Why homosexual liberation is incompatible with our political order

Former President Gerald Ford continues his long journey into the heart of political correctness with an endorsement of homosexual rights, including the total legal equality of homosexual relationships with marriage.

Also on the homosexual rights front, in response to my previous reply to a pro-gay rights conservative in which I said to him, inter alia, that “Communism, multiculturalism, radical personal liberation, the normalization of homosexuality and so on, such things would mean the end of [the Western tradition],” he addressed this question to me:

“Do you really think the normalization of homosexuality spells the end of the polity devised by the Founders? More so than say the election of senators?”

I replied:

I’d say that the answer to your question is basically yes. Specific institutional arrangements like the status of the states and the method of election of senators are very important, but other things were more important to the polity that the Founders established.

For example, limited government and local and popular self-rule were more important. The latter require a moral people with stable loyalties and strong sense of personal responsibility who are able to look after themselves and rely on those around them when they need assistance. Liberty also requires that people obey the law not out of coercion but out of a voluntary sense that one belongs to an actually existing community with a shared sense of moral truth as reflected in its laws. In other words, liberty and self-government require a cohesive culture, which in turn requires strong family ties, which in turn require traditional sexual morality.

I’m not saying that the normalization of homosexuality is the single thing that wrecks society. But it’s hard to see how normalization of homosexuality can be reconciled with a free self-governing society.

My correspondent then wrote back:

“You think Andrew Sullivan can’t be a good citizen because he’s gay?”

To which I replied:

Your previous question concerned the effect of gay liberation as a whole on society as a whole. Now you’re asking a different question, whether a single gay individual can be a good citizen. I’ll give you the same answer that Richard John Neuhaus gave to the question of whether an atheist can be a good citizen.

An atheist can behave as a decent person, obey the laws, support his government, defend his country in time of war. In all those ways he can be a good citizen. But he cannot be a good citizen in the fullest sense, of being able to give an account of his country and its principles, because he himself disbelieves the fundamental principles on which his country is founded.

Similarly, a homosexual can behave as a decent person, obey the laws, support his government, defend his country in time of war. But because he is alienated or separated from heterosexuality and thus from marriage, which is the basis of human society, he is limited in his ability to explain and defend the principles on which society rests. Therefore he cannot be a good citizen in the fullest sense.

The analogy is not perfect, since an atheist actively disbelieves in God, while a homosexual, while not participating in marriage, could still have a sympathetic and supportive view of it and recognize its importance. However, it seems unlikely that this would add up to a full understanding of and readiness to defend the institution.

There are of course other kinds of human and moral imperfections that may prevent one from being a good citizen in the fullest sense. All of us fall short of virtue, wisdom, and completeness in various ways. But a society that normalizes and celebrates homosexuality, as modern Western society has done, is directly harming its ability to preserve its own existence.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 29, 2002 12:05 PM | Send

I agree that the homosexual agenda is incompatible with the traditions of western civilization. It occurs to me though that the destruction of western civilization is precisely the goal of the cultural marxism driving the political left, and that the gay agenda is currently its number one weapon against it.

Posted by: brianv on May 29, 2003 9:30 AM

I’m gay. Please tell me, how am I destroying Western Civilisation? As a trained scientist, I like to imagine that I am contributing to its growth.

Posted by: andrej on June 1, 2003 6:56 PM

It’s obviously incorrect to characterize the traditionalist position that I’ve attempted to articulate here as saying that a homosexual person per se is destroying Western civilization. In the article above, which Andrej apparently hasn’t read, I make two arguments: that the normalization of homosexuality is incompatible with our political order; and that an individual homosexual, while he can be a good person and citizen, cannot be a good citizen in the fullest sense.


By the way, what kind of scientists are there other than trained scientists?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 1, 2003 7:49 PM

Lawrence, I’m following your logic, but I think your facts are wrong.

Just to give a piece of anecdotal evidence, I am friends with a lesbian couple. They are in a committed, monogamous relationship. Even without legal benefits, they felt strongly enough about their relationship with each other and their place in the community that they had a wedding ceremony performed by a sympathetic pastor. Even if the government doesn’t recognize them, they consider themselves wed in the eyes of their families, their community, and God. They are thinking of eventually having children, either through adoption or one of the other methods available to any other infertile couple. Except for the fact that these young women fell in love with another woman rather than a man, they are the very image of the typical newlywed couple. They HAVE experienced love and marriage, and are looking forward to starting a family, and their devotion to each other is both evident and touching. They are certainly not “alienated… from the central concerns of human life,” and they can “give an account of the basic principles on which society rests.”

