Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Right Wing Assault on America's Founding Principles

Saving General Washington: The Right Wing Assault on America's Founding Principles
J.R. Norton
Penguin Group, New York, 2006

The book, although it contains a little language that some might consider offensive, is very good. In the most down-to-earth way it contrasts the Founders' philosophy with that of the Bush administration. (There is not much in the way of comparison, most likely because there really are no comparisons.) The author has such a handle on the Founders that I think he is more libertarian than leftist; he realizes that the Founders were interested in the rights of the individual rather than the general welfare of society as a collective.

I have already pointed out that Thomas Jefferson called for the separation of church and state as part of the First Amendment. James Madison echoed him (1).

John Locke, who lived in the late 17th Century, was a real mentor to Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders, pioneered a great deal on the libertarian philosophy (2) and refuted monarchial authority. He believed that human individuals should follow reason. The purpose of government, Locke believed (3), is to keep people from harming one another and to protect private property. This is the basis of the libertarian philosophy, and it loomed very big at the Constitutional Convention. Author Norton compares Locke's writing with the Declaration of Independence. Locke, too, opined that it would be a mistake to codify any religious doctrine into civil law.

In the Founders' writings, God is rarely mentioned, presumably because these writings were about civil government and the Founders strongly believed in the separation of religion and state. It was not because they were unbelievers. Some of them were indeed Christians and many were deists.

I used to believe they were all Christians. The religious right would have us believe that and also that the Constitution would ensure a Christian nation. This was not hard for me to accept as I have always believed that Christianity is libertarian. After all, the individual must take the initiative to accept Jesus Christ, and one needs to do this oneself if one does not die before one has a chance to make that decision (for example, aborted babies, children too young to understand, or others for whom there is no way to receive the Good News). Nobody can do it for you.

I learned that some Founders were not Christians at a Christian church from a Christian minister. I used to volunteer a half day once a week to help the church staff. One hot day, I was in a dank basement room enjoying the coolness while we were sorting, dusting and re-shelving books. I came across a copy of Thomas Jefferson's Bible. Norton mentions this on P. 158 and tells us that Jefferson had edited his own version. "Look at this!" I said to the minister. We began to talk about Jefferson and the wonderful ideas from which sprang all the prosperity and other goodness we are still enjoying to a point. I wanted to borrow the book, but it was an antique copy of the original Jefferson edition. I wanted to see how it compared to the Bible's translation we now use. The minister informed me that Jefferson was not a Christian, and that he and about half of the Founders were deists. He suggested they might be a bit like today's Unitarians, but he was not that familiar. Norton says that Jefferson did not even think of Jesus as a primary influence. I have to admit my great disappointment about that, but, like Ayn Rand, they had a corner on some important aspects of the truth.

For our purposes, this underscores the fact that our Founders had no intentions of mixing the ice cream of religion with the dung of state, regardless of what George W. Bush, James Dobson or Jerry Falwell say.

The Founders, who had a range of political and religious views, were all of like mind on one thing: religion and government don't mix. Government must be secular. The people in government may or may not have religious beliefs, but the moment we start reaching government into personal areas, freedom suffers. The Founders themselves, at least enough of them, were in fact pro-religion. By setting up the Constitution the way they did, they sought to protect religion from the state, thus allowing Christianity and other faiths to flourish here. Additionally, James Dobson might also be right; perhaps they were also trying to protect the state from religion.

Bush's faith-based initiative is in direct conflict with the Constitution. As I pointed out previously, the conflict is there whether religious charities get federal dollars or whether they are injured by being led to believe the money is forthcoming when it is not.

If the ice cream and dung are mixed, religion can be commandeered by the wrong kind of people to achieve their selfish ends, people like Bush, Cheney and the rest in high places (4). This is destructive of the church. It is worse than destructive to the country. In the long run it will be destructive to the state as eventually people will become tired of the yoke, and force the necessary changes. I hope this is soon, before a literal blood-bath occurs.

George W. Bush, Norton points out (5), is the very kind of chief executive the founders wanted to avoid.

The Norton book is very, very good. As I stated, it is not for children because of some questionable language, but he does describe the contrast between the Bush administration philosophy and that of the Founders in such a way that, despite my anger against the administration, I laugh while I am learning.

(1) J.R. Norton: Saving General Washington: The Right Wing Assault on America's Founding Principles, Penguin Group, New York, 2006 ,P. 93.

(2) Mises, Ludwig von, Human Action. Also see works by Rothbard, Hospers, Hoppe, and other libertarians.

(3) Norton P. 96.

(4) Ibid. Chapter 8, "President Jesus." This shows, in part, why Bush's actions on behalf of Jesus, the Bible, and the church are skewing Christianity in the minds of the best and brightest, turning them against Christianity.

(5) Ibid. P. 177-178

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