Mr. Jefferson and Gubmint

Since I am doing a lot of reading of Mencken these days, I was curious to see what the bad boy of Baltimore had to say about the Declaration of Independence and its author. The following excerpt from his review of Albert Jay Nock’s, Jefferson (1926) seems as apt these days as when Nock and Mencken first wrote about the nation’s third president. And it suggests that libertarianism, contrary to its critics, is not as bad as all that:

Of the Jeffersonian system Mr. Nock offers a clear and comprehensive account, disentaingling it from the trivialities that party history has thrown about it. The essence of it, he says, is to be found in what would be called, to-day, Jefferson’s class consciousness. He divided all mankind into two classes, the producers and the exploiters, and he was for the former first, last and all the time. But there is no consolation in the fact for for the Marxians who now rage in the world, for to Jefferson producers meant far more than mere handworkers. A manufacturer, if he made some useful thing, was also a producer, so was a large landowner, if only he worked his land; Jefferson regarded himself as a producer, and his friend Jimmie Madison as another. Living in our own time, no doubt, he would put Henry Ford in that category; Henry, in fact, put himself there, and with no little show of reason. The only genuine non-producer, in the Jefferson lexicon, was the speculator — that is to say, the bonder, the promoter, the usurer, the jobber. It was against this class that he launched all his most awful thunderbolts of invective; it was this class that he sought to upset and destroy in the ferocious and memorable campaign of 1800. His failure was colossal. Driving that class out of the executive offices and making life very warm for it in the hall of legislation, he only shoved it into the courts, and there it has survived gloriously ever since, gradually extending and consolidating its power. Since Marshall’s day the American courts have suffered many vicissitudes and entertained many heresies, but in one department, at least they have kept the faith heroically: they have always protected the virtuous and patriotic bond-holder.

That is a useful reminder of where the power in the U.S. (and the world) still resides even after the banking failures of 2008 and the federal government’s bailout and “reforms” of Wall Street. And yet, Mencken still found a kind word to say about Jefferson’s outlook:

[Jefferson] was less the foe of the Federalists than of government in general. He believed that it tended inevitably to become corrupt — that it was the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men. The less there was of it, the better he liked it, and the more he trusted it. Well, that was a century ago, and wild doctrines from the barricades were still in the air. Government has now gone far beyond anything dreamed of it in Jefferson’s day. It has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a state religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men. (Mencken, Prejudices: Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series, 448-49)

No amount of turning the magistrate into the good and Christian ruler can undo what the Psalmist sang, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”


20 thoughts on “Mr. Jefferson and Gubmint

  1. I worked as a bus-driver (favorite job), as an information assistance operator (the only job in which somebody called me the C word), an import-export clerk, a waitress, a mentholatum line worker (I tasted mentholatum like I tasted formaldehyde in my anatomy lab), a shipping and receiving clerk, secretary to ex-FBI agents (these guys were the best teachers I’ve ever had at a job. They seemed genuinely happy to help someone learn.)

    Opportunity was a blessing. I could feed myself and bring back some of the bounty to my family or share some fruits of my labor with my co-workers.

    As Raymond Aron said in The Opium of the Intellectuals, what foils the communists or the Red Brigade, etc is that they never count on the decency of men to emerge. But it does. I’ve seen it and been a beneficiary of it. I would say the Right has the same problem, it’s always surprised by the undermining decency of both its partisans and opponents.

    Remember Romney’s expression on tape regarding the conditions of the Chinese worker? It resembled the expression in the eyes of a dog when it’s staring at you in that wondering way.

    Romney is no renaissance man even though opportunity to become one wasn’t lacking. And what about his wife? “You can be poor in spirit.” “My grandfather worked in the mines.” Yeah, but your father was the Mayor! Few would hold that against Mrs. Romney. It was the ongoing ignorance of the distance between ways of life that kept peeling votes away.

    I have confidence in the Nation’s young. They’re pretty sharp, at least those destined to rise. And they’re not so ideologically rigid. Their whole existence has been one in the midst of good order. The working family depends on good order or it will spiral out of control. They’re familiar with competence from a very early age.

    And the issues that have dogged us, especially race, are going to be more consistently viewed through a rear view. Coates’ appeal to the “radical practicality” of reparations isn’t dissimilar to Todd Akins’ state of confusion.


