Editor’s note: David Deavel, editor of St. Thomas University’s quarterly, Logos, invited me to contribute an essay on Orestes Brownson‘s remarkable defense of religious liberty in his 1864 essay “Civil and Religious Freedom.” Posted below is a modified version of my essay published in the Fall edition of Logos.
Orestes Brownson’s wonderful essay “Civil and Religious Freedom” (1864) provides a remarkable philosophical and constitutional defense of religious liberty. The essay bears the particular merit of bridging the traditional American understanding of religious freedom as an individual right with the corporate notion of freedom of the church, which acts, Brownson argues, as the shield of religious liberty. In this way, Brownson provided an original, robust defense of American constitutionalism and religious freedom.
Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803-1876), one of the most prominent public intellectuals in America in the 19th century, is hardly a household name today. The late Peter Augustine Lawler, a brilliant political scientist, saw much of value in Brownson, and thought him sorely neglected. In fact, the fate of the Vermont-born journalist and autodidact has been a bit more complicated. There have been periodic rediscoveries of Brownson, especially during turbulent times. Consider Brownson’s resurgence in the 1930s. At the end of that decade, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress: Orestes A. Brownson (1939). In the 1950s, political science journals published…
I have returned to the mothership after a great trip to Worcester, Massachusetts earlier this week to speak at Assumption College for its Constitution Day event, albeit a few days after September 17th. The students and faculty at the event were excellent. I thought it worth mentioning that the students in attendance were fundamentally sound in mind and not overwhelmed with ideological convictions, which proved excellent for the talk I delivered. In short, there’s a solid liberal arts tradition at Assumption. And that’s all to the credit of the faculty. If you’re looking for an education in the Humanities for yourself or for a son or daughter, then I would urge considering Assumption. They also permitted me to indulge in a bit of an off-road lecture on Orestes Brownson’s case for political loyalty as the crucial underpinning of our constitutional order. Many thanks to Prof. Bernard Dobski, Chairman of the Political Science Department, for the invitation and to Brother Greg for a wonderful introduction. My talk is below:
You may have noticed that not much is said in this space about what goes on in other countries. It’s not that I don’t have opinions; it’s just I don’t imagine mine are worth much. I conspicuously didn’t take a stand on Brexit. It seemed to me there was a good case to be made for Britain’s leaving the European Union and a good case to be made for its staying in. I thought I’d leave it up to them. If I were British, I would have been more psyched up about the whole thing.
The outcome surprised me, because the past history of secessionist movements—such as Quebec and Scotland—has been of a petering out at the end. Just enough people get all prudent and make a safe choice. Not only that, all the factions of the respectably British cognitive elite—top politicians, public intellectuals, the business leaders, celebrities, the unions, and so forth—advocated making the Progressive choice. “Progressive” here means stay the course when it comes to evolving beyond the nation-state in the direction of larger and more cosmopolitan unions. We aspire to be citizens of the world, politics being that pathology that we shed as we move, as Tyler Cowen puts it, from being brutish to being nice.