Thursday, September 15, 2005

Aristotle and the Pledge of Allegiance: the only firm basis of liberty

The inevitable:

Judge: School Pledge Is Unconstitutional
Sep 14 2:39 PM US/Eastern

Associated Press Writer


Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was declared unconstitutional Wednesday by a federal judge ruling in the second attempt by an atheist to have the pledge removed from classrooms. The man lost his previous battle before the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

This was inevitable in part because of the philosophical crack-up in American education for what is now at least a generation. The court clearly thinks that "one nation under God" is an affirmantion of religion, and hence contrary to the establishment clasue of the First Amendment.

But that isn't the way the Founding Fathers thought about these issues. For the Founders, the existence of God was simply a fact, amply attested by philosophers since the time of Aristotle. For them, the fact of the existence of God had been rendered all but irrefutable by the rise of Newtonian physics since there was no rational explanation for the existence and power of the laws of physics--except that they had been written and effected by a Supreme Being. And this conclusion was certainly affirmed by Newton himself.

By contrast religion was the way in which Man worshipped this God--whether as Catholics, Protestants, Deists, free-thinkers, Muslims or in other ways. On this issue of religion--conceived as the problem of God's worship rather than his existence--the state was strictly neutral. Hence the famous 1796 Treaty with Tripoli where it was formally declared that: "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

For the Founders then, the government could legitimately affirm the existence of God as a philosophical/scientific fact while at the same time the government was forbidden to establish any form of worship as the American national religion.

This distinction between God as a matter of philosophy and church as a matter of religion is absolutely essential to understanding the Founding Fathers.

This is why Thomas Jefferson--the author of the phrase "separation of church and state"--could write a document like the Declaration of Indepence in which God is made absolutely basic to the whole philosophical foundations of the document.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The phrase "the laws of nature and of nature's God" reflects the traditional position of Aristotelian philosophy that nature cannot be adequately explained apart from reference to a supreme God. The specific phrasing of "laws of nature" picks up the conviction that Newton's laws required for their adequate explanation some kind of a supreme God--and that the rights of man were rooted in the existence of this God.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. For Jefferson and the founding fathers, the basic human rights for which they went to war were not rooted in a philosophical vacuum. On the contrary: human rights are endowed by their Creator. This is the creator already specified in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the author of Newton's laws of nature.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States... --And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Here Jefferson publicly commits the new nation to "the Supreme Judge of the World" and declares "a firm reliance on Divine Providence". Notice that this is not a private expression of piety on Jefferson's part--this is a legal document of the American government.

Is Jefferson here contradicting his commitment to separation of Church and State? Not at all: Jefferson is rather drawing the distinction between God as a philosophical principle--which he always held as legitimate--and religion as the worship done by a church--which he always excluded.

Nor is belief in God something casual for Jefferson--it is rather absolutely essential to his and the founding fathers' understanding of the foundations of democracy. The democracy which the Declaration of Independence founds is built squarely on "the laws of Nature and Nature's God."

The gulf between Jefferson and postmodern relativism is as deep as the Grand Canyon. For relativists, God is excluded from any public reference by the government--attempts to appeal to God are seen as intolerant, subversive of democracy, and the evil work of theocrats. For Jefferson and the founders, the existence of God was the absolute foundation of democracy: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?" (Jefferson, Notes on Virginia 1782).

Jefferson's language is startling to today's historically illiterate generation. God is not described merely as a possible foundation of democracy. He is rather described as their only firm basis. Were Jefferson alive today, he doubtless be accused by some of being a theocrat. But Jefferson and the founders were nothing of the kind. They saw God as the essential philosophical basis of democracy and affirmed it, while strictly excluding any specific religion from authority in the American government.

It is in this context that we recall the specific decision to place the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. The earliest version of the pledge of allegiance goes back to 1982 and the socialist Francis Bellamy. The phrase "under God" was added by President Eisenhower at the height of the Cold War:

The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."

Eisenhower and the Greatest Generation rightly understood that faith in God was the fundamental principle that separated democracy and communism. There wasn't even any meaningful debate on it. John F. Kennedy in his celebrated inaugural address declared:

"[We] observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."

JFK here identified at a single stroke the issue that separated democracy and communism: the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God. And he made it very clear that the belief that these rights come from God was the conviction of the Founding Fathers: the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe.

Again, this was not some odd belief peculiar to Eisenhower or Kennedy. It was the unanimous common sense of the American people. It is only the rise of a historically illiterate generation of postmodern judges and political leaders that has ever thought otherwise.

Now perhaps two centuries of Americans are wrong. Perhaps there isn't any God. And perhaps--if there is a God--he (or she or it) has no relation to foundational democratic principles. Perhaps--as postmodernists often think--belief in God is absolutely antithetical to democracy and places all of us at risk of a theocratic dictatorship.


But for constitutional purposes this misses the point. The Consitution adopted in 1789 and the subsequent Bill of Rights were never intended to nullify the Declartion of Independence--they were intended to implement it. They were intended to create a government that would secure liberty according to "the laws of nature and nature's God."

Hence any attempt to read the Constitution in such a way as to exclude the Declaration of Independence is absolutely null and utterly void. It can only be done by dismissing history itself--by replacing the real Constitution, the one ratified by We the People, with a Constitution that is the creation of a fictional history.

Part of the problem here is the decline of American education. With the exclusion of the classics from the traditional liberal arts education we are left with the educated barbarians of the university classes--highly intelligent and successful men and women who have never read Aristotle or Cicero, and who imagine that any reference to "God" is automatically a matter of "faith" or "religion", and hence a violation of separation of Church and State.

The return to wisdom in these matters begins with the insight of Aristotle, which is cited by Cicero, and posted at the top of this blog:

If there were men whose habitations had been always underground, and if the earth should open, and they should immediately behold the sun, and observe his glory and beauty; the heavens bespangled and adorned with stars; the moon as she waxes and wanes; the rising and setting of all the stars, and the inviolable regularity of their courses…When they should see these things, they would surely conclude that there are Gods, and that these are their mighty works.—Aristotle

UPDATE: LaShawn is on the case.


At Sunday, 18 September, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . . "


Is the court "judicially legislating" against religion? Doesn't that regard an establishment?

I see: the First Am. doesn't say JUDICIARY may not . . . I see!! Any power not restricted in the Const. is reserved to the JUDICIARY. WOW! How stupid of me!

Is it now government of the atheists, by the atheists, and for the atheists? At about 1% of the population, that's democracy!


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