  2. MLD, you imply that there are ideologically rigid people in control; who are they? All I see is a lawless despotism following the whims of those in power at the moment. Was Romney ideologically rigid, to your mind?


  3. Judges 9: 8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’ 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’ 12 And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’ 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’


  4. dgh—-In the first part of the sermon Witherspoon wrestled with the idea that human evil, “the wrath of men,” could in fact glorify God. Without addressing the question of theodicy directly …Witherspoon did attempt to do justice to the paradoxical character of divine will, that is, how ultimate good could emerge through proximate evil….. For instance, the death of Christ and its larger theological significance as a triumph over sin and death was for Witherspoon indicative of the lesson that “Persecution has been but as the furnace to the gold, to purge it of its dross, to manifest its purity, and increase its lustre.” Not only was the martyrdom of the early church “the seed of Christianity,” but at the time of the Protestant Reformation “nothing contributed more to facilitate its reception and increase its progress than the violence of its persecutors.”

    dgh— if suffering and persecution had historically increased the resolve of Christians, would not the slights from London endured by believers living in the British colonies bolster their trust in and dependence upon God? ,,,,attempting to employ the logic of Christian suffering to justify political rebellion was an argument that could easily backfire.

    Beyond a Secular Faith,


  5. President Obama’s health care reform is an example of that rigidity. He placed his reform atop a system with problems that needed unbundling more than more bundling. The first step would have been to inform that 43% of the work force (of which I am one) that the cost of their health care, supplied by their employer, would now be taxed. I carried my own health insurance too so I understand the burden of it.

    Now on to President Bush, whose invasion of Iraq was due to an ideology firmly held to as far as I can tell. He had the experience of his father who actually bombed places and people during WWII, who actually drove out Hussein in the first Gulf war but realized that that’s all he could reasonably hope to accomplish. President GHW Bush was no ideologue but his son and his cabinet members were.

    The notice of our pulling out of Iraq was ideological. We didn’t have to invade but once we did we had a responsibility to not pull out as thoughtlessly as we went it.

    I don’t think Romney was ideological. I think he lacked courage. He complimented Israel’s HC system because it represented such a small percentage of GDP. But Israel’s HC system is subject to price controls. I’m not saying we need price controls, I don’t know. I’m saying he took no time to explain his admiration because he had to count words so that he wouldn’t alienate ideologues. I may be using ideologue incorrectly, you tell me. An ideologue is someone who stands on principle abstracted from experience and/or empiricism.

    No person is ideologically rigid in all aspects of thought or opinion. The passage of the HC reform, from pledge of transparency to the cornhusker’s bribe, was an ideological act. And I don’t see a necessary contradiction between an ideologically driven leader and lawless actions.


  6. No amount of turning the magistrate into the good and Christian ruler can undo what the Psalmist sang, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.”

    Dang. Just when I was gonna go all Romans 13 on the new communist here, you Psalmist us. Dude.

    This one’s for you, Erik, my dear.

    Seeing through the game is not the same thing as winning the game. Ibid. Especially when they keep changing the game.


  7. Gamble, In Search of a City on a Hill. —

    Today, 50 years after the city on a hill first appeared in modern political rhetoric and nearly 400 years since John Winthrop shepherded his flock to New England’s shores, Americans are left with a secularized metaphor, politicized by the Left and the Right and nearing the point of exhaustion. The metaphor has been forced to carry an impossible load of nationalist, populist and collectivist aspirations. Americans have inherited two political cities looming so large in the media, the political culture and even the church, that together they have eclipsed the historical Winthrop and the biblical Jesus. The biblical metaphor, appropriated by the Puritans and reinvented by modern Democrats and Republicans, has been transformed so successfully into a national myth that few can see or hear these words without all of their modern political meaning attached. Even many Christians, how might be expected to guard their property more vigilantly, argue over which national values the politicized city should stand for and miss the fact that they have lost their metaphor. They argue over which party ought to build the city, over whether Kennedy’s or Reagan’s vision best defines the city, rarely stopping to consider whether Jesus ever had America in mind in the Sermon on the Mount. Such is the power of civil religion in twenty-first century America. Even if Americans manage to convince themselves, in spite of the evidence, that John Winthrop envisioned a glorious future for American ideals and institutions, can they really convince themselves that Jesus intended the United States to take up his disciples’ calling as a city on a hill? Distracted by a contest between two early political cities, Americans forget that the original city on a hill was neither Democrat or Republican. It was not even American. (p 178)


