Sunday, July 10, 2011

Conservatives, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, Part III

I’ll end this series of posts with two quotes from current political debates. While these might have seemed bewildering to many when read out of context, they will, I think, make sense if one reads them in light of the constitutional theories of Harry Jaffa and John Courtney Murray:
“Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America – not in China or North Korea. In those countries, government presumes daily to ‘redefine’ rights, relationships, values, and natural law. There, communiqués from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ means.”

Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, speaking in opposition to the enactment of the New York State law legalizing same-sex marriage.

"But what proved most controversial … were changes to the teaching of the founding era of American history. Thomas Aquinas was added to a list of thinkers who inspired the American Revolution; Thomas Jefferson (who once wrote about a “wall of separation between Church & State”) was removed. The United States, called, in the old curriculum, a “democratic society,” was now to be referred to as a “constitutional republic.” Biblical law was to be studied as an intellectual influence on the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. Kids in Texas, who used to study Locke, Hobbes, and Montesquieu as thinkers whose ideas informed the nation’s founding, would now dispense with Hobbes, in favor of Moses."

Jill Lepore, profiling the contemporary conservative "Tea Party" movement.

Jill Lepore, Whites of Their Eyes : The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.), 13.

Conservatives, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, Part I

Conservatives, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, Part II

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well... it's certainly true that the denial of objective truth can cut both ways politically. No earth-shattering insight there.

But I don't think it's fair at all to equate these two statements. One person here is imagining what could possibly happen in a situation where "rights" became completely unmoored from an objective standard... and then every other veto point in the American political system magically disappeared overnight. Disaster!

The other is complaining about a specific interpretation of history that she finds to be inaccurate based on contrary evidence. But she's not predicting immediate disaster if the Texas School Board doesn't recognize some objective historical truth.

Dolan seems oblivious to the broader power struggles that determine the consequences of relativism. Presumably, his intellectual forebears like Jaffa and Murray were similarly inclined to overstate the importance of abstract ideas...