The Myth of Politics

By R. J. Rushdoony
July 01, 2008

Men usually find it easier to live in terms of myths than truth and reality, because the myth answers the dreams and hopes of man’s being, whereas truth and reality command and compel rather than gratify man. In the myth, it is the power and the will of man which realizes itself. Basic to the philosophy of magic, from its more crude forms to its modern expression in Freemasonry, is the famous sentence, “As my will is, so must (or, mote, might) it be.” In reality, man is a creature, both sinful and limited, and the conditions of his life are given; there are boundaries to his ability to change reality. Not so in myth. Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890–1950) states it clearly:

Either by mythical-magical methods therefore, or theoretically, man transforms the world into his world, and himself into its sovereign: this is the profound religious basis of all culture. But faith is essentially hostile to every form of domination of the world without exception, since it regards this as rivalry with God, as pseudo-creation whether magical, mythical or rational, and opposes itself also to culture, even to that which is recognized as essentially religious, seeking its own way to the world. It questions, in principle, all human control: even its own pronouncements, so far as these necessarily participate in culture, are immediately disqualified again by faith.1

We would say, more plainly, that myth and Biblical faith are at radical odds with one another. The mythical-magical approach is to transform indeed the world into man’s world, and man into the sovereign of that world. Biblical faith regards this attempt as in essence original sin, as man’s effort to be his own god, knowing, or determining for himself, what constitutes good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Biblical faith begins with the acknowledgment of God as sovereign and continues with a life based on God’s ultimacy, priority, and law as the condition of existence and its prosperity.

The mythical-magical approach has sought many avenues of expression. Ancient myths, magical practice, secret and illuminist orders, and other such efforts have marked the history of this perspective. The mythical-magical method has often captured the instruments of Christianity, including the church, and God is then converted into a great and cosmic resource to be commanded by sovereign man. We then have, not only the extremes of Pelagianism and Arianism, the power of positive thinking and possibility thinking, but prayer and works as means of compelling or commanding God. Historically, the mythical-magical method has permeated very diverse peoples, institutions, and religions. This should not surprise us: it is so expressive of original sin that it arises readily in every context.

The great and classical expression of the mythical-magical method is politics. In the political order, two major motives of man merge into one. First, there is the religious motive. Historically, the sacred community has been an important aspect of religion, and, very commonly, the state has been seen as the sacred and redeeming order. Man’s hope of salvation is held to lie in and through the activities of the state. During history, far more commonly than the church, shrine, or temple, the state has been seen as the instrument and vehicle of man’s salvation. Very often, the community, the state, the office, or the ruler have been declared divine. The old classical theory held that the voice of the people is the voice of God, vox populi vox Dei. Modern forms of this thesis include Rousseau’s doctrine of the general will, belief in the democratic consensus, and the doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The transition from the world of classical antiquity to the Middle Ages was a shift, but always a challenged one, from the state to the church as the redeeming agency and as the continuing incarnation of divinity in action. The modern world has witnessed the abandonment of the church for the state. In either case, of course, we must challenge and deny the concept of a redeeming institution, order, or society on Biblical grounds.

Second, the state has not only served as man’s religious institution, but it has also been the vessel for his mythical-magical faith and method. The clearest expression of this mythical-magical aspect is, first of all, the increasing reliance on statist fiat. The word fiat, and the idea, are of critical importance. We meet with God’s fiat in Genesis 1:3: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” The fiats of Genesis 1 are the creation of a universe out of nothing by the sovereign word of God. God’s fiats are possible, because God is omnipotent and sovereign, and nothing is impossible for God (Matt. 19:26). All things are totally and absolutely under His control and government, so that God’s fiats create out of nothing.

The fiats of the state are imitative of God. They seek to create out of nothing, and they are manifestations of sovereignty, or the claim of sovereignty. Because God’s fiats require an absolute power and control, the state aims at a like absolute power and control, so that, wherever the myth of politics prevails, totalitarianism is a logical necessity. The forms of the total state may vary, but they will in every instance be similar in their inherent philosophy and theology.

Also basic to the divine fiats is an absence of laborious effort. The creation of Genesis 1 is in each case an instantaneous act, not a process.