It is, sadly, true that in the past, and sometimes even today, many homosexuals have acted in ways that are detrimental to their own health and to the health of society. However, given that to be the case, it seems like the problem of homosexuals being alienated from the concerns of our society would be lessened, not exacerbated, by allowing them to be more fully integrated. That is, if given the option to marry and be accepted by society, don’t you think more would choose that option? It just seems like saying that “since they don’t marry and raise families, we can’t give them the right to marry and raise families” (which, I know, is a gross simplification of what you actually said, but you get my point) puts these people in an awful bind. Many of them would be good citizens, in all the ways you enumerated, if given half a chance. And some are doing everything in their power to become good citizens regardless of the roadblocks in their paths. You’re aware, I’m sure, of the recent mass exodus to Massachusetts; if only more heterosexual couples felt such a burning need to legitimatize their relationships!

I guess what I’m mainly trying to say is that the problems with the “good citizenship” of homosexuals that you pointed out is less an inevitable result of being homosexual and more a result of the traditional roles society has assigned to homosexuals. If those roles were changed - as many gay rights activists suggest - there’s nothing inherent about homosexuality that precludes good citizenship.

Posted by: kristy on May 30, 2004 10:57 PM

The point in your post which I doubt, Kristy, is that the two women are the “very image” of a heterosexual newly wed couple.

Marital love is the calling together, or union, of a man and a woman. Homosexuals cannot reproduce this bringing together into relationship of manhood and womanhood.

Typically, a lesbian couple will try to “imitate” this aspect of marital love, with one partner acting a butch male role and the other a female. This is a kind of homage to the truth of marital love, but it is only an approach to the truth and cannot be the real thing.

It doesn’t mean the two lesbians can’t be devoted to each other. It’s just that they aren’t in the same kind of relationship as a married heterosexual couple.

The situation is even clearer in the case of homosexual men. Here too there is the attempt to imitate a heterosexual union, with one man “acting straight” and the other being queenly. But the queenliness is only in part a homage to womanhood - it is also burlesque. The roles can’t be maintained with a consistent seriousness.

Posted by: Mark Richardson on May 31, 2004 1:58 AM

I have no problem with the contention that a homosexual cannot be a good Catholic or a good Christian — I know a lot of gay Christians and gay Catholics would disagree — but as a non-religious person, I don’t have a beef there. This is more of a quibble between what is authentic Christianity — orthodox or traditional, or fundamentalists, whatever term you want to use or “liberal” Christianity. Both are just different strains of Christianity to me.

I do have a problem w/ the notion that one cannot be a good citizen as a homosexual. And this is because our founding principles have nothing to do with orthodox Christianity. Our nation was founded on Enlightenment principles of Man’s Reason unaided by Biblical Revelation and these principles relegate religion to the private sphere of society. It is authentically American to view religious morality as a private matter.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 2, 2004 5:37 PM

I have two chief disagreements with Mr. Rowe.

First, he has mis-read what I wrote. In stating why homosexuals cannot be good citizens in the fullest sense of the word, I did not refer to Christianity, orthodox or otherwise. I spoke of the connection between liberty and the requirements of a stable community with a shared morality: “Liberty also requires that people obey the law not out of coercion but out of a voluntary sense that one belongs to an actually existing community with a shared sense of moral truth as reflected in its laws. In other words, liberty and self-government require a cohesive culture, which in turn requires strong family ties, which in turn require traditional sexual morality.”

Second, I disagree with his stating as a _conclusory fact_ his own tendentious notion of the American founding, a notion that, while it is favored by secular liberals, has never been generally accepted by Americans, but has, at best, been a subject of controversy over the last 200 years. He writes:

“Our nation was founded on Enlightenment principles of Man’s Reason unaided by Biblical Revelation and these principles relegate religion to the private sphere of society. It is authentically American to view religious morality as a private matter.”

This is Mr. Rowe’s radically secular view of the way he would _like_ our government to be. But it is not in fact the accepted view of the American founding held all or even most people who have written about the American political system. So Mr. Rowe is falsely presenting his own view of the founding as though it were the general consensus. For him to believe that his own view is the agreed-upon consensus, he would have to be ignorant of everything that conservatives and Christians and even moderate liberals have been saying about the American government for the last 200 years, starting with George Washington’s first inaugural address, which I recommend that he read, and more than once, because there’s a lot in it and Washington’s language is not easy.

