Sunday, January 22, 2006
Definitions of Republic
colors: Pink and Black and White -- I'm using a pink highlighter...
I'm reading a book for a class tomorrow, called "America's God", which is about the evolution of Christianity in America from the mid 18th century up to the civil war. In it, among 500+ pages of other things, the author, Mark Noll, works to explain how the confluence of Evangelical Protestantism, republicanism, and "common-sense" reasoning came together in the early years of the United States to form a singularly new form of Christian society, entirely different from what existed in England or Continental Europe, due to its different assumption of the supreme importance of republic, rather than a connection to the divine only through kings and the clergy.
- Evangelicalism = the form of Protestantism characterized by a stress on 1) conversion, 2) the Bible as supreme religious authority, 3) activism, especially to spread the Christian message, and 4) a focus on Christ's death on the cross as the defining reality of Christian faith.
- Republicanism = a practice linking virtue with the presence of freedom and a flourishing society. also holding beliefs that vice (usually defined as luxury, indolence, and deceit in high places) promoted the corruption of government, led to tyranny, and ruined the social fabric. At the time, there were strands of both liberal and classical republicanism.
- Common sense == non-technically defined by Thomas Haskell as "the comfortable certainties of 'what everybody knows'"
Anyway, I'm getting to the section of the book where there are quotes from the founding fathers of America, trying to get at a definition of what "republic" means, in terms of this new American experiment.
- Alexander Hamilton: "The corner stone of republican government [is] the prohibition of titles of nobility."
- Thomas Jefferson: "[If Virginia could outlaw entail and primogeniture, end tax support of religion, and provide for a system of universal public education, the result would be] a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of antient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican."
- John Adams: "The true and only definition of a republic is a government in which all men, rich and poor, magistrates and subjects, officers and people, masters and servants, the first citizen and the last, are equally subject to the laws."
The author goes on to say that the American republican language returns consistently to two main themes: fear of abuses from illegitimate power, and a nearly messianic belief in the benefits of liberty.
Taking a look at American government today, it appears that not only do we not have a democracy, it exists only as a republic if the definition is stretched beyond recognition from the original design and intent. The founding fathers foresaw that today's situation could very well happen, but as far as I'm aware, they weren't really able to prescribe any measures against it except vigilance on the part of the citizenry.
Who thought I'd be studying American history here? Not me.
bringing it all back home.