John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) Declaration of Arbroath (1320) PDF
Christianity tends to get short shrift on Scottish independence blogs (as elsewhere) almost by reflex these days. It is timely therefore to draw attention to the fact that in the struggle for constitutional government, Christians have certainly made an illustrious historical contribution not just to Scottish but to human democracy.
John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)
A significant early example is the Berwickshire founder of the Scottish tradition of philosophy John Duns Scotus, whose thought apparently framed the Declaration of Arbroath. Prof Alexander Broadie makes this case in his 2010 Royal Society of Edinburgh audio lecture .
John Mair (Gleghornie, 1467-1550)
The writings of John Duns Scotus also influenced John Mair who became a highly significant professor at St Andrews University (lecturing to eg John Knox and Patrick Hamilton), and at the University of Paris (lecturing to eg John Calvin, George Buchanan, Ignatius Loyola, Francisco Vitoria, François Rabelais). Mair sought to curb the autocratic power of the Pope within the Catholic Church. Though he himself remained Catholic, his ‘Conciliar Movement’ principles influenced the constitutional thinking of the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, informing the disputes against absolute monarchies in Europe of the 17th century.
George Buchanan (1506-1582)
Again, the treatise ‘Art and Science of Government among the Scots’ by Calvinist-humanist George Buchanan (a former pupil of John Mair above) had a huge influence on political thought in Britain and America. John Milton in his ‘Defence of the People of England’ wrote concerning just government: “For Scotland I refer you to Buchanan”.
Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661)
Presbyterian minister and St Andrews Professor, Samuel Rutherford in his ‘Lex, Rex’ laid the foundation for the libertarian ideas of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Indeed, the American War for Independence was referred to by the British as a “Presbyterian Rebellion”. John Locke (‘Father of Classical Liberalism’) was himself much influenced by Rutherford’s ‘Lex, Rex’.
The keynote of all this Scottish Christian heritage of political thought was how to oppose the injustice of absolutism.
Herman Dooyeweerd (Dutch, 1894-1977)
In keeping with the above heritage I have an ongoing interest in the thinking of the late Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, who wrote extensively on the nature of the “just state”. The jurist and humanist G.E. Langemeyer called him “the most original philosopher Holland has produced, even Spinoza not excepted”. For those interested, I have posted an extensive extract of Dooyeweerd’s historical analysis of the nature of the “State” here:
Dooyeweerd’s style of writing can be dauntingly academic, but essentially he identifies two structural parameters of a State. The first is the more obvious one that a State can only exist at all if its Government retains a military monopoly over the given territory (interesting to consider this factor in the current UK v Scotland [particularly Trident] v Europe context). Such dominance could of course lapse into tyranny, so Dooyeweerd’s upper parameter is that a State is structurally called to seek justice for its citizens (and we immediately note that the desire to re-assert Scottish Statehood is borne of an increasingly urgent awareness of the structural “injustice” of Scotland’s terminal feebleness within the UK State).