But just to give one quote from Washington’s first inaugural, which, though Mr. Rowe professes to tell us the real meaning of the American founding, he has evidently never read:

“[I]n these honorable qualifications [i.e. the character of the members of Congress] I behold the surest pledges that … the foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality…. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between [private] virtue and [public] happiness; between duty and advantage; … since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained … “

That last phrase is the clearest expression of the idea of an intrinsic, transcendent, divine morality that it is man’s duty to follow. Washington began our national government with the unqualified assertion that its political well-being depended on obedience to objective moral truth, a moral truth, which, in the actual American context, not in Mr. Rowe’s fantasy secular America, is closely tied with Protestant Christianity. Some later presidents spoke of God’s blessings without any reference to the virtues needed to bring about those blessings. Jefferson in his first inaugural describes his countrymen as “acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter.” For Jefferson, God is more or less a projection for man’s hopes and desires, not the source of moral law, obedience to which is the basis of public prosperity. Needless to say, Jefferson’s view was not that of Washington and Adams and most of the other founders, nor of most Americans throughout our history.

To recap, Mr. Rowe says: “It is authentically American to view religious morality as a private matter.” But Washington says: “There exists … an indissoluble union between [private] virtue and [public] happiness.” Since Mr. Rowe sets himself up as an authority on what is authentically American, I would submit that George Washington is a better authority on that subject.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 2, 2004 6:38 PM

I just want to add, that if Mr. Rowe had simply said that he thinks it would be better to have a government in which morality (whether religious or not) is a private matter having no public implications, then he could argue for that and that might be an interesting argument. What is not legitimate is his attempt to re-write history so as to give a total validation to his own political and moral preferences. That is what leftists and various kinds of progressives do all the time. For example, they don’t say, “I believe in open borders and multiculturalism because I think that that makes for the best society, and I believe this for reasons a, b, and c.” No, they say, “America has _always_ been a multicultural, diverse society. It’s un-American to think otherwise.” Thus they try to place their own position above the sphere of debate, and ban any disagreement with their position. As I said in another blog recently, the left must try to silence debate, because their own positions are so false that they cannot win in a fair debate.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 2, 2004 7:03 PM

Miss Kristy, in painting her friends as model citizens, gives us the rope to hang them as the equal of rapists. No, let me take that back— most rapists are sporting enough to choose a victim who has some chance, however small, of fighting back.

“They are thinking of eventually having children, either through adoption or one of the other methods available to any other infertile couple.” Leaving aside the morality of nondiscrimination in adoptions, the “other methods available” all, to use her own phrase, “put these people [the children] in an awful bind”, that bind which we call bastardy.

The child is torn from his natural father. When war, disease or crime do this, we call it a tragedy. So why shouldn’t the deliberate creation of tragedy be a crime? Like rape, it is done both for sexual fulfilment and political statement at the expense of a weaker victim.

And the child is worse off than had a straight, married mother taken Thalidomide and left him with half his limbs. In the case of a boy, his entire sex is reduced to a sperm bank. Women who’d do that are fit to rear children?

Here we have an example of homoeroticism causing more damage by being “responsible” than it would with more reckless behavior. I guess that’s a subset of a point I once tried to make on this forum concerning a different issue: when an idea is wrong, its moderate proponents are many times more dangerous than its radicals.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on June 2, 2004 11:15 PM

“When an idea is wrong, its moderate proponents are many times more dangerous than its radicals.” Doesn’t that about sum up the threat to traditional order posed by the Bushrovican GOP? HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on June 3, 2004 8:49 AM

I have a number of problems with Mr. Auster’s analysis. I don’t get from reading Washington’s address that he was declaring that Traditional Christian morality is a matter of public policy concern. If Mr. Auster studied the philosophical underpinnings of the Founding (the writings of Enlightenment philosophers most notably Locke), he would see that religion, under the new order, is a matter of “opinion” and not “Truth” as it was under the old—hence its status in the private sphere of society.

As Allan Bloom writes in the Closing of the American Mind:

“Hobbes & Locke, and the American Founders following them, intended to palliate extreme beliefs, particularly religious beliefs…In order to make this arrangement work, there was a conscious, if covert effort to weaken religious belief, partly by assigning—as a result of a great epistemological effort—religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge. But the right to freedom of religion belonged to the realm of knowledge.” p. 28.

One only needs to read VA Statute on Religious Freedom—which Jefferson penned and Madison fought tooth and nail to pass—where religion is exclusively referred to as “opinion” to see this point of view in action.

