How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.
– I Kings 18:21
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
– Revelation 3:16
The Achilles Heel of Conservatism
My review of Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah in the March 1997 issue of the “Chalcedon Report” identified what I consider the Achilles heel of the modern conservative movement: that, from an ideational standpoint, modern conservatism is nothing more than Enlightenment liberalism in less fully developed form, an opinion Bork himself seems to share, albeit less forthrightly. I stated:
“Like the late Allan Bloom in his blockbuster The Closing of the American Mind, Bork pinpoints the Sixties as a pivotal era of liberal radicalism but, unlike Bloom, is at pains to trace the social conflagration to a slow burning that had been going on for decades below the perceptible surface. That slow burning Bork identifies as the corollary of the liberal vision: ‘Liberalism always had the tendency to become modern liberalism, just as individualism and equality always contained the seeds of their radical modern versions’ (p. 8):
“‘Since liberalism is a movement away from, an impulse, not a stable agenda, it continually revises the agenda it has for any particular moment. That accounts for the gradual transformation of the older or classical liberalism into the radical individualist component of today’s liberalism.’” (p. 62)
“Two pages later Bork contrasts modern liberalism with conservatism, the latter of which he correctly perceives as a modern residue of classical liberalism: John Locke’s political contractarianism, Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economics, British Whiggery, James Madison’s republicanism, and so forth. Bork’s panacea is the recovery of something of this classical liberal (i.e., modern conservative) vision. The problem, according to Bork, is that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century classical liberalism just went too far.”
“I am confident Bork does not perceive the contradiction of this thesis. He as much as acknowledges that conservatism and liberalism are cut from the same Enlightenment cloth (pp. 58-65), and that conservatism is a half-way house between Enlightenment rationalism and modern liberalism. But in so doing he delivers the historical and philosophical coup de grace to modern conservatism, which is discovered to be nothing more than a transitional phase between a rigorous Christian Faith and therefore society, and the godless secularism that engulfs us today. It is forever the propensity of conservatism to shrink before the liberalism of the present – whatever form the latter may take: secular capitalism always paves the way for secular socialism; libertarianism always leads to anarchy which summons despotism; free-thinking always conduces to free-from-God-thinking; relentless franchise extension always ends in a lethal egalitarianism.1 Conservatism is no match for liberalism, which is simply the logical outworking of the inherent premises of conservatism.”2
This inherent and fatal flaw is highlighted in the internecine debate presently rending the conservative movement.
Neocons and Theocons
By now, most conservatives (and even liberals) have heard about the flaming controversy sparked by the November 1996 symposium of the then-Neo-Conservative journal, First Things, titled “The End of Democracy? A Judicial Usurpation of Politics.” The text of the original symposium and much of the ensuing exchange have been bound together in a single volume under the title, THE END OF DEMOCRACY.3 The symposium, headlined by Neo-Conservatives Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Bork and Charles Colson, took as its premise the statement by Hadley Arkes: “In one issue after another touching the moral ground of our common life, the power to legislate has been withdrawn from the people themselves, or the ‘consent of the governed,’ and transferred by the judges into their own hands.”4 This assertion offered nothing novel or revolutionary inasmuch as it has been a staple of the conservative critique of modern society. What was revolutionary was the symposiasts’ suggestion that this judicial usurpation increasingly called into question the very legitimacy of what more than one of the contributors referred to as the “American Regime.” While, contrary to the accusations of the symposium’s frenzied respondents, the contributors did not counsel civil disobedience nor, much less, armed revolution, they did point out that if this trend of usurpation of democracy by the judiciary were not reversed, civil disobedience and even armed revolution may be alternatives worth considering.
The symposium elicited a storm of protest, including the resignation of two First Things board members, Gertrude Himmelfarb and Walter Berns. Conservative anchors like National Review and Commentary as well as liberal organs like The New Republic weighed in with comment.
While the controversy generated a gradient of opinions, it is possible to narrow them down to two schools, what Jacob Heilbrunn in The New Republic (in an otherwise embarrassingly inept piece) designated the “neocons” and the “theocons.” The Neo-Conservatives are essentially the New York wine-and-cheese set, former Sixties radicals converted about a quarter century ago to a more broadly conservative agenda. It includes the likes of William Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and Peter Berger. The neocons exerted a great influence in the Eighties during the Reagan Administration and today constitute the mostly highly visible of the intelligentsia of the conservative movement.
The neocons tend to line up with the views of University of Chicago political philosopher Leo Strauss in elevating the principles of free democracy and the American experiment expressed in its Founding Document. The neocons strongly emphasize the philosophical – but certainly not the religious – notion of “natural rights” which the Declaration of Independence and the Founding presupposes. To the neocons, it is this idea of natural rights that forms the possibility and structure of civil government.
By contrast, the theocons have come increasingly to rely on the explicitly religious notion of natural law akin to the old Thomistic conviction that God’s moral law is woven into the very structure of the universe and that man can apprehend it – cannot but apprehend it – apart from the special revelation of the Bible or the pronouncements of the church. For the theocons, it is this natural law that is the “founding of the Founding” and without which the underlying moral character of democracy incrementally erodes and then becomes the will of an autonomous hedonistic majority. The First Things symposiasts highlight recent Supreme Court decisions – especially starting with Roe – which extensively disregard natural law and snatch democratic decision-making from the hands of the populists and their legislature to boot.
The theocons are especially upset (and they should be) by the recent Romer v. Evans decision in which the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s Constitutional Provision, Amendment 2, which prohibited the enactment of laws which would furnish preferential treatment to homosexuals; Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), in which the High Court suggested that those who questioned the Court’s imprimatur on abortion were questioning the legitimacy of the civil order and should, to put it bluntly, shut up; and finally, the case of the ninth circuit court’s decision Compassion in Dying v. Washington which concluded that the State of Washington may not prohibit physicians from assisting suicides.
The theocons are convinced that these cases represent simply the latest in a long line of court decisions striking out against the moral law of God and arrogating to itself the task of framing law in contempt of American citizens and their elected representatives in Congress. The neocons would not disagree, but the neocons are afraid that the theocons’ appeal to the theocratic standard of natural law, however amorphous, created an atmosphere of anarchy in which “weekend warriors” may threaten to take the law into their own hands. David Brooks of the visibly neocon Weekly Standard even mourned about “the Anti-American Temptation” the theocons were risking by their suggestions.
