May 08, 2006
Restoration with respect for tradition?
One of the shortcomings of this blog happens to be its stated theme: my tendency to analyze the "culture war" in terms of an ancient struggle between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values. Because both of these seemingly contradictory values systems are inextricably intertwined with the American founding, and because neither fits neatly into the libertarian (or neolibertarian) philosophy, the culture war seems far from over. (NOTE: Whether this is one of the blog's shortcomings depends on perspective -- itself a major problem for me.)
When I propose that we "end the culture war by restoring classical values," I am not proposing striking Judeo-Christian values and replacing them with Greco-Roman ones. Any process of restoration begins with the recognition that there is something to restore. Greco-Roman values are an integral part of the Western tradition, and I see them as under attack by elements of the PoMo left and elements of the socially conservative right. While the PoMos of the left would also have us do away with Judeo-Christian values (in short, all Western values), the socially conservative rightists tend to see the Culture War as a continual battle between the Judeo-Christian good and Greco-Roman evil. In my view, both sides are terribly wrong.
Logically (and mathematically) I tend to see the PoMo nihilist approach as worse than the "Judeo-Christian culture war," because (as I have argued), this would throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least the social conservatives don't seek to destroy all Western values. They do, however, forget that Judeo-Christianity stems from Greco-Romanism. But for the latter, the former would never have sprung into existence. Judeo-Christianity owes its inception and its existence to the Roman Empire. (Hint: the Roman Empire was Greco-Roman.)
Despite its relentless characterization as exclusively "Judeo-Christian" the American founding represented a classical revival on a remarkable and unprecedented scale. Anyone who has read the Federalist Papers is probably already bored by my argument; not only did the founders tap into the wisdom of the ancients, but they attempted to improve on the ancients' early democracies and republics. The founders gave themselves classical names (like "Publius" and "Cato"). Even the names of our two political parties -- "Republican" and "Democrat" -- why, they're classical plagiarism! Copied from the Greeks and the Romans. To deny America's Greco-Roman founding is to deny history as well as present day reality.
Ah, but the founders mentioned God in the Declaration of Independence, didn't they?
Which God? Nature's God?
Or "Providence"? Considering that "Providentia" (the word's origin) was the goddess of forethought, and they attached the word "divine" in front of the word, can we be so sure that they were thinking solely about Yahweh?
Is it really so farfetched to argue that admirers of the classics might have been using a classical term?
Wanna flip a coin?
I know, I know, that's unfair, as images of Yahweh are not to be found on any coins anywhere. Not that we put images of Providentia on our own coins. But hell, we had the Mercury head dime. As to Libertas, as Roman deities go, she beats them all. I have no idea how many versions of the "Liberty" goddess there are on American coins, but there are so many I don't want to hazard a guess.
Such blatant founding paganism has been objected to vociferously. This web site attacks our coinage, notes the Roman and Babylonian connections, and clinches the argument with a picture of that disgraceful statue openly and publicy displayed in New York's harbor! (The site calls it "the Goddess Libertas Enlightening the World on Liberty Island in the New York City Harbor" -- so hide your kids' eyes, folks!)
Among the pagan coins attacked at that last site is this medal -- a project of Benjamin Franklin:
The most famous of all American medals is the elegant Libertas Americana (''American Liberty'') medal. It celebrates America's Revolutionary War military victories, specifically the British surrenders at Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781). Benjamin Franklin conceived the idea, as a private project to enhance Franco-American goodwill.There are great pictures at the above site.
I am not about to list the contents of numismatic catalogues here, but anyone who doubts me in the slightest can google "liberty head dime," "liberty head quarter," "liberty head half-dollar" "liberty head dollar," and the gold, and the nickels, and the pennies. (To see a few images, in addition to "liberty head," try Googling "liberty seated.")
Seeing as there is no hope of eradicating our classical past, what's wrong with restoring its luster?
I realize that I have not ended the Culture War here, and I know I never will. My point is simply that the tension between Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian values is part of what makes us what we are as a people, and I think that's a good thing.
The restoration of Greco-Roman values is a good thing not because they are "pagan," but because they symbolize freedom, especially American freedom.
(I think they're about as traditional as you can get.)
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and welcome all!
MORE: Is there a conflict between Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values and Saudi Islamic values? I'd have rather avoided the issue, but I discuss it here.
posted by Eric on 05.08.06 at 11:01 AM
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