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on August 1, 2017
In this book, Zuckert quotes and endorses Ronald Hamowy's "conjectural" definition of the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence, ignoring the actual May 1776 congressional definition of happiness ("internal peace, VIRTUE, and good order" -- written by John Adams and appearing in the resolution that established de facto independence). Zuckert finds it hard to believe that Burlamaqui stated that governments exist to secure natural rights, but BURLAMAQUI STATED EXACTLY THAT, with natural rights understood in terms of the pursuit of happiness, which is the grounding concept (mentioned in the first paragraph) of his "Principles of Natural and Politic Law." This willful blindness allows Zuckert to argue that Locke is the source of the ideas of the Declaration, while not engaging with the differing views of natural right that appear in Hutcheson and Burlamaqui, both of whom were well-known and well-respected in the era of the American Revolution. In other words, while the book's exposition of Lockean thought is well-written and accessible, the foundation of Zuckert's association of Locke with the Declaration of Independence is rotten.
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on December 24, 1999
Yet again, Michael Zuckert has produced a forceful, challenging, and overly fascinating work of scholarship. His previous work, "Natural Rights and the New Republicanism," in many ways a "prequel" to this volume, was a historical and not to mention philosophical landmark. This work picks up right where he left off. Part I of the work consists of an in depth analysis of the Declaration of Independence. This interpretration bristles with new insight. Unlike many past scholars, Zuckert makes an overt effort to place the Declaration in context. He does this by examining other sources of information, e.g. Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on Virginia" for instance. The end result, I must say, is brilliant. Contrary to modern conceptions, he demonstrates what the Declaration was really meant to say, and, at the same time, how philosophically sophisticated it really was. In Part II, Zuckert endeavors to prove that the United States was indeed founded as the natural rights republic, in a modern, dynamic, forward looking philosophical climate. To begin with, he picks apart the thesis that the American Revolution was merely an extension of the Glorious Revolution undertaken by the Whig ruling class in the late 1680s. This however, is nothing new, especially if one has already read his account of the Glorious Revolution and natural rights philosophy in his previous work. Nevertheless, he shows conclusively the incompatibility between the two Revolutions, primarily, but not wholly, through a comparison of the Declaration of Independence and the English "Bill of Rights." Moving on, Chapters 5 and 6 address the issue of Puritanism and its legacy in early America. Many scholars have proposed that the American Revolution was merely an extension of ideals held by the early Calvinist settlers of the 17th century. It is this thesis, however, that Zuckert completely demolishes. He conducts and in depth analysis of Puritan ideology, as well as its sources. Of particular interest is discussion of Martin Luther's concept of the "Two Kingdoms," and its influence in American thought. To make a long story short, he demonstrates how dramatically Locke's ideas clash with those of the early Puritans. This contention is driven home clearly by an examination of important political/relgious thinkers in 18th centiry New England, Elisha Williams and Jonathan Mayhew in particular. Finally, in Chapter 7 finds Zuckert further pushing his case for the natural rights republic. He takes on the so-called "classical republican" or "civic humanist" thesis expounded by such scholars as J.G.A. Pocock and Gordon Wood, deftly making mincemeat of them. Pressing on, he examines Thomas Jefferson's evolving political philosophy to reveal the truly radical, natural rightist foundations of American republicanism. Although the book is by and large solid, I do have several misgivings about it. First and foremost, Zuckert's Jefferson scholarship is highy suspect, as can be devined through use of Merill Peterson's biography, as the small, unscholarly Library of America collection of Jefferson's writings. I was very surprised that he did not cite Dumas Malone's definitive 6 volume biography "Jefferson and His Time," or Julian Boyd's definitive collection of Jefferson's papers. Also, Zuckert's refutation of the Puritan "Continuity Thesis," strikes me as a bit odd, as it does not prove anything at all concerning the colonies outside of New England, none of which have any Puritan heritage whatsoever. Despite these shortcomings, the work as a whole is brilliant. This volume, as well as his previous offering, is an absolute must for anyone interested in the relevant disciplines.
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on February 27, 2001
This book is an absolute must not only for loyal followers of a natural rights theory as basis of the US constitution. Every scholar who wants to research the foundations of American constitutionalism in depth should have this book in the personal library. It his here that he will find pure Lockeanism and is here that Zuckert puts forward his case of Lockean natural rights and social contract theory as ideological basis for the founders in such a concise way that it is difficult to argue against his case. Of course this is what avid Zuckert readers are used to. This book, however, in referring to Jefferson as a natural rights thinker argues the natural rights theory with one of the most convincing witnesses you can find in American history: Thomas Jefferson. Zuckert depicts the Declaration of Independence and American political thought from an interesting perspective, Jefferson's viewpoint. He succeeds in disputing the main opposing theories to the natural rights theory such as the exemplary role of classical Greece and Rome, the continuity theory based on Puritan thought and Bailyn's point that Locke was only one among others influential on American political thought, to name just a few. I did note, however, a certain tendency to neglect historical facts especially as far as the influence of the English common law and Whiggish thought on the framers is concerned. Finally, that Zuckert did not examine the Constitution itself as closely as the Declaration of Independence is not only excusable. It serves a good purpose: to underline the importance of the Declaration of Independence as an outflow of quintessential American thought, thus a document America should be proud of.
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