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Mar 22, 2007 4:22 am

Thursday Notes

Americanist Heresy:"The Jamestown Quadracentennial: A Celebration of America's Providential History – 1607-2007" This is, of course, a modernist, nationalist heresy. You'd think that the history of salvation was enacted in the modern world and on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks to Jonathan Wilson for the tip.

Compare & Contrast: Brits in Manhattan and Desis in Manhattan. Hattips.

If Accuracy Isn't a Consideration ...: So, you're Taylor Branch and, by 1992, you've known Bill Clinton for a long time. Secretly, you begin a series of late-night, oral history interviews with the President-elect. Fifteen years later, you announce your intention of writing and publishing a book, Wrestling History: The Bill Clinton Tapes. But wait, who's got the tapes?

Mr. Clinton ... kept all of the tapes, squirreling them away in his sock drawer after each session. Mr. Branch will rely on his own notes and recollections of the conversations, which he routinely recorded during his hourlong drive back to Baltimore from Washington.

This is an odd way to produce a book subtitled"the Bill Clinton tapes" -- since you don't even have them in hand. Branch is a brilliant writer, but put your finger on any page in his civil rights trilogy, give me some time, and I'll find the errors.

Late-to-the-party-but-nonetheless-enthusiastic: My man, Thomas C. Reeves, has discovered David Horowitz's [ed: Stop now. You've put this poor old duffer through the wringer already. op-ed: I can't help myself. The temptation is too great!] It's no surprise that Tom's late-to-the-discover-the-networks-party. The old boy has been blogging for three years, now, and still hasn't learned elementary html coding; and he doesn't understand that having comments enabled on your blog while systematically ignoring them is rude and insulting to his readers.

But Tom's tardy-to-the-pardy runs deeper than that. Horowitz's execrable site first went up three years ago, when Tom began blogging. He missed the party then, when Invisible Adjunct, Kieran Healy, and I laughed at Discover the Network's many errors and idiotic linkages. In its first form, DtN featured such leftist threats to American national security as the Harvard Alumni Association, the Wall Street Journal, Jack Balkin, Paul Berman, and Garry Wills. It was John Holbo, I think, who mocked it as Discover the Nutworks. Quickly, Horowitz took down the evidence of his outfit's sloppy work. Despite its $18 million budget, David blamed the organization's volunteer fact-checkers for all the errors. A year later, he returned with DtN's current edition. It still claims to track the links from Jane Addams, Alfred I. DuPont, and Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Ayatollah Khomeni.

So, it's this second edition of Horowitz's Nutworks that Tom Reeves lately comes to celebrate. But, seriously, Tom. Even you ought to be embarrassed by that opening sentence:"David Horowitz, a one-time fiery leftist historian, is now the most impressive and indefatigable critic of higher education in this country." Horowitz – left or right -- a historian? Hardly!"... the most impressive ... critic of higher education in this country." You've got to be kidding!

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Ben W. Brumfield - 4/2/2007

I'm really not sure it's worth the effort of arguing with someone who quotes Rushdooney, but let me just point out that:
1) The word "Hebrew" appears precisely twice in Blackstone -- once in an etymological digression and once while comparing English inheritance law to Hebrew (and Athenian!) law. Neither "christian" nor "israel" make a single appearance. Tell me, have you read Blackstone, or are you just taking someone's word for what he says?

2) While my reading of the Old Testament stops at 2 Samuel, I do believe that covers anything that could be called a "republic". Perhaps you'll remind me where the elections take place, as I'm afraid I can't recall much in the way of voting.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/26/2007

I would be much obliged if you would show me anywhere in the works of the Protestant Reformers where any of them referred to ancient Israel as a "republic". Does the word have any meaning, as far as you are concerned? What is it?

RC Davis - 3/26/2007


First to Ben: I received your post as you had noted ... "version of the colonists' interpretation taken at face-value" ... and I thnk you for the tip. My questions arose from your last sentence; in particular I wanted to discern what specific difficulty you had with the VFM statement.

Regarding the suspected myopia, I'll grant you that VFM's view of the world is greatly influenced by the Reformation. If you understand the distinct differences between the understaing the reformers sought to restore from the Scriptures regarding conversion and the papal response in the Council of Trent (mid 1500's), then you'll see that rather than myopia it is more of a case of comparing peaches to apricots - they may look the same, but on closer inspection they are different.

As to your statement that regarding the common law, may I suggest you do a bit more research on the source of the common law ... in particular starting with Alfred the Great and the Liber Judicialis. Start here: . The Decalouge of that curious Hebrew Republic spelled out in Exodus 20 and reiterated just before said republic was established territorialy in Deuteronomy 5 is given top billing. Of course, if you really want to know about the foundations of that republic and its course through history I suggest you read through the historical accounts beginning with the Book of Genesis through the entire set of writings commonly known as the Old Testament. (I started last year and I'm just finishing the last book ... I took my time and did a lot of study instead of just reading it through.) If you want to get an understanding about what the founders thought about the common law, I suggest you read Sir William Blackstone's "Commentaries on the Laws of England". It was by far the most popular and well read legal text during the founding era (surpassing sales in the motherland). Blackstone's hierarchy of law was explicitly rooted in a Biblical understanding of law. Blackstone believed that the Bible contained the revealed Law of God and that the Revealed Law was entirely consistent with Natural Law. He said that human laws were only "declaratory of, and act in subordination to.." God's Law. Any act (law) of man which was contrary to God's Law would be "destructive of man's real happiness, and therefore, … the law of nature forbids it." (Book 1, Section 2) I will agree with you that the novel (based on the experience of the colonies' century and a half of law and government) attention given to Rome and Greece by the Federalists was indeed part of the backdrop of the debate regarding our current Constitution. To that end I would refer you to the Anti-Federalist's writings on that subject. Here's a teaser from Patrick Henry (yes, the "Give me liberty" guy): "I need not take much pains to show, that the principles of this system [of government proposed by the Federalists], are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain." The Anti-Federalists were quite prescient in this regard concerning the eventual troubles that would befall the new nation.


