Wednesday, March 1


The Anchoress and many other prominent Catholic bloggers are far more qualified than I to suggest reading recommendations grounded in Catholic theology and appropriate for the Season of Lent.

But, an important essay, as well as a seminal book by the same author, strike me as essential reads for we conservative-traditionalist bloggers, whose political philosophies have linkage with our religious lives and the tenets of faith we subscribe to. Lent is a good time not only to reflect on our faith and its religious underpinnings, but to understand and appreciate how our American form of government -- a democratic republic -- and the Bill of Rights it embraces secure for each of us "the God-given equal rights of every individual human being -- rights antecedent to government, and which define and limit the purpose of government. " Indeed, such rights are endowed by our Creator (not by Washington D.C.) and we must remind ourselves of that essential fact and the intrinsic value of human freedom.

Harry V. Jaffa, distinguished fellow at the prestigious Claremont Institute and Professor Emeritus of Government at Claremont McKenna College (and, I should add, an eminent Lincoln scholar) has published an essay, entitled "The Central Idea," which continues key themes found in his highly-acclaimed book, "A New Birth of Freedom."

In his essay, Professor Jaffa posits the following:

The central idea of the American Founding—and indeed of constitutional government and the rule of law—was the equality of mankind.

Accordingly, it follows that ...

Legitimate political authority—the right of one human being to require obedience of another human being—arises only from consent.

As Mackubin T. Owens writes in his review of Jaffa's marvelous book on Lincoln's Gettsyburg Address:

Jaffa’s Lincoln believed that America’s "ancient faith" was the "central idea" of equality as articulated by the common sense reading of the Declaration of Independence. He believed that Jefferson meant what he said when he wrote "all men are created equal," and that this meant simply that no person has the right to rule over another without the latter’s consent.

Taking issue with the secularists of our time, Prof. Jaffa presents the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s understanding of it as the fulfillment of the promise of both classical philosophy and biblical revelation. Prof. Jaffa maintains that it was Lincoln’s conviction that the Declaration of Independence reflected the divine government of the universe, which therefore set the pattern for the moral and legal order of constitutional government.

That concern about the progressive-secularists of our time and their impact carries forward in Jaffa's essay. Just how bad has it gotten?

Observes Jaffa:

Virtually no one prominent today, in the academy, in law, or on government, subscribes to such beliefs. Indeed, the climate of opinion of our intellectual elites is one of violent hostility to any notion of a rational foundation for political morality.

Political morality -- think about that, I would ask, as we enter the Season of Lent. And ask yourselves if American government was ever meant to become so secular and the seperation of Church and State so hard and fast that "one nation under God" -- the codification of natural law in the American Constitution, whose springboard was the Declaration of Independence -- could perish from this earth?

As Professor Jaffa reminds us:

Jefferson's doctrine, which is the American doctrine in its purest form, is a doctrine of natural rights under natural law, owing nothing of its intrinsic character to "the rights of Englishmen.

By the same doctrine, the rights that governments exist to secure belong a priori to human individuals.

During Lent, it is altogether fitting that we reflect on what Lincoln called "the ancient faith" and commit to doing our part to sustain and defend it.