In a recent article for The Stream, Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg asks the question, “Is Catholicism Compatible with the American Experiment?” Gregg cites an article by political philosopher Patrick Deneen who suggested that “the main argument among American Catholics will concern the relationship of modern liberal democracies–and, at a deeper level, the American Founding–with Catholicism.” Gregg doesn’t necessarily disagree with this assertion, but argues that it “reaches further back to the early modern period often called the Enlightenment.”
The Enlightenment was hugely influential on the American founding:
Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, for instance, sharply disagreed on many subjects, but all their serious biographers concur that both were profoundly shaped by Enlightenment writers.
The intellectual developments associated with the Enlightenment shared an emphasis on (1) asking every belief and institution to justify itself rationally, and (2) applying the tools associated with the scientific method to as many spheres of life as possible. This focus on natural philosophy and the natural sciences was especially influenced by Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia (1687) and Newton’s successful integration of the mechanics of physical observation with the mathematics of axiomatic proof, and his development of a system of scientifically verifiable predictions. (more…)