The Christian Reconstructionist Assessment
Christian Reconstructionists, Christian theocrats5 and many other Christian defenders of an explicitly and self-conscious biblical social order find this internecine struggle among the conservatives rather amusing. We also find it powerfully expressive of the inherent flaw and even deformation of the conservative movement. Beyond the issue of simple conservative turf protection, what we really observe in this literary debate is not what liberals gleefully consider (and conservatives noisily deplore) as a crack-up in the conservative ranks, but merely the principles of conservatism carried to their (il)logical conclusions.
The Neo-Conservative “Natural Right”
The Irving Kristol and Weekly Standard crowd, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the National Review crew, are passionately interested in playing at social criticism. Because, as Bork unwittingly admitted in SLOUCHING TOWARD GOMORRAH, modern conservatism as an heir of classical liberalism is merely a transitional phase to modern secular liberalism, we can expect that conservatives delight to defend to the death the liberal gains of the past, just so long as they can position themselves as opponents of the liberal agenda of the present. Several examples will suffice to show this observation to be accurate.
Sixties conservatives were, by and large, vehement opponents of the civil rights initiative – not, in most cases, because they were racists (although unfortunately this was occasionally true), but because they saw this initiative as usurpation of local and state self-government. Today, it is hard to find a conservative anywhere who is opposed to the entrenched civil rights ethos and, in fact, some modern conservatives like Richard John Neuhaus (until lately identified as a neocon) were heavily involved with Martin Luther King in the Sixties civil rights protests. Perhaps it is not quite correct to speak of “entrenched civil rights,” since “civil rights” today does not mean lack of discrimination, but rather re-discrimination on the grounds of the logic of the so-called “affirmative action.” It was, of course, precisely this sort of discriminatory preferential treatment that the original civil rights movement calculated to eliminate. These days, of course, most of the conservatives either firmly question or adamantly oppose affirmative action, while stoutly defending the liberal civil rights agenda of the Sixties. Modern conservatives, one must understand, simply adore liberalism, so long as it is the liberalism of a quarter century ago. It is not surprising that the Neo-Conservatives adopt this stance. They are no less liberals today than they were in the Sixties; in fact, it may be correct to assert they are almost precisely the liberals of the Sixties who happened to have survived into the Nineties and now appear somewhat conservative.
Another obvious case: sexual immorality and changing sexual mores. Sixties conservatives were aghast at the sexual revolution almost as much as they were the political revolution going on right before their eyes; the two seemed to feed on each other. Conservatives were defenders of “traditional morality,” by which they meant at best a genteel Victorianism of those very forgettable Eisenhower years. By the Nineties, the Sixties sexual revolution had become the new sexual regime, and conservatives were busy defending it against the new liberal trend – sexual perversion. U.S. News and World Report carried an insightful cover story6 detailing the psychological and social consequences of premarital sex, noting the odd silence of leading conservatives on the issue. Abortion and homosexuality are presently the defining issues for conservatives, who have left in the dust the days of arguing against “mere” immorality. Premarital sex and even adultery are unpleasant issues for nice, respectable conservatives, but they are not where the battle lies today. Of course, if this trend is not reversed, that is, when the normalization of homosexuality and abortion is woven into the consciousness of the nation by an egregious, perverted media, conservatives will maintain their courageous reticence about these issues, as they are confronting the vanguard issue of early next century – public bestiality and sadomasochism. That this scenario will – no, cannot but – occur should neither perplex nor horrify conservatives, particularly Neo-Conservatives. The benchmark, the defining characteristic of conservatives, is defending to the death the solid gain of the liberalism of recent date.
A final example: “primitive” conservatives from thirty to fifty years ago stoutly opposed the national socialism of Franklin Roosevelt infecting succeeding administrations. These conservatives saw Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the minimum wage for what they were – socialistic schemes depriving the nation’s citizens of their economic freedom. Today’s conservatives talk excitedly about scaling back the welfare state, but most of them deem frighteningly “radical” the notion of scrapping the unjust larceny and chaotic programs of national socialism. They are elated to sponsor slightly smaller versions of The Great Society. For conservatives, mark you, liberals are always right, just so long as they are liberals twenty to fifty years ago. Modern conservatives lack (better, refuse to possess) any epistemological moral anchor, an immutable standard by which to govern life and society. This is nothing new. Arch-patriarch of modern conservatism, Russell Kirk, outlines “six canons of conservative thought”:
“1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead. . . .
“2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life. . . .
“3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes. The only true equality is moral quality. . . .
“4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress. . . .
“5) Faith in prescription and distrust of ‘sophisters and calculators. . . .
“6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress. . . .”7
This is a prescription to take history seriously. The problem with conservatives, however, is not that they dislike history, but that they misunderstand historicity.8 Kirk is by no means offering an unchanging standard of life and morality, but merely the entrenched dogma of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The preservation of belief in a “divine intent,” preference for “variety and mystery of traditional life,” “acceptance that civilization requires orders and classes,” the essential relation between “property and freedom,” distrust of rationalism, and aversion to heady ideas of progress each springs from an unquestioning, abandoning faith in the order of the past. But the entire enterprise is virtually helpless and speechless today before the claims of a very recent past that has become quite different from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of Europe. Kirk himself was defending a serious dilution of and deviation from an explicitly biblical and Christian social order, but by no means that order itself; he had in mind as his ideal conservative society the creepingly secularized progressivism of the Enlightenment era, the transitional phase from a Christian social order to a secular social order. Why should we be surprised that as right-wing Enlightenment lost its hold in a fanatically romantic West, conservatives would lose their confidence in Kirk’s prescription? All six of Kirk’s “canons” may seem perfectly commendable to conservatives, but without an epistemological anchor impervious to the ravages of time by which to maintain them, they eventually become nothing but hollow sounds amid a finely-tuned orchestra of a progressively decadent culture.
The theocons are scarcely better. They have rediscovered the moral force of “natural law.” Well, now. This is hoary tradition, indeed – all the way back to Plato and other Greek philosophers, Thomas Aquinas, and certain American Founders, notably Jefferson. Ramesh Ponnura grasps the issue perceptively in his contribution to the First Things debate:
“Adherents of natural law believe that moral truths can be discovered through reason alone. As Professor George puts it, ‘What people like me are arguing is that the standard of public policy should be what reason can understand, so a view should stand or fall based on its reasonableness. Biblical tradition can be the carrier of wisdom on matters like same-sex marriage, as can the Talmud. But we don’t appeal to the authority of the Bible or of the (Roman) Catholic Church in making our case. We appeal to principles of rationality that are available to all people.’ So, for instance, when George and John Finnis of Oxford University testified in Romer – an incident Heilbrunn records – not once did they invoke the Bible or any authority other than reason itself. Their reason was available to, and arguable by, non-believers.”9
We hear in the theocon notion the echo of the old Thomistic dualism that man can derive from nature itself apart from biblical revelation glorious divine truths woven into the structure of the universe. Let us not, then, introduce the Bible for fear we will be considered excessively religious, sectarian or dogmatic. These disciples of natural law wish to maintain the ethics and morality of the God of the Bible without either God or the Bible. The madman-philosopher Frederick Nietzsche last century called this bluff in Beyond Good and Evil when he noted:
“With a stiff seriousness that inspires laughter, all our philosophers demanded something far more exalted, presumptuous and solemn (than the mere description of extant morality) from themselves as soon as they approached the study of morality: they wanted to supply a rational foundation for morality – and every philosopher so far has believed that he has provided such a foundation. Morality itself, however, was accepted as ‘given.’ How remote from their clumsy pride was that task which they considered insignificant and left in dust and must – the task of description – although the subtlest fingers and senses can scarcely be subtle enough for it.
