Political and Religious Philosophy in the American Revolution, Research Proposal Example
Words: 854Research Proposal
The text will address the politico-philosophical and religious discourses that informed the so-called American Enlightenment, and how such discourses thereafter contributed to engendering the desired break from Great Britain and the American Revolutionary War.
The pertinence of what may be termed intellectual causes for the U.S. Revolutionary War suggests that the movement known as the “American Enlightenment” possessed radical conceptions of politics and governance, which were fundamentally in conflict with standard British views of the latter. A closer examination of the philosophical, religious, and political arguments that supported the position of American independence vis-à-vis Great Britain will suggest that it was primarily a unique conception of the role of government that informed this movement. This conception can be understood as a new formulation of the concept of political power and sovereignty, whereby sovereignty is radically displaced from its traditional equation with governmental and authoritative forms of power.
This new formulation of political power in the American Enlightenment will be traced back to particular intellectual currents that can be deemed as historically pertinent to its emergence. In this regard, thinkers critical to the revolutionary movement, such as Thomas Paine and John Locke, will be summarized both in terms of their own viewpoints concerning politics and how they were interpreted by American thinkers. The text will thus address the extent to which the intellectual context of the American Enlightenment maintained a fidelity to these thinkers, while also forming their own unique conception of the role of politics. A particular emphasis will be placed on the conception of Deism, as explicated by Thomas Paine, and how such a religious world-view corresponded to the de-centralization of state influence that seems to define American conceptions of sovereignty. This could be formulated as a correspondence between the notions of, on the one hand, what may be termed a “weak God” of deism that defers his authority to the individual, and, on the other hand, a “weak state” that symmetrically defers its authority to the individual.
The Philosophical and Ideological Influences of the American Enlightenment
- The historical Background of the American Enlightenment suggests that it was primarily influenced by thinkers such as Thomas Paine and John Locke who posit sovereignty in terms of the individual as opposed to the state.
- The Deistic thought of Thomas Paine entails the notion of a rational God. Yet arguably the crucial feature of the rational God is that it encourages rationality as opposed to obedience. Rationality is simultaneously linked, following the Enlightenment tradition, to a notion of individual autonomy.
- The conception of John Locke as a radically democratic thinker primarily lies in his prioritization of the individual over the state, a prioritization that would be readily adhered to by the revolutionary movement.
The American Reception of Political Philosophy
- Sovereignty as rupture with government is a political philosophical project that, following the influence of Paine and Locke, provides a radically minimal picture of government. Sovereignty here is closely linked to what may be termed de-centralized networks as opposed to the notion of a state.
- The American Enlightenment as a re-redefinition of sovereignty according to the priority of the Individual provides the crucial theoretical support for what may be termed the anti-politics of this Enlightenment, insofar as the latter’s conception of politics corresponded to a minimization of the role of politics.
- The American Conception of the State as what may be termed a “Weak State”, that is, one that is radically de-centralized such that sovereignty is postulated in terms of the individual instead of the government.
- The effect of the rational God of Deism on American Political Thought in terms of the link between reason, sovereignty and freedom.
- The Deistic God as a “Weak God” who confers sovereignty to the individual. In this regard, there appears to be a crucial link between the links between this notion of a “Weak God” and a “Weak State.”
- The Christian Heritage of the United States, such as Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the life of Christ and how this conforms to the notions of a “Weak God” and a “Weak State.” In this regard, theological accounts of sovereignty portray a crucial role in terms of American political philosophy.
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Ferguson, Robert A. The American Enlightenment: 1750-1820. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority. 1750-1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
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Paine, Thomas. Rights of Man, Common Sense and Other Political Writings. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1995.
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Young, Alfred F. and Iobles, Gregory J. (eds.) Whose American Revolution Was It?: Historians Interpret the Founding. New York, NY: New York University Press, 2011.
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