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Whence Freedom?

By Mark R. Rushdoony
October 01, 2001

From where does freedom come? Though we can rightly acknowledge the individuals and historic events and milestones which won freedom from tyranny, historical accomplishments and status do not constitute moral legitimacy. If we are to assume liberty is morally superior to enslavement of any form, we must be prepared not only to note the benefits of liberty, but also the inherent moral inferiority of any status or system that denies men freedom.

If we begin with naturalistic presuppositions, our logic and conclusion will be subjective and pragmatically self-serving (i.e.,"freedom is good because it allows us and our society to be happy and productive"). But many naturalistic ideologies see freedom as a mere stage of social development that will be superseded by a higher moral state characterized by collectivism and control.

God-Given Responsibility
The Christian must see the morality of freedom as the necessary consequence of God-given responsibility. God has given us moral laws and specific duties in all aspects of life. The only way in which we can begin to fulfill the responsibilities God has given us as individuals is to have the liberty to do so. When Paul told the churches of Galatia to "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (5:1), he was speaking of spiritual liberty in Christ's justification and the spiritual bondage to sin from which it frees us. Still, the analogy is true of political liberty and every other advantage we have that serves us in our service to Jesus Christ. A slave cannot as readily serve Christ in any capacity as can a free man. A slave cannot give of wealth which is not his own. A slave cannot be free to take dominion while in bondage. Freedom allows man the latitude to serve God with all of his heart and soul. It is not necessary to the service of God, for as Paul said from prison, "The word of God is not bound." Still, freedom is a prerequisite to fully exploring areas of service to God.

Men have been trying to "be as gods" since Adam and Eve first believed Satan. We live in an age of statism that seeks to move from a national to an international scope. In this regard we are closer to ancient Babylon and Rome than early America. Men must be made subservient to the liberty of the state for the state to play god. Under true liberty, the state cannot play god. Of course, liberty does not make individuals moral or keep them from playing gods; it only reduces the size of their playing field from the national or international level to the personal. The Puritan John Cotton emphasized that no more earthly power should be given any man than we would care for him to use, and Cotton also compared restrictions on a magistrate's power to the rope which tethered a beast.

The Tyranny of War
We are increasingly becoming statist and politically centralized in our thinking. The U.S. Civil War was a great political victory for centralism. The oaths of loyalty to the national government demanded of the defeated Southerners were viewed with horror by those who rightly saw them as an unprecedented claim of preeminence by Washington antithetical to federal government. What socialism has not done under the banner of reform has been done in the name of the exigencies of war. Much of what we have lost in times of war has never been reclaimed. Wars are political and legal revolutions in which individual rights and liberties as well as social structures are sure to suffer grievous and permanent harm. In recent years Americans have been oblivious to this fact, and the tendency to cheer all military activity by our government as gloriously patriotic and beyond public criticism is evidence of growing statist thinking. " Knee-jerk" flag-waving is not patriotism, at least not for a nation with such a noble constitutional history as our own.

In education, we lost our personal concept of freedom to a statist concept through the public schools. A liberal arts education is education in the arts of liberty, the skills needed by free people. Education was once about preserving liberty. For the state to teach the skills of liberty is for the state to define the liberties of the people and its exercise. Horace Mann saw the state as the definer and teacher of liberty. He believed that with education in the hands of the state, crime, poverty, and prisons would be obsolete within a century. Few social reformers have been so wrong yet so strongly defended. It is not really Mann who is defended, however, but the power which educators believe they alone have the right to wield over education.

Taxation
Taxation and money are also areas of statist centralization of power. Taxation for the "common good" has led us to a welfare mentality and confiscatory taxation. Statist regulations control what taxes do not confiscate. The estate or "death" tax is a particularly sinister form of confiscation. The state that claimed to be our parent, teacher, and benefactor claims at our death to be our rightful heir. It thus robs our widows and orphans. The state now creates money out of thin air and manipulates the debt-based economy it created by controlling interest rates.

Abraham Lincoln, who in no small way aided the centralist trend to the detriment of federalism, is famous for describing our government as one "of the people, by the people, and for the people." What few remember is that these words were borrowed verbatim from John Wyclif, who wrote that the English Bible he published was "for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Lincoln took a designation for the self-government of individuals under God and applied it to the civil government of the United States. As history has demonstrated since Lincoln's day, government of the people and by the people has progressively been lost to government for the people. It is characteristic of statists as a whole and liberals in general that they truly believe they have a right to rule "for the people." To the extent that individuals themselves rule, external government is not necessary, for we have self-government. This will not be a liberty easily reclaimed. Limiting government, as John Cotton noted, was like limiting a beast.

Freedom will exist in any society. Will it be freedom to be a responsible individual under God, or to be a dutiful citizen of the state, which then alone has true freedom? Will we have freedom to serve God or freedom only to serve the state? Either citizens must limit the freedom of their state or the state will limit the freedom of its citizens. The state's abuse of its freedom is tyranny; the individual's abuse is lawlessness or anarchy. The state is often willing to live with moral lawlessness or anarchy. They do not threaten the power of the state and, in fact, allow the state to justify an enlarged role in society. Such behavior only dictates more legislation, more police powers, more social programs, and more oversight. Collectively, these are all "controls." The state will not allow legal or political lawlessness or anarchy, as they threaten the state and its authority directly. Thus the state will tolerate (and under the guise of "art" promote) vulgarity, pornography ,and other moral and social evils, but will not countenance political or economic threats to itself.

Freedom to the Christian is about having the right to serve God in our own home, work, school, church, and elsewhere as free men. Being a "free nation" is a collectivist designation that is not the same as being a "free people." If freedom is in the state, than only the state is truly free; if the state is free then any freedom we enjoy is at best tenuous. John Cotton was right; we need to tether the beast.


Topics: Biblical Law, Economics, Government, Justice

Mark R. Rushdoony

Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.

He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.

In 1998 he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu

He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.

Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 40 years with his wife of 42 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.

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