Guy Cicero

For now we see through a glass, darkly….

First Principles: A Book Review

I had very high hopes for this book because I love reading American history and because I can’t help from trying to synthesize what I understand actually happened with contemporary thinking and philosophies. But this book was a big disappointment. It failed completely in gaining any useful insight into the minds of the Founders. I don’t feel that Ricks makes his case at all that America’s Founders got their government-forming ideas and principles directly from reading the ancient Greeks and Romans. And I (still) think the ancients had much less to do with the shape of our country than Ricks proposes.

I learned that Enlightenment and Renaissance thinkers (Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Montesquieu, and others) were the main influencers on the Founders’ thinking and that the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution (especially as unpacked and explained in the Federalist) express a reaction to the history and contemporary actions of the British monarchy and parliamentary system much more so than to any other source. Those Founders educated “classically” certainly were exposed to ancient ideas and values as expressed from Homer to Hadrian, but Ricks completely leaves out the one source that was the first and most important source for the ideas and values of practically every thinker, monarch, politician, and military leader from at least the 5th century CE to the 18th, namely the Christian Bible.

Think and say what you like about the Bible from today’s perspective, but I can’t imagine writing an intellectual history of the American Revolution without acknowledging the Bible’s central role in shaping the minds and hearts of the Founders, and the whole United States by implication. At least I couldn’t before reading this book. I’m tempted to say, as have others here, that the book is a waste of time. But I don’t believe that. It has provided more food for thought about the influence of the Bible on all Western history including US history than anything else I’ve read.

Clearly, there is a lot to explore about the influence of the Bible on our political values (the foundation for government provided by laws and a legal system, individual accountability, human rights, social consciousness, egalitarianism, and much more). I’m looking forward to reading those books some day.



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