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Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America
By Ellis Sandoz
University of Missouri Press
HC, 230 pgs,  $39.95
ISBN: 0-8262-1674-9

Nietzsche was wrong

By Thomas E. Brewton
web posted October 16, 2006

Republicanism, Religion and the Soul of AmericaProfessor Ellis Sandoz's new book, Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America,  demonstrates that Nietzsche's obituary for God was premature.  Failure of atheistic socialism and today's developing world-confrontation with Islamic jihad make it impossible to ignore the reality of God, the Creator of our world.

Professor Sandoz, according to the publisher's summary, "Explores the role of Christianity, including John Wesley and the Great Awakening revival, in the formation of the American Republic; also considers Eric Voegelin's contributions to the philosophy of religious experience.  Argues that modern republicanism grounds human dignity in spiritual individualism, thereby generating democratic agency for self-government under Divine Providence."

My own summation of the book is that our nation was founded by men and women who were deeply aware of human imperfection and recognized that just and effective political order depends upon faith in God's love to moderate sinfulness.  Moreover this was a realistic view of human nature, as contrasted to the Enlightenment doctrine that humans were entirely benevolent in Rousseau's state of nature and were corrupted by the advent of private property.  The simple proof is that our Constitution worked, and the endless succession of French socialist constitutions always crumbled under the impact of reality.

Professor Sandoz is the director of the Eric Voegelin Institute at Louisiana State University, where Dr. Voegelin spent most of his years in the United States.  Voegelin had escaped from the Gestapo in 1938, settling in Baton Rouge. While there he wrote The New Science of Politics and began his magnum opus, the five-volume Order and History.

 In 1958 Voegelin left the United States to establish the Political Science Institute at the University of Munich, where he occupied the chair left vacant since the death of Max Weber in 1928.

The latter half of Professor Sandoz's book is devoted to exploring  Voegelin's views with regard to the role of religious experience in ordering political society.  He says of Voegelin's philosophy, "There are also major implications for the conception of history itself.  For through the witness of prophets, philosophers, apostles, and meditatives, there arises the abiding insight that, (quoting from Voegelin's "New Science of Politics")

"..the substance of history consists in the experiences in which man gains the understanding of his humanity and together with it the understanding of its limits.  Philosophy and Christianity have endowed man with the stature the enables him, with historical effectiveness, to play the role of rational contemplator and pragmatic master of a nature which has lost its demonic terrors.  With equal historical effectiveness, however, limits were placed on human grandeur; for Christianity has concentrated demonism into the permanent danger of a fall from the spirit – that is man's only by the grace of God – into the autonomy of his own self, from the [love of God] into the [love of self]. The insight that man in his mere humanity, without [faith infused with love], is demonic nothingness has been brought by Christianity to the ultimate border of clarity which by tradition is called revelation."

The first half of Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America will be most accessible and most interesting to the general reader.  There Professor Sandoz deals with the American experience of republicanism (not today's political party, but the Constitution's structure of federalism between state governments and the national government).

Copious documentation demonstrates the falsity of the politically-correct historical narrative taught in most schools today.  In that version, the colonists were just North American clones of French Jacobins, rejecting God and worshipping the Goddess Reason.

Professor Sandoz writes,"As Perry Miller remarked a generation ago when confronting an attitude he labeled 'obtuse secularism' in accounts of American experience, "A cool rationalism such as Jefferson's might have declared the independence of [Americans in 1776], but it could never have persuaded them to fight for it." "

He continues, " Advocates of republicanism in the Anglo-American-Whig traditions (to be distinguished firmly from French Jacobinism, which was both atheistic and anti-property) assert liberty and justice in resistance against tyranny and arbitrary government and do so in the name of highest truth.  To summarize: In varying degrees they attempt, within limits, to apply Gospel principles to politics: The state was made for man, not men for the state (cf. Mark 2:27)..... This characteristic attitude has a religious and specifically Protestant Christian root in the conviction that evil in the world must be combated by free men out of the resources of pure conscience, true religion, and reformed institutions of power and authority."

To that effect, Professor Sandoz quotes Aristotle's "Politics":  "... the rule of law.....is preferable to that of any individual....Therefore he who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast [as in the atheistic materialism introduced by socialism in the 19th century and culminating in Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism in the 20th century]."

Our Constitution, with its system of divided powers and checks and balances, pitting human ambition against ambition, is to be "...directly contrasted to that found in the French Constitution of 1791, where the separation is adopted without the checks and balances, thereby making the legislature supreme (rule by law) and cutting off the possibility of judicial review as it developed in America as a key to the rule of law as a practical matter."

