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Infallible Man

By R. J. Rushdoony
November 16, 2013

Salvation is a concern common to all political theorists and activists, because the world as it exists is obviously not right. Political theories are thus presented as plans of salvation, although they are not labelled as such. Basic to all non-Christian political thought since Plato is the attempt to save man by political efforts on the part of man through the state. God and the supernatural are ruled out as inadmissable: what saves man must come from man.

This means statist power. Since an authoritative, binding, and saving word from God is ruled out, it means an authoritative word from man. That word must be the Right Word, the binding word. Rousseau raised this question at the beginning of The Social Contract:

However strong a man, he is never strong enough to remain master always, unless he transform his Might into Right, and Obedience into Duty. Hence we have come to speak of the Right of the Strongest, a right which, seemingly assumed in irony, has, in fact, become established in principle. But the meaning of the phrase has never been adequately explained. Strength is a physical attribute, and I fail to see how any moral sanction can attach to its effects. To yield to the strong is an act of necessity, not of will. At most it is the result of a dictate of prudence. How, then, can it become a duty?1

Man needs a standard, a criterion for Right, Duty, and Justice. What the sovereign God of Scripture had once provided needed now to be succeeded for Rousseau by a new sovereign with a new word. This new sovereign was for Rousseau "the body politic," or the state, i.e., the state as the totality of its people. It is the people who are sovereign, but the people in social contract, organizing a state. By definition this sovereign power is the inerrant voice of the people:

Now, the Sovereign People, having no existence outside that of the individuals who compose it, has, and can have, no interest at variance with theirs. Consequently, the sovereign power need give no guarantee to its subjects, since it is impossible that the body should wish to injure all its members, nor, as we shall see later, can it injure any single individual. The Sovereign, by merely existing, is always what it should be. But the same does not hold true of the relation of subject to sovereign. In spite of common interest, there can be no guarantee that the subject will observe his duty to the sovereign unless means are found to ensure his loyalty.2

Here we have the exaltation of the state into the truly Grand Inquisitor of all history: the state is infallible, but the people are not, and means must be found to "ensure the loyalty of the people." In Rousseau's words, "it may be necessary to compel a man to be free." Freedom in this sense is the freedom of the "political machine" to fulfil its goals.3 Rousseau stresses this again and again: the state incorporates and incarnates the general will, which is infallible; the individual will cannot set itself against the general will. "The general will is always right and ever tends to the public advantage."4

There can be no freedom for anyone or any institution from this omnipotent, indestructible, inerrant, and infallible general will. The church must emphatically be brought into submission to it. Like Hobbes, Rousseau demanded that "all should be brought into a single political whole, without which no State and no Government can ever be firmly established."5

Rousseau's state is a corporate and mystical body. It is a merger of the Christian ideas of the church and of God to constitute a divine-human order on earth. The political order was converted by Rousseau into man's new God, Savior, and church. Infallibility was thus transferred from God and His word to the general will and its political order.

Rousseau's legislator is thus one who "must, in every way, be an extraordinary figure in the State. He is so by reason of his genius, and no less so by that of his office. He is neither magistrate nor sovereign. His function is to constitute the State."6 This great man who lays down the foundations for the democratic state which incarnates the general will is a man-god who has "no contact with our nature" and is something of a god, or, if more than one, gods. The experts who thus create this new social order are, like Plato's law-giver and Machiavelli's founder prince, more than ordinary human beings:

In order to discover what social regulations are best suited to nations, there is needed a superior intelligence which can survey all the passions of mankind, though itself exposed to none: an intelligence having no contact with our nature, yet knowing it to the full: an intelligence, the well-being of which is independent of our own, yet willing to be concerned with it: which, finally, viewing the long perspectives of time, and preparing for itself a day of glory as yet far distant, will labor in one century to reap its reward in another. In short, only Gods can give laws to men.7

Here we see the genesis of the new gods, the intellectuals and the scientific socialist experts. We cannot understand the arrogance of the intellectuals and the scientific experts unless we realize that modern political thought has called them into being as the new gods of creation.

Rousseau required "a purely civil profession of faith," i.e., faith in the state as lord rather than in the God of Scripture. "Any man who, after acknowledging these articles of faith, proceeds to act as though he did not believe them, is deserving of the death penalty."8 The state is the order of salvation. Hence, "anyone who dares to say ‘Outside the Church there can be no salvation,' should be banished from the State."9

Rousseau's ideas, despite all their contradiction, met with a ready response because man's faith was now in man as incarnated in the state. Condorcet saw the future as a happy road of progress, because the West, meaning the humanistic thinkers of the West, had discovered "simple truths and infallible methods."10

John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty, presented the individual as sovereign, over himself and over his own mind at least. Herbert Spencer held that every man has the freedom to do all that he wills, provided that he did not infringe on the same freedom of any other man.

Infallibility in all this was not denied. It was transferred from God and His Word to Nature and the laws of nature, and then to the state or to individual man. Spencer's future society is a millennial picture, not unlike Marx's perfect communism. The new man lives then in a new estate made possible by the new freedom of the true state. For Spencer, the new infallibility was in the evolutionary process.

The new infallibility has had its prophets. Claude Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte each saw himself as the inspired prophet of a new age for mankind. Saint-Simon wrote of "the voice of God" issuing "through his mouth," and of himself as the messiah of the new creed.11 Comte saw himself as both the new prophet and pope of the post-Christian era. More than that, he saw himself as being identical with the Great Being or God, i.e., Humanity and its general will. Rousseau's legislators were asserting their presence! Mazzini saw himself also as mankind's prophet-savior, although he also identified the messiah with the whole people of the nation which moved into the new age. Hegel asserted the infallible nature of the new state and its absolute power. Proudhon, affirming man's absolute liberty, declared that man must remake himself by defeating and killing the God of Scripture. Only then could man realize himself.

In more recent years, the plain-speaking of these earlier humanists is gone, but the presumption and faith still remain. Skinner is no less Rousseau's god-man than Comte, and the same is true of countless other scientists and intellectuals.

In brief, infallibility is not a doctrine limited to theological studies. It is a fact of contemporary life, with the new gods claiming for themselves that power which properly belongs only to God

Therefore, any discussion of infallibility which confines itself to a discussion of what theologians have said is blind to the problems of our time. The new infallibility doctrine confronts us in art, politics, and the sciences. Failure to challenge these rivals of God and enemies of His Word and Kingdom is faithlessness and incompetence. To sit idly by while these new doctrines of infallibility parade their pretensions and to assume that a Sunday morning assertion concerning Scripture suffices is cowardice and desertion.

1. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "The Social Contract," Book I, Chapter III, "Of the Right of the Strong," in Sir Ernest Barker, editor, Social Contract, Essays by Locke, Hume and Rousseau (London, England: Oxford University Press, [1947] 1958), 244.

2. Ibid., "Of the Sovereign," Bk. I, Chap. VII, 260.

3. Ibid., 261.

4. Ibid., "Whether the General Will Can Err," Bk. II, Chap. III, 274.

5. Ibid., Bk. IV, Chap. VIII, 429.

6. Ibid., Bk. III, Chap. VIII, 292

7. Ibid., 290f.

8. Ibid., Bk. IV, Chap. VIII,  437f.

9. Ibid., 439.

10. Dante Germino, Modern Western Political Thought: Machiavelli to Marx (Chicago, IL: Rand, McNally, 1972), 164.

11. Frank E. Manuel, The Prophets of Paris (Cambridge, MASS: Harvard University Press, [1962] 1965), 142.


Topics: Philosophy, Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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