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The Warfare State

By R. J. Rushdoony
July 20, 2011

A few years ago, a writer described the modern American order as "the warfare state." His argument was a faulty one, but his term was a very apt one. The age of the state has led inescapably to the warfare state. An important and central aspect of the life of the state has been war.

Now St. James makes clear in his epistle (4:1-3) that the source of conflict and war is in the heart of man; it is a product of his sin, and he cannot therefore blame war on the capitalists, a military-industrial complex, other nations, the communists, or anything else. The basic and essential cause of war is the sin of man. This does not rule out secondary causes; it does make it morally necessary to avoid giving primacy to secondary causes, for then we absolutize circumstances over man and man's freedom and responsibility. We must also hold that the secondary cause always rests in the primary cause, sin.

A theorist of the last century said that war is the continuation and extension of diplomacy into military action. A state is continually seeking the advantage by one means or another, so that diplomacy and war are alike instruments to a continuing evil.

The fact of warfare gained prestige when Darwin set forth his theory of evolution. The struggle for survival was widely assumed to mean warfare in one form or another, economic and class warfare, warfare for resources, warfare in every area. When Darwin published his Origin of Species on November 24, 1859, a waiting world was delighted with his thesis and the entire edition sold out on the day of publication. Two of the happiest of the earliest readers were Marx and Engels, who rightly saw in Darwin the confirmation of their beliefs: they correctly held that Darwin's success would ensure the triumph of socialism. The reason is an obvious one. If evolution rather than creation by God is true, then two things follow: first, life is a struggle for survival, and, second, if God is eliminated, nothing morally binding remains to ensure private property, Christian marriage, and religious authority in any realm. Life is then an amoral struggle for survival, and in that amoral struggle mass man has the best chances for victory, supposedly.

The age of the state, already firmly geared to warfare as an instrument of politics, thus turned warfare, with Darwin and Marx, into the holy crusade of humanism on its march to utopia. Much is said about "holy wars" in past history, and most of it is nonsense. The true holy wars in the fullest sense of the word are after Darwin and Marx. World Wars I and II were holy crusades "to make the world safe for democracy," and to "end war and ensure peace," and so on. The terminology of communist warfare is the most intense example of holy warfare in all history.

Since accepting the necessity of struggle for survival, our humanism of today has in it the grounds for the holy war of our evolutionary faith. The established humanistic religion of modern states sees conflict as always the means of progress; every struggle against a reactionary, racist, or fascist enemy is by definition an act of faith and a step toward peace and freedom. The evil is war by the enemies of a particular socialist state, or by any who oppose the religion of statism.

Thus, despite all the pious bleatings about a love of peace, ours is an age of warfare, and of holy wars. These wars serve two purposes: first, a war always consolidates greater power over the citizenry in the hands of the state, so that a victorious state emerges not only victorious over its enemies but over its people as well. Thus, whatever losses the Germans, Japanese, North Koreans, and Vietcong or North Vietnamese may have suffered at American hands, this much is certain, that, since 1917, the major and consistent losers have been the American people. By their sinful propensity for the cult of the state, they have seen their freedom diminished and economic slavery emerge: the state has been the consistent winner. A huge bureaucracy has developed in Washington and in every city and state; from a standing army of a few thousand, we now have an army of millions; from almost inconsequential taxes, the citizens now pay taxes which are almost equal to a rent on their property and a permit to live. Second, warfare is more and more a way of life, and a basic philosophy of progress. The result is class warfare.

How does labor see progress for itself? The answer is clearly by means of warfare, war against management, and against the consumer. It is unthinkable for labor negotiators to assume that anything but conflict can assure progress, and benefits for the working man. As a result, labor is committed, by virtue of its religious faith in the evolutionary humanism of our day, to a warfare philosophy.

This is not less true of capital. Very early, in men like Carnegie, industry committed itself to social Darwinism, and the result was a growing breach between capital and labor. In this grim warfare, having a religion of conflict, concession is sin, and even elementary decencies must be fought for by both sides, since both maintain a hostility to concessions. There have been notable exceptions on both sides, but, basically, the philosophy of warfare governs them. We have thus, in every area, a warfare state.

In all this, of course, the state is the gainer. Warfare works to the disadvantage of industry and labor; it is destructive of the economy and of society, since progress rests on a harmony of interests. For the state, however, progress in its march to power rests on warfare, which greatly increases power. The greater the hostility between capital and labor, the more both will turn to the state for an ally, so that the real victor in all cases is the state, which gains steadily in its power over both capital and labor. The state emerges as the victor, and capital and labor as the chained and controlled servants of the state.

