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The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Athens and Jerusalem, Rome and America” – Gunnar Gundersen in The American Mind

In a piece titled “Athens and Jerusalem, Rome and America” for The American Mind, Gunnar Gundersen responds to the argument of Patrick Deneen and others who claim that America is a Hobbesian experiment, made without Christian moral reasoning.  Gundersen, a JWI Affiliated Scholar and Attorney, argues instead that the history of the United States shows a clear reverence for religion, emphasizing it as foundational to democracy and necessary for good citizens. Gundersen points to both the laws of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the words of President Washington to show a fusion of classical and Christian thought that was foundational to the American experiment. This fusion has become the foundation for modern democracy and must be protected for a good republic.

Some excerpts from the piece:

 “[T]here was no question what kind of citizens the American people wanted and needed as part of the republic: religious and moral ones. The interest was so great that the organic law of the Northwest Territory required their promotion to ensure good, i.e., republican, government.”

“Religion, counsels Washington, is therefore not merely a private good, but an important aspect of maintaining the common good. In preserving a republican form of government, it is crucial. The near entirety of the founding generations of Americans—even if not practicing members of a given Protestant sect—agreed with Washington. Promoting religious practice and liberty is not an Enlightenment project maximizing the ability of an individual to live in a state of nature.  It is formative, fostering an ordered environment wherein liberty under law may be secured.”

“Rejecting the idea that freedom lay either with enlightened despots or by relying solely on reason, they expressed an understanding that government was established by the consent of the governed to secure God-given rights. By doing so, they secured a classical Christian heritage for their posterity.”

Read the whole essay here.

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790