“What’s Wrong with Rod Dreher’s Straussian Narrative of the American Constitution” – Paul DeHart from Public Discourse
In “What’s Wrong with Rod Dreher’s Straussian Narrative of the American Constitution” Professor Paul R. DeHart examines the argument that modernity begins with the Enlightenment and how that premise impacts any understanding of the constitution. Professor DeHart teaches Political Science at Texas State University.
“While it is certainly true that Christianity has moral implications and that the Christian revolution significantly altered the social, moral, and political topography of the ancient world (a point Dreher clearly grasps, given his appreciation of Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People), traditional Christianity does not hold that moral knowledge depends on special revelation. Indeed, insofar as religion pertains to special revelation, traditional Christianity rejects the claim that moral knowledge depends upon religion (which is quite different from holding that religion has nothing to say about moral knowledge)…”
“…The notion that moral knowledge is available to human beings as rational creatures is not idiosyncratic—not to the Enlightenment and not to classical Christian thought. Ancient and medieval Christian thought appropriated and built upon classical pagan philosophy. Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero all affirmed that there are moral truths ascertainable by human reason and quite apart from religion (see my argument here). Indeed, for Socrates and Plato, knowledge of the good apprehended by reason provided a basis for evaluating the truth of stories about the gods of Mount Olympus. Christianity revised and corrected the ethics of classical philosophers. But classical Christianity also affirmed that insofar as classical philosophers followed reason (which is to say, logos), they also followed Christ. According to Justin Martyr, Christ is the logos of God, and “every race of men have been partakers” of this logos. Consequently, “anyone who has lived by reason was really a Christian, even though he was called an atheist” (see Chapter 46 here)…”
Thus, any sound understanding of Christianity in relation to antiquity or to the American order must hold two distinct claims in view. First, with classical pagan thought, Christianity holds that there are moral truths available to reason and prior to special revelation. Second, while affirming a natural law rationally accessible to all, Christianity also introduced ideas that reshaped the moral, social, and political landscape of the Greco-Roman world. Modern ideas are often a secularization or distortion of Christian ideas or, at any rate, only intelligible in light of the Christian turn, as Etienne Gilson has argued. But then there are ideas in American constitutionalism that may owe more to the Christian turn than to modernity…”