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Theocracy and a Liberal Education

  • Chalcedon,
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The charge of formulating the agenda for a "Christian theocracy" will always be placed at the doorstep of Rushdoony's library—the place where he penned the thousands of pages that became a set of blueprints for Christian civilization. Yet, Rushdoony's theocracy is routinely misconstrued for the political action of Christian Conservatives, as if he advocated Christian control of the political apparatus of the highly centralized American state, or would ever push for "intelligent design" being taught in public schools. This is a gross error on the part of ill-informed critics.

Rushdoony was a radical libertarian in that he opposed the bureaucratic control by either state or church. Even in his earliest writings on education, his clarity regarding divine order for society was well established:

If statism is freedom, then contemporary education is thoroughly liberal. But if the superimposition of the state (or the church) on every order of life and every sphere of human activity is by no means to be identified as liberty, then education today is definitely illiberal. 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.1

This is a point of significant importance: you cannot institutionalize what is basic to the condition of man:

Thus, while a truly liberal education is in terms of a basic concept of order and law, that order cannot be institutionalized, or reduced to an order such as church and state, without a destruction of the liberty desired. No institution can incarnate in itself that which is a part of the total condition of life and therefore of its own 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. The emancipation of education from ecclesiastical control was thus a major advance in liberal education, but a truly liberal or free education must be free also of the state, from its support or control.2

So, if neither state nor church can be granted institutional control of human liberty, then where does the authority lie? Surely there must be some form of control at some point otherwise a hell of anarchy ensues. It is law and liberty in the hands of the self-governing Christian man working from the family as a base of operations.

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. Any secondary laws in the family, such as chores, curfews, etc., are given orally and such simplicity of social organization maintains the single type of liberty designed for the health of society.

The moral of the story? Conservative churchmen and secular critics of Rushdoony are the authoritarian and despotic ones—Rushdoony is the only true advocate of liberty.


1. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education: Studies in the History of the Philosophy of Education (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1963, reprint 1995), 3.

2. Ibid.