Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The American State Papers: The Birth of a Nation... Not Mine

I'm Canadian, but the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Founding Fathers are household names (although I hadn't heard of the Federalist Papers before now), so it was neat to finally read them. My first reaction was how short the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are, although in hindsight it makes sense.

Obviously, the Declaration of Independence was the declaration that America would no longer be a part of the British Empire. The Constitution was the basic governing structure proposed for the United States. There wasn't anything very surprising in these two documents.

The Federalist Papers got more interesting. The Federalist Papers were a series of short articles written by three men (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) defending the Constitution against naysayers. The articles that I read concerned the importance of the States being united States under one government rather than individual "city-states" like in ancient Greece, taxation, distribution of judicial, legislative, and executive powers, and the office of President of the United States. I found these papers interesting, because it showed how history might have taken a different turn had America rejected the Constitution (imagine the States not being united). Overall, I did find it dry reading though.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


I've decided to delete my blog entry about Book Two of Rabelai's Gargantua and Pantagruel. It didn't really add anything to my thoughts on the first book and it was pretty much an immature rant. I've made necessary edits to my original blog entry on Rabelais to include Books One and Two.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" [Ch. 15-16]: Divorcing Theology and History

In Chapter 15 of "The Decline" Gibbon describes what he considers the chief reasons for Christianity's success in the Roman Empire during the first few centuries AD and in Chapter 16 he outlines the relationship between the early Christians and the Roman Emperors from Nero to Constantine.

Gibbon attempts to provide an impartial account of the rise of Christianity contrasted with the biased traditional histories of the Church. For me reading Gibbon raised the question of the possibility (or impossibility) of being truly objective. For the most part I think Gibbon was successful as he debunked mistaken beliefs about the early Christians using primary sources rather than Church-sanctioned secondary sources. On the other hand, Gibbon had a habit of making value judgments on people and things. He was particularly harsh on the Jews. Wouldn't a truly objective writer withold his opinions even if he were writing about the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan? He also referred to many religions (Christianity, paganism, Judaism) as "superstition" but wouldn't a truly impartial writer not dismiss any religion (or athiesm, deism etc.) as none can be proven or disproven based on empirical evidence?

 I say none of this to slam Gibbon. He proved to be a very capable historian and I found "The Decline" very informative and readable. History and religion/mythology are two of my favourite subects, so naturally I was interested in the topic Gibbon was writing about. Modern skepticism is in full force in "the Decline" as Gibbon removes God from view and focuses on what can be discovered on empirical evidence and brainpower alone. Perhaps the boldest statement Gibbon made in his book is that the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire has been exaggerated by the Church. Gibbon estimated just under 2,000 Christians were put to death by a lawful sentence. It's still a significant number, but far lower than the Church maintained in the past.

So overall, I quite enjoyed Gibbon and would like to read "the Decline" in its entirety one day.