Home / Reviews / Books / Liberty, the God that failed part II

 

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.

Historical Critique

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

About the author: Ryan Grant

 

Ryan Grant is a native of eastern Connecticut. He received his Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and also studied at Holy Apostles Seminary. He currently teaches Latin in Post Falls, ID where he resides with his wife and three children.

 

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18 Comments

  1. In regard to George III and the Glorious Revolution: While the Glorious Revolution was illegal and immoral, and while I oppose it, it was not the victory for Lockean liberalism which it is commonly depicted as. In reality it was a compromise settlement between Henry VIII style absolutism, Lockean liberalism and various other opinions. The documents resulting from the Glorious Revolution were framed in ambiguous enough language to allow for such multiple interpretations. After this revolution was accomplished Lockean Whigs attempted to portrat it as a simple victory for their position. It is further wrong to equate Whiggism with classical liberalism. This is true of 19th century British Whiggism and of the Whiggism of the American Revolution. In Britian itself in the 17th and 18th centuries the majority of Whigs were not disciples of Locke.

    What made one a Whig in 17th and 19th century Britian was a belief that Parliament ought to be at least as powerful as the king, as opposed to the Tories who wanted the king supreme over Parliament. However the majority of 17th and 18th century Whigs believed that Parliament ought to be of equal authority with the king on the basis of the claim that this was England’s hsitorical constitution. Only a minority of British Whigs at this time argued for such a level of Parliamentary authority on the basis of belief in John Locke’s doctrine of the social contract or other such liberal views.

    After French Revolution those Whigs who believed in the “historical constitutional” position realigned with the original Tories to form the 19th Century Conservative Party (also known as the Tories). After this realignment the Whigs became the party of classical liberalism.

    Until late in the reign of George III the majority of British Whigs embraced the “historical constitution” position rather than the Lockean social contract. George III himself was a Whig but from my study of his life I see no reason to believe him to have been of the Lockean/social contract spectrum of the party.

    I would have to read Ferrara’s book to see if he is overly positive in his interpretation of George III, but to interpret George III as a classical liberal is to accept a historically erroneous Lockean interpretation of the 1688 revolution and to confuse Whiggism of the 19th Century with Whiggism of the 18th.

  2. As George III was Protestant and some form of Whig it would be overly optimistic to claim him as a last vestige of Catholic government. But to say his was the last government of America predicated on principles other than Lockean Whiggism and classical liberalism, and so the last which had at least significant elements in common with Catholic and classical principles and the last with which Catholics had some reasonable chance of working would seem a reasonable position to take.

  3. Wow. I am Humanities and Catholic Culture Major from Franciscan University and I will be taking awhile to digest your review. Then I will actually read Ferrara’s book. Thank you.

  4. I realize that this is just a review of this book; but the arguments presented seem persuasive. Other than praying for the conversion of our nation, what should one to do with this information?
    What affect should this have on our lives?

  5. “What affect should this have on our lives?”

    Have 7 kids that each have 7 and we win. That is how secularism will be defeated.

  6. Well, my wife just had our fifth, so I’ve most of the way there! ;)

  7. “Have 7 kids that each have 7 and we win. That is how secularism will be defeated”

    The Demographics is Destiny approach only works if you can keep the culture from corrupting your 49 grandchildren over the next several decades.

    The Declaration of Independence enshrines the principle of inalienable human rights given by our creator God. Our present constitution failed to specify the same principle, although I suspect (Mr. Ferrara may hold differntly) the majority of those favoring adoption of the constitution believed that principle to some extent. After all, the primary arguement supporting enslavement of “negroes” was they were less than human, and therefore had no more rights than animals. Similar to the arguement used in our time to justify killing the unborn.

    The NRA (of the late 1800’s) seemed to be on the right track. We must somehow reinsert natural law back into the system. Major changes come during and after a major civic crisis (The Revolution, The Civil War, The Great Depression and WWII). We seem on the verge of such an event any day now.

  8. Have seven kids who have seven kids … PLUS homeschool and exclusively attend the Traditional Latin Mass. That is an improved recipe. Add in daily family Rosary, Eucharistic devotion, good music, true leisure, and hard work for even more bonus.

  9. In regard to George III and the Glorious Revolution: While the Glorious Revolution was illegal and immoral, and while I oppose it, it was not the victory for Lockean liberalism which it is commonly depicted as. In reality it was a compromise settlement between Henry VIII style absolutism, Lockean liberalism and various other opinions. The documents resulting from the Glorious Revolution were framed in ambiguous enough language to allow for such multiple interpretations. After this revolution was accomplished Lockean Whigs attempted to portrat it as a simple victory for their position. It is further wrong to equate Whiggism with classical liberalism. This is true of 19th century British Whiggism and of the Whiggism of the American Revolution. In Britian itself in the 17th and 18th centuries the majority of Whigs were not disciples of Locke.

