If anyone wonders where the development of my thoughts and point of view have come from it is mainly from the following reading list:
(Note–this is a list in progress)
Constitution of the United States
Old Testament, a Tragedy in Four Parts (the Law, the History, the Poetry, the Prophets)
The Old Testament (KJV) has been ridiculed for many years now by militant atheists and irreligious scholars alike. The talk is familiar, “The events didn’t happen that way,” or “That story is impossible to believe.” I realize this is not the place for Old Testament apologetics, a topic I am not qualified to undertake. But what is important here is that the Old Testament lays a basic foundation for understanding liberty, tyranny and the consequences of living the moral law. We can build bombs for our security but if we are not a moral people it wont matter. If nothing else the Old Testament teaches us that there are consequences to riotous living and that even great leaders can be easily corrupted. The prophet Samuel’s warning against kings and any centralized power for that matter is as true today as when it was recorded. In First Samuel, Chapter Eight the people ask for a king and get one despite this chilling warning:
So the importance and relevance of the Old Testament for us is in the history of Israel and God’s dealings with them and other nations. The book was such an intergal part of the great American thinkers that Thomas Jefferson used an Old Testament reference in closing his second inaugural. He writes:
I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence and our riper years with His wisdom and power, and to whose goodness I ask you to join in supplications with me that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
The Gospel of Christ in a New Testament
Like the Old, the New Testament (KJV) has taken its share of beatings as of late. But despite the critics, the New Testament has the irreplaceable ethical, religious and moral underpinnings that any free society needs to survive truly free. The good news Jesus and his disciples preach throughout is a message of spiritual equality, forgiveness, service and moral uprightness.
So whether you’re a Jeffersonian Christian who can do without the divinity of Christ or a fundamental believer, the call that “ye love one another, as I have loved you,” can only benefit the entire body politic. It is only when we seek to ban such teachings from the public sphere or force them onto others that we not only threaten religious liberty but the very fabric of a free government directed by a virtuous people.
Jesus also offers invaulable insight into the nature of a true public servant. He taught his disciples:
Powerful teaching for the religious and for public servants. That’s why the New Testament should be a part of the foundation of any society that seeks liberty and equality.
Book of Mormon, Document of Liberty
A reoccurring theme in the Book of Mormon is the concept of liberty. Liberty to worship God, to believe, to fight to defend your home, family and religion. These rights and liberties were no less important to all informed and inspired men in past ages. They are the rights revolutionaries fought and died for, the same ones cemented forever in documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Though the Book of Mormon is many things to many people, it is above all a document, whether you think it is divine or not, that should be reverenced by all liberty loving people for the doctrines of natural rights that it teaches:
“And this land shall be a land of liberty…and there shall be no kings upon the land…For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven will be their king.”
“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye free to act for yourselves–”
“For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.”
“[Moroni] was a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery.”
“And they were exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.”
Declaration of the Independence (Secession)
Petition of Right
English Bill of Rights
Cato and the Roman Virtue of Liberty
Joseph Addison’s tragedy Cato, is quite arguably the best text for understanding how passionate the founders of the American revolution were about liberty. It’s also a statement about how much they hated tyranny in any form.
Cato is a hard core republican who is on the run from the tyrannical Caesar. He is with his family and some soldiers from North Africa whose purpose is to stand up to the mighty armies of Caesar. The play is so full of great insight and verse regarding liberty and the hardy Roman virtues needed to keep it, that it would take a recitation of the entire play to do it justice. But here it goes anyways:
Who knows not this? but what can Cato do
Against a world, a base, degenerate world,
That courts the yoke, and bows the neck to Caesar?
Greater than Caesar: he’s a friend to virtue.
Messenger of Caesar
Caesar is well acquainted with your virtues,
And therefore sets this value on your life:
Let him but know the price of Cato’s friendship,
And name your terms.
Bid him disband his legions,
Restore the commonwealth to liberty,
Submit his actions to the public censure,
And stand the judgment of a Roman senate:
Bid him do this, and Cato is his friend.
Nay more, though Cato’s voice was ne’er employed
To clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes,
Greater than Caesar: he’s a friend to virtue.
