Principium Volume III, Book 15, Quote 1578 - Economic Roots of the United States - The Bible

1578. (9-13-2011) (Even though most colonists were not scholars who read John Locke, Coke, or other formal treatises, consider that they were men and women who read and believed the Bible.)ATJ We have seen that the colonist were the heirs of the thinking of John Locke, the philosopher of inalienable rights. But Locke, after all, was sophisticated stuff: his treatises on toleration and civil government were for the self-chosen leaders of the rebellion against George III. Since there were no Gallup polls at the time it is impossible to know how many colonists actually read Locke save as he happened to be “brokered” for the multitudes by popular pamphleteers. Of one thing, however, we may be sure: colonists of all sorts read the Bible. As Rose Wilder Lane has pointed out, many of the colonists were children of men and women who had actually risked their necks to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. These sons and daughters of the Dissent didn’t read the Bible as a substitute for Aristotle on Politics; they were thinking about their immortal souls. But what they imbibed, often unconsciously, was heady political stuff. They read about the God of the shepherd Abraham – a Single God who judged a man’s rightness in living but made no attempt to force His say on human beings. Man, in the Old Testament, was left to control himself. The Ten Commandments of the God of Abraham were largely negatives: they told man what he should not do. But the negatives presupposed a positive creed. Charles A. Beard, among others, has emphasized the continuity of Locke’s thinking with that of Thomas Hooker, who, in turn, drew upon Thomas Aquinas. But one needs no paraphernalia of scholarship to know that the Commandment against murder is simply the other face of Locke’s and Jefferson’s “unalienable” right to life. “Thou shalt not steal” means that the Bible countenances private property – for if a thing is not owned in the first place it can scarcely be stolen. “Thou shalt not covet” means that it is sinful even to contemplate the seizure of another man’s goods – which is something which Socialists, whether Christian or otherwise, have never managed to explain away. Furthermore, the prohibitions against false witness and adultery mean that contracts should be honored and double-dealing eschewed. As for the Commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long,” this implies that the family, not the State, is the basic continuing unit and constitutive element of society. By extension, or deduction, the Lockean creed is all here: the right to life, the right to the liberty and property necessary to sustain life, and the importance of the free family unit as the guarantor, through its love and possessions, of “long” days in the land given by the Lord. The Bible-reading colonists, then, had no actual need for the sophistications of late Seventeenth Century political science. They were the children of antiquity, heirs to the oldest wisdom known to western man. The minds which they brought to the New World were no tabula rasa: the state was colored by a tradition which antedated the medieval world by centuries. Even those Deists, the Jeffersonians, who thought of God as a vaguely impersonal Creator, derived their ideas of “natural law” from sources which had been approved by believers in a personal God throughout the ages.

John Chamberlain – The Roots of Capitalism, 1959

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