    This goes to a broader point which I was forced to excise on account of space, alas. It is true that Locke was one among many and not all agreed. It is also true that the settlement of 1688 did not create the England of the 19th century instantaneously. Yet, like other things, it is a critical building block without which it could not have come into being.
    All whigs in the 17th century were agreed on certain principles, namely that Catholicism was not to be allowed (which we can see in the Succession Crisis under Charles II) and the power of the monarch was to be curtailed in favor of parliament rather than Tradition as in Magna Charta. It was for this that many of the players in the execution of Charles I would later die after the Royal Restoration. The extent of course varies and had not yet developed. The decline in power begins under Queen Anne, and continues steadily under the Hanoverians, largely because they had abdicated their formal role, combined with insanity or other things.

    This is one thing I’m critical of Ferrara for, he is not a historian, so he makes it appear as the English Civil War was fought out of the principles that would eventually become those of Locke, and makes the broad connection with the settlement of 1688. The reality is of course, as you noted above, and I am about to note with the English civil war, the players, their motives and aims were mixed.
    The English Civil war is the mother of all revolutions, and it is often neglected by Catholics because until Cromwell embarks on the Irish theatre it is Protestants blowing up Protestants. The English themselves seem to be confused over the exact events, as not only the primary source information shows, but even contemporary studies range from it being a)laying the principles of constitutional monarchy b) a communist view that it was a proletariat rising which is absurd since both sides had a balance of peasantry and aristocracy c) it was a rising of the money class (Belloc’s argument) d)a reaction to the Stuart’s “tyranny”. It would appear a mix of all of those things and more. To say that it was a revolution against throne and altar is silly, Anglicans fought on the side of the parliamentarians, and some puritans joined up with Catholic English emigres and Irish Catholics to support Charles against parliamentary armies in Ireland (the Irish confederates). What is important is the outcome lays the foundations for eroding throne and altar. A king is dead, but the rump parliament had to be wrangled by long arguing, and Cromwell is said to have guided signatures on the document, whereas Ferrara makes it look like the Rump parliament was steadfast in its regicide. Yet, originally Cromwell negotiated with the king and wanted to maintain him, until Charles overplayed his hand and re-started the civil war. It is a fascinating period and the outcome is the principles that the king is not absolute (which is true) but that parliament, not tradition, the Church or morals, will restrain his activity. We see this again during the Republic, Cromwell had to suppress parliaments, hand-picked puritans argued about his command of the army and taxes, the same things debated in the 1630s with Charles I.
    But they are all the building blocks of the Revolutionary principles of Liberalism. Naturally it is not seen as the Oak, it is still the acorn. That point, Ferrara correctly drives home in spite of his broad treatment of the historical periods.

  10. I realize that this is just a review of this book; but the arguments presented seem persuasive. Other than praying for the conversion of our nation, what should one to do with this information?
    What affect should this have on our lives?

    The suggestions above are good and part of the solution. Raising good, holy Catholic families. Your kids or grandchildren might lose the faith, that is why you must pray for them. We have no idea how many ill-turns we might make except that people are praying for us.

    It is a difficult time right now. I don’t believe voting can solve anything. Both parties are bought and paid for. Third parties because of a)the lack of imagination of the “voting” public and b) the media shutout and c) the financial crisis are not really a possibility.
    I think what is to be done is to survive. Educate, not only your kids but your friends. Influence people to understand that the American Constitution is not the end all and be all of life. It is true the constitution could be amended to work, maybe its the anarchist in me but I prefer to see it scrapped. The problem is that what few rights we have left in it have been scrapped by Bush/Obama, so when people here you want to scrap it, they think you are a gun-control Obamaite. The point is, we need to return to the Tradition in government. Limited monarchs, and I say monarch because a President is just a monarch for 4 years with powers vastly greater than any medieval monarch. Economic freedom, but attaining that against the powers that be is not really a possibility. With technology, I would even say armed revolution, should anyone be foolish enough to embark that idiotic policy, is impossible.
    The thing to do is to survive, and educate people about what government should be, as well as it has been, so as to shun the “return to the constitution” as the principle of reform. When all of what we see now collapses under its own weight, then small, locally, we can re-establish traditional social order.
    Secondly, live as traditionally as you can. I don’t mean become a luddite, I mean meet your neighbors. Develop communities, buy local, work to establish local economy. That will survive when tyrants like bush and obama are long gone. Romans with local communities survived the fall of the empire, local economies in the Arab world survived the fall, change and tyranny of their governments, local communities survived the fall of the Soviet Union. Network and establish communities, and when the time comes you will have a broad base of people who are like minded to establish traditional social order, bloodlessly and popularly.

