Enlightened Society

Casual conversation between friends. Anything goes (almost).
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PeterC
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by PeterC »

Queequeg wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:52 pm Its interpreted to mean that no church could be the official church of the US government. It doesn't mean people can't bring their religious or spiritual background to inform their participation in civil society. I don't think there was any consensus to remove religion from public life in America.
This is a small but important point. The christian lobby always uses this argument to say that religion should have a role in public debate and policy. (What they really mean is that their religion should have a privileged position.) I don't think this is in any way consistent with the history of the amendment.

The origins of this were Federalist 9, where Hamilton raised the issue of factions forming in politics and undermining the union, and Federalist 10, where Madison responded by arguing that a large and diverse republic made it harder for a majoritarian faction to form. Interestingly he was most concerned about those without property forming a majority to redistribute wealth away from the rich - he doesn't consider the problem of the rich co-opting the poor, which seems in retrospect a little naive.

Federalist 10 was published in 1787. In 1788 Madison was standing for election in Virginia against opponents of the constitution. He was lobbied very aggressively by the Baptists - a major voting bloc there - who were concerned that the union would adopt an official religion that would then persecute them. Madison had previously been opposed to the idea of a bill of rights, because he didn't like the idea of enumerated rights - he feared it would lead to non-enumerated rights being disregarded. Subsequent supreme court jurisprudence showed that he was exactly right on that. But anyway, he agreed with the Baptists for the reasons he had outlined in Federalist 10, they supported him in the election, and in 1791 the first amendment was passed, with the first part of that being the establishment clause.

So the origin of this was the protection of minorities from oppression. And that protection, as envisaged by its writers, was guaranteed by the diversity of opinion and diversity of groups represented in public life. So far so good. But did the founders envisage a specific role for religion in public debate? There is absolutely no evidence of that at all. The federalist papers might make reference to religion and god, and we know that a number of the framers were deeply religious people, but the debate was all in terms of how society should function, not what god thought they should do. The idea of a religious group mobilizing sufficient support to impose its views of morality on people not in that group is exactly the concern that Hamilton and Madison address in Federalist 9 and 10, that would be repugnant to them, and they saw the safeguard against that coming from there being no one organization that could amass support of that kind due to the diversity of classes, religions, opinions etc. in the republic.

To return to the modern-day form of the argument. What christians today aim to do, under the banner of having religion in public discourse, is exactly what the framers did *not* want to see. They want to legitimize majoritarian politics. They want to say - we're in the majority, we think you shouldn't eat certain things, dress a certain way, etc. so you need to obey us. They even helpfully described themselves as the "Moral Majority" in case we didn't get the message. The plea for religion to have a role in politics is a trojan horse. It's usually dressed up in 'oppressed' terms, e.g., 'why do you want to prevent us from practicing our religion? Surely it should not be excluded from public life?'

How *did* the framers envisage religion's role in public life? It's pretty clear that they saw it playing two roles. First, it informs the ideas that you bring to the legislature, but those ideas need to stand up because they're good ideas, not because some flying spaghetti monster told you them in a dream. The role of religion and god, as they saw it, was in the background, influencing their personal views on issues, which they then debated in public on rational grounds. Second, when you went home and closed the doors you practiced your religion as a personal thing, in whatever groups you desired, free from the influence or coercion of other groups or of the state. So we should not be saying: the government or citizens should do or avoid doing certain things because we, as Buddhists, know from the Dharma that it would be good. We should be putting forward good ideas because they're good ideas, and not basing our arguments in the Dharma.
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Queequeg
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Re: Enlightened Society

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PeterC wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 3:48 am How *did* the framers envisage religion's role in public life? It's pretty clear that they saw it playing two roles. First, it informs the ideas that you bring to the legislature, but those ideas need to stand up because they're good ideas, not because some flying spaghetti monster told you them in a dream. The role of religion and god, as they saw it, was in the background, influencing their personal views on issues, which they then debated in public on rational grounds. Second, when you went home and closed the doors you practiced your religion as a personal thing, in whatever groups you desired, free from the influence or coercion of other groups or of the state. So we should not be saying: the government or citizens should do or avoid doing certain things because we, as Buddhists, know from the Dharma that it would be good. We should be putting forward good ideas because they're good ideas, and not basing our arguments in the Dharma.
I think it would help to put this theory to real examples. I think the abolitionists are an example of people whose political views were informed by their religion, but their aim was not to impose their religion, but abolish slavery. MLKJr, likewise, was informed first by his religious views, which then informed his political views. He wasn't trying to have Baptism enshrined as the state church - he wanted legal equality for blacks. If you take religion away from both of those movements, it loses the existential urgency, as well as the... I don't know what the word is in English... 正 rectitude? Dignity?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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PeterC
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by PeterC »

Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:13 am
PeterC wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 3:48 am How *did* the framers envisage religion's role in public life? It's pretty clear that they saw it playing two roles. First, it informs the ideas that you bring to the legislature, but those ideas need to stand up because they're good ideas, not because some flying spaghetti monster told you them in a dream. The role of religion and god, as they saw it, was in the background, influencing their personal views on issues, which they then debated in public on rational grounds. Second, when you went home and closed the doors you practiced your religion as a personal thing, in whatever groups you desired, free from the influence or coercion of other groups or of the state. So we should not be saying: the government or citizens should do or avoid doing certain things because we, as Buddhists, know from the Dharma that it would be good. We should be putting forward good ideas because they're good ideas, and not basing our arguments in the Dharma.
I think it would help to put this theory to real examples. I think the abolitionists are an example of people whose political views were informed by their religion, but their aim was not to impose their religion, but abolish slavery. MLKJr, likewise, was informed first by his religious views, which then informed his political views. He wasn't trying to have Baptism enshrined as the state church - he wanted legal equality for blacks. If you take religion away from both of those movements, it loses the existential urgency, as well as the... I don't know what the word is in English... 正 rectitude? Dignity?
To translate 正义? There isn't really a single word, I guess.

But it's a good question. Do you weaken the argument by taking away the religious aspect of it? Let's go back to the origin of the american project, the declaration of independence. When people talk about a country founded on christian principles, they're really reading something into the texts that absolutely wasn't there. Of the 27 grievances listed in the declaration, not one has any religious character at all. They're all about legislative, economic, military and human rights abuses. The very limited references to anything supernatural in the document are rhetorical, and there's a studied avoidance of anything to do with god. In fact there are only three places. First, in the preamble it mentions "the laws of nature and of nature's god" - this is a fairly standard reference to the enlightenment idea of natural law, which is quite different from the idea of god's law. The second is "endowed by their creator", which notably does not include any reference to a specific god or even the word 'god'. The third is at the end, where 'divine providence' is mentioned in passing. The substance of the document - the explanation of why men are entitled to form a new government if one becomes oppressive, the grievances that shows this oppression, then the declaration itself - are purely political and do not draw in any way on religious ideas for authority.

Abolitionism is an interesting comparison. English abolitionism was originally a product of Scottish enlightenment thinking, but it was really the courts that did it, the issue was forced by a number of test cases that put judges in the position of assessing the legality of slavery on common law grounds. French abolitionism was a post-revolutionary movement, and after having decapitated a large part of the aristocracy it would have been odd to then say that one part of society should be subjugated to another. America is a little more complex. There was religious language used in justifications, but it was essentially a moral and legal argument that the northern states advanced: the southern states were more active in using religious arguments to justify slavery itself.

Of course MLK was a deeply religious person and I'm sure he thought that his god wanted slavery abolished. But that wasn't the argument he made. He used a lot of religious analogies, but when you look at the heart of his argument in the Letter:
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
It's pretty clear how he's building his argument. Bear in mind this is him writing to convince others. The religious argument might have been more compelling to him personally, but he's using the moral and legal argument.

So in short - no, I don't think the religious aspect strengthens or dignifies an argument. I think it actually weakens it, because it's an appeal to grounds that you know not everyone shares, which betrays perhaps a lack of confidence in the unadorned rationale behind the argument itself.
Malcolm
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Malcolm »

Queequeg wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:52 pm
Malcolm wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 8:22 pm What wisdom tradition did John Rawls rely on? Hume?
Judeo-Christian and its derivatives.
We handicap ourselves if we draw too strict a line between Dharma and the secular world.
Come on man, the establishment clause. The whole thrust of the Scottish Enlightenment was to get religion out of ethics.
The Establishment Clause reads,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Its interpreted to mean that no church could be the official church of the US government. It doesn't mean people can't bring their religious or spiritual background to inform their participation in civil society. I don't think there was any consensus to remove religion from public life in America.

Gus, you go too far.
Yes, it does. It is the reason we cannot erect stupas on public land, for example.
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Queequeg »

PeterC wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 6:25 am So in short - no, I don't think the religious aspect strengthens or dignifies an argument. I think it actually weakens it, because it's an appeal to grounds that you know not everyone shares, which betrays perhaps a lack of confidence in the unadorned rationale behind the argument itself.
That's not what I am arguing. What I'm saying is those activists in the abolition movement and the civil rights movement drew inspiration from their religious background. They were not seeking to establish the church in the state.

