The death of an age is a bloody business. Men, disillusioned with the promises of their faith, yet unwilling to surrender them, strike out at everything in rage and in frustration. Like a rudderless ship, the civilization loses its direction and is driven by events instead of driving through them. Today, in the last days of humanism, as men steadily destroy their world, it is important for us to understand the meaning of the times and act in terms of that knowledge.1
Those familiar with my father’s writings or lectures will likely recall his recurring theme that we were approaching the end of the age of humanistic statism. The words above were written in 1970. The prior decade was an unprecedented time of political, social, religious, and economic change; revolutionary is not too strong of a characterization. Given those changes and the uncertainty they fostered, my father’s words seemed ominous.
Yet there was another perception that then held sway in some people’s minds, and that was the sense of technological progress and a rising standard of living. Disneyland had an attraction called “Carousel of Progress” that originated from its display at the 1964 World’s Fair; people stood in long lines to view it and hear its theme song called “The Best Time of Your Life.”
What has been called the “cult of science” was also very much still alive in 1970. The U.S. had recently landed two manned missions on the moon, the medical profession was universally respected, and “new inventions” that would “improve life” were routinely reported in the news.”
Morever, despite some unsettling monetary inflation (which most dismissed as corporate greed) we were still in the post-WWII inflationary economic boom. Chalcedon sponsored an economics seminar in Southern California each year featuring Hans Sennholz of Grove City College, in which he tried to explain the destructive inflationary course of U.S. monetary policy. He was discouraged because he so often found the only interest of his audience was how they could make money off of inflation. Few looked down the road to which he was trying to point them.
Today, it is rare to see anything remotely approaching the level of optimism that still prevailed half a century ago. It has been supplanted by discouragement, cynicism, disillusionment, and uncertainty. It is worth noting why my father believed we were at the end of an age and what he thought the Christian response ought to be.
What is Humanism?
My father frequently referenced the temptation of Satan to Eve, which claimed she and Adam could “be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). He did so because he thought it represented the essence of all humanism, to “know” or determine good and evil for themselves apart from God’s Word. Either God’s Word is authoritative or man’s word is. Humanism is the elevation of man to supremacy.
When God is denied His position as Sovereign, whether self-consciously or practically, all that is left is the authority of man. A hierarchy that eliminates God leaves man as supreme. The result is humanism in some form. But what man or group of men has priority? Is it man collectively or men individually? Humanism may be expressed either way, either in statism in the name of collective man or anarchism’s defense of the individual’s autonomy.
Both anarchism and statism are expressions of humanism, the only difference being the locale of “man’s” authority. Historically, statism in one form or another has prevailed, because a collective group of men are always stronger than any individual. The history of humanism therefore has been largely one of various forms of statism.
Western Humanistic Statism
The ancient world was strongly dominated by severe forms of statism. Most often the kings either claimed divinity or the special favor of the gods in some way. When a ruler claims to be god, there can be no liberty from his authority. To challenge such a ruler becomes at the same time both treason and blasphemy. When the Roman Republic dissolved into the Empire after Julius Caeser it quickly returned to the older pattern of claiming its emperors to be gods.
After the Western Roman Empire’s slow self-destruction, Europe saw the development of Christendom. Complain as we do about the practices of the Roman Church, Europe had a God-centered worldview, even if much harm was done by directing this toward a church-centeredness.
The Renaissance was an intellectual movement we often wrongly define as merely an artistic period. It was also a rebellion against the Christian worldview that self-consciously looked to ancient Greek thought. Intellectually it was a return to paganism (necessarily man-centered) and saw the rise, not surprisingly, of absolutist monarchs. The Renaissance greatly impacted the church, so much so it seemed humanism was poised to overcome it. Corruption abounded in and out of the church. Venereal disease was rampant in Europe.
The Protestant Reformation, which began early in the 16th century, saw a strong reaction against Renaissance humanism and a return to Scripture as the basis of authority. Rather than autonomy from God, man sought to serve Him. This service included more than church. The “priesthood of all believers” made man’s calling the exercise of God’s will in his vocation. The energy this supplied was a major factor in the technological changes, productivity, and growth of capital about to sweep Europe. In America, it became “the Puritan work ethic” and was a major factor in the advance of the colonies and then the fledgling United States.The Reformation rescued Europe from a self-destructive course.
