The Providential Nature of Politics in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards
Despite the obvious importance of Jonathan Edwards in American history, scholars have largely ignored his relevance for political thought. To ignore him is to miss a critical component in early American political philosophy and to have a skewed understanding of the subsequent history of revivals and revivalism that have shaped religion, politics, and philosophy in America. This dissertation addresses this oversight. It situates Edwards among American political thinkers and shows him to be an important piece in the American political tradition. This dissertation argues that for Jonathan Edwards politics is deeply historical in nature. He has a strong historical sense that is indistinguishable from his notion of Providence. The dissertation concludes that--in line with his theology, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics--the political philosophy of Jonathan Edwards is fundamentally historical and more akin to that of Burke, Hegel, Adams and other "conservative" thinkers than it is to Rousseau, Paine, and other revolutionary thinkers.The dissertation examines Edwards' own writings as well as important secondary sources and interpretations of his work. It uses a traditional hermeneutical technique to systematize his social and political ideas and to draw out implications for political thought from his ostensibly non-political theological and philosophical writings. The first two chapters provide an overview of his life and thought and an introduction to his philosophy of history. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters discuss his views of the human being in terms of the will, affections, and original sin, with special emphasis on Edwards's articulation of identity and "free" will as being historically rooted in an organic and providential relationship with both God and the rest of humanity. The sixth and seventh chapters engage Edwards's doctrines of virtue, aesthetics, and teleology as they interact with the traditional doctrine of justification by faith in the concrete reality of history. The last chapter summarizes the thesis that Edwards's political thought is historical rather than revolutionary. The chapter compares this conclusion to the rather different conclusions drawn by the only previous major work on Edwards's political thought. Finally, the dissertation indicates specific needs for further study of Edwards' political thought.
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