Considerable attention is given by Professor Sandoz to the English political and religious heritage that was the foundation of our Constitution.

"In sum: The principal educational sources may be identified as the Bible and Protestant Christianity as the fundamental matrix of the society; a schooling in the Latin and Greek classics as the foundation of all education; a political and constitutional preoccupation that tended to dominate public discourse from the 1760s on as nurtured especially by Coke, Locke, Montesquieu, and later Blackstone; and an enlightened sense of individual capacity and responsibility under God as created [in the image of God] and accountable for stewardship, for serving truth and justice, and for resisting by every means corruption and evil."

"....Along with the New Testament teachings, the whole of classical theory of politics especially as given in Aristotle and Cicero was absorbed into Old Whig discourse..... Political and religious liberty were seen to be all of a piece, Edmund Burke and John Witherspoon insisted a century later.... Indeed, the rise of [English] Whig liberty,  the freedom we cherish, was in no small degree bound up with the efforts of early religious reformers, notably John Wyclif and William Tyndale, to make the text of the Bible available in English...."

Referring to the primary meaning of liberty, as used in Magna Carta, he writes, "This understanding of liberty is akin to the philosophical one that only the man whose reason governs base passions, therewith to live justly, is truly free and, thus, capable of happiness conceived as a life lived in accordance with virtue."

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  John 8:32

Professor Sandoz notes the seminal importance of revival of spirituality in the 1730s' Great Awakening, the religious movement associated with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.  This religious revivalism was the first movement that embraced all of the colonies in a common understanding and a common campaign, the first impetus that made the colonists conscious of a distinctly colonial tradition, apart from their English heritage.

Christian spiritual revival was, in short, the glue that first united the colonies, making possible the Declaration of Independence forty or so years later.

The author writes, "Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s would remind his readers that it should never be forgotten that Christianity was as ubiquitous as the air we breathe, and he saw Anglo-American civilization as the "product" of two elements most often at war with one another elsewhere but here to be found 'forming a marvelous combination.  I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom.' "

Rebutting the present-day contention that Christianity played no significant part in the formation of the United States, Professor Sandoz observes, "And we have noticed that Americans during the Revolution were called to their houses of worship for public days of prayer, fasting, humiliation (or thanksgiving, as suited) many times by formal Proclamation of the Continental Congress, a practice that continued during the early administrations under the Constitution..... With the completion of the new Capitol in the District of Columbia, church services regularly were held for the Congress and officials of government, including the president and cabinet members, in the House of Representatives chamber on Sundays, a practice that continued until well after the Civil War."

"Bible reading was ubiquitous in America throughout the period formally identified as "the founding," which benefited from the Great Awakening's revitalization of faith and coincided with the onset of the Second Great Awakening that carried well into the nineteenth century..... Edmund Burke, speaking in the Commons on the eve of the Revolution (1775) stressed that the Americans' love of liberty on English principles was powerfully informed by their faith as Christians.... David Ramsay, in his contemporary (1789) "History of the American Revolution," echoed Burke by writing: 'The religion of the colonists also nurtured a love for liberty.  They were chiefly Protestants, and all Protestantism is founded on a strong claim to natural liberty and the right of private judgement.' "

"One modern scholar has turned empirical analysis to good use in discovering that a full one-third of all citations in the enormous pamphlet literature of the period were texts in the Bible, far more than any other source."

And Tocqueville's 1835 observation in Democracy in America that, "For the Americans the ideas of Christianity and liberty are so completely mingled that it is almost impossible to get them to conceive of the one without the other."

"Dr. Benjamin Rush, the famous patriot scientist-physician, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, medical pioneer, and professor of Philadelphia ..... wrote in 1786: 'The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in RELIGION.  Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.......The religion I mean to recommend in this place is the religion of JESUS CHRIST....."

Professor Sandoz quotes Joseph Story (1779-1845), "a member of the United States Supreme Court of John Marshall and Roger B. Taney, and longtime Dane Professor of Law at Harvard..."  In his "Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States," Justice Story wrote: "Now there will probably be found few persons in this or any other Christian country, who would deliberately contend that it was unreasonable, or unjust to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally, as a matter of sound policy, as well as of revealed truth....Probably at the adoption of the constitution, and of the [First] amendment to it,......the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship.  An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation if not universal indignation." ESR

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is The View from 1776. Email comments to viewfrom1776@thomasbrewton.com.

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