The Enlightenment, which began in Europe in the 17th century, revived humanism’s emphasis on man. Again, there was an attempt to blend an emphasis on man’s authority and his reason into religion by way of the vague notion of “Natural Law.” As Pietism’s emphasis on man gradually eroded the resistance of the old Calvinistic Puritanism, the Enlightenment’s rationalism increasingly dominated the Western mind. Intellectually, we are still living in its shadow; no movement has supplanted it. One, however, destroyed its intellectual foundation.
Charles Darwin single-handedly destroyed the intellectual basis for the Natural Law argument by positing that chaos, not order, was the realm of man’s past and present. While statism continues to prevail in government forms, the belief in the cathartic effects of chaos has fed man’s anarchistic tendencies, as has been evident in revolutionary groups as well as the modern intellectual and moral repudiation of all that is held in contempt. The Darwinian belief in the regenerative power of chaos has influenced modern man to destroy what he sees as regressive with the absurd assumption that something better will “naturally” take its place. This willingness to destroy what is seen as impeding man’s evolution is now seen in humanistic statist policy, not just the anarchistic revolutionary individuals. The power of humanist governments is being used to destroy the Christian remnants of our past.
Technology Hid Reality
By the time Darwinian thought began doing its damage, a technological revolution was underway. The world went from the horse and buggy and sailing ships to trains and air flight within a century. Material prosperity increased so rapidly men began to believe such progress was inevitable, a secularized view of Providence, if you will. Such great and unprecedented advances fostered a belief that man and society were on the right track, and if that were true, one might argue (as many did) that more planning by man was in order, so that Marxist “scientific socialism” might organize this advance and avoid the bumps of the free-market road.
With governments empowered by the post-war fiat currency creation, it is no wonder the “space race” to the moon captivated Americans. In the 1960s U.S. President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed his “War on Poverty,” which was not far removed from one of the Chinese Communist Party’s “five-year” plans. The mid-twentieth century years were heady ones for statist humanists. They seemed to believe their own utopian visions.
The “Last Days”
We seem far removed from the general optimism of fifty years ago. The humanist still talks of greater things to come, but the bankruptcy of their claim to “be as gods” is becoming ever more apparent. The dreams of the humanist seems even more remote than Eden. Its faithful are good at demolishing but are powerless to “build back better.” The failures of humanistic statism are now increasingly obvious.
In 1943 Prime Minister Winston Churchill acknowledged the increasing calls for government social programs in Great Britain and acknowledged the need for societal concern for all citizens “from the cradle to the grave.” This phrase was still being quoted by American conservatives in the 1960s to decry the expanding U.S. welfare state. In Britain, the concept was expanded even further by the Ministry of Health to protection described as “womb to tomb.” After describing a television interview of young children, my father noted their stated wish to be babies, noting that was a reflection of modern man’s immaturity and irresponsibility:
We are thus in the last days of a humanistic era. Man’s attempt to return to the womb is a fast trip to the tomb. The world of humanism is sick; let it die. Its spoiled brats are bent on suicidal destruction. Mature man will work for Christian Reconstruction.2
Change is Ahead
The insanity of our time will not continue indefinitely because it cannot. God is not mocked; “he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hated me love death” (Prov. 8:36).
Our response must not be smug satisfaction because we “see it coming,” but Christian Reconstruction, a term my father coined that describes the Christian duty in the face of evil. “The word of God is not bound,” (II Tim. 2:9) nor can it be any more than God or His promises can be. Humanism will fail simply because man is not a god; he lives in God’s world and on His terms.
It is only in Christ that we can find fulfillment and purpose. As long as God gives us breath, therefore, we seek to serve His reign and Kingdom.
This is a time of unequalled opportunity, the greatest age of the frontier man has yet seen. The new frontier is the challenge of a new civilization, of the most sophisticated and intensive pioneering the world has yet seen. It is a time of times, an exciting time to be alive, a time to build and a time to advance. To be most alive is to be alive when and where it counts most, and this is the day. Get with it!3
1. Faith & Action: the Collected Articles of R.J. Rushdoony from the Chalcedon Report, 1965-2004, Vol. 1 (Vallecito, California: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2019), p. 190 (from Chalcedon Report No. 56, April 2, 1970).
2. ibid., p. 38 (from Chalcedon Report No. 48, August 1, 1969).
3. ibid., p. 317 (from Chalcedon Report No. 95, July 1973.)