The state thus has an advantage in promoting class warfare, and statism inevitably promotes it, because its interference furthers conflict. Progress in race relations in America was real, until statist legislation turned it into class warfare and riots in the streets. Neither blacks nor whites have been the gainers, but the state's powers over both, and over labor and industry, are greatly increased.

But the state cannot profit by its victories. When the state steps beyond its God-appointed realm as the ministry of justice, the state begins to fail in its ability to function effectively. The state is not a producer. For the state to gain vast powers over society is about as fruitful of good as for a mule to gain power over a corral full of mares; it is a sterile victory which can only embarrass the victor. The result is even greater tension and conflict.

The greatest powers for the state are just ahead of us, and its greatest defeats, its inability to keep its promises and a consequent disillusionment of peoples. Already, everywhere, the state is failing in its ability to maintain an elementary and basic need of the people, security in their homes and safety in the streets; failure here will only increase in the days ahead. Already, a sum equal to 50 percent of all federal, state, county, and local police costs is spent for varying forms of private protection, and this sum will only increase. As controls over the police increase, and public morality declines, lawlessness will become more open and extensive.

The more power and money an individual or an enterprise gains, the more effectively it functions, because, normally, people and businesses have a productive function which thrives on further capitalization. However, this is not true of the state. The more power and money a state gains, the less effectively it functions, because it feeds on power and money, not to function in terms of a productive end but to enhance its power and wealth. Power and money give muscles to men, businesses, and organizations, but they feed a cancer in the state.

The modern state is thus a sick enterprise which resents health in its midst and penalizes it. It grows in wealth, but regards wealth in others as an evil. Its senators vote for busing for the masses and send their own children to private schools to avoid busing. The state has a double standard of morality, one for itself, and another for the people.

A deepening disillusionment with the state is ahead of us, and a growing decline in its authority. However, because the warfare state rests firmly on the foundation of the warfaring man, disillusionment will not change the world. As long as men believe, after Darwin and Marx, in a warfare world as the way for progress, they will create and perpetuate a warfare state. A man spent some time recently telling me how bad socialism, controls, and statism generally are. Then he concluded his random remarks by saying, "Well, it's a dog-eat-dog world." His perspective ensures precisely the kind of world he has. It is not a dog-eat-dog world: it is God's world, and His law prevails. All who violate it will sooner or later suffer the consequences. Those who insist that it is a dog-eat-dog world are debasing life, the world, and themselves, and they are the losers. To live on the foundation that this is God's world may not give us as many bones as this man has, but, instead of a dog's life, we live a rich life under God.

Jesus Christ is declared to be "the Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6), but this does not mean surrender. He came to bring a sword (Matt. 10:34ff.) of moral division in terms of Himself and His law-word, but an offer of peace to all men of all classes. His peace is more than a cessation of warfare: it is a way of life and a relationship to Himself. Progress is not through a struggle for survival or warfare but by means of obedience to His law-word and its application to every sphere of life.

The warfare state sees progress through the destruction of its enemies or their subjection to the state; it sees conflict as the essence of progress. The Biblical perspective is radically different: there is no progress unless there is, first of all, regeneration; a change of heart, life, and nature through Jesus Christ; and then obedience to His law-word. Men may hope for peace through other means, but they will instead feed the forces of war.

Conflict, instead of being a force for progress, is an aspect of man's fall and a product of his sin. It is unfortunately sometimes necessary in a fallen world, but it is not the norm, nor is it the means of progress. Sometimes good very definitely does come out of conflict, and sometimes conflict is morally necessary, but this still does not mean that conflict is the way to progress. A man who lost his sight in an accident was led, step by step, to a forsaking of a reprobate way of life and to a useful and godly existence. This does not mean that we should all blind ourselves in order to make progress! Neither the source of change, nor the thing changed, are in the environment or in accidents, but in the relationship of God and man. Man's basic war is with God and God's law-order, and man's true peace begins with peace with God.

In all this, the state is futile. To hope for political salvation is like hoping for a colt from a mule. The state will change when men change. The warfare state will give way to a godly state when men are godly men, not the warfaring men St. James describes (James 4:1-3). Meanwhile, the age of the state is what we deserve. In fact, it is better than this generation deserves.


Topics: Biblical Law, Government, Justice, Statism

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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