Tag Archives: Garrett Ward Sheldon

Life Cycle of a nation – Is the warning too late?

How to Avoid the Life Cycle and Death Spiral of a Republic

A wise Jerusalem is better than an innocent Eden.

By Garrett Ward Sheldon • August 7, 2020

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome. And as the wise historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the errors of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, The History of Political Theory: Ancient Greece to Modern America, may also be helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the “lifecycle” of a republic. Like a human being, a republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was born in 1776 (our Declaration of Independence) and 1789 (the ratification of our Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800’s (during our Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th centuries. But, by the mid-20th century, especially after World War II, our country grew old, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and mentally-impaired.

Like human beings, elderly republics become weak and sickly, sad and demented before they die completely: into anarchy and lawlessness, or tyranny and dictatorship. A society shows its old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. 

Read on…

'The System worked'

America’s constitutional arrangements came under a severe attack with the concocted charges that led to President Trump’s impeachment. Professor Emeritus Garrett Ward Sheldon of the University of Virginia shows how well America’s system of government with roots in Western Civilization going back to Aristotle dealt with it. Professor Sheldon explains how deeply James Madison’s Christian/Biblical understanding of man and his weaknesses influenced the writing of the American Constitution.

Even all the powers of a concentrated, entrenched establishment, corrupted political institutions, and monopolized media and education systems could not defeat the Madisonian constitutional system.

As irritating as the last three years of political turmoil have been (especially the bizarre and idiotic impeachment fiasco), Americans can rejoice that the Madisonian constitutional system of “checks and balances” has proven its wisdom once again.

This system of divided and overlapping powers in branches and levels of government (unitary executive, bicameral legislature, and a judicial branch; along with national-state federalism) is the wonder and envy of the world: other countries right now cannot believe how the United States managed this crucial political battle without a bloody revolution or merciless dictatorship, but relatively peaceably and rationally.

This American system of “separation of powers” provides that if one branch of government, representing some major interest or “faction” tries to force its will over all the rest of society, there will be push-back, as “ambition checks ambition” and balance is restored.

Read on…

Thomas Jefferson and academic freedom

Thomas Jefferson’s Conception of ‘Academic Freedom’ and Its Current Condition in American Higher Education

Garrett Ward Sheldon
The John Morton Beaty Professor of Political and Social Sciences, The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

‘Here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to combat it.’ -Thomas Jefferson

THOMAS JEFFERSON’S CONCEPTION OF ‘Academic Freedom’ became the standard of modern intellectual progress in America and the world. Its components of both individual freedom of inquiry in expression and debate along with lively, free and tolerant academic community were seen as essential to all other forms of progress: political, economic, social and ethical. This Jeffersonian ideal of Academic Freedom in the university and all its positive effects on the rest of American Society has come under assault throughout history from religious bigotry, social intolerance, and political ideology, most recently from the federal government’s expansion of the Title IX law during the past six years. It almost destroyed university knowledge and learning, the lively academic community as well as their attendant social and personal benefits. Continue reading Thomas Jefferson and academic freedom

Burke’s Catholic conservatism

An unbiased reader of Burke’s writings, one familiar with the history of Catholic theology and philosophy, could not help thinking that Edmund Burke was as close to being Catholic as one could be without officially belonging to the Church. Garrett Ward Sheldon in his essay in Modern Age Summer 2014 marshals such compelling evidence and argument that there seems hardly any doubt left about where Burke had his religious allegiance. Professor Sheldon’s essay is one of the most important in recent years about one of the crucial influences that operated on Edmund Burke, an influence that has not until now received the full attention it demands.

BURKE’S CATHOLIC CONSERVATISM
by Garrett Ward Sheldon

Garrett Ward Sheldon is the John Morton Beaty Professor of Political Science at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and author of ten books on political theory and political theology.

In perhaps his most famous observation, Edmund Burke said that the social con­tract is not something made in a moment in time but rather is between the past, the present, and the future. Continue reading Burke’s Catholic conservatism