“Just because our moral philosophers knew the facts of morality only very approximately in arbitrary extracts or in accidental epitomes – for example as the morality of their environment, their class, their church, the spirit of their time, their climate and part of the world – just because they were poorly informed and not even very curious about different peoples, times and past ages – they never laid eyes on the real problems of morality; for these emerge only when we compare many moralities. In all ‘science of morals’ so far one thing was lacking, as strange as it may sound: the problem of morality itself; what was lacking was any suspicion that there was something problematic here. What the philosophers called a ‘rational foundation for morality’ and tried to supply was, seen in the right light, merely a scholarly variation of the common faith and the prevalent morality; a new means of expression for this faith; and this just another fact within a particular morality; indeed, in the last analysis a kind of denial that this morality might be considered problematic – certainly the very opposite of an examination, analysis, questioning and vivisection of this very faith.”10
Nietzsche was, of course, the quintessential modern nihilist and a very self-conscious nihilist at that. He saw the bland, compromised Christian presuppositions operating surreptitiously under the wolf-paws of a pretended external neutrality of Enlightenment philosophers. These philosophers communicated a diluted version of the ethics and morality of Christian philosophy quite apart from any affirmation of Biblical Christianity. They wanted the benefits of Christianity without Christianity. They wanted Paradise without God.
The modern expression of natural law is the attempt to justify a very particular morality by a very universal appeal. The theocons, like most of the Enlightenment philosophers, want to be Christians of some sort, but avowedly not biblical Christians. They want a morality and social order springing from that morality to which believer and non-believer can both assent. They cannot, however, afford to take the Bible seriously in their view of man any more than they can afford to take it seriously in their view of the state, because the Bible does not depict man as “neutral” and thus amenable to arguments about the existence of God and the moral structure of the universe. Rather it depicts man in his natural, unconverted state as at war with the God of the universe (Romans 3:9-19, 5:10; 1 Corinthians 1:21, 2:14). Though man unavoidably knows the truth since he himself is made in the image of God, he works ceaselessly and tirelessly to suppress that truth. The natural man has a vested interest in obscuring and eliminating every evidence for the existence and work of God he confronts both within himself and his environment.11 The morality which the theocons champion is a derivative version of the morality of biblical law, though they would never – could never – argue in favor of that morality on explicitly biblical grounds. They assume that this morality is a “given” in the law of nature. All rational men can see it, acknowledge it and act on it.
Nietzsche exploded this fancy. So did Dooyeweerd, Van Til and Rushdoony, though from a distinctly biblical perspective.12 The latter knew that, like the Enlightenment predecessors, the natural law theorists attempt to smuggle a blandly Christian morality into the argument within the goods marked “natural law” – on which everyone can and should agree. They should possess the courage of their convictions – either return to an explicitly Christian morality, or embrace the nihilism which a denial of the biblical basis of morality necessarily requires.
The “morality” that springs from natural law is, of course, a wax nose. For Plato, holding wives in common was natural, while for Hitler, the superiority of Aryans was natural. Natural law for the natural man is whatever man wants nature to mean. For example, John J. Reilly’s defense of the First Things symposium tries to allay the fears of the detractors who think the theocons are after an armed revolt: “The task of today’s conservatives is the relatively modest proposition of repairing the damage many of them did themselves twenty or thirty years ago. On the other side of the victory of today’s cultural conservatives, there is a world sort of like the Eisenhower administration, but without racial discrimination.”13 How comforting. This is the best that the devotees of natural law can hope for: a consolidation of the liberal gains of thirty to fifty years ago. In this tack, of course, they are no different from their Neo-Conservative detractors.
When the theocons call for a discussion of the possibility of civil disobedience or armed resistance if the trend of judicial usurpation continues, and when the neocons respond in horror that such talk smacks of radicalism, neither can claim any objective authority beyond “transcendent morality” or “natural law.” For their part, the neocons do not even have that.
The Decadence Conservatism Has Produced
Perhaps the most fascinating and altogether ironic feature of the entire debate, however, is the conservatives’ (both neocon and theocon) total indifference to the fact that it is their own commitment to either “natural right” or “natural law” that laid the foundation for the very social decadence they now so witheringly decry. In his penetrating work, THE SOVEREIGNTY OF REASON,14 Frederick Beiser notes that the Church of England was the hothouse for the cultivation of the rationalism that eventually undermined the Faith by its appeal to natural law. Commitment to natural law subverted Christianity – and eventually Christian ethics. Both neocons and theocons desire a “reasonable” faith, a bland, civil religion, partly Christian, partly Jewish and partly whatever else, just as long as everybody behaves himself. The chief problem is that it is not clear on the premises of the most consistent natural man that Christianity, Judaism or behaving oneself is rational or reasonable. The natural man, as Van Til and Rushdoony have ceaselessly reminded us, has a stake in opposing and obliterating the knowledge of God and his law. As Van Til noted, if the unregenerate man had access to a button that could eliminate from his mind the sovereign, Triune God, his finger would always be on that button. Reason itself is not an objective “given” but is itself a divinely created instrument employed by the unregenerate to further their attack on God.15 It is one’s relationship to God that shapes the activity of his reason, not the other way around.
For this reason, natural law and natural religion is not merely useless: it is counterproductive. It flatters the unregenerate individual in his assault on the sovereign God. Each furnishes a rationalization and justification for his sin. Van Til makes this point abundantly clear in the section “The Believer Meets the Unbeliever” in his masterful THE DEFENSE OF THE FAITH.16 If the unregenerate man is granted autonomy in his apprehension of the laws of nature, it is hard to argue with him when he concludes that the laws of nature do not express the God or morality of the Bible. It is this appeal to reason as final arbiter (which, after all, natural law or natural right must endorse) that creates the justification for the judicial usurpation of power that the Theo-Conservatives now so loudly protest. In other words, it was the guiding assumption of their own religiously perverse ideas (notably, rationalism) that obligingly plowed ground for the spread of the fertile seeds of modern judicial decadence. Modern liberals have simply replaced the conservatives’ autonomy of “natural law” and “natural right” with the autonomy of “postmodernism” and “judicial usurpation”; if man is permitted autonomy in one sphere he will soon claim autonomy in all spheres.
