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Deism and Politics: How Deism Helped Libertarianism

Since its dawn in the Enlightenment Era, deism has been closely tied to classical liberalism, helping the movement spread liberty.

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By Jack Parkos | United States

Previously I wrote an introduction and history of deism and explained some of it’s belief systems. Deism, throughout its history, has helped the libertarian movement quite a bit.

During the Age of Enlightenment, political, religious, and scientific thought were rapidly changing into new beliefs, in every area from secularism and skepticism to monarchs. The new political ideology taking place was what we now call Classical Liberalism, the first form of libertarianism. Many Classical Liberals (including most of the Founding Fathers) were also deists.  This makes sense, as there are similarities between the two.

Parallels of Deism and Classical Liberalism

Lets look at some parallels between the two. For starters, both deism and classical liberalism used similar lines of thinking, these being skepticism, and reasoning. I wrote before how deism puts a great emphasis on nature and natural law. This also was a huge part of Locke’s Classical Liberal ideology.

Deists also believe in true free will, similar to the Classical Liberal thought. Classical Liberals believed that our rights come from our creator. This creator was the Deist creator, who gave us natural rights, but left us on our own to use them. With this, we created government to protect these rights. However, the religious view at the time was that God gave monarchs the authority to rule over the people. Both the classical liberal and deist thought would reject this.

Divine Right and Reactions

We must remember what helped spawn the first liberty movements: tyrannical monarchs. Pre enlightenment, kings had near, if not complete, absolute rule over the people. Kings would often interfere in the economy to benefit the wealthy. Kings could raise armies and fight wars while driving the country into debt (sound familiar?), and if the people spoke against it they would be brutally punished. Why? Because the king allegedly had God’s ultimate authority.

This was called “Divine Right”: the theory that God gave monarchs the right to rule. The Enlightenment, on the other hand, was a reaction to this concept. People increasingly thought it was absurd to assume that God gave kings the right to rule. The two groups that stood the most fervently against this were deism and classical liberalism. These ideologies were growing rapidly and growing together. Many people who were deists were also classical liberals and vice versa.

Take, for example, Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine wrote both “The Age of Reason” (which I highly recommend reading if you’re interested in deism)  and “Common Sense”, a famous pamphlet that helped start the American Revolution. Paine rejected the theory of “Divine Right”. Paine, arguably the most famous and popular deist, believed the creator did not interfere with the world and logically, would never give a man right to rule over another. This goes hand and hand with Locke’s belief that no man is born with the authority to rule over another man. The deist thought and classical liberal thought are one and the same.

How Deism Helped the Libertarian Movement

It is truly interesting how a religious philosophy helped a political movement. But the Classical Liberal ideology needed deism. It needed the deist theory of natural rights from the creator and the theory of a non intervening god. We must remember how early libertarianism (classical liberalism) was slightly different than modern libertarianism in how it came about. They were criticizing those who gained power, not through elections, but through the Divine Right theory.

These people like Locke and Paine sat and used there reasoning to come to certain conclusions. 1. Human are born with certain unalienable rights that the creator gives them. 2. Government was created for the sole legitimate function of protecting these rights, but monarchs took it to bad ends. 3. People use organized religions to gain power over other people, and thus created “Divine Right”. We must realize how much deism helped them come to these conclusions. Deist philosophy destroys the Divine Right theory, and applying this philosophy to politics gives us Classical Liberalism.

Conclusion

Was deism the only contributor to libertarianism? No. But not many people would know about how much it truly helped. In fact most people don’t know what deism is. In fact, many people assume the Founding Fathers were Christian. However, most of the Founding Fathers were deists who believed in the moral teachings of the Bible, but not the claims of miracles. Deism has been pushed under the table of enlightenment thought, but it should be remembered for what it did to help the world of both religion and politics.


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  1. The seminal Founding Fathers were indeed entrenched in Deism, and helped set the path to modern Pandeism (ironically, the very word “Pandeism” — in a form of the German “Pandeismus” — was coined in 1787, as the Constitution itself was being convened). Conversely, while Deists have long been a backbone to Libertarian thought, scripture-waving Theists brought us the income tax, all sorts of “prohibition” and “temperance” and other nanny-state anti-freedom principles, and have ushered us into too many pricey unnecessary wars to count.

    Reply

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