Each day of creation week manifests fiat power, not laborious work. The mythical-magical method thus sees the solutions to man’s problems as power, not work. If sufficient power is concentrated into statist agencies, then all human problems will be solved, or, at least, solvable. Some politicians, and at least one president, have fostered a vision of the end of all poverty, disease, ignorance, and even death, given enough statist power and control. This is mythological thinking in the extreme. It rests on the assumption that power, on the human scene, can be a substitute for, or can create, capital. However, unlike God’s power, human power is neither self-generative nor creative. In particular, political power does not produce capital but rather requires its consumption. As a result, as political power and political fiats increase, capital decreases. The more nearly totalitarian a state, the lower its capital and its working capacity. However, as long as men believe in the myth of politics rather than the God of Scripture, they will call for more power to the state, and will increase the state’s destructive impact on capital and labor. This belief in power, not work, is basic to the mythical-magical method. It is an aspect of the belief that, “As my will is, so must it be.” Third, in the mythical-magical perspective, man’s basic capital is seen as status, not productivity, because status means power. The mythical-magical method has a radically different belief in the necessary ingredients for progress, and its perspective is sharply at odds with the Biblical view. In Biblical faith, character and work are basic to capitalization. In the mythical-magical perspective, moral character and work are divisive and oppressive, and, as a climaxing evil, anti-equalitarian.

To illustrate: A rookie professional basketball player, a substitute spending most of his time on the bench, is paid $104,000 a year. A professional entertainer pointed out to me recently earns, at a minimum, several times that. Well and good. Both men are meeting a public demand, and those who enjoy their services are paying for them. Basketball players and entertainers are popular and respected people in our culture.

This is not true of others. Small farmers by the thousands work hard, hopeful of earning $15–30,000 a year, and not always succeeding. They are commonly damned, in our area, as exploiters of farm workers, despite the fact that California farm workers are the best paid in the world. Their relationship to workers has become politicized, and, as a result, they are now villains in this political drama. A capable businessman, if he earns $25–75,000 yearly, or if an executive earns as much as the basketball player, is again seen as an exploiter by many, and his role in the new mythology is as that of a villain.

The reason for this inconsistency toward farmer and businessman as against athlete and entertainer is that the mythical-magical method and faith are hostile to production and idolize status. The world of politics is the realm of status, power, and fiat, whereas work and productivity belong to another realm. The very persistent success of work and productivity as against political impediments stimulates hostility against these “exploiters.” They represent an alien faith and an alien culture, and they are, in their persons and activities, an indictment of the myth of politics.

Fourth, in our era, the idea of myth has gained highly sophisticated if erroneous attention. The myth is seen as life-giving, as basic to primeval and primitive aspects of man. Freudian and other views of the unconscious stress the role of the myth in the mind and unconscious being of man. Because the myth is traced back into the far recesses of the unconscious, it is held to be basic and real as well as life-giving. Such a view rests on an evolutionary premise that power comes from below, from the primordial and the ostensibly powerful; it is held to be life-giving because life and power supposedly come from below. Logically, such a view leads, as it has done, to a revival of occultism. It also leads to the irrationalism of the myth of politics. The myth, however, instead of being life-giving, is always death-dealing. Myths are the destroyers, not the preservers, of man.

Fifth, philosophically, the ancient magical principle, “As my will is, so it must be,” has come into its own in modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes, and especially since Kant and Hegel. The world is now will and idea. Van der Leeuw defined the mythical-magical method as one whereby “man transforms the world into his world, and himself into its sovereign.” Modern philosophy has done even more than transform the world into man’s world: it has reduced the world to man’s will and idea, as in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Hegel held that the rational is the real, and this is a basic premise of the myth of politics. The autonomous rational plans of man, whether of Marxists, Fabian socialists, or democratic planners, are real and need only formulation and power to be transferred to the physical world and society. If this rational plan fails to work, according to the rationale of the myth of politics, it is because of evil men, counterrevolutionists, capitalists, foreign influences, alien peoples, speculators, or some like and ostensibly demonic obstruction.

Such mythical thinking means that, because the rational is the real, and because the planner is by definition the rational and the real man, the obstructing people are both irrational and somehow not the real people. The “real” people agree with the plan, because the plan is rational, and the rational is the real. The result, in the name of reason, is legislation against the free market, against free speech, against free men in essence, and finally the totally “rational” slave state and the triumph of myth and unreason in the name of reason.

In our present day, the myth of politics is the most dangerous of all man’s myths. Of all mankind’s many myths, none has been more destructive.

1 Gerardus van der Leeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation (New York: Macmillan, 1938), 560.

Topics: Biblical Law, Culture , Dominion

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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