When Washington speaks to the connection between “happiness” & “virtue,” he seems to be giving advice on how best to achieve what one has the inalienable right to pursue. There can never be a right to “happiness” because this is, for some folks, unattainable. Washington seems to be saying that the happy life is the virtuous life. Let us assume that “virtue” is synonymous with traditional Christian morality (and this is a BIG assumption). Washington did believe that religion & morality go hand in hand and our founders did generally believe that a religious citizenry was superior to an irreligious one. But none of this changes the fact that our Founders separated Church & State and saw “religion” as purely a matter of “opinion” which government had no business touching. If religion is a matter of opinion, if the state has no business interfering with the “consciences” of private citizens, then the state has no business promoting or “touching” this kind of “virtue” in any way.

But the founders were free to give their opinions on how society ought to conduct its private affairs, but they are ultimately, private, not public concerns. This may be why in the Declaration we see the phrase “the right to ‘pursue’ happiness,” which seems to imply the right to get it wrong, to fail, to not live ones life in a way that will not lead to a happy life. Hence, Washington’s advice on how to get it right—even though the state has no business mandating the “virtuous” or the “happy” life for the citizenry.

Therefore, I disagree that Washington posited the idea that men had a public duty to follow “an intrinsic, transcendent, divine morality…objective moral truth [that is, for the most part the same thing as] Protestant Christianity.” Our founders did indeed appeal to objective transcendent notions Truths in founding this nation—but they were not “religious” Truths. They could not be, because religion was “discovered” to be a matter of “opinion.”

Instead America was Founded on Enlightenment principles of Man’s Reason, unaided by Biblical Revelation. Even the notion of “Nature’s God,” written in the Declaration is a secular concept because it refers to God only insofar as He is understandable by Man’s Reason alone. These principles are the “Truths” upon which our public institutions are based. And, contrary to the claims of the cultural relativists, they are universal principles applicable to all people, everywhere. If Mr. Auster reads Washington’s words carefully, he will see that Washington uses terms like “Nature,” “Providence,” “Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations,” and even “Heaven,” but Washington rarely if ever uses explicitly Christian language when discussing “public” issues. As James Thomas Flexner writes, regarding this very inaugural address, “that [Washington] was not just striking a popular attitude as a politician is revealed by the absence of the usual Christian terms: he did not mention Christ or even use the word ‘God.’”

This is because there is no historical evidence that Washington was a Christian, other than in the most nominal sense. His words point more towards a Deist-Unitarian philosophy. As Paul F. Boller writes, “… if to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.” George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p. 90.

Perhaps is Mr. Auster could base his case for the “public” promotion of a virtuous society on secular notions of “Nature” and “Reason,” then a stronger argument could be made—consistent with our founding principles—that the promotion of “virtue” is a matter of “public concern.” (This is the view of the followers of Leo Strauss). Ultimately, I don’t think that a strong case can be made here because the Enlightenment philosophy that founders our nation seems to stress “rights” over “duties” anyway (at least the words “rights” and not “duties” or “virtue” were what made it into the founding documents).

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 5:15 PM

(One addition:)

And in order to find concepts of “nature” that support the public promotion of virtue we must go back to the pre-foundational (pre-Hobbsean-Lockean) Christian natural law of Aquinas, or to that of the Ancient Greeks (Aristotelian—Aquinas understanding of nature). And this is NOT the understanding of natural law that founds our nation.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 5:56 PM

I can only respond very briefly to Mr. Rowe:

1. He simply takes the most liberal secular view of the American founding, ignoring all other views, and assumes that that is the unquestioned view. This is not a legitimate way to argue.

2. He makes the very common mistake of thinking of the Founding as a pure expression of the Enlightenment and particularly Lockeanism. But the Lockean thought was mediated through a particular American experience. The founders were not simply Lockeans, they were combining Locke with their own national experience and with Christianity.

3. Washington was not just saying it would be nice if people were moral in private. He was saying that private morality is the foundation of the Republic. Obviously, then, private morality is a matter of public concern. Obviously, for example, an ethos of sexual liberation (what people “privately” do in their bedrooms) is something of great public concern and is not a matter of utter public indifference, which is Mr. Rowe’s position.

4. Finally, Washington used a mixture of language. In the proclamation linked here, he spoke specifically of Christ and of America as a Christian nation that depended on following Christ for its social and political happiness:


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 3, 2004 7:46 PM

I didn’t see Washington refer to “Christ,” I saw him refer to the “author of our holy religion.” And then you made the leap that this was “Christ.” One would have to believe in the Trinity in order to make that leap, and there is NO evidence that Washington believed in the Trinity and good reason to believe that He, like Jefferson, and the other adherents of the “Unitarian-Deist” philosophy, rejected it.

Mr. Auster, you were on the right track when you wrote:

“Thus, while this is not exactly Christianity, it’s much more than Deism. It’s belief in a god who is personal, who orders the universe, who draws men to the good, and who responds to men’s prayers and virtuous behaviors.”

