From the Religious Right’s response to Kim Davis’ arrest, you would think none of them had ever heard of the United States Constitution. David Barton, the Religious Right’s premier fake historian, in Houston to attend Deputy Darren Goforth’s funeral, proclaimed that “the Founding Fathers made it real clear that the laws of God are higher than the laws of man.” According to Barton, “This is a law of God. Man’s law is not allowed to contradict God’s law.”
In fact, it is exactly the opposite. The United States Constitution was written by those same Founding Fathers to put humans, not deities, in the driver’s seat, that political power derives from the hands of the people and the consent of the governed. You could not tell a bigger lie than David Barton just did if you tried.
Barton must have a special copy of the Constitution, one nobody else has ever seen, because nowhere did the Founding Fathers say God’s law was the law of the land. It would be difficult to do when the Constitution doesn’t even mention God – or the Bible, or the Ten Commandments. Thomas Jefferson, with his low opinion of the Church and its bloody history, didn’t give them a mention in the Declaration of Independence either.
Seems pretty cut and dried, doesn’t it? And yet this is more than just trumping the Constitution with God’s law, as discussed here yesterday by Muse; it is implying the Constitution itself puts God’s law first.
The Founding Fathers gave us a new nation, with the best institutions the Enlightenment had to offer. They had their pick when using models out of ancient history. But it wasn’t monotheistic ancient Israel that interested these men. It was ancient Pagan Greece with its democratic ideal, and Pagan Rome with its republic and its senate. It was the Pagan Anglo-Saxons and their common law.
Barton added, “That’s why we’re a Republic, not a democracy.” A republic puts the law of God above the law of man and a democracy doesn’t? When, exactly, did this transformation in political science take place?
In fact, the United States is a democracy, in that political power derives from the consent of the governed. It is also a republic. When, in the Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison contrasted republics and democracies, he did so according to the 18th century definition of a democracy being a “direct democracy,” like that found in ancient Athens, which not only led to chaos, but which did not give adequate protections to minorities.
(N.B.: consider the case of Socrates, who was executed for a minority opinion…)
David Barton claims here that what sets republics and democracies apart is a “higher power” – i.e. God. It is not of course.
In the Federalist Papers No. 39, Madison explained that a republic “is a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.”
He is describing, in modern terms, a representative form of government. The government, in fact, given us by the United States Constitution. He is not describing anything found in the Bible, which offers us a choice between a monarch ruling by divine right, or an outright theocracy with priests calling the shots on behalf of God. Nothing in the Federalist Papers suggest that God’s law trumps man’s law. As with the Constitution, rather the contrary, in fact.
The word “republic” itself comes from the Latin, res publica, or “public thing,” and all it means is that the people govern for their own benefit, rather than for the benefit of, say, a king. Rome was a Republic. It drove out its last king and hated the very idea of monarchy as a form of tyranny.
The Roman idea of a republic had nothing to do with god, or with gods, and everything to do with the people and how those people viewed the role of their government; the difference between Rome and Athens is that the Athenians embraced the idea of one man, one vote, whereas the Romans elected representatives to rule over them.
Thus we find Article IV, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, which states “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”
Only a mental defective would understand this to mean imposition of theocracy, which is what David Barton is proposing. Barton may or may not actually believe it, but disbelief only means he is the most audacious liar in American history.
For the Romans, who so inspired Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, the idea of Republic was found in the acronym SPQR – Senatus Populusque Romanus – the Senate and the People of Rome. Not the gods and Rome. Not even the gods and the people and the senate. Just the senate and the people as a single voice.
What all this goes to prove is that David Barton is a liar, and a rather bad liar at that. You cannot expect to just invent things out of whole cloth that are contradicted by the facts and not be challenged. Of course, scholars have been challenging Barton’s lies for years, as have the folks at Right Wing Watch, and as I have here.
The extent to which he still finds welcome has a lot to do with the company he keeps. Glenn Beck is Barton’s BFF, as is Mike Huckabee, who said years ago he wants us all to listen to Barton at gunpoint – which, let’s face it, is about the only way that’s going to happen.
It is no surprise that Republicans prefer made up history, given their preference for made up facts. Fake facts demand fake history to back them up, with the result that they are living not in the real world, cognizant of real world facts and our shared reality, but in a fantasy novel they are making up as they go along.
Only subscribers to this fake reality will subscribe to Barton’s monstrous lies. Of course, pretty much everything that comes out of Barton’s mouth is a monstrous lie, this not least among them.