Here I conclude my Review of Liberty the God that Failed. Part I may be viewed here. This section considers the replay of the same events of the American Revolution and the building of the “Temple of Liberty” as Ferrara calls it, and which he labels “American Revolution II”, and continue to some critiques of the work.
American Revolution II: The Civil War
The Civil War section was a challenge to those who would use the example of the South to show how the American experiment embodies tradition. Ferrara helps cut through the pro-union and pro-confederate versions of history to show that the war a) served as justification of slavery for politicians, the “peculiar institution,” and b) was understood as a war against foreign aggressors by the average southerner who did not own slaves. Today, the narrative presented of the South fighting for states’ rights survives on the side of the common people, but is tempered by primary sources that clearly demonstrate the conflict as a war for slavery.
This is especially troubling because I had thought anti-slavery movements and the southern “Jeremiahs” would win the day. Yet when one looks at the source material from Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, as well as southern governors, the Confederate Constitution itself clearly points to slavery as the motive for secession, and had the South won there is no question that slavery would have continued.
He puts to rest, however, the idea of the South as a bastion of Christendom, and presents it as the carbon copied constitutional program of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison. The Confederate Constitution contains the same supremacy clause and the same rejection of nullification. What’s more, not only did the Confederate government under Jefferson Davis confiscate property and set up draconian border laws and passports, but also Davis’s policies were as dictatorial as Abraham Lincoln.
Ultimately, nobody makes it out of this section unscathed, since both northern and southern politicians used their population as pawns in the struggle to build the same leviathan. Thus, ironically, slavery serves to form the archetype of “liberty”, not only as a cornerstone to the work of Madison and Jefferson, but also for the Confederate quest for liberty as well.
Separation of Church and State
Next Liberty turns to an unheard of period in history. Amidst the turmoil following the civil war, some Protestants, alarmed by the war’s brutality and its consequences, formed a movement for religious reform called the National Reform Association (NRA). Members of the NRA looked at the warnings before the war; God’s curse of the nation for the sins of slave owners, who forced slaves to work on the Sabbath, broke apart their families and sold them off.
They determined that the problem was not merely these particular evils. The legal positivism of Locke and the Framers (absent Divine or Natural Law) was intended to revolt against King George, not to normalize the “will of the people”.
When did the sovereign people express their will? We may recall that the people of West Virginia acted contrary to those acting in their own name and remained loyal to the union. Handpicked individuals representing less than a tenth of the population passed the secession vote in the South. In fact, less than 100,000 people in a country of several million ratified the Constitution in 1782.
The many different Protestants making up the NRA proposed a constitutional amendment to enshrine divine positive law as the law of the land. Although Protestants did not ascribe to Catholic doctrine, they predicated the very doctrine of the Social Kingship of Christ that Pius XI would renew and give fuller meaning to seventy years later. As Ferrara notes in Liberty,
Thus, Protestants who had imbibed a loathing of the Catholic Church with their mothers’ milk had nonetheless understood and accepted implicitly a Catholic teaching reviled by the men of the Enlightenment, including the leading Founders and Framers, and had found the Republic gravely wanting according to the standard of that teaching. Here we encounter another of the many surprises hidden by the Whig/Libertarian narrative of American history, which depicts a nation living in happy concord under the new regime of pluralism and “religious freedom” won for them and the whole world by the Revolution. (Liberty pg. 523)
Ignoring Christ, the NRA warned, would drag the country down into an immoral backwater of atheism. The NRA was, unfortunately, powerless against the empire of liberty, and their dire warnings came to pass, perhaps more so than they conceived was possible.
The banishment of Christ from the organic law of the Republic by the deistic Founders and Framers was no accident of history, but a practical necessity. The remote and unintelligible deity of the Founding presented no obstacle to the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth. It was this spiritual legacy that the NRA movement frankly confronted after the civil war, identifying it as a source of the conflict. (Liberty pg. 522)
Contemporaries who warned that the godlessness of the Constitution would bring about the destruction of the country saw this fulfilled in the war of 1812 and the Civil War, just as today we see the exclusion of religion from public life, the financial crisis, the increase in wars of aggression, and the decline of our civil rights.