  8. wcf 23…. yet the civil magistrate does have authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, the civil magistrate has power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God..

    as reformed and revised (by mcmark)—: We believe that God, by the example of Christ our God-man mediator, has now commanded all humans not to return evil for evil, but also that God continues to ordain even the sin and rebellion of those who presume to return evil for evil, and to use those powers for His own glory and for the restraint of evil, and to this end, has ordained even the limited power of Satan. and therefore it is the duty of Christians to submit and subordinate themselves to these powers, without ever approving or engaging in the return of evil for evil. To engage in revolution against those who do evil against evil would only be one more sinful use of evil against evil.


  9. Rollover from


    OK, so this makes a little more sense now. You are hypothesizing that the Joshua (high priest of Zech 3) becomes a mythic figure in pre-Christian Judaism, and 1JA latches on to this mythic figure as the Christ.

    Yes sort of. Let me rephrase a bit. I’m saying that the Zech 3 reference including possibly the name is getting accreted into a single mythical figure. This is happening with other mythical figures in Judaism at the same time who are not historical either.

    That’s fair. Your argument points out one of the tricky parts about estimating MpT: if X and T are *very* strongly associated, asserting X in addition to T might be redundant or otherwise unnecessary. On your hypothesis, 1JA does not need to say “as we have seen in the Scriptures”; he needs merely to say “as we have seen” and everyone understands. Hence, MpT is lower than it might first seem precisely because (on your account) T says it all.

    I think you mean “asserting Y in addition to T might be redundant” in which case exactly correct.

    I have to say, I’m not entirely satisfied, inasmuch as the usual formula here is “as it is written” (per Jesus, Paul, Hebrews). Granted, the formula is not always used. But it is very common.

    Absolutely but it isn’t used for what’s derived from scripture but what’s said explicitly in scripture. For example you wouldn’t use “the bible says the Jesus is a hypostatic union” you would say “we can derive from the bible that Jesus is a hypostatic union”. Clearly knowledge of Jesus isn’t explicitly in scripture for 1JA it is derived from scripture.

    But not (3) That Jesus is the Christ is a secret revealed to “us” but not to “them.”

    Exactly. Because through people like 1JA they too can see the mystery that God has revealed. Now that people know where to look in scripture it can be understood by all.


  10. Response to:

    Paul in 1 Cor and John in 1 John are both writing to congregations that are already familiar with their teaching. There is not a general need to rehearse details. Paul does not need defend the historical fact of Jesus’ crucifixion, for that is a given for the Corinthians, just as it is a given for the Galatians (Gal 3.1).

    I’m not expecting him to defend the historical fact I’m expecting him to casually mention details. For example earlier in this thread I made reference to Obama’s 2004 convention speech. In those few paragraphs I mentioned:

    * When did he give the speech: at the time of the 2004 Democratic convention
    * Where did he give the speech: on stage at the 2004 Democratic convention
    * Who was in attendance: Delegates
    * Who did Obama target the speech to explicitly: “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents”
    * Who did I think the speech was targeted to: the individual watching television
    * How was the speech delivered: Directly, in print beforehand and on television
    * Why did he give the speech: to get people to join him in supporting Kerry, in particular to vote for Kerry
    * What else: I also claimed this was his most famous speech.

    That’s a lot of detail. I certainly didn’t believe I needed to defend the historical fact of Obama’s 2004 convention speech. Rather I casually pulled from the historical facts to make my other points about grammar. That is precisely what the epistles almost never do. There are places where the details of Jesus’ biography, even if we just restrict to the gospels, would be immediately valuable to making the case and the authors don’t use such details.

    A classic example is Paul’s long discourse on how it is possible for the dead to rise. In that discourse, where is Lazarus? In 1John he cites teachings of Jesus but never attributes them to Jesus, rather preaching on his own authority. Preachers use the highest authority available. The pastors here will cite Calvin if they can, the creeds even better and the bible even better. That’s the norm among religious writings. MpT is very high when a preacher’s argument would be bolstered by an obvious direct mention.

