Saturday, July 05, 2008


It seemed unlikely that CNN had taken up necromancy, so I was not surprised to learn that the survey on what the Founders would think of modern America did not in fact poll the Founders, but polled what modern people thought the Founders would think. Measured this way, the "Founding Fathers' " approval of our country has dropped off sharply in the last seven years.

These poll numbers, of course, bears an uncanny similarity to those resulting from the question, "Do you think the country is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?" What they bear no resemblance to is any particular beliefs or goals of the Founding Fathers themselves.

DOB and I considered that perhaps before being permitted to answer this poll, people should be required to name at least fifteen Founders, defined as those who signed the Declaration or participated in the Constitutional Convention, although I was permitted to sneak in John Jay. We tried it and found ourselves stretched to the limits, although there was some head-smacking when we looked up the lists. (And you know you're a history geek when you're head-smacking over George Wythe.)

Names alone would hardly be enough to qualify a person to answer the question; they should also have to recite or summarize a significant portion of the founding documents, and be able to contrast the views of a couple of different Founders, who, after all, hardly agreed in perfect concord. I bet Alexander Hamilton would be reasonably satisfied with the current America, while Jefferson would probably be horrified.

The trouble is, the Founding Fathers have achieved that sort of mythic status of Nebulous Good Guys, whose opinion, therefore, must pretty much match mine, because I am a Good Guy. The Founding Fathers would think just like I do about the country. Which is absurd.

It's rather like asking the question "What would Jesus do?" (Or how would he vote, or drive, or what not.) Jesus, also being good and wise, would of course come to the same conclusions I have. Considering the frequency with which Jesus astonished the apostles, I doubt any modern person can safely predict His actions in areas where he made no direct statement.

Not that it is bad to consider the opinions of the Founders politically, or the actions of Jesus personally. But we should keep in mind that it takes both an extraordinary amount of knowledge and an unusual degree of humility to genuinely apply their perspectives to modern circumstances. If all we're going to do is stick with our own happy opinions, we ought to be honest about and not project our personal ideas on our favorite icons.


Steve said...

It's funny, but I was thinking "If I was very pregnant with twins, what would I blog about?".

And amazingly enough, your blog entry - down to the obscure Founding Father and each piece of punctuation - was what didn't pop into my head.

Queen of Carrots said...

If *you* were very pregnant with twins, it wouldn't matter what you blogged about, you'd have a huge following.

Anonymous said...

"I doubt any modern person can safely predict His actions in areas where he made no direct statement"
What about the bible? Or in the Founding Fathers Case...
What about copies of all their speeches, The Federalist, Journals of Continental Congress or reading the constitution Literally without Political bias on interpretation? (except for the Constitution's own bias)
what about all the pro freedom smarty pants' guys like Bastiat
what about the claims of Anti Federalists?
on this and this alone i would say the founding fathers would restart the American Revolution and Jesus would have left the country in disgust... or try to save them...