This is why neither neoconservatism nor theoconservatism can mount any effective defense against judicial usurpation or any other aspect of liberal decadence in modern culture. Conservatism assures its own doom.
The Conservative Dilemma
Conservatives lose, will always lose, must always lose, because it is the nature of conservatism to lose. The inherent premise of modern conservatism is the diligent quest to die a cultural death just a little more slowly than liberalism does. This is most evident in neo-conservatism (which is simply the more Rightward Version of the Old Left), but infects conservatives of all stripes. Because each expressly repudiates the epistemological anchor of the comprehensive authority and application of divinely inspired and infallible Christian Scripture, it is content (often even excited) to drift aimlessly on the turbulent sea of modern culture – just so long as it can boast that it is a drift, and not a dash, like that of the political liberals.
Conservatives do not seem to grasp that the solution to the decadence of the modern age to which liberalism has largely contributed is nothing conservatism can offer. A return to a blandly “conservative” past is no panacea, since the past was never “conservative.” The past, when it reflected the standards of biblical Faith, was more or less Christian. When it did not, it was more or less anti-Christian. There can be no such thing as a conservative past. There can only be an opinion in the present that longs to restore certain aspects of the past that seem desirable from the vantage point of the later history we call the present. This is an unwise perspective (Ecclesiastes 7:10). History is forever changing – it (and each of its national, cultural and societal components) is moving toward either greater fidelity and obedience to God, or toward greater infidelity and disobedience toward God. If the past which conservatives wish to recover is one of intense obedience like the Puritan era (and that conservatives of any stripe would favor it is highly unlikely), they should be shown that biblical fidelity today may and must reach and exceed that even of the Puritan past. If the past which they wish to recover is merely that of a bland, hierarchical moralism (like much of the eighteenth century), they should be counseled that this era was itself a “liberal” era from the perspective of the Reformational sixteenth century (which itself the Roman Catholics at the time deemed dangerously progressive!), and merely, as noted above, a halfway house between a biblical Faith and a full-fledged modern apostasy.
In any case, to attempt to recreate the past apart from recognition of intervening history is to insulate oneself from the benefits of the instances of progress since that era and from the lessons one may learn even from the apostasies since that era. While, therefore, there thus can be no such thing as a conservative past, there certainly can be a Christian future. It is this toward which we should ceaselessly work.
Why Christian Reconstructionists Will Win
“Christianity,” Rosenstock-Huessy observed, “is the founder and trustee of the future, the very process of finding and securing it, and without the Christian spirit there is no real future for man.”17 We Christian Reconstructionists agree wholly. For this reason, we start from entirely different premises than conservatives. We start with the self-attesting Triune God speaking infallibly in Holy Scripture.18
Modern conservatives, like modern liberals and modern libertarians, lack any objective, authoritative anchor on which to base conclusions or their agenda. Liberals and libertarians are more vocal about this than conservatives are. Liberals, indeed, have an absolute authoritarian anchor, although it is far from an objective anchor. It is the absolute of man himself. Man is the measure of all things – his reason, experience and intuition. For modern liberals the standard is collective man, which reduces to elitist man in the form of the philosopher kings of the socialist state. For the libertarians it is man as atomistic, individual man who is at the center of all things: man, by the very nature of man, is the ultimate touchstone.19
Conservatives are less forthright. Blatant rationalism or experientialism sounds too much like libertarianism. Therefore, conservatives want to retain a respect for the past, for the orderly society, for “traditional values,” for the market (though they usually imply a “mixed” economy) and for “religion” (whatever that means). Conservatives, of course, do not elevate any of these factors to a prescriptive absolute. This means that at best one or more is a penultimate standard. The ultimate standard of conservative thought and action, like that of liberals and libertarians, is man himself. For neocons, natural right means man’s rights qua man and the democratic socio-political order created to secure those rights. For theocons, natural law means the morality woven into the structure of the universe knowable by man apart from special revelation. What it reduces to, however, is the philosophic justification of a bland, derived form of Christian morality. It lacks the force – and therefore the benefit – of a vibrant, biblical Faith.
Christian Reconstructionists, Christian Theocrats and others supporting an explicitly biblical religion have, by contrast, an anchor for the soul and for society too. It is the Sovereign, Triune God who has expressed himself in the Bible. We therefore deny every expression of human autonomy – liberal, conservative or libertarian. We hold, in fact, that the lust for autonomy constitutes the original sin. As Van Til notes, there are only two classifications of individuals on earth, those who worship and serve the creature, and those who worship and serve the Creator.20
Man made in the image of God, the summit of God’s creation, sinned by breaking the commandment of God. But sin did not catch God unaware. From eternity he had planned in the covenant of grace to redeem sinful man by the substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God of very God, who became man of very man for us and for our salvation. God has chosen to redeem man by his unconditional grace which he works in the lives of all he has chosen, all of whom appropriate justification (the judicial righteousness of Christ) by exercising faith alone, which is itself a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9).21
God’s original calling for man was to exercise dominion over the earth under divine authority (Genesis 9:1f). (22) In principle, the unredeemed man exercises a sinful, selfish dominion in all that he does; the redeemed man, by contrast, is restored to his place as God’s vicegerent in the earth, exercising dominion in union with the Lord Jesus Christ, the True Dominion Man, under whose feet God has placed all of his enemies in the entire earth (Hebrews 2:4-13). Man is sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit of God to more fully obey the requirements of God’s law as found in his Word (Romans 8:4), restoring God’s created order to harmony with him by reordering every aspect of life in terms of the Bible.
This, of course, is not the belief or agenda of conservatives, who consider it too religious, too theological, too dogmatic, too radical, too dangerous. For conservatives, only slightly less than for liberals, adherence to Holy Scripture as the infallible Word of God and its application in all areas of life is abhorrent. Like modern liberals, modern conservatives are not interested in truth, and they consider any affirmation of a profession of absolute truth to be dangerous.
