Friday, January 23, 2009

So Help me, Logos

“OATH, n. In law, a solemn appeal to the Deity, made binding upon the
conscience by a penalty for perjury.” [Bierce]

John Quincy Adams did not swear the Oath of Allegiance on a Bible, believing
that the Bible should be reserved for strictly religious purposes. Instead, JQA
swore--quite properly, according to Contingencies--on the US Constitution. Given
the separation clause of First Amendment, it's questionable whether any
politician should be allowed to take an oath on a Bible, or Koran, or Torah, or
any religious text, or use religious language. JFK did not did not take the oath
on the bible, though he had a Douay Bible--french catholic version of Good
Book-- on the podium. Herbert Hoover, descendent of Quakers, affirmed, but did
not swear the oath: that was the tradition of many puritans and protestants, who
considered oath-swearing and pledging fealty to a worldly institution like the
State a type of pagan idolatry, or at least vaguely latinate--papist. On
President Obama's second time through the oath, he did not use a Bible--southern
baptists may be calling him Apollyon for that right this minute.

John Marshall, Caiaphas of American history, swore in Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, notwithstanding his dislike for the Democrats--including Madison, reportedly
(tho' Madison shifted his politics a few times, going from Federalist, to
Democrat, and then to a slightly more moderate position). Evidence suggests that
presidents and senators until about time of Abe Lincoln did NOT generally take
the oath on the Good book: Lincoln, closer to fundamentalism than many realize,
made it mandatory for many state officials. The Constitutional oath itself
probably follows more from royalist tradition than from say baptists, or the
more liberal founding fathers. Though the Federalist papers are not handy, I
suspect Alexander Hamilton, swashbuckler and duellist--at least until Burr put
an end to that-- had a say in retaining oaths for his yankee republic.

The oath was not a mere formality (and at least JQ Adams realized that),
but a solemn occasion, akin to the vassal-knights pledging fealty to a king, or
baron: ancien regime oaths were contracts--not so different than "touching the body" ala La Cosa Nostra-- and the contract signings were often attended by a sacrifice or ritual of some sort--cue the statist trumpeters, and tympani with somber Haydn-like concerto. Oaths also seem prima facie evidence of deliberation, and thus have something to do with liberty, and Intentionality, in the philosophical sense: a elected official promises to uphold a specific course of action. Promises, and other tokens of Honor, even as vague as an oath of office, aren't exactly phenomena: though perhaps some astute naturalist could conceivably interpret oaths as totems or meme, of some sort: statist-Ordnung totem. Alas, the great majority of Yokeli Amerikanus do not understand the meaning of Honor, and the discussions of ritualistic aspects of the oath (and inauguration itself) are left to obscure corners of blogdom.

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