To analogize - it would be very poor jurisprudence to rely on the Bible or Dhamapada for authority in ruling on a case. However, it would not be a poor decision that looked to religious documents to inform a decision. "The Bible says X. The Q'ran says X. The Dhamapada says X. X is supported by reason, and precedent compels us to conclued X is a long standing value embraced by people around the world."

I don't find it particularly problematic that people are informed or motivated by their religious or spiritual background, just as I am not troubled by people appealing to reason or philosophy or whatever considered ground. I would have a problem with someone trying to enshrine religion as a function of state - like displaying the 10 commandments in a court house, or nativity scene on a town hall lawn while excluding a menorah or Festivus Pole.

As for the declaration of independence, I agree they were specifically avoiding
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Queequeg
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Queequeg »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:45 am
Queequeg wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:52 pm
Malcolm wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 8:22 pm What wisdom tradition did John Rawls rely on? Hume?
Judeo-Christian and its derivatives.


Come on man, the establishment clause. The whole thrust of the Scottish Enlightenment was to get religion out of ethics.
The Establishment Clause reads,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Its interpreted to mean that no church could be the official church of the US government. It doesn't mean people can't bring their religious or spiritual background to inform their participation in civil society. I don't think there was any consensus to remove religion from public life in America.

Gus, you go too far.
Yes, it does. It is the reason we cannot erect stupas on public land, for example.
land =/= life
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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PeterC
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by PeterC »

Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:34 pm That's not what I am arguing. What I'm saying is those activists in the abolition movement and the civil rights movement drew inspiration from their religious background. They were not seeking to establish the church in the state.

To analogize - it would be very poor jurisprudence to rely on the Bible or Dhamapada for authority in ruling on a case. However, it would not be a poor decision that looked to religious documents to inform a decision. "The Bible says X. The Q'ran says X. The Dhamapada says X. X is supported by reason, and precedent compels us to conclued X is a long standing value embraced by people around the world."

I don't find it particularly problematic that people are informed or motivated by their religious or spiritual background, just as I am not troubled by people appealing to reason or philosophy or whatever considered ground. I would have a problem with someone trying to enshrine religion as a function of state - like displaying the 10 commandments in a court house, or nativity scene on a town hall lawn while excluding a menorah or Festivus Pole.

As for the declaration of independence, I agree they were specifically avoiding

Your legal analogy is an interesting one. There’s actually very few situations in which you would ever see an argument like that. Unless you happen to be in, say, Saudi Arabia, in no modern legal system are religious values sources of law. The only Supreme Court case I can think of that did an enquiry like that in recent years was the marriage equality cases, where they went into a long digression as to the meaning of marriage historically for the purpose of establishing the meaning of the word at the time of foundation. But they all disagreed violently about whether that was even relevant to the outcome.

I think the better analogy would be legislation and election. You can vote for someone because he supports your religion; you can make laws with a religious flavor because you think they are better for society due to your beliefs. Now in the US, those can be challenged in various ways and potentially invalidated on establishment clause grounds. So even if a law is motivated by religious animus it must pass analysis on grounds of reason and fact.

I think this is basically as it should be. It is impossible to open legislation and policy up to religious ideas without creating the possibility that one religions supporters will oppress anothers. Religion can give you ideas and inspiration, as can poetry, philosophy, life experience or moral views. But we all benefit by limiting discussion of public policy and law to the world of fact and logic.
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Malcolm »

Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:36 pm
Malcolm wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 11:45 am
Queequeg wrote: Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:52 pm

Judeo-Christian and its derivatives.



The Establishment Clause reads,

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"

Its interpreted to mean that no church could be the official church of the US government. It doesn't mean people can't bring their religious or spiritual background to inform their participation in civil society. I don't think there was any consensus to remove religion from public life in America.

Gus, you go too far.
Yes, it does. It is the reason we cannot erect stupas on public land, for example.
land =/= life
Tell that to George Mason:
Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/ ... -of-rights

Here life and liberty are specifically equated "with the means of acquiring and possessing property."

The most important founders were all atheists, aka "Deists," followers of Lucretius's Epicureanism as treated in De Rerum Natura. If you haven't read it, you should read Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.
Malcolm
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Malcolm »

PeterC wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 2:05 pm But we all benefit by limiting discussion of public policy and law to the world of fact and logic.
Yup, "Keep your goddamn religion out of my government."
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Malcolm »

Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:13 am If you take religion away from both of those movements, it loses the existential urgency, as well as the... I don't know what the word is in English... 正 rectitude? Dignity?
This argument is total nonsense. The Civil Rights movement did not succeed because of religious conviction, it succeeded despite it. You recall, that the segregationists and advocates of slavery before them, also took the Bible as their source for their [un]ethical arguments about miscegenation and earlier, owning people.
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Queequeg
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Queequeg »

PeterC wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 2:05 pm
Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 1:34 pm That's not what I am arguing. What I'm saying is those activists in the abolition movement and the civil rights movement drew inspiration from their religious background. They were not seeking to establish the church in the state.