    He waves his hands generally in the direction of their teachings and expects that his general statements will be enough — either because they are sufficiently comprehensive, or because his readers know him well enough.

    I agree that is what he is doing with his opponents. Just mentioning the basics. But that’s not what he is doing with Jesus’ teachings. There he is failing to attribute to Jesus things which according to the gospel story Jesus said. That would be like the John attributing the attitude of his opponents to another party all together or to Christians in general.

    “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God”, his purpose is not to persuade his readers that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. If that were his purpose, then we would expect supporting detail. No, his purpose is to persuade his readers that anyone denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist.

    Well that’s obvious. If Jesus is the Christ then those who deny he is the Christ (including for theological reasons) are anti-Christ. That’s a tautology. If I had to look at the structure of 1JA’s argument it is an appeal to emotion and authority: you like me better / those guys are jerks, therefore my beliefs are correct. That’s a very common, arguably the most common political and religious debating tactic. The emotion is raw from top to bottom the entire letter is about confirming affinity.

    So in such a letter I wouldn’t expect to see argument but in areas where 1JA can build affinity MpT will be be.

    Now, when he comes to the observance of the Eucharist, Paul supplies sufficient detail (1 Cor 11.23 – 25) — sufficient in his eyes to be satisfactory to the Corinthians.

    Let’s point out a few things. The first is in this example Paul declares that he has received this information about Jesus’ words at the Lord’s Supper “from the Lord”. He didn’t learn them from the apostles. That’s very curious for a historical event. Why would he need divine revelation?

    Moreover frequently translations are reading the gospel story back in. Check the Greek he has Christ being delivered up that’s it.

    In terms of them being sufficient I’d say the exact opposite. We know these details weren’t sufficient as proven by the history of Christianity which added to them and quickly involved towards an entire ritual mass with tons of details. I’d argue that I think 1Cor is likely the origin of Jesus’ statements in the later scenes at the table in the gospels.

    And again when Paul argues for the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, he again supplies sufficient detail (1 Cor 15.3 – 8).

    Note that Christ died for our sins “according the scriptures”. He’s not saying he heard about other’s personal recollections. “Appearing” he is a verb frequently used for personal visions. Also note how much this version contradicts the gospel account: Peter is the first to see the risen Jesus and also where is Mary Magdalene as two examples? I agree Paul is being specific here, but he isn’t saying what you are attributing to him.

    silence to convince me that Paul, who believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus, did not also believe in a bodily death of Jesus.

    I said earthly not bodily. I agree that Paul believes in that Jesus came to the lower realms. Jesus is also Christ Jesus for Paul.

    I’ll hit your last point in the next post.


  11. @Jeff

    It would be interesting at this point to run a sample calculation. I’ll give that a shot tomorrow. But also, I would like to consider a different calculation: Given that John says that Jesus is eternal life, and that the life was manifested and that “we” have seen it; given that John says that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; given that John says that Jesus was manifested; given that John says that Jesus was the ιλασμος, and given that the writer of GJohn (even if we take him to be different from 1JA) considered Jesus’ life to be historical (and therefore understood 1 John to be literal, assuming that 1 John came first) — putting all of that together, what is an upper bound on the probability that all of this language is meant to be metaphorical?

    In the case of 1John I think MpT is high regarding the teaching verses so these other things are interpreted in light of know facts. I can certainly show you examples of people using this very same kind of language for beings they do not believe to be historical. Homer’s God: eat, drink, smoke, have emotions, interact with humans at particular points in time. Greek’s in the 1st century consider these metaphors not real beings and still talk about them this way. Hellenistic culture is metaphorical and symbolic.

    My second point of disagreement is the aside about GJohn. What indication does the author of Gospel of John give that he certainly consider Jesus historical? In GJohn the author (let’s say GJA) personifies 1John. You take the theology from 1John and 2John and Jesus’ entire ministry is simply putting these statements into his mouth. The revelations of the earthly Jesus in GJohn are little more than the statements of his existence: “I am the light of the world”, “I am the bread of life”, “ No one can come to the Father except through Jesus, the Son”… The apostles exist to do nothing more than confirm this theology restating it. This “historical” Jesus in GJohn does little more than make pretentious pronouncements about himself, and acts to confirm his status. There is no content to the revelations other than that he exists and what his function is. Does that sound like an author that believes he’s writing history, or rather an author that is using a dramatic device to write theology?

