RJ Rushdoony: Enemy of Statism
That which says the most about a people or a nation is its source of law-the source to which that person or society looks to find out the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The god of any society is its source of law…Any society that divorces itself from God’s law is like a fish out of water--violently active but quickly destined to die (Institutes of Biblical Law).Most Christians, perceptive ones anyway, have seen the vicious bloodlust inherent in totalitarian regimes, but have missed the more important issues. It is one thing to point out the obvious and cry over what liberals and wanna-be Marxists are doing to our country in various political policies. It is another thing to attack the worldview upon which it hinges. That worldview is statism. Statism is the attempt of a political party to play god, to be the messiah to the masses, and to bring in a golden age of peace. In other words, it believes in salvation by legislation, and if that were bad enough, it enforces this salvation by military force. It is a bloodthirsty form of universalism. I will try to point out in this essay the anti-biblical presuppositions of statism, the valiant and heroic insights of Rushdoony in opposing, and hopefully--God willing--some practical pointers in our modern-day struggle against the state’s attempt to play God.
If Man is Inherently Good, Wherein Lies the Problem? Simply put: Deny man’s sinfulness and you must then find a new means of salvation. Every worldview has to answer these basic questions: Where did I come from? Who am I? What is Wrong with Me? What is the solution? Biblical Christianity maintains that Man is sinful by nature and cannot do right. His problem can only be fixed by divine action. But deny man’s sinfulness and maintain that he is good, one must still locate the source of his evil and then posit a new solution. If man is inherently good, then how do we explain the evil that he does? Well, the problem is, so says the statist, his environment. Therefore, to save him, we must change his environment. We must pass laws to make him better. He needs to be educated. If only he had the right facts, he would do well. The statist, then, believes in salvation by education and legislation. But what about those who maintain the antithesis and say that man can only be saved by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by law? Well if the statist is to be consistent, then those people must be neutralized by any means possible.
A Finite Reference Point
The great defender of the faith Cornelius Van Til said, “Either theonomy or autonomy” (yes, I know that he is using theonomy in a different sense than Bahnsen, but my point is equally as strong--because of the nature of the case one must appeal to God or Man). The Psalmist says in Psalm 119 “I walk in liberty for I love thy law.” At this point I am going to attempt a line of reasoning that is not often brought out in the theonomy vs. statist debates. I will be drawing from the presuppositional insights of Cornelius Van Til. The presuppositional method of defending the faith asks, “What are the preconditions of intelligibility?” In other words, for reality to make sense, what conditions must first take place? I will not repeat the TAG debates but will use this line of reasoning as a launching point. The statist, like his Greek hero of old, sees the universe as essentially chaotic and it is man’s duty to impose order upon it (Nietzsche). But the Christian must maintain that God has already imposed his order upon the universe (Genesis 1). Man is not to impose his autonomous order on the world, but to bring the world into conformity with God’s order. Like all big government regimes, the statist thinks he will find liberty by enforcing his own arbitrary, autonomous laws upon his neighbor. The Christian (I will now be using the term “antitheian”) sees order and freedom because God’s law frees him to do so. Rushdoony writes, “But the implications for liberty in their [Calvin and Luther] doctrines are scarcely dreamed of by twentieth century man, who is everywhere faced with encroaching statist tyranny and assumes that liberty is from law (the humanistic idea), rather than under law (the Christian faith) [World History Notes, 152].”
Liberty or License?