  11. Good post. Regarding the English Civil War, I took a college course on the Tudor-Stuart monarchy. An excellent analysis of the various viewpoints regarding the ideologies (or, more accurately, lack thereof) in the English Civil War was by historian Norah Carlin. Admittedly, she looks through a somewhat Marxist lens, but it does a fair job.

  12. Yes I have that book. Its called Causes of the English Civil War. She completely misapprehends the King’s financial situation however. She forgets that the king ran the country on his own purse when she makes note of things like ship monies.

  13. James B. writes: “As George III was Protestant and some form of Whig it would be overly optimistic to claim him as a last vestige of Catholic government.”

    I agree! That is why I describe his reign as “the corrupted remnants” of Catholic social order (p. 136). But enough remained for the rebellious colonists to denounce it as “popery,” and Paine made it clear that it was monarchy per se, in any form, that the colonial radicals considered tyranny, *no matter how mild the monarch.*

    Ryan is quite right to describe my treatment of the Stuart and Hanoverian epochs as over-simplified. My aim was to focus on the attack on the hereditary monarchy per se and the conceit of “government by consent of the governed” in comparison, not on the qualities of the given monarchies or the historical cross-currents of the period 1640-1688, which was merely prefatory to the book’s main arguments.

    I do note, however briefly (p. 39), that the configuration of altar and throne in the Protestant confessional state arising from the Henrican revolt already involved the subordination of the spiritual power by the temporal. But even this corruption of altar and throne proved to be less oppressive in terms of the daily demands of government than what the Founders created with Congress and the Presidency—just as the anti-Federalists had warned from the beginning of the “American experiment.”

  14. Overall I thought the book was excellent. One critique was the at least halfway endorsement of the momentum of the Rick Santorum Presidential campaign as some sort of indicator of things moving away from the cult of liberty and towards a new Christendom.

    During the campaign Santorum called murdering civilian scientists from other countries “wonderful” and declared not only that women have “a right to contraception” but that right should be funded by the government, and defended his recorded of voting money to Planned Parenthood (which pays for abortifacient drugs).

  15. “Overall I thought the book was excellent. One critique was the at least halfway endorsement of the momentum of the Rick Santorum Presidential campaign as some sort of indicator of things moving away from the cult of liberty and towards a new Christendom.”

    Point well taken. I wrestled with that. But Santorum was just too useful, not for his value as a candidate, but as a prime example of what happens to a candidate who even breathes the idea that American politics is governed by the truths of the Faith. His fellow Americanized Lockean Catholics will be the first to denounce him. And, at least, Santorum’s “private” life reflects a commitment to the Church’s teaching on marriage and procreation.

  16. I simply don’t see where or when Mr. Santorum breathed the idea that American politics was governed by the truths of the Faith.

    He said that John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Baptists had made him sick….but then went on to do exactly the same thing, promising that his Catholic Faith would not get in the way of making appropriate policies regarding contraception. So in Sanotrum’s world American politics is explicitly not bound by the truths of the Faith or by natural law.

    Of course all of the candidates were disciples of Liberty, I simply thought it odd to pick out Santorum as a positive sign in the book, because I thought he displayed the negatives of the Liberty cult in an especially clear manner.

    To be clear, it’s one point in a rather lenghty book. It’s interesting to hear some critique from others on some historical eras I know less about. Overall, though it’s an excellent book, which I’ve recommended to many.

    Pax

  17. Thank you for bringing my attention to this book. I have bought a copy and will be digging into it. And thanks to everyone here for the excellent discussion.

    I once read a quote by Lysander Spooner that got me started questioning the constitutional platitudes I was fed growing up: “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”

  18. I have also bought and received a copy of the book, and am excited to read it.
    To add to what I said earlier about having 7 kids who each have 7, yes that must include a deep formation if it is to work. And it must include a great amount of insulation from our culture. Not that we go Amish, but we need to strike a balance that defaults toward that mentality rather than sycretism with the current culture.
    I homeschool my 5 girls, pray each day with them, catechize them, and love them. And the thread through all of this is that I shelter them. Which simply means I do not expose them to damaging things… which is most of what our culture offers at this point.
    Demographically, we WILL win if we follow this model. I encourage you guys to read the book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” by Eric Kaufmann. He is a secular demographer who answers his own question with a resounding “yes”. The secular fertility rate is ~1.5 in the west. The endogenous growth sects of highly religious groups are at least triple that, creating not a linear but an exponential diferential in population shrink for the seculars and expansion for us. And yes, not to worry, retention rates for people like us are quite high. Not that we should not put all in God’s hands and pray, but demographically, children really do become what their parents are at a high %.
    If you have an hour, here is Kaufmann’s video which has the feel of a TED talk, and is fascinating.
    http://fora.tv/2010/09/05/Eric_Kaufmann_Shall_the_Religious_Inherit_the_Earth

    Godspeed.