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Capital Law

Authority and Law

Statist law lacks moral force because, unlike God’s law, it is not written into man’s being. Therefore, statist law only grows more coercive while the social order deteriorates as man—who lacks God’s internal moral force—is demoralized further by humanism. Justice declines as statism takes on a therapeutic identity declaring all dissenters as in need of reeducation.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony
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Patrick J. Buchanan has observed:

Our political and social quarrels now partake of the savagery of religious wars because, at bottom, they are religious wars. The most divisive issues in American politics are now about our warring concepts of right and wrong, or good and evil. In a way the Kerner Commission never predicted, we have indeed become “two nations.”1

This conflict is basic to the crises in American life since 1950. In United States v. Macintosh, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes recognized, in his dissent, that “the essence of religion is belief in a relation to God involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation.”2 The Court, however, was increasingly governed by the cynical legal positivism of Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. who denied God and all legal, philosophical, and moral absolutes. He denied or questioned “if cosmically any idea is any more important than the bowels,” or if man is more significant than a baboon or a grain of sand. He observed, in a letter to Harold Laski, “What damned fools people are who believe things.” In a case involving pacifism, he wrote (1929), “All ’isms seem to me silly – but this hyperethereal respect for human life seems perhaps the silliest of all.”3

The locale of justice was being relocated, from God, to man, and then to the state. The concept of the divine right of kings was an earlier form of the humanistic doctrine of justice and authority. It had extensive roots in pagan antiquity, from Africa to the Germanic tribes. The doctrine was both developed and limited within Christendom. It was limited by being placed under the authority of God, and with an accountability to Him. In the coronation service, the king had to promise, before being consecrated, that he would uphold the faith and maintain justice. However, royal authority was also expanded by being associated with the triune God. Thus, in Russia, the Josephite Doctrine held that

...the Tsar was similar to humans only by nature, but by the authority of his rank similar to God; he derived his authority directly from God, and his judgment could not be overruled by that of any prelate.4

The roots of the modern doctrine of the divine rights of the king, a particular ruling class such as the proletariat, or of the state are pagan, and, in particular, Roman. According to Bussell,

Roman Law had revived in cent. xii and had justified the imperial claims. It was from the first a destructive agent in its attitude to the spiritual powers: it could not conceive of a genuine diarchy in which both parties respect the limits of the sacred and profane departments. As in philosophic theory, the practical mind pressed towards an absolute and final authority, each side no doubt hoping to influence it to their own profit. A new lettered class of laymen arose, primed with the doctrines of a secular absolutism (as it seemed to them) which was destined to supersede the canonists. The Church had early demanded respect for property and the new law helped to define its titles and enforce its covenants. The rejection of usury by the Church (never upheld in practice) was now withdrawn; and the prohibition was ingeniously explained away. This not only removed prejudice against trading enterprise, but also restored the self-respect of the merchant community, now recognized as following an honourable and dignified calling.5

Respect now came from humanistic justifications, not from faithfulness to God and His law-word. Moreover, divine right has become state right; right now emanates from the state itself, not from God.

In the process, the concepts of authority and law have been altered. Authority is a religious fact; it is noncoercive. We feel the authority of our God and His law, and we carry within us the moral force of our faith. In a Biblical faith, law is derived from God, the ultimate source of all authority in all spheres. God’s law has a moral force in us; we obey it because it is the ultimate right and justice of things. Modern statist law, as it departs from Biblical norms, becomes increasingly no more than coercion. People more and more pay their taxes, not as a moral act, but as a necessary step to avoid state coercion in the form of a seizure of property and/or imprisonment. As Bussell observed of statist law,

Meantime, having left out of reckoning all appeal to motive (except its own, State-utility or the ‘common good’) it has nothing to fall back upon in case of criticism or defiance except force. Force has now become the most striking characteristic in the conception of Law.6

Law once meant a religious and moral force; it now means statist power and coercion.

The modern state has seen itself as the messianic savior of man, as the great culminating hope of the ages. The state, republican or democratic, Marxist or fascist, is the supposed solution to human ills and problems.

In the seventeenth century, Henry Marten opposed monarchy, observing aptly, “I do not think one man wise enough to govern us all.”7 Marten’s hope was in a republic which he believed would be the mechanism whereby a virtuous social order would be realized. He wrote, “The People have this advantage in their choice, that they are incapable of being bribed.”8 This naïve assumption has certainly been shown to be false by modern politics; subsidies are given to capital, and to a wide variety of other “special interest” groups. Bribery in many forms is basic to the modern state.

Men like Marten believed that some form of government devised by men would provide the solution to man’s problems. The attribute of many Americans has been the belief that the U.S. Constitution provides such a mechanism. Michael Kammen, in A Machine that Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture (1986), has given a telling account of this misguided faith.

The two warring concepts of right and wrong, of good and evil, referred to by Buchanan are humanistic statism and Christianity. Modern statism is a religion, a humanistic one. It believes that the state is man’s natural and true order, and that the democratic (or fascist, or Marxist, or any other state form) is the just order. Justice is what the state does, because the state is the final or ultimate order.

Statist law, however, is incomprehensible law because it is so voluminous. With laws and bureaucratic regulations having the force of law equalling a large library each year, no man can begin to know or comprehend the laws which govern his life and which can imprison him or confiscate his property. The law is beyond his grasp.

Because of this, the law is not and cannot be a moral force in his life. It is not written in all his being by God’s creative act, so that, despite his suppression of that knowledge because of his sin and injustice,

the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

To deny God is to deny justice. In the modern state, justice is an accident occasioned by relics and memories of God’s law. It is progressively replaced by coercion. Law is thus no longer justice: it is coercion.

More than a few sociologists no longer see law as the necessary arm of the state; it is being replaced by psychotherapy, and the therapeutic state. In such thinking, health (or justice) means conformity to the social norms dictated by the state, and any social deviance requires coercive rehabilitation. The psychiatric hospitals for dissidents in the Soviet Union are a logical outgrowth of this faith.

Statist law, however, lacking moral force, leads to the rapid deterioration of social order. The demoralization of society, the rise of delinquency, promiscuity, drug use, alcoholism, violence, perversions, and more, give evidence of the fact that the substitution of state coercion for the Biblical doctrines of authority and law leads to the shift from moral force to brutalized force, and to the decline and disappearance of justice.

1. Patrick J. Buchanan, Right from the Beginning (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1988), 337.
2. Rosco J. Tresolini, Justice and the Supreme Court (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott,
1963), 95.
3. Ibid., 72.
4. Arthur Voyce, Moscow and the Roots of Russian Culture (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), 16.
5. F. W. Bussell, Religious Thought and Heresy in the Middle Ages (London, England: Robert Scott, 1918), 847-48.
6. Ibid., 649.
7. C. M. Williams, “The Anatomy of a Radical Gentleman, Henry Marten,” in Donald Pennington and Keith Carendon, eds., Puritans and Revolutionaries (Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, [1978] 1982), 120.
8. Ibid., 131.

Taken from Sovereignty by R. J. Rushdoony, pp. 187-191

R. J. Rushdoony
  • 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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