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Thomas Brewton

Academic Theorist In The White House
By Thomas E. Brewton
Nov 4, 2010 - 12:25:15 AM

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James T. Kloppenberg is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. His featured article in the November-December 2010 edition of the Harvard alumni magazine explains why academics find President Obama so attractive.

The article title "From Hull House to the White House" - sets the tone.

Unfortunately the internet version of the article is only a short extract of the version in the magazine's print edition. Some of the quotations below are not in the web version.

Hull House was the famous settlement house established in 1889 by Jane Addams, who was among the first generation of women to receive college educations. The content of those women's education was much influenced by America's burgeoning love affair with socialism, already well entrenched in France and Germany and rising to influence in England with the Fabian Society, led by George Bernard Shaw and by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

Hull House provided housing, food, and clothing for poor immigrants in Chicago. Like Barack Obama, Miss Addams was an advocate of the social gospel movement, a disguised version of atheistic, materialistic socialism. Its adherents viewed the political state as the only effective agent for aiding the downtrodden, sick, and aged. A tangential appeal to Christian doctrine is employed, not to urge individuals to live in true Christian love, caring for others one-on-one, but to raise taxes in order to shift those missions to government.

In the 1880s, leading universities in the United States had begun a transition from the Christian roots of our nation into atheistic, secular materialism in their teaching of the so-called social sciences. Nominally-Christian theological seminaries were in the vanguard of the movement toward socialism. Rochester Theological Seminary's professor Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the best known socialist spokesmen of his era, was a founder of the Social Gospel movement late in the 19th century.

Social Gospel embraced the avowed aims of socialism, which sound similar to the results that flow from the Bible's commandment to love one's neighbor as he would wish to have his neighbor love him. Social Gospel, however, was nothing more nor less than socialism masquerading as Christianity.

In "Christianizing the Social Order" (1912), Professor Rauschenbusch wrote:

"The Socialists found the Church against them and thought God was against them, too. They have had to do God's work without the sense of God's presence to hearten them...Whatever the sins of individual Socialists, and whatever the shortcomings of Socialist organizations, they are tools in the hands of the Almighty...Socialism is one of the chief powers of the coming age...God will raise up Socialism because the organized Church was too blind, or too slow, to realize God's ends."

The dictionary defines a constitution as, "a body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is acknowledged to be governed." But in his Harvard Magazine article, Professor Kloppenberg sees little if anything of fundamental, established nature in the United States Constitution. He emphasizes instead the conception of the Constitution as a document that evolves, in Darwinian fashion, to deal with changing materialistic conditions, such as where and how people earn their living and whether they are well clothed, well housed, and well fed. Needless to say, only academics such as Obama have the intellectual capacity to understand the changes that impose Darwinian natural selection on articles of the Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution gives us a process to change the Constitution, a process requiring deep consensus among citizens in all of the states. Liberal-progressives, however, prefer making end runs, stacking the judiciary with jurists who will create new law with their legal decisions, regardless of public consensus or established principles and traditions.


"That [early colonial] experience of democracy both required and bolstered the "humility" that comes from knowing that one's own convictions are not always shared by one's neighbors. Moreover, whether one is in the majority or the minority, the awareness that circumstances change and majorities are fleeting also necessitates a rejection of absolute truth..."

"Only through that discursive process, as Madison observed, as Alexis de Tocqueville confirmed in the 1830s, and as Obama clearly understands, did Americans come to know--or rather to create--what they called a common good. They understood that the ideal of a common good appeared and then receded along the horizon. It did not exist before they argued about it, and it changed shape as they tried to implement it...

"Obama the community organizer turned professor of constitutional law has a solid grasp of the dynamics of American democracy. He knows the process whereby individual interests can become transformed into something larger. He learned the theory from American historian Gordon Wood and the civic republican revival; he saw--and for several years helped shape--the practice in the far south side of Chicago...

"Obama is drawn toward the ideas of anti-foundationalism, historicism, and philosophical pragmatism. As an anti-foundationalist, he questions the existence of universal truths. As a historicist, he doubts that any idea transcends the particularity of time and culture. Finally, as a philosophical pragmatist he insists that all propositions, positions, and policies must be subjected to continual critical scrutiny...

"[Obama] points out that scholars now agree that the Constitution was "cobbled together" from heated debates and emerged "not as the result of principle but as the result of power and passion...No unitary meaning or intent can be found...

"Obama the law professor concedes that such a conception of the founding appeals to him because it encourages us to emphasize the contingency of the original document and to appreciate the contingencies that lie beneath our own invocations of high principle. His constitutionalism fits neatly into the historicist framework that was displacing older verities in the academic communities of Los Angeles, New York, Cambridge, and Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. Such historicism, he writes, might free us to "assert our own values unencumbered by fidelity to the stodgy traditions of a distant past."

"...The need for such hard work derives, at least in part, from the deeply flawed structures put in place by the Constitution...A second antidemocratic feature of the "great compromise" between the North and the slave-holding South was the provision electing two senators from each state...From the beginning, the Senate tended to resist change more vigorously than has the more representative House."

[With regard to the nature of the Senate, see "The 17th Amendment Revisited"]

Given President Obama's dearth of political leadership experience and distaste for political traditions, with which the writers of the Constitution in contrast were deeply imbued, the views that Professor Kloppenberg ascribes to Obama are no more than abstract theory, floating in mid air, derived from Obama's Ivy League education and from his exposure to the 1960s and 70s nihilistic student radicalism.

To some extent this explains the president's readiness to destroy long-standing principles of Federal governance and to saddle the nation with an unmanageable debt load.

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776

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