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ASK CHALCEDON ~ Libertarianism

Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony,
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Excerpted from an Underwriter's letter:

Politically, this recent election season has pushed me away from the Republican/Conservative camp for good. Your comments and Facebook posts have helped, along with, of course, the folly of the Republican nomination procedures. My conscience will not allow me to vote for Romney...
I know your father [RJ Rushdoony] mentioned on the Bill Moyer interview that he would probably have fit the description of a Libertarian. Can you direct me to something that he or you have written that would elaborate on that thought? I know some Libertarians who are truly antinomian, so I know that is not what your father meant.

 Mark Rushdoony's response:

Next to Biblical Law, I think it is safe to say my father wrote against statism more than any other topic. This is not to say he wrote about politics (though he did in conversation and some of his Easy Chair recordings talk about the political scene). One reason, he avoided politics in much of his writing because he wrote about the larger picture. As he said, we have a dual citizenship, one in our nation and one in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus said to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. ("His righteousness" is the purpose of my father's efforts to return the church to Biblical law, the standard of God's righteousness.)

A second reason he did not write on politics is that much of his early following came out of the defeated 1964 Goldwater movement, and he was trying to point them to the need for a religious change. Later, critics saw his Post-millennial message as a political movement, a charge he thought was obviously rendered by those who never read what he wrote.

Libertarianism, by definition, allows for a diversity of views and perspectives. I tell people I am not a philosophical libertarian because the philosophical basis of libertarianism is that ultimate right/authority rests in the individual. It is as humanistic as statism, but differs because it sees the authority of man in the individual, not the collective manifestation, the state. That is why libertarianism is so anti-state. It is anti-statist for the same reason that the state is collectivist; it is based on their view of ultimate authority. Because of this view that ultimate right/authority reside in the individual, there is a recurring element of anarchism in the libertarian movement.

Christianity has a different view of authority than statism or libertarianism. Obviously, if you believe ultimate sovereignty and authority belongs to God, then the question is to what extent the revealed Word of God is authoritative over believers and non-believers. If God's authority is only over believers you operate on the assumption of the legitimacy of unbelief (i.e. "I don't believe in the authority of God, therefore He has no authority over me, and you cannot invoke His Word relative to my conduct or ideology.") This logic would parallel libertarianism and the Two Kingdom theology which greatly limits the authority of God's Word over the non-believing world.

As a theonomist, I believe God's Word is authoritative because it is the eternal Word and will of God. That said, I also believe that the powerful monarchical state was a sinful desire of the Hebrews, and that God's Law was intended for application on the personal, tribal, and social levels, with criminal law being reserved for the public sphere. That meant that obedience to the law had to be preached, taught, and embraced to create a Godly social order from a Godly people. That requires liberty to do so, but it is not a political effort. That process is much harder than passing laws. Several Hebrew kings enacted reform that did not last, because the people preferred their sin and returned to it. What this means is that no political reform will accomplish what necessitates a religious change in the people, which is our goal. The tribal form of government was family based, and the state's ability to tax, and hence its power, were limited. Any centralized form of political authority is going to require force. Laws are ultimately enforced by the threat of force or loss of liberty. This can change behavior, but it does not change men. Trying to enforce good laws on bad men will not create good men, though it might create a hypocritical society. The prophets frequently condemned even the legitimate religious observances of the Hebrews because they were rebellious in more subtle ways.

All this is to say that I believe the theonomic model is one of liberty and a small government. Libertarianism works towards that model, so I think it is a gigantic leap in the right direction, and I am willing to be a fellow-traveler down that road. Will libertarianism get us to a Godly society? No, and we should not expect it to. That is the role of the Gospel, not politics. I still believe in witnessing to the validity and importance of Godly laws, but as the will and truth of God, not a way that will change bad men. Theonomy means "God's Law." We teach it as His will, but the only way it can have full effect is in a Godly people, and that requires a religious conversion. The regeneration of the Holy Spirit must be followed by obedience to God's law. If you invert the order you might have a better regulated society, but it will not be a religiously changed one.

One last note about eschatology: The change in people I have described sounds like an impossible one, and by human efforts it is. It is like the rich man entering the Kingdom that Christ compared to a camel going through the eye of a needle. The disciples thought He was saying it was impossible. Christ responded by saying what was impossible to men was not a limitation on God. As a postmillennialist, I believe the religious change I refer to above will happen one day, in God's time, by the power of His Spirit.  Isaiah 2:2-4 gives us a picture of the mature Kingdom in which "nations" come to seek to be taught by God's law. The effect is an end to war and the diversion of the capital and work once dedicated to destruction to productive enterprises. The religious change leads to a study of God's Word which leads to its application and a changed social order. That is the progression whether in an individual, family, community, nation, culture, or civilization.

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Mark R. Rushdoony
  • Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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