    Note you have other problems like 6:51-8 the Eucharist is explicitly not linked to the sacrifice rather it is how he imparts life. Similarly in the passion GJA has no concept of a sacrifice the resurrection is yet more proof of who he is. Jesus is the revealer not the sacrificial lamb. If John is recounting history then why is Jesus’ primary message so Gnostic? In what fundamental way is the Jesus of GJohn different than the fictional Jesus written by people who know didn’t believe in a historical Jesus like Gospel of Mary or Pistis Sophia?

    Certainly I’ll agree we are much much closer to a historical Jesus in GJohn then we are in the 1John. You have a Jesus doing things (though not many things) at specific places in mostly specific times. He is clearly interacting with the earthly beings in a non-mythological sense. All those start to look like historical claims, in the same as the gods of the Iliad. Much more physical than the vague angelic beings all over Jewish mythology. However you can’t ignore the theology. Evangelical commentaries see the theological themes they just believe the underlying events are real. But as any good fundamentalist would tell you, the events play into the themes. GJohn doesn’t offer a separation between the events and the themes. The events come out of the themes. If Hellenistic Judaism’s belief in the Angel Joshua might represent 15% of the way, 1John 30% of the way with GJohn we might be at 65%.

    Does GJA believe anything about history with respect to Jesus? It is vague, I do think it is possible that he views himself as elaborating on a real story the way a historical fiction author might view their work today. But I certainly don’t believe he views himself as writing biography. Most of the characters in GJohn, the dialogue and the way things play out are the author’s construction. Incidentally this is the same thing you see with GMark where Mark takes a bunch of messianic prophecy and constructs a story with his Jesus character around those. There is no way that Mark isn’t aware he is doing that.


  12. Hi CD-H,

    Sorry that I’m late here. My plea is that the bathroom is finished!

    So I want to carry out the sample calculations and then talk a bit about what they mean. I will be able to check your replies tomorrow, then I will be unavailable for two weeks, followed by limited availability for the following two. If we want to call it a day, this could be a good spot. If there’s a pressing issue, well … press ahead.

    First, let me run a computation on neutral ground so that we agree that we’re thinking about the same calculation.

    Suppose I have a coin that might or might not be fair. I would like to estimate the probability M that this coin gives a head when I flip. Specifically, I want to compute a lower bound for M.

    So call a head a success, and now flip the coin 6 times. I get tails each time.

    Using the binomial distribution chart, n = 6 with two-tailed confidence interval of 2-sigma = 95%, we get M in [0,0.45) roughly.

    OR, estimating with mean = nM and variance = nM(1-M), we get

    6M – 2sqrt(6M(1-M)) = 0 (that is, the lower end of the confidence interval equals the observed number of tails)
    so that M < 1/2.5 = 0.40. The discrepancy between 0.45 in the first computation and 0.40 in the second happens because of our small sample size and because I was interpolating on the table.

    In other words, we have reasonable evidence that the coin is slightly biased towards tails.

    I say "reasonable" because the 95% confidence interval is increasingly being questioned over the last few years. If I recall, PNAS recently advocated 99%.

    Do you agree with these computations? Assuming so, then on we go.


  13. Original: 6M – 2sqrt(6M(1-M)) = 0 (that is, the lower end of the confidence interval equals the observed number of tails)

    Should read: 6M – 2sqrt(6M(1-M)) = 0 (that is, the lower end of the confidence interval equals the observed number of heads)


  14. @CD-H: Assuming we agree on the method, I want to do the following:

    (1) run the numbers under conditions favorable to your point of view, then (2) do it again under conditions that I would consider more “middle-of-the road.” There’s no point in running it under conditions strictly favorable to my point of view. For if I wanted to, I could simply say that John’s silence is evidence of John’s silence (MpT = 0), and we’re done.

    In our model, M represents a Bernoulli or binomial event with success as “John makes a statement entailing personal observation of Jesus’ life, given that he has made a general statement about Jesus’ life.” You have stipulated that these kinds of statements would consist of supporting details, analogous to “Obama’s speech was given in 2008.”

