Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive

Can Experience Teach?

The answer is that men do not learn by experience: they learn by faith.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
Share this

California Farmer 228:5 (March 2, 1968), p. 44.

In 1959, a traveler in Europe left the cities to visit the countrysides. He found, as he spent a little time in one village, that the farm population had declined steadily. The local pastor told him, “If our community continues to decrease at the present rate, this valley will be completely uninhabited by the next generation.” The city population in that country had grown rapidly; the farm population had declined steadily. Why? The problem was the ancient customs and laws of inheritance, which were steadily destroying ownership. Some farmers owned only one-eighth or one-sixteenth of their farms. Three married sisters in the valley each owned one-third of their father’s kitchen, although they no longer lived there. Another woman slept in one house, had inherited the right to meals in a second, and the right to warm herself on the bench near the stove in a third house. The net result of these laws was that private ownership of land was virtually destroyed; young men were leaving the valley; and it was destined to be uninhabited!

The problem was not the soil; it was as rich as ever. There was no lack of young men who would have enjoyed owning a farm. The problem was simply this: bad customs and laws had made ownership and farming increasingly impossible. The situation was obvious: but men were neither learning nor changing by their experience.

In 1914, the historian Guglielmo Ferrero, in Ancient Rome and Modern America, wrote that “The disease which killed the Roman Empire was, in fact, excessive urbanization.” Rome sacrificed the farmer to the city dweller. It made farming less and less successful by more and more controls. The small farmer, the backbone of the Roman people, steadily disappeared, and huge farms, owned by politicians, took his place. Progressively higher taxes made it easier for the farmer to live on welfare in the city than to try to survive on the farm.

But this is an old story, older than Rome and as new as today’s tax bills and federal programs. Why is it that men and nations have not learned by past experiences?

The answer is that men do not learn by experience: they learn by faith. I have known gamblers who have lost regularly, one who lost $50,000 on a single weekend, but none of them learned by experience. They only returned to lose more. They lacked the faith and the character to profit by experience. Only men of character can be taught by experience, because they are first of all taught by faith.

Inability to learn: this is our national problem. We are destroying everything that made us great. We are undermining the farmer and pushing him towards ruin. We are pursuing immoral courses as though they were godly ones. And, like a gambler, the more foolish we become, the more we persuade ourselves that our course of action will make us a winner.

That valley in Europe, with its lush green meadows and rich farms will, in not too many years, be without people. Beautiful old homes, some many generations old, will stand empty, if a change is not made. And, if a change is not made, they will deserve the death and decay which the countryside and nation will experience.

In America, too, dangerous signs are apparent. Moral decay is everywhere in evidence. The cities grow in terms of easy credit, and the farms are steadily facing troubles. Men will not change without faith, and “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God must be proclaimed, and it must be studied. Then men can learn by experience.

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.

More by R. J. Rushdoony