06 June 2017

"Calvin and the Whigs" Part 2

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You can read Part 1 here. It summarizes the first four chapters of Ruben Alvarado's latest book, "Calvin and the Whigs: A Study in Historical Political Theology." What follows covers the next three.

If an Augustinian two-kingdoms approach prevailed even through the Reformation, then what happened? And why? After all, it's been a long time since State and Church saw themselves in a dialectic of justice and blessedness. Sure, even today the Church may appreciate a civil polity oriented toward justice but who nowadays thinks that the modern civil state needs the the Church to educate its citizens in virtue? And in the case when civil rulers cross the line of their constitutional authority, who believes that citizens need the Church to exercise its disciplinary authority and sever their oath-bound duties to those civil rulers? (For that matter, but for naturalized Americans and those serving in the military and certain professions, very few citizens take an oath of loyalty to United States anyway.)

Alvarado identifies the philosophical/theological culprit in fourteenth-century nominalism (specifically its anti-Augustinian semi-Pelagianism) and its sixteenth-century Protestant descendant, Arminianism. Alvarado's analysis of the failure of Huguenot nerve in France and the rise of a entrenched merchant class providing political leadership in the Netherlands is detailed and generally persuasive. That is, "dogma and creed became dirty words for these proponents of an enlightened order in which all men of whatever religion or creed might live."

But why did such a point of view find traction in the face of hundreds of years of fairly consistent Medieval and early-modern Augustinian two-kingdoms political thought? Did a theological rejection of an Augustinian version of divine sovereignty lead to a rejection of the two-kingdoms foundation for a constitutional order? Or was it the failure of that constitutional order, in consequence of the Reformation, the collapse of what remained of the Medieval social order, the discovery of the New World, and the relentless rise of a market economy, that caused the spread of a de-confessionalized civil order generally? In other words, while Alvarado's description of events foregrounds a variety overlooked matters, I am less persuaded that it uncovers the fundamental reasons that made those changes take root "on the ground."

In any event, with the collapse of the historic Augustinian political order, Alvarado does a good job of explaining how state-sovereignty expanded to fill the vacuum left by the demotion of the Church from its role as the sovereign's counterweight. Of course, lots of folks, especially in England, found the Jean Bodin-inspired Stuart pretensions even more offensive than an Augustinian two-kingdoms order and it is to Alvarado's account of the English experience, culminating in John Locke, to which I'll turn in Part 3.

(For some helpful insights on how the post-Reformation Church (Catholic and Protestant) disciplinary practice actually fed the hand of state power, I can recommend Philip Benedict's "Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism." My article, The Puritan Revolution and the Law of Contracts (download here or here) will also provides good secondary resources in this area.)

1 comment:

  1. True, I only discuss the economic dimension of this transformation in passing, but I have reserved a fuller discussion of it for another book, which I hope to have ready for publication in the foreseeable future. The title: "Covenant and Capital". You heard it on Scott's blog first!