This is compatible with Unitarianism. Unitarianism, as a philosophy, doesn’t go as far as Deism, that is, it accepts more of traditional Christianity than Deism, but it breaks with Christian orthodoxy on enough matters — for instance, the Trinity — that it can hardly be called “orthodox.”

Unitarianims is a very Enlightenment influenced version of Christianity (sort of half-way between Deism and orthodox Christianity) and rejects any doctrine or dogma that doesn’t comport with “Reason.” And the Trinity is probably the one doctrine that Enlightenment Reason considers to be the most “unreasonable,” hence Jefferson’s terming it “insane.”

The one common theme that we see reoccuring in the writings of our Founders is that although they had great respect for religion and its role in society, “Reason” trumped.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 8:18 PM

The fact that Washington did not say “Jesus Christ,” has meaning.

Check out the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom that Jefferson penned and Madison fought so hard to pass (there are links on my blog). That statute is a regurgitation of Lockean dogma, and completely separated Church & State in VA. The statute also says that its rules are derived from “natural right” and ultimately are guaranteed by, yes, “the holy author of our religion.”

And now read what Jefferson had to say about this in his autobiography:

“The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read, ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;’ the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 8:31 PM

Mr. Rowe is not telling us anything we did not already know. Of course Jefferson had those views, and got those views embodied in the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Of course there have been people from the beginning of the Republic who have had Jefferson’s secular and separationist views. But where this exchange began was with Mr. Rowe’s ex cathedra assertion that: “Our nation was founded on Enlightenment principles of Man’s Reason unaided by Biblical Revelation and these principles relegate religion to the private sphere of society. It is authentically American to view religious morality as a private matter.” Mr. Rowe is simply re-hashing the tired and utterly discredited view (based not on any statute but on a letter written by President Jefferson) that there is a wall of separation between church and state. He denies or is ignorant of the vast body of authoritative statutes, writings, speeches and and sermons from the founding era that contradict his secular view of the founding.

The difference between Mr. Rowe and me is that I acknowledge the Jeffersonian secular-democratic tradition in America and the contest between it and the Classical-Christian view held by Washington and Adams. But Mr. Rowe cannot acknowledge the existence of the Classical-Christian side of the founding. Even when I quoted Washington in his first inaugural saying that the well-being of the state was founded on “the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained,” Mr. Rowe still interprets that as a reference to a belief in “opinion,” rather than a belief in divinely ordained morality. He even denies that Washington in speaking of the “founder of our religion” was referring to anyone other than Jesus Christ. So I think that Mr. Rowe is simply unable to take in the fact that America from the start has had a Classical-Christian side and a secular-democratic side and a debate between them. He wants it to be all secular-democratic, all the time.

Which, by the way, fits with the liberal paradigm of making liberalism identical with the truth, so that nothing other than liberalism can legitimately exist.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 3, 2004 9:15 PM

I believe in the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence, that the Constitution ought to be interpreted thru it’s natural rights lense. The Declaration clearly is a document of Enlightenment liberalism. Both Robert Bork and Thomas Fleming concede this (and thus reject natural rights). Do you Mr. Auster?

I will freely admit that there were many founders who weren’t quite as gung ho enthusiastic about the Enlightenment doctrine as Jefferson & Madison and that my originalism is skewed towards a Jeffersonian, Madisonian perspective (these two men are, by the way, two of the most important Founders).

But Jefferson & Madison did convince many other founders as a whole to put Enlightenment theory into practice. Our government is a (small l) liberal, (small d) democracy. Such a government is wholly a phenomenon of the Enlightenment.

And John Adams & George Washington, while not as “pure” as Madison & Jefferson in their Lockeanism, ultimately accepted the basics of Lockean Truths of government built upon Man’s Reason.

Check out these two quotes by Adams:

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” [1787-1788]; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 258.)

“Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. (John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” [1787-1788]; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 258.)

Moreover, there are many, many quotes beyond that one letter that Jefferson wrote, that support the proposition of “separation of Church & State.” Check out some of them here:


Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 9:41 PM

Mr. Rowe does not seem to see the point. We are quite aware of the Enlightenment component of the American tradition, and Mr. Rowe seems to be aware of the Christian and non-enlightenment components even though he seems to want to minimize them. We therefore don’t disagree about original composition at the time the Constitution was ratified. We may squabble over proportions but we all know the list of ingredients.