Ben W. Brumfield - 3/23/2007

Actually, my post defended the Vision Forum Ministries interpretation of history as a version of the colonists' interpretation taken at face-value.

The three initial points you raise about what Jamestown gave America are not especially controversial to me, except insofar as the last two smell to me a bit of Protestant myopia -- were the Jamestown colonists really the first to baptize a convert in the Americas, or had the Spanish perhaps done something along the same lines a century earlier?

I certainly cannot speak to the state of contemporary academic history, being neither an academic nor a historian. However, I do know to sniff around a bit whenever I see "Christian Common Law" lauded with a straight face.

To echo Ralph's comment, what, pray tell, is such a beast as the "Hebrew Republic of Old"? And what does the Germanic customs enshrined in the common law have to do with the polity described in Judges, or (for that matter) with the Greek and Roman models our founding fathers actually looked to during their politial debates?

Ralph E. Luker - 3/23/2007

What, pray tell, is "the Hebrew republic of old"?

RC Davis - 3/23/2007

Ben, if you are saying that Vision Forum's commentary of Jamestown's legacy does not square with how the colonists saw their place in history (in particular those who where Christians), then I ask what historical basis do you have for that position. Let me list some points:

Jamestown gave America her first:
* Protestant house of worship
* first Christian conversions and baptisms
* first 'inter-racial' marriages based on the Christian Faith

Do you disagree with these? In fact the last point would be a shock to most historians today given their perceptions of those first colonists and the religion they professed.

Let us continue with the points.

* Jamestown also gave us a vision of republican representative government
* ... a form of government later enshrined in the United States Constitution
* ... which finds its origins in the Hebrew Republic of the Old Testament of Holy Scripture

Again, historically speaking do you have a problem with the civil polity of early Jamestown and what VFM asserts? Is there no link in the political philosophy between that early government and our current federal constitution? Or that the key principles and ideas are not rooted in the Hebrew republic of old? For most modern historians, even if they had the textual evidence staring them in the face it cuts across their fundamental beliefs so hard that it is difficult to grasp. Dr. Shultz's article "Historical Revisionism: Why All the Fuss?" at take a good survey of this difficulty fleshed out in the life of the American academic historical community.


Tim Lacy - 3/22/2007


Thanks for the public notice on Reeves web log. Your note confirmed some observations of mine from last fall (I had Reeves temporarily blogrolled at H&E - a mistake!).

Aside: I'd be honored to be linked in Horowitz's ring of "shame." Who keeps giving that guy money when sensible graduate students in history, across America, struggle for funding? Argh.

- Tim

Ben W. Brumfield - 3/22/2007

I'm in the middle of Edward Bond's Dammed Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia right now, so was interested to see how Vision Ministries portrays the history of Jamestown and divine providence.

So far as I can tell, their interpretation squares pretty well with that of the colonists. The only event the ministry group describes as providential is the arrival of Lord De La Warr in 1610. According to Bond, this was hailed at the time as an act of divine providence at the time, both by the colonists and by colonization advocates in England. So I don't see anything very odd there.

However, the last few sentences of their blog post on Jamestown's legacy are something else altogether.

Ralph E. Luker - 3/22/2007

Oh, I suppose. This just strikes me as additional evidence that Tom stopped thinking that there was anything that anyone else had to teach him quite some time ago.

Alan Allport - 3/22/2007

Sure, but isn't it better to be able to point out mistakes through unacknowledged comments than not at all?

Ralph E. Luker - 3/22/2007

Alan, No matter how egregious the error that a reader of Tom Reeves' blog may point out to him -- there's no response: no correction, no acknowledgement. It's _very_ odd -- like speaking to a brick wall. Occasionally, his readers talk with each other, but there's no having any conversation with him. It's as if he hands down pronouncements from Mt. Olympus. I suspect that comments are enabled because that's the default at HNN. I suspect that he's never noticed that he could disable comments if he cared to.

Alan Allport - 3/22/2007

He doesn't understand that having comments enabled on your blog while systematically ignoring them is rude and insulting to his readers.

I don't think I agree with that. Enabling comments is a courtesy that allows readers to put permanently on record their feelings, and criticisms, about a blog article. It allows a right of reply or a chance to correct errors of fact. It doesn't to my mind commit the blogger to a reciprocal duty to respond. It's a way of giving people their soapbox, not an unbreakable obligation to enter into conversation.