To analogize - it would be very poor jurisprudence to rely on the Bible or Dhamapada for authority in ruling on a case. However, it would not be a poor decision that looked to religious documents to inform a decision. "The Bible says X. The Q'ran says X. The Dhamapada says X. X is supported by reason, and precedent compels us to conclued X is a long standing value embraced by people around the world."

I don't find it particularly problematic that people are informed or motivated by their religious or spiritual background, just as I am not troubled by people appealing to reason or philosophy or whatever considered ground. I would have a problem with someone trying to enshrine religion as a function of state - like displaying the 10 commandments in a court house, or nativity scene on a town hall lawn while excluding a menorah or Festivus Pole.

As for the declaration of independence, I agree they were specifically avoiding

Your legal analogy is an interesting one. There’s actually very few situations in which you would ever see an argument like that. Unless you happen to be in, say, Saudi Arabia, in no modern legal system are religious values sources of law. The only Supreme Court case I can think of that did an enquiry like that in recent years was the marriage equality cases, where they went into a long digression as to the meaning of marriage historically for the purpose of establishing the meaning of the word at the time of foundation. But they all disagreed violently about whether that was even relevant to the outcome.

I think the better analogy would be legislation and election. You can vote for someone because he supports your religion; you can make laws with a religious flavor because you think they are better for society due to your beliefs. Now in the US, those can be challenged in various ways and potentially invalidated on establishment clause grounds. So even if a law is motivated by religious animus it must pass analysis on grounds of reason and fact.

I think this is basically as it should be. It is impossible to open legislation and policy up to religious ideas without creating the possibility that one religions supporters will oppress anothers. Religion can give you ideas and inspiration, as can poetry, philosophy, life experience or moral views. But we all benefit by limiting discussion of public policy and law to the world of fact and logic.
I don't think we disagree all that much. I may not be as averse to people bringing their religious views directly into the public conversation. I feel like its pointless to ignore it and pretend its not there. Since religious views are so deeply and closely held, there is the risk of offending when someone rejects or criticizes those views. When it comes down to it, though, what is most critical is that we all have to acknowledge that the basis of our interactions is the social contract. The motivations and reasons of the several participants is not so important as the understanding that decisions must be made through an agreed process and that the decision must be accepted even when one is on the losing side of the decision making process.

As for the legal decision - in the hierarchy of legal argument, I admit the example I suggested is pretty low, and resorted to only when all of the other options are not available - ie. when an issue is so novel, or, as in the case of gay marriage, requires a fundamental reconsideration of basic ideas. I'm not one of those people who believes that judicial decisions often exemplify pure reason. They are always loaded with value judgments and arbitrariness. I think a lot of decisions are made based on personally held views, and then the reasoning is constructed to justify it. Over time, the repeated application of arguments and reasoning establish their own precedent and resolve the arbitrariness of the original decision. So long as everyone is reasonably happy with the outcome, its fine. I don't want to get into the controversies, but there are quite a few supreme court cases that I agree with in the outcome, but also acknowledge that the reasoning is less than sound. I think if the oppositional pressure is there, sustained over generations, the shortcomings in those decisions eventually become identified, and if the will is there, overturned. Its like the process of refining metal, by heating it and pounding out the impurities. This is why Supreme Court nominations matter.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Queequeg
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Queequeg »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 2:23 pm
Queequeg wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:13 am If you take religion away from both of those movements, it loses the existential urgency, as well as the... I don't know what the word is in English... 正 rectitude? Dignity?
This argument is total nonsense. The Civil Rights movement did not succeed because of religious conviction, it succeeded despite it. You recall, that the segregationists and advocates of slavery before them, also took the Bible as their source for their [un]ethical arguments about miscegenation and earlier, owning people.
Another way to look at it is that it was in some respects a parallel religious debate.

I understand your view. I just don't agree.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta
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Re: Enlightened Society

Post by Danny »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Jul 29, 2020 2:16 pm

Here life and liberty are specifically equated "with the means of acquiring and possessing property."

The most important founders were all atheists, aka "Deists," followers of Lucretius's Epicureanism as treated in De Rerum Natura. If you haven't read it, you should read Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic.
Yes,
I believe influences were 15th-16th century John Locke’s two treaties of governance, as opposed to Hobbes competing leviathan theory, born from the English civil war, add a splash of English common law and French rights of man, with a twist of Native American lodge democracy. But as you rightly mention is all centered around property and labor rights of ownership. One area I would like to study if I have time is the position of the Quakers.
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