Algernon Sidney & 18th Century Republicanism
What is republicanism? The founders believed Sidney’s Discourses was a respected source to answer that question. From Amazon:
“Written in response to Sir Robert Filmer’s “Patriarcha” (1680), the “Discourses Concerning Government” by Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) has been respected for more than three centuries as a classic defence of republicanism and popular government. Sidney rejected Filmer’s theories of royal absolutism and divine right of kings, insisting that title to rule should be based on merit rather than on birth; and republics, he thought, were more likely to honour merit than were monarchies. Like Milton, Sidney revered and idealised the Commonwealth (1649-1660) as England’s noble achievement in the grand tradition of ancient Greece and Rome. Sidney’s treatise was published posthumously in 1698, 15 years after he was executed for complicity in a plot to assassinate Charles II. Sidney’s papers, including a draft of the “Discourses”, were used as evidence against him. Although there is nothing in the work incompatible with a constitutional monarchy, the indictment claimed that it was a “false, seditious and traitorous libel”, citing sentences which stated that the king is subject to law and is responsible to the people. Sidney’s “Discourses” was widely read in the colonies, and influenced a number of American revolutionary leaders.”
MECHANICS OF LIBERTY
Anti-Federalists were not Anti-Federal
From Morton Borden’s 1965 introduction:
American historians, by and large, have concentrated upon the Federalists of 1787, giving little consideration to the dissenting voices of that period. Since the American Constitution and democracy have survived a civil war,
two world wars and periodic depressions, the gloomy forebodings of the Antifederalists sometimes appear to be unwarranted, frequently emotional and occasionally even ludicrous. The Antifederalists were wrong in their major premise–that the Constitution must inevitably fail, and that such failure must result either in anarchy or despotism (this could very much still happen). Since Americans have always tended to equate truth with success, one might conclude that the Federalists were indeed right. It does not follow, however, that the Anti-federalists were wrong in either their political philosophy or their vision of the American future. In fact, it is entirely conceivable that an Anti-federalist government, if possible, might have resulted in as much progress, prosperity and democracy as has been achieved under the Constitution.
Hayek, Prophet of Doom
A Brief (and Necessary) Primer on Federalism
The Heritage Foundation has given Americans some good tools to get informed and lay a strong foundation for understanding the nature of the governmental system enshrined in the Constitution. The First Principles series is a must read for those interested in the concepts and mechanics of constitutionalism as laid out by such thinkers as James Madison and the other framers of the US Constitution. One fine book in that series is Eugene Hickok’s Why States?
In the book Hickok, political science professor at the University of Richmond, clearly defines what federalism is, what it looked like in the United States and how far away from this concept we are today. I think one of the most important concepts in the book regarding federalism is the obvious yet often missed concept that under the federal system promoted by the authors of the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalists alike, the states not only retain most powers relating to the exercise of sovereignty, but they are themselves a check on the national government. And that it’s not treasonous to exercise state sovereignty, in fact it’s rather patriotic. The national government should not be trusted to simply check and balance itself, but the states must act as a type regulator as well; an agent in the balancing of power, not merely an executor of the federal will.
Hickok also points out what I consider to be the most important aspect of the culture of true federalism: the cultivation of civic virtue and participation within self-ruling communities. As he states in the book, “It is more than coincidental that the emergence of the modern administrative state has been accompanied by a decline in civic participation, public confidence in government, and electoral participation.” One major reason for this according to Hickok is that federalism, rightly understood, allowed people to keep tabs on the center of power. Now, thanks in large part to what has been called the “Statist Revolution of 1913,” which included the passage of the 16th and 17th Amendments, along with the creation of the Federal Reserve, power has been ripped from local communities and states and consolidated in the hands of the federal government in far away Washington, DC. As a result, citizens seem less inclined to civic participation and more inclined to entitlements.
There are many Americans who could care less about the spirit and law of the Constitution. For many, this book will be seen at best as nothing more than a quaint tract on the antiquated workings of what was once a cherished principle of liberty inherited from the founding generation but which is now hopelessly inoperative. Hopefully many more, who are unfamiliar with true federalism will see the book as an important piece to their education, as we all work toward a renewal of constitutional principles.
Lamp of Experience
A Better Guide Than Reason
Constitutional History of Secession
Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution
Genius of American Politics
Empire of Liberty
Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty is considered by me to be his crowning achievement. Wood has spent a long and productive career as a historian of the American Revolution and the early republican period. In what I consider to be a good sign, Wood has never been at home in conservative or progressive circles, although each camp would claim him as their own.
Wood’s emphasis on both the libertarianism and republicanism of the early years of America has made all his works of the utmost importance to those wishing to see how the early republic operated. In so doing the goal is not to go back to some Utopian time, they had plenty of problems as Wood points out, but rather to see how we might begin to restore the principles of republicanism and libertarianism. We need both liberty and equality and Wood makes it a point to balance libertarian history with the founders concepts of equality and left-wing progressive history with the ideas of liberty and limited government that the Founders advocated. This work is a necessary distillation of the much needed template.