Sunday, October 24, 2010

Basil Manly on Property and the State

Basil Manly, Sr. (1798-1868)
A while back I wrote about the views of Francis Wayland as they related to the Christian ethic of property. Another noteworthy Protestant who advocated the ethical imperative of private property was the important Southern Baptist pastor and educator, Basil Manly. The authoritative biography on Manly is the excellent work, by A. James Fuller Chaplain to the Confederacy.

Manly understood that private property was instituted by God. A God-ordained social order, therefore, necessitates the defense of the right to private property. In a Fast Day sermon he preached at the request of the Governor of Alabama, Manly instructed his congregation that “the rights of property are established by the Creator; respect for them is essential not only to the well being of society, but to its very existence.” Owning a farm himself, he had a practical understanding  that land and agriculture was the basis of his personal economic prosperity. Theology and personal experience, therefore, combined to convince Manly of the importance of property and its social implications.

As president of the University of Alabama, Manly taught political economy as part of “mental and moral philosophy,” a capstone course for graduating seniors. He used Wayland’s Elements of Political Economy as a text and his lectures closely followed Wayland, with the exception that Manly was even more skeptical of subsidies for perceived public goods such as canals and railroads. Manly certainly thought that maintaining private property rights was crucial for social stability. Like Wayland, Manly believed that private property was “coeval and commensurate with any step in social progress.”

Unlike too many Christians today, Manly did not put his faith in the state as the great social benefactor. In a paper I wrote many years ago about Manly’s view of the state, I note that
A distinctive characteristic of Manly’s view of the state is his placing no confidence in it as the savior and protector of society. The key to protecting property is not the state, but having a nation peopled with individuals that possess wisdom and knowledge. Manly’s sermon, on “National Stability” had Isaiah 33:6 as its text. “In wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times and the strength of salvation.” In this sermon, he contrasts nations that rely on “power, cunning, and violence,” with those “who serve and wait on God.” Strong nations are not the product of the state, but instead relied on “moral and intellectual purity and elevation as their glory and defense.”

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