Listen to the Great Debates of '08

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In Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout reviewed the intriguing new CD Debate '08: Taft and Bryan Campaign on the Edison Phonograph, a collection of 22 speeches recorded in 1908 by presidential candidates William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan. As Teachout notes,

Bryan and Taft were the first political candidates to make commercially recorded campaign speeches on their own behalf, and the records they made were frequently played in alternation at public meetings in order to create the illusion of an actual debate. One enterprising nickelodeon operator in New York City even set up wax dummies of the candidates standing behind a pair of flag-draped podiums that flanked the door to his store.

There's also this bit of timeliness:

Most of what they have to say is now of purely academic interest, though once in a while their comments make you sit up and take notice. It's startling, for instance, to hear Taft, who at the time was Theodore Roosevelt's secretary of war, state unapologetically that "Christianity and the spread of Christianity are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government," or to listen to Bryan, the Great Commoner, castigate the evils of American imperialism: "Instead of profit it has brought loss. Instead of strength it has brought weakness. Instead of glory it has brought humiliation. It has more than doubled our standing army, and there is talk of further increase."

Read the rest here, complete with audio clips from both candidates.

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  1. That’s pretty interesting that Taft said that considering he was not a Christian.

    “I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe.”

    I believe he turned down the Presidency of Yale, which was religiously affiliated at the time, partially because of his belifs.

  2. That’s pretty interesting that Taft said that considering he was not a Christian.

    In other words, he was sucking up to his audience. Imagine that.

  3. To be fair to William Howard Taft, he was a Unitarian at a time when Unitarians claimed to be Christian. By 1908, the Unitarians had not yet become explicitly post-Christian (and hadn’t yet merged with the post-Christian Universalists).

    In its early phases, the Unitarians claimed to be the true version of Christianity. They acknowledged the existence of God, and even allowed as how Jesus Christ had been sent on a special mission from God.

    According to his own lights, Taft thought there was no contradiction between being a Christian and denying the divinity of Christ.

    Isn’t it interesting that H&R posters have better insight into the *true* implications of Christianity than did Taft?

  4. I’m still undecided.

  5. “Christianity and the spread of Christianity are the only basis for hope of modern civilization in the growth of popular self-government,”

    That’s pretty interesting that Taft said that considering he was not a Christian.

    In other words, he was sucking up to his audience. Imagine that.

    I am not a Christian but one would have to be blind to not see how many Christian nations are Liberal Democracies and how many non-christian states are not liberal democracies.

    The only good example of a functioning liberal democracy that is not christian would be japan….and they were nuked into submission and occupied by a christian liberal democracy and forced at gun point to become a liberal democracy.

    Libertarians can bash Christians all day long but to not acknowledge the play ground Christians have given us to play in one would have to be intentionally deluding oneself.

  6. Russia and Eastern Europe were Christian, and have strong authoritarian tendencies, Joshua. Particularly Russia. I don’t think Christianity is the link there.

  7. And you forgot S. Korea and Taiwan, regardless.

  8. I am not a Christian but one would have to be blind to not see how many Christian nations are Liberal Democracies and how many non-christian states are not liberal democracies.

    Liberal democracies didn’t become that way until the church got the hell out of the government.

  9. India, too. You know, the world’s largest. It’s Hindu with a large Muslim minority.

    Seriously, this reminds me of the B.S. argument from not too long ago that Roman Catholic nations were automatically authoritarian ones.

    You don’t hear much about that theory lately, do you?

  10. Can’t listen to the cylinder at the moment, but fwiw I was told that Williams Jennings Bryan was found upon autopsy to have lacked bass vocal chords, which made his famous oratorical delivery so penetrating.

    (Julius Caesar emailed me that, db.)

  11. I think joshua corning is right about the historical connection to Christianity. All of the counter examples cited are post WWII and many had direct involvement from majority Christian nations. This does not mean Christian nations must be democratic, so Russia or fascist Spain are not counter examples. I think there is room to argue that the secular space tolerated within certain Christian countries that was decisive to the development of liberal democracies.

  12. The way corning phrased it it’s a weak argument, but liberal democracy definitely emerged from Christian thought. It took centuries, but the Judeo-Christian component of Western culture (and not the Greco-Roman) introduced the idea of universal rights and a social contract into our civilization. It also contributed a lot to our understanding of individuality.

  13. and I say that as an atheist.

  14. India, too.

    And just where did Gandhi learn all his liberal democratic [Western] values? I do say ol’ chap, it wasn’t in the Punjab, was it?

  15. I should perhaps say “universal citizenship” rather than “universal rights” to be more precise.

  16. One positive thing Christianity did was eliminate the worship of the leader of the state as a god. But any monotheism would have done that.