    I count generously 12 places where John makes a statement about Jesus to which he might have added supporting detail about Jesus’ life and teachings. 1.2 – 3, 1.5, 2.2, 2.6, 2.22, 2.24, 3.11, 3.16, 4.2, 4.9-10, 5.6, 5.10-11.

    Let’s count each of these as independent events with unknown probability M, defining success as “giving supporting detail”. Given that we agree that John did *not* supply supporting detail in any of these, what is the 95% confidence interval, two-tailed, for M?

    From the binomial distribution chart with n = 12 and alpha = 0.025, we get M 0.90 * p

    and p > 0.30. That is, under our assumptions, the probability that John knew supporting details but did not supply them is no greater than 30%.

    Now, let’s re-run this but with a more middle-of-the road set of assumptions. First, we need to account for serial correlation. I don’t know what you had in mind, and I don’t know an official method. But I would propose that we could group statements into categories. There are four categories that John mentions: Jesus as sacrifice, Jesus’ (or God’s) commands, “walking as Jesus walked”, and “we saw and beheld.” These can be reasonably considered independent, and it is likely that if John is silent in one place about this category, then he will likely be silent in other places about this category (Feel free to suggest a correction here – I’m trying to do something reasonable). So for a more middle of the road computation, we are going to use n = 4 rather than n = 12.

    Further, the estimate for MpT is waaay too large.

    Take a look at 2 Cor (to take an example) and consider ONLY the events that Paul mentions from his own life and ministry, ignoring his statements about Christ.

    1.3 – 11 one supporting detail (Asia)
    1.15 – 24 one supporting detail
    2.5 – 11 no supporting details
    2.12 (continuing the itinerary from above) supporting details
    2.14 – 3.3 No supporting details
    4.1 -2 No supporting details
    4.11 No supporting details

    etc. For shortness of time, I’ll stop there and observe that we can estimate MpT for Paul in 2 Cor at around 0.50. Assume that this holds for categories — the “itinerary” category tends to get details, the “struggles of our ministry” category does not. Assume that John is similar to Paul.

    Then we use binomial distribution (n = 4, two-tailed 95% confidence) and get around 0.52 for an upper bound for M.


    M = MpT * p
    0.52 = 0.50 * p

    and the upper bound for p is greater than 1. In other words, p could be anything.


  15. Now some observations about the computations

    (1) I was impressed anew with the difficulty of making a really good argument from silence.

    (2) It is clear that you don’t have the evidence from silence that you need in order to sustain an inference from “John doesn’t say … ” to “John doesn’t know…” Even under the best of circumstances for your view, John still has a good 30% of knowing stuff that he simply doesn’t say. It’s a function of the shortness of the letter.

    (3) This got me thinking about why a courtroom situation would be so different. If we had John on the stand and could put general questions to him (“tell us what happened when Jesus died”), answers of “I don’t know” would clearly add up (or multiply up) quickly to “you didn’t know Jesus, did you?”

    But here, the silence does not.

    Likewise, I’ve been thinking about why you are very very sure that silence means lack of knowledge, and it struck me that you and I both are the products of an academic culture in which giving supporting detail is a trained habit of thought. In academia, to fail to mention an important paper is tantamount to having been unaware of it.

    But theological epistles of the 1st and 2nd centuries are just not like that. The culture of supplying detail is not the same.

    Is it possible that you’ve been evaluating John through a 21st-century academic lens?

    Take a look at Polycarp to the Philippians. He hits a large number of topics in which supporting detail would demonstrate that he has specific knowledge. He could mention the elders with him who are writing, but he does not (unless Crescens is an elder as well as a amanuensis). He could mention in what way they have “followed the true bands of love”, but he does not. And so on.

    To my eye, that is part and parcel of the genre.

    (4) And of course, we understand that the computations don’t prove that John was written by John, but merely that his silence does not disprove Johannine authorship.

    As I mentioned above, I need to bow out for a while. But I will check back once tomorrow to see if you have any concluding thoughts.

    Jeff Cagle


  16. @Jeff

    Tag me back when you get back. I think it makes more sense to respond in detail to the 11:13pm post when we can both respond since that’s likely to be hard if it isn’t fresh. If I’m not here (don’t know) you can always leave a post on church-discipline and I’ll pop back.

