understand Jewish traditions, you are not quite in agreement with them, but that's not really the point.

The point can be taken by a simpler question: supposing you are able to prove your Jewish ancestry, I believe you can call the Israeli embassy and get an entry visa and citizenship by tomorrow in Israel.

If I call the Israelis asking to move there in the same terms as you, I don't think they will be as forthcoming.

Which leads to the question: do you believe the USA has been like Israel since its founding?

Howard said...

erp,

I'm pretty sure that Peter's comment deserves a more generous interpretation.

And then Harry comes along to tell him that, according to one of his obscure books, it was just a genetic impulse grounded in time and place and that statistical analysis shows a very high probability that they would have found other partners if happenstance hadn't put them together at the very moment those synapses were firing. Besides, his wife's background shows she isn't quite the angel he sees. Fun guy at an anniversary party.

Whatever quibbles he has with the original post, he is more focused on taking Harry to task for being such a dry materialist devoid of any music.

Clovis, nice job of adopting Peter's sage advice so quickly.

erp said...

Howard, Do you mean that Peter deliberately posted only lyrics to point out that Harry is devoid of music?

If that is the case, I beg his pardon. I thought I was just being cute building on his "Canadians are polite and boring" meme.

Harry Eagar said...

You really didn't get the point about France? The religious idealists attempted for 150 years to destroy liberty in France. They were rebuffed in 1905 when the state became fully secular. It took another 40 years after that -- and a lot of idealistic treason from the right -- to complete the movement.

But France has been godless for my entire life and has as much liberty as any other state. So Spengler's major premise is disproved.

You are right, I am a complete materialist. It is the only intellectually coherent position

Bret said...

Harry wrote: "But France has been godless for my entire life and has as much liberty as any other state. So Spengler's major premise is disproved."

I'm still not getting your point about France. How does France being godless disprove whatever you think Spengler's major premise is?

erp said...

Harry, do you think France's being godless was the reason they could so cheerfully collaborate with the Nazis and turn over Jewish orphans to the Gestapo or do you think it was because they were/are starry-eyed communists?

Howard said...

You are right, I am a complete materialist. It is the only intellectually coherent position

Actually, intellectually it's quite limiting.

Harry Eagar said...

erp, how stupid are you? You do know, don't you, that the Communists made up the majority of the French Resistance and it was the Petainists (almost entirely Catholics) who collaborated with the Nazis?

I suppose you really are that stupid.

erp said...

Yes, I do know about the French communists. Unfortunately, my granddaughter is also the great-granddaughter of one of their great martyrs.

That the remark to which you refer was sarcasm should have been obvious, but in deference to your difficulty with reading comprehension, in the future I'll append a s/off at the end sarcasm.

BTW - I see very little difference between Catholics and Commies, except the hierarchy of the former have been around a lot longer and have perfected their schtick.

Their mewling masses are remarkably similar as well which is why it is so puzzling that you can't see it.

Harry Eagar said...

I did not -- and do not --take it as sarcasm, since it conflicts with every other comment you have posted. Doesn't pass sniff test.

erp said...

Harry,

Please provide a quote of mine which would lead a reader to surmise that I didn't know the French resistance aka the Free French (lefties are so predicable turning the meaning of words on their heads as if that disguises their intentions) were a bunch a commies until this afternoon when I was enlightened by your comment.

AWTTW Perhaps your sniffer could benefit by some Claritin.

Harry Eagar said...

Here ya go:

"Please provide a quote of mine which would lead a reader to surmise that I didn't know the French resistance aka the Free French (lefties are so predicable turning the meaning of words on their heads as if that disguises their intentions) were a bunch a commies until this afternoon when I was enlightened by your comment."

erp said...

IOW Ya got nothing.

Harry Eagar said...

Dunning-Krueger Effect is in full effect; there are 3 howlers in your question.