  17. but the Judeo-Christian component of Western culture (and not the Greco-Roman)

    Christianity IS Greco-Judaic; the notion of ‘citizenship’ is pretty much Roman. Mash it all up (and spice it with the Reformation and the Englightenment) and there you are.

    It isn’t that the Church created liberal democratic govt, but that the overall culture, of which Christianity was a part, did.

  18. “I am not a Christian but one would have to be blind to not see how many Christian nations are Liberal Democracies and how many non-christian states are not liberal democracies.”

    I agree, and there is not a single example of a Christian nation that is not a democracy.

  19. Wow, quite a difference to 2008, where there have been mass debates.

    Sorry, I had to do it.

  20. “Christianity IS Greco-Judaic; the notion of ‘citizenship’ is pretty much Roman. Mash it all up (and spice it with the Reformation and the Enlightenment) and there you are.”

    The important part of this mash up is the Enlightenment. Before the Enlightenment Christianity was almost as brutal as the Taliban. You could be burned at the stake for being a Which or even having a variant interpretation of the Bible. If I spoke out against Christianity in Europe before the enlightenment I would not live long. To the degree that Christianity has spread freedom it is not because of Christianity qua Christianity but because the memes of freedom have (thankfully) been linked with Christianity for so very long.

  21. Sorry, I mixed up my witches. Which = Witch in the above.

  22. “You could be burned at the stake for being a Which”

  23. They burned my grammar at the steak too, I caught that, we cross-posted. This is one disadvantage to not being able to go back and edit.

  24. one disadvantage to not being able to go back and edit

    You can say that again.

    Anyway, what stake?

  25. I think joshua corning is right about the historical connection to Christianity. All of the counter examples cited are post WWII and many had direct involvement from majority Christian nations.

    That’s because democracy started in the Christian West, so it was spread by the originators. Though looking at the past few decades, free markets have done a much better job spreading democracy than Christianity.

  26. “You could be burned at the stake for being a Which”

    Dr. Seuss, Grand Inquisitor.

  27. I think there is room to argue that the secular space tolerated within certain Christian countries that was decisive to the development of liberal democracies.

    Although secular freedom was a largely unintended consequence of various religious folks working to put an end to official state religions. Perhaps with those religious parties manipulated a bit by more or less in-the-closet non-believers.

  28. Well, at least one of them was against bailing out banks.

  29. Pope Benedict XVI | October 13, 2008, 6:59pm | #
    “I am not a Christian but one would have to be blind to not see how many Christian nations are Liberal Democracies and how many non-christian states are not liberal democracies.”

    I agree, and there is not a single example of a Christian nation that is not a democracy.

    The popes of Rome are just as democratically elected as Bush or Mugabe. It’s just that the franchise is rather drastically limited in that particular nation.

  30. “The popes of Rome are just as democratically elected as Bush or Mugabe. It’s just that the franchise is rather drastically limited in that particular nation.”

    I was also democratically elected. It’s just that the franchise is rather drastically limited in my particular nation.

  31. Bryan was a famous orator, and doesn’t come across too badly on these recordings. Taft has a pleasant speaking voice, and might have made a good radio newscaster. I was reminded a bit of Edward R. Murrow.

    I agree with Bryan; we should most definitely give the Philippines independence. And why are we trying to push Christianity onto a Catholic country? (Except for the Muslims in the south, that is.)

  32. @Syd:
    They probably meant Protestantism. Anti-catholic sentiment ran high back then.

  33. matt,

    Back then, Catholics (at least Irish Catholics) were in general assumed to be Democrats. Not all of them, of course, but the Republicans lost New York (and hence the Presidency) in 1884 when an incautious Protestant minister, trying to boost the Republicans, called the Democrats the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.”

    The Republicans tended to attract the middle-class Protestant do-gooders, treating them with a bit more respect that the contemporary Republican party treats its evangelical Protestant “base.”

  34. “The Republicans tended to attract the middle-class Protestant do-gooders, treating them with a bit more respect that the contemporary Republican party treats its evangelical Protestant “base.””

    One of the few good things I can say about McCain is that he called the Salafi Christian wacos “agents of intolerance”, which they are.

  35. Let’s see… The “cross of gold” speech, the Scopes trial… What other examples are there of Bryan being dead wrong?

    -jcr

  36. “the Salafi Christian wacos”

    Waco? I thought it was the feds who were the agents of intolerance in that confrontation.

  37. One of the few good things I can say about McCain is that he called the Salafi Christian wacos “agents of intolerance”, which they are.

    That was in double ought. In ought eight they’re his base.

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