What we disagree about is what we would like to do given the current mix. Mr. Rowe indulges some fantasy of a final enlightenment triumph that ends the tension and purifies the mixture. Traditionalists, on the other hand, would like to preserve and nurture what remains of Christendom so that Western society can continue once Enlightenment liberalism consummates its suicide.

But we don’t need evidence of the Enlightenment’s influence on the founding. As Mr. Auster said, we know that already.

Posted by: Matt on June 3, 2004 10:00 PM

The irony, of course, is that enlightenment liberalism is held off from its suicide only by the remnants of Christendom that still sustain it. There is a growing temptation to simply stand down and allow liberalism to go through its final cycle of purification, purging itself of the life that sustains it. And objectively speaking that indeed does seem to represent the likely ultimate fate of the Christian West, to be written into the history books of the 2150 Caliphate.

The basic difficulty is that sustaining the host sustains the parasite, and the basic political and cultural challenge is to rid Christendom of the parasite called liberalism - to get rid of it utterly so it can no longer threaten her - without killing the host.

Posted by: Matt on June 3, 2004 10:11 PM

It sounds like we need a Christian version of Atlas Shrugged—but maybe we already have that, in the “Left Behind” series, with the people taken up in the Rapture standing in for John Galt’s disappearing industrialists. :-)

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 3, 2004 10:17 PM

The problem with modern liberalism (post-modernism), as I see it, is that it rejects the Enlightenment notions of private property and economic liberties, and thus, limited government. And save for the “civil libertarians” of the ACLU, postmoderns don’t believe in free speech either.

Classical (Enlightenment) liberalism thru its belief in the minimal state, allows orthodox Christianity to thrive in the private sphere. I would defend you in court against a “Hate-Crimes” prosecution, based on your words only, or your right to Freely Exercise what you perceive to be your orthodox religion.

Orthodox Christianity, if it is true, surely doesn’t need the imprimatur of the state to flourish.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 3, 2004 10:25 PM

While I understand the classical liberal’s desire to disavow modern liberalism as his legitimate heir, I think that view is untenable. One of the things we also already know at VFR is that the right-liberal and the left-liberal are sworn enemies despite the fact that they are both liberals. The beauty of having other liberals to fight is that the premeses of liberalism itself need never be questioned by either side; so liberalism-qua-liberalism triumphs even though certain liberals end up losing.

It is rare that Mr. Auster says something that literally makes me physically shudder, but the notion of the LaHaye books as a Christian manifesto did the trick.

Posted by: Matt on June 3, 2004 10:59 PM

I ought to have put a smiley face in the final sentence of my last comment, if that was not clear :-).

Posted by: Matt on June 3, 2004 11:03 PM

I was about to say, “Matt, didn’t you see the emoticon?”, but you beat me to it.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 3, 2004 11:06 PM

Someone said to me recently that emoticons are only for teen-age girls. I said I disagreed. I had thought they were silly when I first saw them, then I realized they fulfilled a basic need. In fact, pretty much the same need that the human smile fulfills in the real world.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 3, 2004 11:09 PM

Mr. Rowe, what fantasy world are you living in? The last thing in the world the ACLU cares about is free speech. I haven’t seen any ACLU lawyers taking Universities to court for their numerous speech codes.

I’ll grant the ACLU makes a lot of noise about how much they care about free speech. They’ll even support a Nazi or Klansman now and again for window dressing. The only speech the ACLU really cares about is the free speech of leftists and their Jihadi mascots.

Posted by: Carl on June 4, 2004 12:30 AM

The ACLU’s commitment to free speech is increasingly selective: http://www.jsonline.com/news/wauk/jun04/233756.asp. HRS

Posted by: Howard Sutherland on June 4, 2004 11:16 AM

I appreciate the honesty of this blog in recognizing the Enlightenment and its importance on the founding. And as I said, I realized that there were folks during the time of the founding who differed from Madison & Jefferson, and feared what too much Enlightenment would do to religion. For instance, James Madison’s first draft of the First Amendment — which would have basically made the First Amendment binding on state governments — was voted down.

If we accept, however, that the Declaration’s natural law is binding organic Constitutional law, then this definately seems to give the Founding over to the Enlightenment forces….

My main beef is with members of the religious right who only see Biblical Christianity as the Foundation for this nation and act as if the Enlightenment never occurred…that the Declaration of Independence is a document of Biblical Christianity. I’m talking about men like Roy Moore.

In this post from my blog I discuss and praise Thomas Fleming for his recognition that our founding was not a victory for orthodox Christianity, and I compare his views to Randall Terry’s, who I consider to be a revisionist, (he’s one of those “the Declaration is a Biblical document” people).


Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 4, 2004 5:14 PM

I agree with Mr. Rowe that certain Christian conservatives are off-base when, like Howard Phillips and the Constitution Party, they say America was founded as a Christian Republic per se. It is certainly true that by today’s standards, the early America was substantively Christian and a republic, and it understood itself as substantively Christian and a republic; but to describe it as formally a Christian Republic is incorrect and gives a distorted picture. (It is true and significant that some states, well into the 19th century, made Christian belief a requirement for the franchise and for holding public office, but of course this was never true at the national level, where there was no establishment of religion and no religious test for public office. The same is true of laws relating to moral conduct, marriage laws, anti-sodomy laws, Sunday laws, and so on. Such laws expressed the religious and moral substance of American society, even though that religious and moral substance was not made part of the explicit and formal instruments of the national government.)

However, Mr. Rowe himself is at least equally off-base when he says the “Declaration’s natural law is binding organic Constitutional law.” First, the Declaration has no binding force of law in any sense. It served and completed its legal function 228 years ago. It’s really funny how Mr. Rowe, who is so quick to deny the formative and authoritative—though, as I’ve admitted, largely indirect and informal—role of religiously based morality in our national politics, is equally quick to ascribe binding Constitutional force to the Declaration, though its actual formative effect in our politics is, like traditional morality itself, indirect and informal.

I think this is a good point to let this discussion subside, as we will only go around the same circle with Mr. Rowe again.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 4, 2004 5:39 PM


I’ll let you have the last word. It is your site after all.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 4, 2004 6:22 PM

The obvious point that Mr. Rowe is missing is that the Founders, with their knowledge of the religious wars in recent European history, did not want the national government to choose the correct religious “opinion”, that is, they did not want a national church. The emphasis on the word “opinion” in certain writings merely reflects this concern.

However, the Founders were not neutral with respect to religion. Even Thomas Paine can be quoted as attacking atheism. While a range of “opinion” was advocated that was very broad, encompassing even Deism and Unitarianism, the Founders assumed that a morality based in religion was essential to the survival of the Republic, and said so explicitly on many occasions. If Mr. Rowe is willing to say the same, then he is in step with the Founders. If he is willing to say that it is fine for Americans to be atheists as long as they follow certain principles of Enlightenment reasoning, he is out of step with the Founders. No amount of sophistry will bring the Founders into harmony with a 21st century brand of atheism.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on June 5, 2004 10:06 AM

“The Founders assumed that a morality based in religion was essential to the survival of the Republic, and said so explicitly on many occasions…. No amount of sophistry will bring the Founders into harmony with a 21st century brand of atheism.”

Thanks to Mr. Coleman for boiling the issue down to the essential point. I think even Jefferson would agree with his formulation.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 5, 2004 10:19 AM

Carl wrote:

“Mr. Rowe, what fantasy world are you living in?The last thing in the world the ACLU cares about is free speech. I haven’t seen any ACLU lawyers taking Universities to court for their numerous speech codes.”

That you have not seen it does not mean it has not happened. Two campus speech codes have been struck down by courts in the US, University of Michigan in 1989 and University of Wisconsin in 1991. In both cases, the ACLU represented the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, in neither case did the university appeal the decision, so it did not set a precedent beyond that local district and that situation. Perhaps if you got your information about the ACLU from someplace other than those who continually distort their record, you would know that, since both of those cases happened in the real world as opposed to the fantasy world.

Posted by: Ed Brayton on June 5, 2004 11:22 AM

I agree completely with Mr. Auster and with Mr. Coleman in terms of history. I don’t think the founders’ conception works objectively, though. The founders envisioned a virtue parasite, in which liberal government depends upon Christian virtue but cannot engage with it in mutual reinforcement; and what we see today is the virtue parasite all grown up and eating its host.

Posted by: Matt on June 5, 2004 11:24 AM

Liberalism is rife with contradiction at the most fundamental levels. That doesn’t mean that liberals don’t really believe in free speech. It just means that their belief in free speech is self-contradictory. If you don’t believe in completely unfettered free speech you can just shut up.

Posted by: Matt on June 5, 2004 11:28 AM

To Mr. Brayton,

The fact that Carl didn’t know about two legal suits that took place in Michigan and Wisconsin 15 years ago that you knew about doesn’t add up to his living in a “fantasy world” as opposed to the “real world.” If every time we correct someone on a factual matter we accuse him of living in a “fantasy world,” ordinary discussion and debate would become impossible.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 5, 2004 11:33 AM

Since I’m a monarchist who (like Robert Bork) would have been a Tory in 1776, you might want to take what I say with a grain of salt. However, I’m puzzled by Mr. Auster’s grouping John Adams with the “Classical Christian” camp. Adams was a Unitarian (my background, though I’m now more interested in traditional Catholicism), which means that he did not believe in the Holy Trinity or in the divinity of Jesus Christ. While he undoubtedly would be appalled by much of what the leftist UUA stands for today, he was hardly an orthodox believer in the sense that traditional Christians understand the term. Neither were Jefferson or Franklin, which I think Mr. Auster would concede.

