R. J. Rushdoony, A “Radical Libertarian”?

June 5, 2010

What is a “Radical Libertarian”?

God's Law“Rushdoony was a radical libertarian… law is not the prerogative of church or state but rather the condition of man, an inseparable aspect of life and environment, and hence coextensive and coterminous with existence… Wherever church or state have claimed a prior, or any, jurisdiction over every other sphere of human activity or institution, there has been, with the realization of their claim, a steady diminution of liberty and the substitution of an institutional bureaucracy for law…Bureaucracy begins with bylaws, and bylaws are the regulations created by an organization to control its members. The family, and the individual, can work easily with Biblical law, but church and state require pages of additional bylaws in order to establish their authority.” Excerpted from “Theocracy and a Liberal Education” Chalcedon Blog.

Rushdoony’s Institutes (primarily the first volume) changed the character of my Christian life. In my early Christian years I reacted to any mention of law like I had been handed a hot potato; the idea was quickly dropped and soothed by Grace. Many of Jesus’ followers were attracted to miracles; I was attracted to Grace. The Charismatic Movement was home and the Gifts of the Spirit its primary objective. There was an overwhelming evangelical spirit and a vibrant excitement. The lame, the sick, and the captives were brought to services where hands were laid on them and prayers were pronounced. Many were healed, many were converted, and many put down roots. We watched our little country church grow from 30 Sunday worshipers to 150 at each of two services.

In some of those services there was an ineffable presence of the Holy Spirit that produced palpable healing. It was as if agape love permeated the atmosphere. Tears of joy rolled down our faces. Unfortunately this rapture was not received as an irreplaceable gift from The King but as a condition that could be created by men. Worship became a pursuit of emotional bliss, spiritual gifts, and healing. The public was attracted to this hedonistic worship and many were converted. Charismatic churches grew by leaps and bounds. They grew so fast that real fellowship was difficult to find. As new converts came in older converts left. Church hopping, a never-ending search for loving fellowship, became the norm.

The number of Christians increased dramatically but because what was called the Full Gospel was only a fraction of what God intended, the new converts failed to mount the steps of righteousness. The secular society in which we lived continued to plot against God, create tyranny, live with lies and fantasies, kill babies, engage in sexual abominations, and mock the One True God. Christians complained but their complaints fell on the deaf ears of a humanistic government and pagan power structure. We were living in the Devil’s lair and the Devil was king.

It was in this atmosphere that I, a twenty-seven year-old Christian, sixty years of age, began to seek a solution to the dearth of fruit. I wrote a letter to a Charismatic leader we had followed and supported. He did not answer. I was referred to Chalcedon and read their magazine for several months. I was urged to read R. J. Rushdoony’s “Institutes of Biblical Law” but was intimidated by its scholarly content and put off by the implication of Law. Finally I purchased a copy and began to read. I am a slow reader and it took me several months to read and underline the entire first volume. As the completed Gospel of Jesus Christ began to emerge from the pages of Rushdoony’s writings I experienced a new Epiphany of understanding and direction. I now understood that the Law was not given by a tyrannical God Who wanted to curtail our enjoyment but by a loving God who wants us to be free, peaceful, and prosperous. I learned that the primary work of every Christian was to work toward God’s dominion over His creation through obedience to His Law. The confusion was gone replaced with sound direction!

I was so impressed with Dr. Rushdoony” work that I purchased an additional copy of the Institutes to be passed around to interested individuals who might then purchase their own copies. It lasted for three or four transfers; the last recipient failed to return it.

I had learned to love and live the Law but not how to apply it to our complex, debauched society.

“Theocracy and a Liberal Education” was published on the Chalcedon Blog. It described R. J. Rushdoony as a “radical libertarian”; explaining his quest to preserve liberty by centering The Law in the family and refusing to allow the “institutional bureaucracy” of church or state to secure jurisdiction and challenge freedom with tyrannical by-laws.

My dictionary has two definitions of libertarian: One, “a person who believes in the doctrine of the freedom of the will”; two, “a person who believes in full individual freedom of thought, expression, and action.”

On Page 581 of “The Institutes of Biblical Law”, Dr. Rushdoony writes: “But a society that makes freedom its primary goal will lose it, because it has made, not responsibility, but freedom from responsibility its purpose. When freedom is the basic emphasis it is not responsible speech that is fostered but irresponsible speech. If freedom of the press is absolutized, libel will be defended finally as a privilege of freedom, and if free speech is absolutized, slander finally becomes a right. Religious liberty becomes the triumph of irreligion. Tyranny and anarchy take over. Freedom of speech, press, and religion all give way to controls, totalitarian controls.”

Ayn Rand was a “radical libertarian”. She was an enlightened humanist who said the purpose of her famous novel “Atlas Shrugged” was to describe “the role of the mind in man’s existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest.”. Somehow I cannot picture Dr.Rushdoony “standing naked on the edge of a cliff”. (Rand wrote this description of her hero, Howard Roark.)

The writer quotes R. J. Rushdoony, “Liberty is not license, and liberty and law are inseparable, but law is not the prerogative of church or state but rather the condition of man, and inseparable aspect of life and environment, and hence coextensive and coterminous with existence.”

