January 25, 2020

THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT; BOTH HATE AMERICA:

POPULAR NARRATIVES LEFT AND RIGHT ARE WRONG ABOUT THE AMERICAN FOUNDING (Justin B. Dyer & Kody Cooper, 1/21/20, ISI)

Consider James Otis's The Rights of British Colonies Asserted and Proved, one of the most widely read pamphlets in the opening stage of the debates. Responding to the Stamp Act, Otis countered the idea that Parliament was an unlimited, absolute sovereign, rooting his argument in a natural law theory of morality and first principles.

Otis argued for the existence of an objective moral order accessible to all human beings. He stitched his argument with the golden thread of the natural law tradition, which was well summarized by Paul Sigmund: "There exists in nature and/or human nature a rational order which can provide intelligible value-statements independently of human will, that are universal in application, unchangeable in their ultimate content, and morally obligatory on mankind."

This moral order provided the ground for the range of precepts of traditional morality as well as the ground for political equality. Therefore, Otis argued, "by the law of nature we are free born, as indeed all men are, white or black." He then asked, rhetorically, "Are not women born as free as men? Would it not be infamous to assert that the ladies are all slaves by nature?"

For Otis, political equality was as important to a healthy civil society as marriage and family. Consequently, the authority of Parliament was bounded by a higher moral law by which it was required to serve a common good constituted by flourishing families. For this reason, the Stamp Act was an unjust violation of the colonists' inalienable equal right to property--the essential material of flourishing households--which could not justly be taken without their consent.

Another important pamphlet, Alexander Hamilton's "The Farmer Refuted," was written as a critique of the Royalist bishop Samuel Seabury. Hamilton responds to Seabury's caricature of liberalism as one in which individuals are bound by nothing but their own will, leaving power dynamics as the only natural reality. Hamilton insists, by contrast, that "the deity, from the relations we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institutions whatever."

In other words, natural rights are derived from, and find their limits in, the law of nature. No man has "any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property or liberty; nor the least authority to command, or exact obedience from him; except that which arose from the ties of consanguinity."

This framework simultaneously stands as a rebuke of arbitrary power--whether exercised by kings or masters--without affirming an unmoored individualism that would undermine the natural authority of parents over children or the integrity of the family.

TWO LESSONS FROM THE PAMPHLET DEBATES

So the pre-Founding Pamphlet Debates contain two lessons for us.

First, the political principles of the American Founding were not wool over the eyes of marginalized groups in order to give power to white males. In fact, their principles marked the beginning of the end of oligarchy and slavery, what Allen C. Guelzo recently called the 1863 Project and Forrest A. Nabors detailed at length in his award-winning book, From Oligarchy to Republicanism.

Second, the principles of liberty and equality did not inaugurate an order of autonomous individualism destructive of families and the environment. Rather, political equality was tethered to a moral order that simultaneously bound governments and people with a range of duties and virtues. The natural law principles of social morality were seen not in tension with, but corroborative of, liberal political principles. This appeal to a binding moral order as the very ground of equal political liberty can be seen across the Pamphlet Debates in the writings of John Dickinson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Wilson, among many others.

Posted by at January 25, 2020 8:19 AM

  

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