Older dictionaries define two types of liberty--natural and civil. Natural liberty is what man is able to do if he is not impeded by law, society, or cultural norms. Civil liberty is man’s ability to live his life under law. If man is allowed to run wild and no restraints are placed upon him, then liberty is lost. Liberty is lost because every man is doing right in his own eyes and the State becomes unable to protect the liberties of its citizens. Therefore, the State enacts laws. The embarrassing question is “who’s law?” God’s or Man’s? Here is where people really react to what I am saying. The will say to me, “The Bible doesn’t regulate how civil government ought to be run.” Okay, I can quote Romans 13 (which is prescriptive and destroys the above argument; the State‘s primarily role is to terrorize evildoers, not be a Savior to man), but in case they don’t like that (at this point they are arbitrarily engaging in special pleading) then let’s look at their position and reduce it to ethical absurdity. The issue is this: Is there a transcendental limitation on law? If we will not have God as the source of law, then we will necessarily have man as the source of law. Case Study: When is Punishment Criminal? As Dr Bahnsen pointed out: Let’s say I drive my car on your driveway and leak oil on it. You walk up to me, express your disappointment, and then knife me in the chest (remember the context; God’s law is not valid). We (arbitrarily) think that is wrong. Ok, perhaps it is. Let’s say I d o the same thing and you come up to me, express your disappointment, point to the badge on your chest, and then knife me. Is that punishment wrong? If so, why? Let’s say we are in a democracy. 50% + 1 makes a judgment morally right. Let’s say enough incompetents in a democracy (but I repeat myself) vote and approve of such idiocy. On what ground can we say that this punishment is wrong? By denying a transcendent limitation law one cannot say it is wrong. In one hammer blow of a paragraph Rushdoony writes (and this is the most important thing I have read in a few weeks),
“ There is no law, no appeal, no higher order, beyond and above the universe.
Instead of an [vi] open window upwards, there is a closed cosmos. There is thus
no ultimate law and decree beyond man and the universe. Man’s law is therefore
beyond criticism except by man. In practice, this means that the positive law of
the state is absolute law. The state is the most powerful and most highiy
organized expression of humanistic man, and the state is the form over the
universe, over every human order, the law of the state is a closed system of
law. There is no appeal beyond it. Man has no “right,” no realm of justice, no
source of law beyond the state, to which he can appeal against the state.
Humanism therefore imprisons man within the closed world of the state and the
closed universe of the evolutionary scheme (introduction to The New Legality by
Hebden Taylor, 3).
In other words, lacking all limitations on its law, it lacks all limitations on its power. Its total law is its total power. The State reinforces its total law by its total power. And if you deny ultimacy of a Transcendental law-word from God, who are you to ever question the will of the State!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is a fair argument on my part. If you grant me my premise (~God’s Law), you must grant me my conclusion.
One Man’s Stand Against the Messianic State
You can always tell the good a man is doing by the anger he incurs, often from within the camp. I came to the Reformed faith late in life. I found the writings of R.J. Rushdoony because of my vicinity to Auburn Avenue Presybterian Church in Monroe, LA. I had been an avid history student and was studying for intense exams in American history. Rushdoony had written several powerful studies in American History. But before that I got my hands on The Institutes of Biblical Law. I was immediately impressed by his forceful writing style and clear and persuasive logic. His footnotes were utterly fascinating and the fruits of his intensive reading regimen (a book a day, six days a week, for fifty years). Rushdoony applied his faith to all areas of life (literally, he wrote on about every subject). Granted, he drew some wrong and odd conclusions but unless you require perfection of everyone you read, then this shouldn’t be too troubling. Rushdoony, like John Knox before him, championed the supremacy of God’s word and the rule of law in society. Is there a law above the law? Is Man sovereign or God? Rushdoony drew the most logical conclusion about the doctrine of God’s sovereignty: If God is Sovereign then the State is not. The State is only derivatively sovereign. It finds its legitimacy only to the degree that it is just (uh oh, how do you define justice except by God’s word?). At this point I am just going to quote several powerful Rushdoony quotes,
Orthodox Christianity was to introduce lasting tension into history by
insisting, first, that law comes from a transcendental God and His word, so that
civil law is a creature of rligion, nd, second, that for the state to attempt to
make law and religion its own creations is to play god and to incur the judgment
of God and the necessary opposition of true believers. Charlemagne had
inserted into his royal tide the words "by God's Grace." This formula is very
important to Germanic or barbarian Christianity. It placed the king and the
state under Christian law. Charlemagne saw himself as the "bishop of bishops,"
clearly superior to the papacy, but also very clearly under God's law (World
History Notes, 115).
This is probably the second most important sentence I have read in a while:
The Germanic peoples also denied the idea of human sovereignty, as F. Kern
hasshown in Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages, and they held to the
of law. Law was sovereign, if any sovereign existed, law as
justice, and right. Every king was under law and therefore
could be lawfully
resisted if he broke the law.