Re-thinking Jefferson

It is commonly known that two Nigerian-descended converts to Islam, Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale, decapitated Lee Rigby.


The killers justified their actions with glittering generalities and high-flying rhetoric. Since classical liberals are commonly accused of justifying violence with such generalities and rhetoric, classical liberals can take this decapitation as an opportunity to pause and reflect.

Modern classical liberals tend to imagine that Thomas Jefferson would say: “It does me no harm that Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale were descended from Nigerians and that they converted to Islam.” (It was easy for Thomas Jefferson to profess tolerance for Muslims, since he seldom met any; he might have made unprincipled exceptions to his boldly phrased principles of tolerance. Such historical counterfactuals are difficult to argue.) As recently as 40 years ago, classical liberalism was so pervasive in the West that Jefferson was cited as an unquestionable authority on moral issues.

Various Manospherians and Orthospherians have questioned whether we ought to be classical liberals.

If we are not going to be classical liberals, we need to look back at the axioms that we had imbibed with our mothers’ milk and re-evaluate.

E.g.: Classical liberal axiom: It does me no harm if my neighbor believes in one God or twenty; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

If that axiom leads to false conclusions, we must revise it to the following:

Empirical evidence suggests that neighbors who believe in no God, or twenty, sometimes use their religious beliefs to coordinate mass aggression that ends up picking pockets and breaking legs.

Henry Dampier has commented: “It sure matters a lot when your neighbor’s god tells your neighbors to skin you alive.”

On the flip side, Jefferson’s motto is sometimes correct. A group of chemical engineers at an engineering conference can function just like a group of 18th century Americans in a coffeehouse – they can disregard minor details of religion and race and treat each other as philosophes.

Britannica tells us:

hilosophe, any of the literary men, scientists, and thinkers of 18th-century France who
were united, in spite of divergent personal views, in their conviction of the supremacy and efficacy of human reason.

Inspired by the philosophic thought of René Descartes, the skepticism of the Libertins, or freethinkers, and the popularization of science by Bernard de Fontenelle, the philosophes expressed support for social, economic, and political reforms…

There are many social situations in which reason is efficacious and supreme – a group of engineers at an engineering conference should indeed trust reason, rather than ethnic instincts or mystical intuitions.

However, there are many social situations – such as an urban riot in 21st century London – in which the religious tolerance of Jefferson might lead its practitioners to an early demise. Jefferson himself tempered his religious tolerance with calls for racial separation:

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