Dabney’s Political Thought: Calvinian In An American Way -- By: Mark J. Larson

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:1 (Jan 2014)
Article: Dabney’s Political Thought: Calvinian In An American Way
Author: Mark J. Larson

Dabney’s Political Thought: Calvinian In An American Way

Mark J. Larson

The nineteenth-century Reformed theologian Robert Dabney had immense talent and significant influence in the church.1 In addition, he had a colorful and charismatic career as an officer in the Civil War.2 Despite his “larger than life” standing, little scholarly attention

is devoted to him.3 This is particularly true with respect to his political philosophy, which was learned and provocative. Douglas Kelly opines that Dabney manifested a “wider and deeper cultural, social, and political interest than any other theologian of nineteenth-century America.”4 He mastered the principles of political philosophy, and there is much to be gained by considering the salient features of his distinctively American political thought.5

Although Dabney sided with the Confederate States of America, he was convinced that his political thought was that of a true American patriot.6 He believed that America was special, embracing a redeemer-nation conception for the role that America was to play upon the world stage. He saw the light of America shining upon the darkness of the nations, teaching them to live in peace: “We hoped the Empire Republic would teach the angry nations nobler triumphs than those of war.”7 He then expressed his vision for the role of America in these words: “That dream we had indulged” was “that here a nation was to grow up…which should come by the righteous arts of peace to a greatness such as at last to shame and frighten war away from the family of kingdoms.”8

Dabney is generally regarded as an illustrious exponent of conservatism.9 Holifield asserts, “He became known as a champion of unyielding conservatism.”10 Lucas declares that he was “profoundly conservative.”11 And Hettle observes that “the image of Dabney as an archconservative warrior for the Lost Cause has been described by many historians.”12 He adds, “The conventional portrait of this theolo...

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