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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Founders Understood the Nature of Man

I have found common ground for liberals and conservatives. In general, most liberals have a significant distrust of corporate America, as well as a somewhat healthy distrust of capitalism. As a recent rather liberal blogger noted, “Industry after industry after industry and within them big corporation after big corporation after big corporation has acted recklessly and with only their narrow interests and avarice in mind. Often killing, maiming and poisoning tens of thousands of people without consequence or justice. That is why we have an EPA. That is why we have a CPSC. That is why we have federal oversight (supposedly) of the crooks and thieves on Wall Street and Main Street.”

Similarly, on the whole, conservatives have considerable distaste for big government and are rather suspicious of government in general. Attorney/writer Tommy De Seno highlights this in his definition of conservatism: “Conserving the rights of the individual against the trespasses of government, and the trespasses of others.”

These institutional misgivings are not without merit and they are very much rooted in the Christian view of human nature. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Christianity teaches that it is in the basic nature of each of us to be selfish. I submit to you that this take on humanity was well understood by our founders, is reflected in the founding documents of the United States, and thus is further evidence of the Christian heritage of our nation.

“There is a degree of depravity in mankind,” wrote James Madison in The Federalist Papers, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust.” Over a period of 11 months between 1787 and 1788, to persuade the state of New York to ratify the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay authored The Federalist Papers.

In Federalist 51 Madison summarized the misgivings of both today’s liberal and conservative: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The first governing documents in this nation, the Mayflower Compact (1620) which united the Pilgrims, and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1638), considered the first Constitution written in America, both were contracts adopted by Christians and were predicated upon the Christian view of mankind.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut was such a significant work that it served as a model of government for the other colonies and eventually as a model for the U.S. Constitution. As noted in The Light and the Glory, “the (U.S.) Constitution…was constructed on the realistic and Scriptural assumption that the natural self-interest and self-love of man has to be checked. The checks and balances were ingenious: there would be three separate branches of government—legislative, executive, and judicial.”

For further evidence of the influence of Christianity on U.S. government, consider the work of French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville. In the early 1830s, Tocqueville toured the U.S. seeking to discover why the representative democracy present in America was so successful here while failing in so many other places. His efforts produced Democracy in America, an early classic account of the democratic system of U.S.government.

Tocqueville devoted a significant portion of his work to the effects of Christianity on American life. Upon his arrival in the United States he declared that, “the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention.”

Having noted the direct influence of religion upon politics in America, Tocqueville concluded that “In the United States the sovereign authority is religious…there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth…The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”

Human beings are cursed with a sinful nature that, while yearning for freedom, requires significant accountability. Our founders understood this well and gave us the finest documents ever produced by man for his own self government which has resulted in the most enduring form of government that the world currently knows.

Copyright 2009, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

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