A Concrete Standard
Christian Reconstruction will succeed in overthrowing the liberal social order and agenda where modern conservatism has failed, inasmuch as Christian Reconstruction enjoys the anchor of a concrete standard. The conservatives standard (if conservatism knowingly employs a standard at all) is a weird amalgam of bland Christian virtues, “traditional values,” tradition, human reason, and so forth. Christian Reconstructionists, conversely, bow only before God and his word in the Bible. This means, as Van Til notes, that we take the Bible as our source for every datum of information.23 By “datum of information” we mean not merely academically theological information, but information of all kinds, including information about the social order. Modern liberals are ostensibly worried about “social justice.” This means, quite simply an elitist civil government’s extorting wealth from citizens in order to bribe them to keep bureaucrats in power by their vote. Liberals will (both metaphorically and literally) shed huge crocodile tears about the plight of the poor, the homeless, the uneducated, the oppressed, and the handicapped in order to obtain money to employ policies that will harm each of these classes – in other words, liberals are hypocrites.
But what is the conservative answer to this liberal hypocrisy? For the most part it is to support programs only slightly less extortive and autocratic than those set forth by liberals. Conservatives continually bewail the evils of liberals. They rarely, if ever, offer concrete counterproposals to the liberal plans of addressing these problems which in reality are power grabs under the guise of “social justice” which destroy genuine social justice. The explanation for the continual conservative failure is simple: they have no program or ideas because they have no concrete standard by which to judge anything or by which to frame an agenda.
Alternatively, we Christian Reconstructionists do possess a concrete standard by which to frame an agenda. For example, in the issue of increased crime, conservatives, like liberals, do a great deal of hand wringing and pious pontificating about proposed solutions. On the Left, that includes stricter gun control laws and more prisons. On the Right, the solutions include more police officers and stiffer criminal penalties. Lately, the liberals have been jumping on the bandwagon in favor of “more police on the street.” None of this amounts to much of anything since it dismisses or ignores the biblical teaching that the solution to crime is restitution. This is based on the Christian idea of Christ’s atonement.24
Liberals wish to penalize guns for criminal human behavior; this is a supreme, if absurd, form of environmentalism.25 Conservatives want to impose stiffer prison sentences. This is the equally humanistic notion of the deprivation of individual freedom as the most just penalty for crime. In biblical terms, sin is committed first against God, his law and his order, and only secondarily against man. Biblically, no one “repays his debt to society.” Sins are not committed against society; sins are committed against God and against individuals. Therefore, the Bible establishes guidelines for criminal restitution. The basic point is “an eye for an eye”; this is called the lex talionis, the law of vengeance or retribution. If a man steals, he restores to the victim from two- to sevenfold (Exodus 22:1-4; Proverbs 6:31). If he steals a maiden’s virginity (with her consent), he pays a significant fee to her father (at his discretion) (Exodus 22:16-17).26 If he commits capital offenses, he suffers the death penalty (Genesis 9:6). There are no “victimless crimes.” If a crime has no victim, it is no crime in a biblical sense. For example, polluters do not commit a crime against the environment or society, but against specific property owners.
None of this is to deny that crime has social aspects. For example, if a society is overcome by individual acts of civil law-breaking, it will inevitably face the judgment of God (e.g., Hosea 7,8; Amos 1,2; Zephaniah 3:1-13). Further, if a society refuses to impose civil penalties, God holds the society itself responsible for its civil dereliction (Joshua 7). But the solution to crime is restitution paid by the criminal to the victim(s).
Imagine now, if you will, a biblically based society employing biblical civil law. An individual, let us say, steals a car or computer software. A judge and jury hear witnesses and pronounce a verdict of guilty. The criminal is required to restore anywhere from two- to sevenfold. If he cannot, he is required to become an indentured servant until he can repay his victim (Exodus 22:3).
“Horror of horrors!” both conservatives and liberals respond. “Those Christian Reconstructionists are simply barbaric.” Imagine too, this response coming from people who vigorously support the idea that criminals should be thrown into cages like animals and gleefully subjected to homosexual rape, sodomy and abuse! In the biblical scheme, the criminal can retain his self-respect, pay his way out of debt by means of fair restitution, and possibly learn a particular trade in the process. In the secular, liberal and conservative scheme, the criminal usually suffers humiliation and dehumanization, spends priceless hours in close proximity to the dregs of society, and gains valuable experience in being a more effective criminal.
Both liberal and conservative “solutions” to the problem of crime are not merely ineffective; they exacerbate the problem.
Another prominent social problem: welfare reform. Today even the liberals are acknowledging that the Great Society of the welfare state is severely broken and needs immediate attention. In other words, they recognize that socialism in the form of the welfare state does not work (now if only they would recognize that socialism in any form does not work). The liberal solution is to scale back the welfare state and require many welfare recipients to work. The conservative solution is to scale back the welfare state slightly more and to require even more recipients to work.
The biblical solution is to get the civil government out of the welfare business. The biblical outlines of the role of civil government are quite clear: to protect law-abiding citizens by restraining civil evil (Romans 13:1-4). In the last two centuries, and especially since the 1940s in the United States, civil government has arrogated to itself the responsibility of charity and welfare, not because the number of poor and need have increased, but because man’s view of the state has changed. In short, the United States turned its back on its heritage of economic freedom and substituted instead the humanistic idea of wealth redistribution by means of extortion. Socialism is not mainly about the redistribution of the wealth from rich to poor, but about the redistribution of power from citizens to a ravenous civil government. Because this is a wicked, ungodly plan, it always destroys the people it claims to be helping. Liberal “social justice” is actually the gravest form of social injustice. Liberals and conservatives who support the modern welfare state are usually hypocrites. The welfare state destroys initiative, dehumanizes the poor, incites racism and racial hatred, extorts wealth, discourages entrepreneurs, depletes profits, subsidizes immorality, and wreaks social decadence.
Why do liberals and conservatives continue to support the notion of the welfare state (albeit in slightly reduced scope) if it is such a demonstrable failure? Because they are not interested in the populace; they are interested in power. Freedom is an empty word in the empty minds of these hollow men. They write trite, trivial little books like PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST. This is a hypocritical lie. It would be more accurately titled PUTTING POWER FIRST. The proposed welfare reform of the liberals and conservatives, while taking a few baby steps in the right direction, will never suffice; it will simply accomplish at a slower rate the social destructiveness that has been occurring quite evidently the last three decades or so via the liberal social(ist) program.