Since religion is natural to the state as it is to man, a state claiming to be without it must create its own, even as the French Revolutionaries had done so. Relying heavily on Kenneth Craycraft’s The American myth of Religious Liberty, Ferrara casts the reality of what the exclusion clause of the First Amendment actually means for the state. Having established that the godless constitution is not a figment of liberal revisionism but a fact demonstrable from primary source material and legal decisions, he moves on to prove the Constitution’s subjugation of religion, and its replacement by an American civic religion, replete with its saints and its processions, its hymns, its creeds, and its prayers.
Yet, for all that, Ferrara’s historical commentary in some places needs polishing, and shows his debt to his sources for certain historical periods. This does not defeat the argument of the book, but it does need to be addressed in a subsequent edition. In the first place, there is a glaring historical errata that must be noted. On pg. 45 Ferrara says:
James [II] fled for his life as the Protestant William of Orange (James’s uncle) and Mary Stuart (daughter of the Duke of York) were brought in by military invasion to “rid the land of popery….” (Liberty pg. 45)
This is entirely incorrect, although in deference to Ferrara he is quoting from another source, The Biblical Politics of John Locke (footnote 23 on that page). In fact William was James’ nephew, not uncle. William was the son of Mary Stuart, the Princess royal (a title to distinguish her from William’s wife the future Mary II). She was the daughter of king James I, and thus the sister of Charles II and James II. Moreover, Mary Stuart (later Mary II) was James’ daughter by his first marriage to Anne Hyde, and a firm Protestant who supported her husband William against her father in 1688. There is, however, a smidgeon of truth in this, that James II was the Duke of York. Whether this mistake arises from Ferrara or his source I’m not sure, but it is an unfortunate blemish on the work.
Moreover, Ferrara treats the English monarchy of the Stuarts, and later George III as the ancient arrangement of throne and altar. With the former, he makes the English Civil War the proving ground for the foundation of Liberty, while in the case of the latter the American Revolution built the temple. There is truth in this, but it is too simplistic. In both the case of the Stuarts and the Hanoverians, the monarch did not rule according to the traditional principles of throne and altar in the Greco-Catholic Tradition. The Stuarts ruled by the principle of absolute monarchy established by Henry VIII, which ultimately reduced the altar to a table and put religion as a department of the state. George III, ruled neither in the Traditional form or by the Royal Supremacy of Henry VIII, but by the liberal principles established by the Glorious Revolution. I think it is entirely wrong to say that George III represented the last vestiges of the Greco-Catholic Tradition which the anti-Catholic enlightenment divines in America revolted against. If anything, on Ferrara’s template, it represents revolution against the Leviathan, just as the South would try unsuccessfully almost a century later. Liberty gives the impression that English monarchy is a seamless garment, but the reality is all the epochs dealt with are very different.
Finally, Ferrara’s book proposes a thought experiment. What if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Divine Positive Law and overturned its earlier decisions in Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey? What if the Catholic members of the Supreme Court declared the Constitution ought to be measured by Divine and Natural law?
That this is inconceivable itself shows the depth and breath of the dictatorship of liberty. (Liberty pg. 639)
He adds: “…only when conservatives—both on and off the bench, in America and in every Western nation—begin to invoke and defend the law of God, rather than the will of the people or the text of a document standing alone, can there be any hope of regaining the vast moral territory we have already lost and of avoiding a final defeat that can only mean the destruction of what is left of the moral order and the overt persecution of believing Christians throughout the Western world. Whoever among us still does not see this is fiddling while the West burns.” (Liberty pg. 640)
Liberty: the God That Failed is a book that delivers, and delivers, and delivers. Page after page, the book is a powerful challenge to the Enlightenment, American social order—drawn from primary sources, legal precedent, and plain common sense. Love it or hate it, this is a work that will remain a perennial challenge to the anti-Christian principles of the Enlightenment, so ensconced in U.S. history.
Recent posts in Books