"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, July 10, 2015

Five for Friday 3

Five posts to inspire reflection and conversation over the upcoming weekend. There's a common thread to all the posts, but instead of spoiling the fun by saying what it is, I'll leave it up to each reader to determine what links these five posts together. Have a great weekend!

Frohen on Kirk on the Constitution:  the University Bookman reprints a fine review by Bruce Frohnen of Russell Kirk's book on the American Constitution, Rights and Duties:  The Character of Our Constitution.  As Frohnen notes,
Early in the book, Kirk points out that our “Constitution had been designed by its Framers, in 1787, to conserve the order and the justice and the freedom to which Americans had grown accustomed.” Thus Kirk takes issue with ideologues who seek to convince us that America was created ex nihilo through the drafting of an abstractly philosophical Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, and the War for Independence, must be seen as our Founders saw them: as defensive measures intended to protect Americans’ traditional and chartered rights from an overreaching English Parliament.
That's just a taste of Frohnen's review -- read it all, and better yet, get a copy of Kirk's book and read it closely.  There is much wisdom there.  I first read Kirk's book on the Constitution when I was a law student, and it was the first book by Kirk that I ever read.  I was immediately impressed by his wisdom and insight, and quickly devoured everything he had written that I could get my hands on.  I would have loved to have met him and studied with him, but alas that was not to be.  But he lives on in his writings, and thanks to them we can all be Kirk's students.  And he is a fantastic teacher!  Of history and literature and on the roots of our country's polity and order.

Franklin and Jefferson on the Lord's Prayer: among the Founding Fathers, Franklin is often thought to be one of the most secular. This is a misreading of Franklin. While he was not an orthodox Christian, Frankly was a strong theist who consistently thought of his religious views in relationship with the general teachings of genetic colonial Protestantism regarding divine providence, the power of prayer and the Last Judgment.  Franklin even went so far as to update the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament for his own personal use, and that prayer definitely reflects Franklin's own religious beliefs in a providential, personal God who is the ground of the moral law and who cares for each human person:
1. Heavenly Father, 2. May all revere thee, 3. And become thy dutiful Children and faithful Subjects. 4. May thy Laws be obeyed on Earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven. 5. Provide for us this day as thou hast hitherto daily done. 6. Forgive us our trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offend us. 7. Keep us out of Temptation, and deliver us from Evil. 
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, post-1784, quoted in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson (Princeton Univ. Press: 2005), pg. 166.

If Franklin's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences a strong belief in a personal God who intervenes in human affairs and who answers prayer, the version provided by Thomas Jefferson in his own version of the Gospels, the so-called Jefferson Bible, is even more traditional -- deviating lightly from the version of the Lord's Prayer given in the Authorized King James Version. Jefferson is often invoked by those hostile to religion as someone who was opposed to religion. And it is true that Jefferson disagreed with orthodox Christianity and was a critic of organized religion for the most part. But he also was a strong believer in a theistic idea of God, a deity who governs the world through Providence. Jefferson's version of the Lord's Prayer evidences that belief:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.  
Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Beacon Press: 1989), pg. 87.

When referring to the religious view of the Founders, it is easy to fall into anachronism on either side, either viewing the Founders as a whole as proto-evangelicals or viewing them as proto-free thinking "New Atheists." Both views are incorrect. Even the most secular of the Founders were strikingly religious by modern standards, and affirmed beliefs in strong-theism, of a personal God who intervenes in human affairs, responds to prayer, who authors a moral law, and who will hold each human being accountable for their violations of that law as well as for how they treat those who have sinned against them. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both testify to this fact.

Rhetoric as a necessary component of a liberal education: "Oh, that's just rhetoric," is a refrain that sadly is heard far too often in regard to politics or any kind of civic engagement.  But as this article by Sean Lewis over at The Imaginative Conservative rightly points out, the study of rhetoric -- the presentation of ideas and concepts -- is critical for liberal education.  The study of rhetoric is one of the pillars of classical education, and the recovery of the integrity of rhetoric is essential to forming a disciplined mind.

One good place to start a study of the use of language is with George Orwell's magnificent treatise on writing & rhetoric:  Politics and the English Language.

Reagan's agenda in his own words: as the country prepares for another presidential political campaign, the memory of Ronald Reagan will no doubt be powerfully in mind for conservative & Republican voters. It might be a good idea to see the consistency and the changes in Reagan's approach to politics and policy across his life in politics.  Below are three examples, from the beginning, peak and close of Reagan's political career, of speeches where Reagan set out his political vision.

Here is Reagan's first major venture on the national political stage, his Time for Choosing speech in support of the Goldwater campaign in 1964:



After serving two terms as governor of California and then running successfully in 1980 against President Jimmy Carter, Reagan delivered his first First Inaugural Address in 1981:



Finally, at the conclusion of his second term of office in 1989, President Reagan addressed the country in his Farewell Speech, talking about his hopes for the future of our country:



Conservatism is not an ideology: Reagan's political principles, both their flexibility and their deep consistencies, raise the question of how conservatism reconciles principle & prudence in the field of practical politics.  Russell Kirk, one of the great explainers and developers of the conservative tradition in the 20th century, explained conservatism's fundamental approach:
The conservative understands that the circumstances of men are almost infinitely variable, and that any particular political or economic policy must be decided in the light of the particular circumstances of time and place -- an enlightened expediency, or prudence ... Conservatism, I repeat, is not an ideology. It does not breed fanatics. It does not try to excite the enthusiasm of a secular religion. If you want men who will sacrifice their past and present and future to a set of abstract ideas you must go to Communism, or Fascism, or Benthamism. But if you want men who seek, reasonably and prudently, to reconcile the best in the wisdom of our ancestors with the change which is essential to a vigorous civil social existence, then you will do well to turn to conservative principles. The high-minded conservative believes in Principle, or enduring norms ascertained through appreciation for the wisdom of dead generations, the study of history, and the reconciliation of authority with the altered circumstances of our present life. He is a highly reasonable person, although he looks with deep suspicion on the cult of Reason -- the worship of an abstract rationality which asserts that mundane planning is able to solve all our difficulties of spirit and community. But the high-minded conservative detests Abstraction, or the passion for forcing men and societies into a preconceived pattern divorced from the special circumstances of different times and countries. 
From Prospects for Conservatives (Regnery Gateway: 1989), pg. 8-9. Within that passage from Kirk is the antidote to virtually all of the big picture problems that have developed on the Right for the last 35 years.

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