A startling, paradigm-changing exploration of the revolutionary part of the American Revolution: the ideas that changed the world for good.
“Matthew Stewart’s brilliant new book breathes fresh life into our understanding of the American Revolution. Beautifully written and lucidly argued, Nature’s God recovers the lost voices and original intentions of the thoughtful men who made America. Sure to stir controversy on all fronts, Nature’s God will set the agenda for serious discussion of the American Revolution’s significance in world history.”
— Peter S. Onuf, author of The Mind of Thomas Jefferson
“Splendid . . . imaginative but never fanciful, even at its most surprising. What lends Nature’s God a good deal of its verve is Matthew Stewart’s unabashed attachment not only to the revolutionaries as they really were, but to the skeptical rationalism they embodied. This is partisan scholarship as it should be written, and much needed service to the public.”
— Alan Ryan, author of The Making of Modern Liberalism
“In a book that offers you a chance to rethink much of what you thought you knew about America’s founders, Matthew Stewart traces the little-known influence of secular philosophers, from Epicurus through Spinoza, on the revolutionary generation and offers a lively, powerful, and erudite refutation of the myth that the framers of our secular Constitution had any intention of founding an orthodox Christian nation.”
— Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
(Starred Review) “Stewart … delivers a penetrating history of an American Revolution not yet finished and a stirring reassertion of the power of ideas unbound by the shackles of superstition. Meticulously annotated and informed by imposing erudition, the book is a lively chronicle of the years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, especially noteworthy for detailing the unsung contributions (in word and deed) of such revolutionary figures as Ethan Allen and Thomas Young. It is also an admirably lucid survey of radical philosophical thought on the nature of man and the cosmos, a guiding principle grounded in reason and transmitted from Epicurus via the poet Lucretius, further developed by the great philosophical minds of the 17th century and embraced by the Founding Fathers. Stewart’s capacity to render undiluted the complex deliberations of these thinkers glows on the page, notwithstanding the occasional Mobius strip of esoterica. The author locates these ideas in the heterodox, deist origins of the Republic, with a focus on corporeal reality, not spiritual mysteries. In doing so, he reveals the true and enduring significance of the American experiment: not merely as a revolt against an imperial monarch, but against the global reach and oppressive artifice of supernatural religion. Stewart gives the simplistic “common religious consciousness” and much presumed wisdom a fair hearing, then demolishes them utterly, though not dismissing what is useful in faith. By closely analyzing the writings of Jefferson, Young, Franklin, Paine et al., he quashes the delusion that America was established as a “Christian” nation. In affording a fresh perspective on the difficult but exhilarating birth of this country, Stewart shows that the often superficially misunderstood words of the Declaration of Independence are even more profound than they appear.
“Yes, such forbidding terms as monism and creation ex nihilo are bandied about, but don’t be daunted. As in “The Courtier and the Heretic,” his earlier book about Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, Stewart does his intellectual heavy lifting in graceful prose that makes lucid the main thrust of dense arguments…. Stewart’s eloquently argued book makes a strong case that freedom from religion is precisely what America’s founders had in mind.
— Wendy Smith, The Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2014
“Nature’s God is an enormous, ambitious philosophical history that works to redefine the very building blocks of our American society. That’s exactly what the religious right has been up to for decades now: redefining the terms of the debate. For those of us terrified by the resulting perversion of the idea of “religious liberty” … Stewart’s efforts are impassioned, noble, and necessary.”
— Brook Wilensky-Lanford, “American Independence Myths,” The New Republic, July 4, 2014
“Stewart examines the philosophical mind-sets of the Founding Fathers in this sprawling, ambitious, and ultimately rather compelling paean to the role of reason in the American Republic … To support his argument, he provides deep context, describing the philosophical climate of the late eighteenth century, but also probing the various philosophical writings of key founders, including a few who do not get the attention they deserve. The result is a deeply felt and richly argued polemic that will challenge readers to reexamine the philosophical basis of American thought.”
“…[a] splendidly polemical account of the philosophy of the founding fathers … If this vigorous book wins the converts it deserves, then a new generation of patriots may rise up to celebrate the US not as God’s own country but as the oldest and greatest atheist nation.”
— Jonathan Ree, Prospect, August 2014
A Book of the Month Club Premium Title A Military Book Club Selection
“Matthew Stewart’s enthralling and important new book … argues that we misremember the philosophical and religious origins of the American Revolution. Stewart … happily rips into the original sources of Enlightenment thought, this time discovering a radical and profoundly humanistic worldview underlying the American Revolution. The book is a pleasure to read, its often surprising conclusions supported by elegant prose and more than 1,000 footnotes. Stewart’s erudite analysis confidently rebuts the creeping campaign of Christian nationalism to “‘take back’ the nation and make it what it never in fact was.” The next time someone like Jerry Falwell asserts that the United States is “a Christian nation,” he’ll have to answer to Nature’s God.”
— Buzzy Jackson, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2014
For interviews, sources, and additional links, see here.
W.W. Norton & Co, July 1, 2014
Also by Matthew Stewart
Matthew Stewart is an independent writer and philosopher.