    I agree with your math other than: dude you are writing this post on a computer. Why use 1850s style math? You can do much better numerical methods. 🙂

    I’d also disagree with you using two-tail since this is a one tail test. But that being said 97.5% confidence interval works as a nice compromise between 95 and 99 so accidentally it is a good number.

    What you showed (returning to my original notation) above was that given that X true, then MpT must be less than 3 . My point was that if we know that MpT is large (my estimate .85 or greater) than this implies X is false.

    As far as how to break out serial correlations, it is multiplicative. You don’t treat all trials as equal you exclude the first trial, adjust your confidence interval so that it accounts for that one trial and then recalculate. (I can walk you through the n=6 becoming n=5 case).

    Likewise, I’ve been thinking about why you are very very sure that silence means lack of knowledge, and it struck me that you and I both are the products of an academic culture in which giving supporting detail is a trained habit of thought. In academia, to fail to mention an important paper is tantamount to having been unaware of it.
    But theological epistles of the 1st and 2nd centuries are just not like that. The culture of supplying detail is not the same.
    Is it possible that you’ve been evaluating John through a 21st-century academic lens?

    I agree with the point here that you absolutely must be looking at situations where you are fairly sure the author would want to supply details of where the teaching came from. Certainly you are right that in academic writing MpT is even higher because failing to cite when you obviously should shows
    a) immorality (plagiarism)
    b) ignorance
    c) that the concept is so common that a citation is unnecessary

    That is clearly a judgement call. Which is why the cases I was focused on was where John was attributing something to his own read of scripture or himself that came from Jesus. He is providing a citation, just an inferior citation. I agree he doesn’t tend to cite, so I compensated by having a smaller n (I believe 4) than you did.


  17. I’ll see you on the flip side.

    Re: one or two tails, we were strongly discouraged from using one-tailed tests in STAT 645. The course was frankly non-rigorous, so I don’t have an argument from basic principles.

    Re: math on computer, yes, I could have. I wanted to slow down and “feel the numbers.”

    Take care,


  18. A better way to do nationalism:

    Settled by proponents and carriers of “federal” liberty, America was far from the turmoil of European wars, save as a haven for those fleeing them. From its beginnings, it was an area in which loose political bonds allowed for maximum responsiveness to local circumstances. Even after the Civil War, the United States was a nation of overlapping authorities, with the federal government limited to the exercise of specific, enumerated powers—with exceptions that grew exponentially only in the twentieth century. Loyalty to the nation sometimes flagged, but held, in part because it was rooted in local circumstances and a consistent practice of subsidiarity, with more distant powers claiming authority only over issues of a more general nature.

    Progressive ideology and two World Wars consolidated federal power even as they pointed toward globalization, institutionalized in bureaucratic structures. Informal, trade-based relations increasingly were “rationalized” through formal agreements ceding to extra-national elites semi-sovereign powers in managing economic, military, and diplomatic relations. And self-interested information technologists harnessed the rhetoric of “creative destruction” and “world citizenship” to justify manipulating international structures for their own profit and in furtherance of their own schemes of radical social change. Nation-states increasingly came to be seen as creatures of residuary power, relegated to the role of administering international agreements even as their very makeup—their peoples—were changed in the interests of international utility. German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought the system to its logical conclusion in her policy of cultural suicide—importing millions of unassimilable persons from radically different, often hostile cultures as a means of shoring up the tax and population base necessary to maintain entitlement systems.

    Americans, less culturally exclusivist but more insistent and dependent on assimilation than Europeans, rejected the Merkel model. This was the fundamental appeal of Donald Trump. That appeal is, then, “nationalist” in important ways. But it also is limited in its nationalism, for it has no basis in race and is, in fact, a rejection of expansionist, imperial dreams. President Trump’s nationalism is rooted in protection of American borders and insistence on prioritizing the interests of regular American citizens over the plans of international elites as embodied in multilateral agreements and schemes for spreading neoliberal structures across the globe. Conservatives, often maligned as “isolationists” have a long tradition of espousing policies akin to President Trump’s, whether termed “conservative,” “populist,” or even “nationalist.” Labels often change according to the prejudices of political observers and adversaries. Prudent policy changes only according to circumstances.


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