The Classical and Christian Origins of American Politics: Political Theology, Natural Law, and the American Founding, Kody W. Cooper and Justin Buckley Dyer

Reviewed by Nicholas Higgins

Cooper and Dyer offer a vital addition to the growing literature on Christianity’s influences on the founding era by demonstrating the presence of natural law principles guiding political discourses and interpretation. They identify two premises that underly this theory: first, “God as the creator of a purposeful order in nature,” and second, God “as the providential author of a natural moral law known to reason” (191). This moral framework, rooted in Thomistic and Protestant reformed political theology, (15–18; 189–192) framed the Revolution-era debates. From this foundation, the authors argue for a political principle of “secondary sovereignty”—a view of authority that is nonabsolutist (12) and teleologically oriented to the common good (180–181). According to the authors, secondary sovereignty requires the active participation of the vox populi within the limits of God’s creation and providence, for no constitutional order is absolute.

The active conformity of government to the natural order entails a retained right of resistance. In chapter 4, Cooper and Dyer, though less explicitly than one might wish, argue for secondary sovereignty by discussing whether the American Revolution violated either direct Biblical command (Romans 13) or natural law just war principles. Here, as in other pl

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