The Algernon Reading List

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)

FOUNDATIONS

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:

7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
10 ¶ And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
19 ¶ Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

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:

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

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 because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon…Wherefore men are free according to the flesh.”
“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.”
Critics can yammer on about the defects of the book, the impossibility of this or that statement, event, city or battle. I will forever be grateful and heed the words of the this book of liberty, the Book of Mormon.

Declaration of the Independence (Secession)

Magna Carta

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.

Cato

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.

Messenger

Cato, the world talks loudly of your wisdom—

Cato

Nay more, though Cato’s voice was ne’er employed
To clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes,

Myself will mount the rostrum in his favour,
And strive to gain his pardon from the people.

Messenger

A style like this becomes a conqueror.

Cato

Decius, a style like this becomes a Roman.

Messenger

What is a Roman, that is Caesar’s foe?

Cato

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

What a timely and important revelation is the Road to Serfdom. The danger of the collectivist way of a planned economy and society are spelled out in such a stark and clear manner that every time I read it,  I am taken aback at the relevancy of the book. The book, written in 1944 might as well have been written and published yesterday. It takes into consideration a myriad of different problems of the collectivist vision of politicians like Barack Obama, George Bush and many other big government conservatives an unabashed big government Democrats. The problems lies with the belief that government must be the arbiter of economic justice and security. Of this Hayek warned, “Once government has embarked upon planning for the sake of justice, it cannot refuse responsibility for anybody’s fate or position. (Serfdom, 118).” Once you build big government how do you dismantle it? (Jefferson would say: “Every generation needs a new revolution.”)
What prompted my taking the book down from my shelf was the dangerous and irresponsible bailouts that first began occurring in October 2008. I wondered, “What does Hayek have to say that might be relevant to this situation?” It turns out quite a lot. What absolutely struck me as the most important relevant insight was that like the bailouts and those that will no doubt be offered by President Obama and passed by his collectivist cronies in Congress was that once a situation arises that needs attention it will be billed as the most dire situation since the last major catastrophe (in America that would be the Great Depression) and that if the government does not act, all will be lost. Once this belief is set in motion, the Congress then gives up its law making privileges to a select few who then make a new law which is passed by the Congress. The key to the new laws is that in the name of security the laws will have no clearly defined limits on power. They will essentially be a license for the government to do whatever it wants without accountability. It will be arbitrary power–the kind of power that kills individual liberty. This is exactly what we have in the bailout bills–zero accountability. Who gets the money? How will the money be used? What limits are placed on the select few individuals in the Fed and in the executive branch who have been given ultimate authority over the billions of tax payer money? Those select few have already announced that they are not even going to use the money to buy up “toxic” loans, the very thing they promised to do and claimed that if it was not done the whole world would collapse. The rules for using this “emergency” money has changed, which is demonstrable proof that the bailout bills and those to follow are nothing more than pure arbitrary power, wielded in the name of the people. At least the kings of old had the decency to wield such power in their own name.
I am rambling I know, but the Road To Serfdom is as timely as ever and should be read by all Americans. There is literally a ton of ideas in the book; an investigation of which would require a thousands more web pages. Rest assure, this book is a sure guide to the economic and political problems that lay ahead for the US and the world.

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.

HISTORY

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.

7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
10 ¶ And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
19 ¶ Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

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