Thursday, June 20, 2013

My answer

I am taking a class in American History up to 1877 and the professor asked this question:

Was Pres. Andrew Jackson good, evil, or both?

Should we judge him by the standards of today?

Well, I figured I would answer and this was my response and thought y'all would enjoy it.  I hope I don't fail.

The question of good and evil is not necessarily a question for historical narrative.  However, when you have a man like Jackson that was considered one of the country’s greatest leaders  since the founding fathers, who was also responsible for despicable actions; it is a question worth investigating.  More so to determine if they (we) love the expansion of our country more than the human beings that were displaced, hurt and killed.  The question of good and evil is in fact a spiritual question and one that cannot find its answer solely in the minds of men.  To answer a question of such gravity we must look to something that is transcendent , otherworldly and outside our limited epistemological base.  Sure, if we  compared Jackson to someone like Mother Theresa he is evil.  But if we compared Jackson to Stalin or Hitler he is good; so then, the question that must first be answered is: compared to who?  We cannot judge the actions of Jackson, or any person, by those of other people because we can always find someone “better” and someone “more evil.”  Now we must answer the question of standards, if we are to unpack Jackson as good or evil.  It is important to clarify that the kind of standard that is related to good and evil is different than other standards.  For example, is my Toyota Corolla fast?  Compared to a go cart, yes it is, but compared to an Indy Car, no and this kind of standard is not how we would judge good and evil.  If evil were judged with a sliding scale then we could all have our own scale by which we would judge and that would be a problem.  If on my scale I said slavery was wrong and on Jackson’s scale he said it was good, then the question is who is right?  Logically either we are both wrong, or one of us is right, no other tenable view is possible. To suggest that we are both right is self-refuting because saying we are both right, is to say that it would be wrong to say we are both wrong or that only one of us is right.  The conclusion is that either way only one view is indeed right.  The question about Jackson being good, evil or both is best answered when compared to a standard that does not change.  Think of it this way: if you have 10 pianos are they tuned to each other, or a single tuning fork?  Naturally you would tune all 10 pianos to the same standard, the same tuning fork.  Pianos don’t stay in tune by being tuned to another piano because pianos do in fact go out of tune.  Now the question is who or what do we compare Jackson to? I would suggest that a transcendent moral objective must necessarily exist in order to answer the questions you asked.  In fact the founding fathers thought there were certain inalienable rights that were bestowed upon all man by a creator.  If I were stand with the framers I could confidently say that the standard is that of God, as revealed in the Bible and the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  The progress of revelation throughout our nation’s history has been fraught with man’s self-serving interests for power, money, land and prestige.  Jackson was no different.  Just because slavery was in fact legal doesn’t mean it was right and just because it was illegal to speak out against your country doesn’t mean it was wrong.  Therefore my answer would be that Jackson, like all of us (I reject the “tabula rasa” idea)  are evil at heart.  All of us are evil when compared to the  immutable standard of a Holy God, so I do not think, in relation to good and evil, that there is a different standard today than there was in Jackson’s day.  Because if there was that would mean that slavery and stealing land were really right at the time, and I doubt anyone who is intellectually honest would go there.


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