The biblical view is radically different. Social reform rests on two main premises: the Eighth Commandment of the Old Testament (you may not steal) and the Second Commandment of the New Testament (love your neighbor as yourself). The enforcement of the first is the province of civil government; the implementation of the second is the province of individual, family, church and other private governments.27 Families are responsible for their elderly kin. Farmers are responsible to leave a portion of their crop for the poor; for modern industrialized society, this means productive management should devote a portion of its net income to the poor, widows and orphans. It is not the responsibility of a ravenous state, however, to enforce this law; God himself will enforce it in his own good time; and woe to the man who violates God’s law about the treatment of the poor, widows and orphans (Exodus 22:22-24)!
Where, liberal and conservative critics ask incredulously, will impoverished, unwed mothers; impoverished, battered wives; and impoverished, orphaned children go for sustenance? To the government, of course: individual government, family government, church government and other private governments. God’s plan, unlike the ravenous state’s, encourages social cohesiveness. If I know that, humanly speaking, my physical sustenance in my old age will depend on my children and the church, rather than the state, I will cultivate the right kind of relationship with my children and the church. If the poor, widows and orphans know that God’s people and even the unconverted who are influenced by a Christian ethos are motivated to help them, they will maintain the right relationship with those individuals and organizations. In other words, Biblical welfare reform undercuts human atomization and alienation. It strengthens divinely established social units like the family and the church.
Neither liberalism nor conservatism dare argue in such a biblical fashion, of course. To argue on the basis of the Bible in addressing social concerns means eventual affirmation of what the Bible says in all it teaches, and this the unregenerate and inconsistent liberals and conservatives could never do. This is why their programs will fail. They are predestined to failure because they are at war with God and with his word.
Explicitly biblical Christians do not argue, of course, that the Bible offers ultimate solutions to all social problems. Jesus himself stated that the poor will always be with us (John 12:8). The Bible is no utopian book. There will be no absolute perfection this side of the eternal state. But we can have – no, we will have – an increasingly just Christian social order.28 It will occur precisely because liberalism and conservatism are inherently defective and self-defeating and -frustrating ideologies. This issues from the fact that neither starts with the premise of the absolute authority of Holy Scripture.
A Comprehensive Agenda
Conservative agendas (to the extent that conservatives have any agendas at all) are rather piecemeal and fragmentary. Christian Reconstructionists and their allies, that is, Explicitly biblical Christians, on the other hand, contend that the Bible has answers for all of the problems and difficulties of life. We do not mean, of course, the Bible offers an explicit answer for every problem in life, but that the Bible offers many explicit answers for many problems and an implicit answer for every problem. In other words, we believe that the word of God is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly (completely) furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We believe with David in Psalm 119 that if we meditate on and obey the law-Word of God, we can meet any challenge in life – be it artistic, vocational, educational, economic, scientific, or any other. Because we believe that all of the Bible is for all of life, we do not shrink back from addressing the great pressing issues of our times.
Above, I explicitly mentioned Christian answers to the problems of crime and welfare reform. I could as easily have discussed the economy, race relations, the break-up of the family, international relations, nuclear war and ethnic holocausts, the information revolution, and any number of other topics. Why is this? Because the Bible addresses each of these either explicitly or implicitly. The Bible gives us the answers. Because the Bible gives us the answers, we Christian Reconstructionists work hard to implement those answers.
The liberals, at least some of them, sport something of a comprehensive agenda. Because they are more epistemologically self-conscious in their apostasy than conservatives, they tend to erect worldviews more explicitly humanistic, that is, at war with God in increasingly vast areas of human life and society. Secular humanism is a rival religion. More and more liberals are embracing it. It sees man as his own god, and works to interpret all of life in terms of that secular, humanistic grid. It has answers. Its answers are the wrong answers, of course, and they are self-defeating answers, but they are answers nonetheless. In this way secular humanism is quite like Marxism, which is itself a worldview and religion.29 Marxism and the communist state it inspires are crumbling all around the globe. They will continue to crumble because they are evil and unworkable. However, in a world in which monarchies and empires had been long discredited, the Soviet Union did not last seventy years by a piecemeal mentality and half-way social measures. It lasted because it was a rival religion that had particular answers – evil answers though they were.
Explicitly biblical Christianity offers the only possible comprehensive life system. Abraham Kuyper argued in LECTURES ON CALVINISM that the Reformed Faith is the highest expression of life system.30 We Christian Reconstructionists agree with him. It took over 1800 years – and after the European Enlightenment – for some in the church to grasp the point Kuyper did.
The European Enlightenment31 was, in many ways, a blessing in disguise. While intensely anti-Christian, especially in its latter stages, it flushed out the dualistic mindset inherent in medieval and even much Reformational Christianity. The Reformation inherited from the medievalists the assumption that while the Bible is the absolutely authoritative Word of God, it is not designed to govern all areas of life. This is where natural law came in.32 This was the old medieval idea that men by nature, apart from Christ and the Bible, could know many things truly and simply needed the special revelation of Christ in the Bible as an addition to their already sound knowledge in order to enjoy God and his Word and works as the capstone of life. The Enlightenment torpedoed this spurious notion. It demonstrated that if all areas of life need not be explicitly biblical, they may quite easily be explicitly anti-biblical. Christians had assumed that matters such as science (then called natural philosophy), need not be governed by a vigorously biblical epistemology (theory of knowledge). The Enlightenment philosophers were quite willing to operate on this assumption. They concluded that natural philosophy (and increasingly other fields) could just as well operate on an explicitly anti-biblical epistemology. This is where we are in the modern world.33 Secular God-haters have rushed to fill in the vacuum created by Christians who denied the necessity of an explicitly biblical religion in all areas of life and knowledge.
How then was the heresy of the European Enlightenment a blessing in disguise? Because, like all other heresies, it forced the church to think through issues and make distinctions that were unprecedented; it thus compelled theological and cultural progress. Within the Reformed camp (which itself had not always been consistent in this matter), God raised up men like Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til to stem the tide. These men recognized that Christianity is a life system, and that to allow the natural man to assume some areas of epistemological agreement with the Christian is to subvert the Christian Faith itself. Even more than Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and Van Til, however, Rushdoony relentlessly pushed this accurate presupposition to its logical conclusion: if non-Christian epistemology is bankrupt, only explicitly Christian – that is, explicitly biblical – epistemology is the alternative. While the Christian Reconstruction movement is sometimes accused of being “too intellectual,” its premise is quite simple: the Bible is the authority for all of life, not just certain selected “spiritual” parts of it.
It is difficult to imagine that any professed Bible-believer could argue with that view. But there are many who do argue with it. They hold that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God (which it surely is), but for some reason it is not authoritative when it speaks to issues beyond private or church beliefs and practices. When these professed Bible-believing Christians become consistent with their Bible-believing presupposition, the Christian Reconstruction movement will burgeon in a way unimaginable. When the Christian church finally wakes up that all of the Bible is for all of life, the secular humanist Western order will be pushed to the ropes. It needs what conservatism inherently lacks: internal consistency.
