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.