Over the years as I have written about the need for obedience to The Law I have been hesitant to delve into the social construct that would be required for its proper administration because the subject is extremely complicated. The question of jurisdiction opens that subject. I know that the family is God’s basic unit of government and that it, the Church, and the State, are to function in separate spheres but I am not sure how that might work in practice.

God gave us penalties for disobedience; they are recorded in His Word. He gave us penalties because He knew that sin would rear its ugly head. There are penalties for disobeying God’s Law. If The Law is centered in the family, how would society address family transgressions? Who are the policemen and to whom are they responsible? Do members of the family seek justice from magistrates and are the magistrates a branch of the government? How does the church maintain discipline and how does the government administer justice and protect the nation without jurisdiction? Would a functional Theocracy require abandoning our present form of government? If our nation’s leaders and citizens assented to begin to obey God’s Law what steps would be taken to begin the process? There is a host of questions.

When Libertarian Christian Laurence Vance seeks to decriminalize prostitution maintaining that it is a victimless crime isn’t he missing the degradation of sin that is present in the woman and in the man who uses her services? Doesn’t the use of drugs fertilize sin and disrupt the peace and efficiency of society? Would it be a crime to be drugged or drunk and would by-laws be needed to criminalize it? The answer, of course, is that The Law does criminalize both prostitution and drunkenness but radical libertarians do not recognize God’s Law.

The need to keep the Law from being overcome by “institutional bureaucracy” is real but the need for by-laws seems real as well.

The Industrial Revolution brought the masses relief from the drudgery of everyday life by severing direct dependence on the land. It also challenged the family and morality by removing one and now often two parents from the home. It set the stage for the birth of corporations, business competition, complex economics, and a plethora of ethical problems that did not exist in simpler times. The electronic revolution is restoring a form of hands-on supervision (cameras and listening devices), challenging interpersonal relationships, increasing the availability of information, advancing scientific research, and transforming record keeping. We are now living in an industrialized society that is almost totally digitalized. The results of the industrial and electronic revolutions have not enhanced our dependence on God but have had the opposite effect.

Dr. R. J. Rushdoony was a brilliant Christian theologian who was aware and warned of the sinful accumulation of power inherent in the Church and the Government. He believed that men were not created with the ability to govern themselves and only when God’s Law is intrinsic in the individual, in government, and in the church can maximum liberty be realized. The death penalty is a form of eugenics that over successive generations would produce a more obedient culture. That culture, cleansed from rampant rebellion, would require less enforcement. However, God has provided penalties for a reason and they should be heeded.

Libertarians are diverse. Many Christians have chosen the Libertarian umbrella. Under the same covering are atheistic and agnostic anarchists who are humanistic, intellectual and often anti-Christian. Godless Libertarians might continence minimum legal restraints but they would bristle at the immutable Laws of God which are the bedrock and the only source of liberty.

The Libertarian philosophy of ultra-free markets spawns the institutionalized power Dr. Rushdoony deplored. This morning I traveled several miles to a UPS terminal to return a parcel. We had mistakenly ordered the same item twice. I had prepared the labels and put them on a properly sealed box. When I arrived the UPS attendant ushered me to a computer terminal where I was told to type out my label. It was difficult typing on a keyboard below my waist while standing up but I succeeded in duplicating the label that was already on my parcel. The attendant told me it was necessary to type the label for tracking purposes. The new label emerged from the printer and the attendant scratched over my labels with a black crayon and affixed the new label to the package. She then calculated the rate at $9.03. I had received two items from this company and paid $4.65 for shipping. I asked why it cost over twice as much to ship merchandise back than to ship it out. She had no idea. Neither did I. Quasi-monopolistic organizations like UPS, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and many others are no longer consumer oriented. Their concern is with mass markets, not individuals. Consumers put up with their arrogant ways because it is too difficult or too expensive to go elsewhere.

The concentration of individuals (now called human resources) into small areas was a result of the Industrial Revolution and mass merchandising is a result of the concentration of individuals. Retail selling would be quite different in an agrarian culture.

Libertarians assign a godlike quality to the free market. There is very little reference to any legal restriction. They support open borders, open markets, and open morals. While I believe in free markets and international trade it should be restrained by prior national interests.

Both Libertarians and Christians seek liberty but liberty is inextricably joined with law. Libertarians are not enamored with law.

It is difficult to imagine how a legal system might work with Law centered in the heads of families who are employed by mammoth corporations that have no regard for the individual or the family. Law is a function of power and unless power is returned to the family the head of that family will be unable to exercise dominion. Businesses must serve families not visa versa.

God does not impose His Law on a culture. The Biblical model for Godly living involves the intent of the entire social order to live under God’s Commandments. Leaders in the separate spheres of Family, Government, and Church would need to determine to obey God’s Law and citizens would need to voluntarily follow. It would be necessary to address violations. The framework for a Christian order should be determined in some detail and how such a transition might be accomplished.

Al Cronkrite is a writer living in Florida, reach him at:

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