Conservatism is even less consistent than liberalism. In fact, it seems ecstatic to be inconsistent. It wants nothing that smells of “ideology.”34 By that, I mean it wants nothing that approaches self-consistent comprehensiveness. For modern conservatives, the only legitimate comprehensive worldview is that which assumes there can be no comprehensive worldview. No wonder it constantly retreats before the more comprehensive liberalism. Only comprehensive worldviews can defeat comprehensive worldviews. This is why Christian Reconstructionism will defeat both liberalism and conservatism. It will defeat conservatism because Christian Reconstructionism is a worldview and conservatism is not; it will defeat liberalism because Christian Reconstructionism’s worldview is more comprehensive and sound than the worldview of liberalism.
A Certain Hope
Conservative eschatology (to the extent the conservatives espouse any explicit eschatology) is uniformly amillennial or premillennial. Modern conservatism is heavily influenced by Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. Each of these theological persuasions features a strongly amillennial tint, no matter what it may be called. In general, this is the view that Christ’s kingdom is essentially “spiritual” (spiritual being defined largely as non-physical) and limited to the individual Christian and to the church: we cannot expect much progress of Christianity in history beyond these spheres. In other words, it is naïve to assume that Christian social progress is inevitable.35 The best conservatives can hope for, therefore, is to lose the battle very slowly. Cutting down the size of the welfare state, reducing the number of abortions, and throwing more drug dealers into jail is notable progress and all that we can expect. Conservatives, I must ceaselessly remind, are not “into” progress, but maintaining the status quo, just as long as the status quo means the radical liberalism of anywhere from twenty to fifty years ago. The conservative approach is to claw their way back into the game by losing as slowly as possible.
Conversely, Christian Reconstructionists are avowedly and unashamedly postmillennial.36 Beyond its theological definition, this means that we expect Christ’s kingdom to advance in time and history prior to Christ’s second Advent. This advancement includes explicitly Christian biblical ideals in society. Christian Reconstructionists espouse the notion of social progress, progress governed not by man or naturalistic means, but by the Spirit of God using his covenant people in applying the Faith in all areas of life.37 Christian Reconstructionists espouse the doctrine of historical inevitability.38 This is no new doctrine. A large number of English and American Puritans were postmillennial.39 Interestingly, the most successful center of European civilization on this continent was Calvinist and postmillenial: New England Puritanism. As church historian George Marsden notes, the Calvinist postmillennial vision prevailed in the United States until about the time of the Civil War.40 Postmillenialism therefore, is not some novel, certainly not some heretical, doctrine that Christian Reconstructionists cooked up in the oven of a fertile imagination. It is a part of our Calvinist heritage.
Because of this, it provides an assurance in our work of Christian Reconstruction that conservatives lack. Of course, the ignorant and the slanderers (and some of them even in the Reformed camp) spread rumors that we are really Fifth Monarchy Revolutionaries poised to take up arms against a sea of secularists. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was the arch-conservative Richard John Neuhaus who suggested the possibility of armed revolution by conservatives, not Christian Reconstructionists. Those who abandon hope in regeneration often resort to revolution. When men no longer have faith in the power of God, they espouse faith in the power of man – and especially the power that grows out of a gun barrel, to paraphrase Mao. This is the faith of modern liberals and conservatives. This is why modern liberals and conservatives are almost uniformly statists. (The paleo-conservatives are, to their credit, exceptions.) Our postmillenial hope is not in fanatical revolutionary rhetoric or firebombs, but in the incomparable power of the Spirit and Word of God.
This hope energizes Explicitly Biblical Christians to practice an Explicitly Biblical Christianity. We do not argue that our view is justified on these grounds, but we do acknowledge that these grounds provide a great individual impetus to the implementation of our explicitly biblical vision.
Christian Reconstruction will win because, unlike conservatism, it is the nature of Christian Reconstruction to win. It has already won the hearts and minds of significant numbers of disenchanted evangelicals and dispensationalists. It will do the same with conservatives. As younger conservatives increasingly discover the inherently unfailing failure mechanism of conservatism, they will cast about for a system of thought and life that offers hope – not only for eternity, but also for time and history. This is precisely what we Christian Reconstructionists offer. We will continue to attract fundamentalists, evangelicals and other Christians committed to the full authority of the Bible who recognize in fundamentalism, evangelicalism and the modern church the denial of the application of the full authority of the Bible. We will draw even more adherents from our own theological camp – the Reformed camp – who perceive in Christian Reconstruction the most consistent expression of historic Calvinism, a Puritanism for the modern world. We agree with Leithart that:
“The Christian reconstruction movement has achieved one of the most remarkable syntheses in the history of Christian thought, taking the best and most biblical from both fundamentalists and social gospelers. Reconstructionists have stood with fundamentalists in defense of the inerrancy of the Bible, creation, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, and the resurrection. Indeed, they have “out-fundied” the fundamentalists by insisting that the Bible is authoritative and inerrant in everything, not just religion.
“On the other hand, reconstructionists have been critical of fundamentalism for its pietism and its neo-Platonic dichotomy between soul and body. Like the social gospelers, reconstructionists emphasize the wholeness of man (God does not save souls, He saves men) and a dynamic, but not relativistic, view of the kingdom of God. Reconstructionist Christianity is far more than a resurrection of Puritanism. It is a refined Puritanism, tried in the furnace of opposition (Psalm 66:10f), and hence more consistent to the basic principles of Calvinism than seventeenth-century Puritanism. And it is the only faith that can battle secularism and emerge triumphant.”41
For this reason the future belongs to the self-conscious, historically orthodox and explicitly biblical Christians – that is, to Christian Reconstructionists, whatever provincial title they may happen to don. The future is ours.
Note Robert L. Dabney’s prescient comments in “Anti-Biblical Theories of Rights,” DISCUSSIONS OF ROBERT LEWIS DABNEY (Edinburgh (1892), 1982), 3:21-46, footnote not in original.
Andrew Sandlin, “The Bankruptcy of Modern Liberalism. . .and Therefore Modern Conservatism,” Chalcedon Report, March, 1997, 28-29, emphasis in original.
Mitchell S. Muncy, ed., THE END OF DEMOCRACY: THE JUDICIAL USURPTION OF POLITICS (Dallas, 1997).
By “theocrats,” I refer to Christians broadly identified with the goals of the National Reform Association (of which this writer is president), pressing for Explicit Biblical Christianity in the public sphere. Their agenda is essentially Christian Reconstructionist, and they willingly work closely with Christian Reconstructionists. See William O. Einwechter, ed., EXPLICITLY CHRISTIAN POLITICS (Pittsburgh, 1997).
