Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Protestantism and the American Founding

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Protestantism and the American Founding

Article excerpt

PROTESTANTISM AND THE AMERICAN FOUNDING. Edited by THOMAS ENGEMAN and MICHAEL ZUCKERT. University of Notre Dame Press, 296 pages, $25 paper

This collection of essays examines the controversial "amalgam" thesis of the American founding offered by political theorist Michael Zuckert. The thesis arises as part of the long-running debate about the relative weight of liberal and republican ideas in early American history. Was it the liberal concern for natural rights and limited government, or the republican concern for active citizenship and public virtue that was more important to the founders? Zuckert's solution is that the founding is an amalgam of Lockeanism and Protestant politics, in which the Puritan use of Scripture as the basis of politics gave way to the basis of natural rights as defined by Locke. Zuckert uses Luther's doctrine of Two Kingdoms as a picture for explaining how he sees Locke and Protestantism as amalgamated. Whereas traditional Protestants hold the Bible as authoritative for both kingdoms, Locke made reason dominant in the worldly kingdom and relegated the Bible to the Kingdom of God. Luther argued that "Turn the other cheek" told the individual Christian how to live in the one kingdom, and "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities" told everyone how to live in the other. Locke's argument is that it is not Romans 13 that tells us how to live together in political society, but reason, by which we derive natural rights and a limited government. The volume's best responses are by Mark Noll and Peter Augustine Lawler, with Thomas West raising some important points as well. Though all broadly sympathetic to Zuckert, they are at their best when they question Zuckert s claim that the founders perceived a strong distinction between politics based on reason and politics based on revelation. …

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