Sydney

Commenting on Razib Khan’s brief against the term “Judeo-Christian,” with which I very much agree, Samuel Goldman makes an important point:

The political Hebraism that emerged in the 17th century is a major and often unacknowledged source for American principles and institutions.

When I read this, Algernon Sydney’s Discourses Concerning Government came to mind. As I am sure Mr. Goldman and others know, Sydney’s Discourses was indeed one of the major influences on the thought of many of the Founders and particularly on the thought of Jefferson, and it is one of the most extensive arguments by a republican drawing heavily on the Bible. This was a main reason why he was chosen as one of the Whig heroes whose name went into the name of my alma mater. His Discourses was both prior to and more influential in its way than Locke’s treatise of the same name (it also led to his execution). In it he polemicized against Filmer’s Patriarcha (which is a much more interesting text) by going through the Old Testament very methodically and using it as his historical proof that monarchs did not inherently possess a divine right to rule. His defense of popular sovereignty (i.e., that God invested the people with sovereignty, who then chose how they were to be ruled) was, of course, as ahistorical as it was extremely useful in justifying the execution of Charles I after the fact. His popular sovereignty theory went on to have great influence on the post-1688 Whigs and on the political thought of the colonists. Nonetheless, even Sydney’s heavy reliance on the Old Testament was primarily a function of his Protestantism and the shape of his political theory was tied to his Presbyterian ecclesiology.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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