David Whitman, “Was it Good For Us?”, U.S. News and World Report, May 19, 1997, 57, 58.
Russell Kirk, THE CONSERVATIVE MIND (Chicago, 1953), 7, 8.
See Gerhard Ebeling, THE PROBLEM OF HISTORICITY (Philadelphia, 1967).
Muncy, op. cit., 157.
Frederick Nietzsche, BASIC WRITINGS OF NIETZSCHE (New York, 1966), 287-288, emphasis in original.
Cornelius Van Til, A CHRISTIAN THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (Phillipsburg, 1969) 41-71.
Herman Dooyeweerd, TRANSCENDENTAL PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHIC THOUGHT (Grand Rapids, 1948); Cornelius Van Til, THE DEFENSE OF THE FAITH (Phillipsburg, 1967 edition); Rousas John Rushdoony, BY WHAT STANDARD? (Vallecito, CA (1958), 1995).
Muncy, op. cit., 176.
Frederick Beiser, THE SOVEREIGNTY OF REASON (Princeton, 1996).
“Postmodernists” perceive clearly the naivete of the Enlightenment liberal claims of objective rationality. See Stanley Fish, “Liberalism Doesn’t Exist,” in THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FREE SPEECH…AND IT’S A GOOD THING TOO (Oxford and New York, 1994), 134-138.
Van Til, DEFENSE, 225f.
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, THE CHRISTIAN FUTURE (New York, 1946), 61.
Van Til, op. cit., 105-114.
David Boaz, LIBERTARIANISM: A PRIMER (New York, 1997).
Van Til, op. cit., 47.
The standard Reformed view may be found in Louis Berkhof, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Grand Rapids, 1941 edition).
Rousas John Rushdoony, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Vallecito, CA, 1994), 1:286-288.
Van Til, op. cit., 8.
Rousas John Rushdoony, INSTITUTES OF BIBLICAL LAW (no location (Craig Press), 1973), 462-463.
Andrew Sandlin, “Hamartiology and Gun Control,” Christian Statesman, January-February, 1977, 5-6.
See also Gary North, TOOLS OF DOMINION (Tyler, TX, 1990), 643-649.
On the vital doctrine of government, see Rousas John Rushdoony, POLITICS OF GUILT AND PITY (Fairfax, VA (1970), 1978), 331-343.
Loraine Boettner, THE MILLENIUM (no location (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company), 1957).
Mikhail Heller, COGS IN THE WHEEL: THE FORMATION OF SOVIET MAN (New York, 1988), 67-71.
Abraham Kuyper, LECTURES ON CALVINISM (Grand Rapids, 1931).
Peter Gay, THE ENLIGHTENMENT – AN INTERPRETATION: THE RISE OF MODERN PAGANISM (New York and London, 1966).
August Lang, “The Reformation and Natural Law,” in ed., William Park Armstrong, CALVIN AND THE REFORMATION (Grand Rapids (1909), 1980), 56-98.
Rushdoony, Standard, 174-175. Observe also the perceptive indictment of Christopher Dawson: “The revival of philosophy as an autonomous rational discipline and the beginnings of physical science as the systematic rationalization of nature had their origins in the integral intellectualism of medieval scholasticism. . . . (T)his scholastic intellectualism lies at the basis of modern scientific rationalism in the same way as the Hellenic intellectualism was the foundation of ancient rationalism. For, as Professor Whitehead has pointed out, it was the medieval belief in the ultimate rationality of the world that prepared the European mind for the belief in the possibility of science, while the clear distinction introduced by the Thomists between the province of natural reason and that of faith made it possible for the former to assert its independent rights in its own sphere,” ENQUIRIES INTO RELIGION AND CULTURE (London and New York, 1933), 146-147. The epistemological dualism introduced by the medieval scholastics (and somewhat retained by the Reformers and the Protestant scholastics) paved the way for a secularized, autonomous philosophy and science. It is this epistemological dualism which Van Til and Rushdoony deplore.
See Michael Oakshott, RATIONALISM IN POLITICS AND OTHER ESSAYS (Indianapolis, 1991), 407-437.
For a cogent refutation of this notion, see Gary North, MILENNIALISM AND SOCIAL THEORY (Tyler, TX, 1990).
Rushdoony, GOD’S PLAN FOR VICTORY (Vallecito, CA, 1997).
Idem., “Postmillennialism Versus Impotent Religion,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No. 2 (Winter, 1976-1977), 122-125.
Note the comment of Eric Hoffer: “Those who would transform a nation or the world cannot do so by breeding and captaining discontent or by demonstrating the reasonableness and desirability of the intended changes or by coercing people into a new way of life. They must know how to kindle and fan an extravagant hope. It matters not whether it be a hope of a heavenly kingdom, of heaven on earth, of plunder and untold riches, of fabulous achievement or world dominion,” in THE TRUE BELIEVER (New York (1951), 1989), 9.
See, e.g., James R. Payton, Jr., “The Emergence of Postmillennialism in English Puritanism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. VI, No. 1 (Summer, 1979), 122-125.
George Marsden, FUNDAMENTALISM AND AMERICAN CULTURE (Oxford, 1980), 86.
Peter Leithart, “Revivalism and American Protestantism,” in ed., James B. Jordan, THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CHURCH, CHRISTIANITY AND CIVILIZATION (Tyler, TX, 1985), 81.
Editor’s Note: The Chalcedon Report, published monthly by Chalcedon, a tax-exempt Christian foundation, is sent to all who request it. All editorial correspondence should be sent to the editor-in-chief, Box 158, Vallecito, CA 95251 or faxed to 209-736-0536. Laser-print hard copy and electronic disk submissions firmly encouraged. Editor’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The editors are not responsible for the return of unsolicited manuscripts. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the views of Chalcedon. Chalcedon depends on the contributions of its readers, and all gifts to Chalcedon are tax-deductible. © 1997 Chalcedon. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint granted on written request only. Editorial Board: Dr. R. J. Rushdoony, President and Publisher; Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony, Vice-President; Rev. Andrew Sandlin, Editor; Walter Lindsay, Assistant Editor. Editorial Offices: Chalcedon, P.O. Box 158, Vallecito, CA 95251. Telephone Circulation (8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Pacific) Telephone 209-736-4365 or Fax 209-736-0536; e-mail: email@example.com; http://www.chalcedon.edu; Circulation: Rebecca Rouse. Printing: Calaveras Press.