If I were a Catholic, I would have to side with those who hold that the American Founding was not really compatible with Catholic principles, and that the American republic remained essentially Christian for so long in spite of the ideas of most of its founders, not because of them.

Posted by: Theodore Harvey on June 5, 2004 12:27 PM

First, Adams did not become a Unitarian until later in his life, after he left the presidency, I believe.

Second, his being a Unitarian does not contradict my point. By Classical-Christian I do not mean orthodox Christian. I mean the traditional orientation of Western culture which is a combination of the Classical and the Christian: the belief in limits, in an objective moral order, in man’s inherent frailty, and so on. The historian Page Smith, in his very useful volume on the American Founding period, contrasts the Classical-Christian consciousness with the Secular-Democratic consciousness, which indicates the belief in man’s inherent ability to create a more and more perfect, free, and equal humanity. I discuss these two terms in my booklet, Erasing America, http://www.aicfoundation.com/booklets.htm .

Smith organizes his multivolume history of the American people around these two poles of the Classical-Christian and the Secular-Democratic. Since Page Smith is a liberal, it is remarkable that in the earlier volumes he really gives more to the Classical-Christian consciousness than to the Secular-Democratic consciousness. Unfortunately, in his later volumes, he turns into a typical, resentful liberal.

Also, Adams is considered to be philosophically the most conservative of the Founders.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 5, 2004 12:42 PM

“However, the Founders were not neutral with respect to religion. Even Thomas Paine can be quoted as attacking atheism. While a range of ‘opinion’ was advocated that was very broad, encompassing even Deism and Unitarianism, the Founders assumed that a morality based in religion was essential to the survival of the Republic, and said so explicitly on many occasions. If Mr. Rowe is willing to say the same, then he is in step with the Founders.”

I’ve written here that I concede that the Founders thought a religious citizenry to be superior to an irreligious one, and yes, even essential to the survival of the nation. That doesn’t take anything away from their disestablishmentarian views however.

For instance, Madison, thought religion to be very important to society, yet he was as much of a purveyor of strict separation as was Jefferson. Together they wholly separated Church & State in VA. Madison thought religion would better flourish while consigned to the private sphere of society.

And perhaps he was right. Europe, which is considered to be more “secular” than America, never disestablished their Churches.

Posted by: Jon Rowe, Esq. on June 5, 2004 1:08 PM

Thanks to Mr. Brayton for helping to prove my point in a way. I note he had to go back 15 years to find two ACLU window dressing cases, which evidently were of a very minimal effect.

A quick search of the FIRE’s speechcodes.org website shows that in both institutions mentioned, various forms of speech codes remain in place.

University of Wisconsin


University of Michigan


The central point of my original post remains: The ACLU cares about free speech only insofar as free speech advances the leftist agenda. Mr. Brayton or one of his fellow travelers can probably dredge up another of the ACLU window dressing cases where the rights of an anti-abortion protestor were defended. This doesn’t alter the fact that the anti-abortion protests, one the largest series of non-violent protests in American history, were effectively shut down through the FACE act, “bubble-zones”, and the abuse of RICO statutes. The ACLU, with all of its vast funds and thouands of lawyers, did nothing.

Posted by: Carl on June 5, 2004 1:56 PM

As Mr. Rowe notes, some founders were in favor of disestablishment at the state level. Many others were not, permitting some states to retain their establishment of state churches. All were in favor of disestablishment at the national level. The common denominator here is a concept of federalism. If the national government establishes a church, then there is nowhere to go to escape it. If some states establish one church, different states another church, and other states no church at all, then there is freedom within the federalist system.

However, many founders were in favor of a general promotion of the Christian religion without choosing a state church. As Mr. Rowe has read the various historical arguments by the “Christian Nation” advocates, he has probably come across mention of Congressional appropriations for the printing of Bibles for the Northwest Territory and other such incidents. This would tend to indicate a somewhat different attitude about “separation of church and state” than the current ACLU interpretation, would it not? In which case, my point remains: Modern atheistic viewpoints are being projected back upon the Founders, based on anachronistic misinterpretations of their statements.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on June 6, 2004 8:48 AM
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