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Liberty 170428 200126
Magazine Article

Freedom and the State

Not only is morality transferred from God and His law to the state and its fiat law, but freedom also.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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(Reprinted from Christianity and the State [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986], 141-144).

Not only is morality transferred from God and His law to the state and its fiat law, but freedom also. Whether it be a Marxist state or a democratic one, freedom is today usually spoken of as an attribute of the state rather than of the people as individuals. Such freedom as is permitted to men is freedom under the state, not under God.

Turning again to Gumplowicz, we find a frank statement of the fact that man, as a creature of the state, cannot be free: “That man is a free being is pure imagination ... The premise of ‘inalienable human rights’ rests upon the most unreasonable self-deification of man and overestimation of the value of human life, and upon a complete misconception of the only possible basis of the existence of the state. This fancied freedom and equality is incompatible with the state and is a complete negation of it.”1

In Biblical theology, the absolute freedom of God is a basic premise: God cannot be controlled or governed by anything outside of Himself. This is the premise of humanistic doctrines of the state: the absolute freedom of the state.

At the same time, radical and final coercive powers are claimed by the state. It can be noted indeed that there are limits, in the United States and other countries, to these coercive powers, but these are self-limitations. Acts of Congress or of Parliament can at any time alter or remove those limits. Without the limitation of faith in and a covenant with and under God, the state is the absolute determiner of its own powers. With each passing year, we have seen an extension of those powers. In the United States, whatever the platform of moderation, reform, or the limitations of powers whereby presidents and members of Congress have been elected, there has been a steady increase of coercion and a decrease in freedom.

In Mexico, there has been a clearer development of the theology of the state, because Mexican intellectuals have been more successful in implementing their philosophies. The Mexican economy has been more backward by far than anything else in North America, but its politics has been more dominated by intellectuals and theoreticians and hence in advance of the United States and Canada in developing the implications of humanism.

No less than do Christians believe in a final order, the full and perfect community created by God, do humanists also believe in their own final order, the Great Community of man. Thus, in Mexico, leading thinkers have been ready to allow a semblance of religious liberty provided that the churches do nothing to influence or alter the social order. Thus, for Gabino Barreda: “An individual should think and believe as he pleases, provided that his thoughts and beliefs do not alter the social order. The mission of public education was not merely to teach; it was to make public order possible.”2

Less honestly stated, this is the position of many state and federal agencies in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s in particular. Religious freedom was tenable only when and where Christianity was having no influence on the social order. When the Christian school movement began to move the faith from irrelevance to relevance, persecution began. It became obvious that the much-vaunted religious liberty meant, for many officers of the state, the freedom to practice religion only between the limits of a man’s two ears.

The Marxists have seen liberty as a concept used by a social class to their advantage. The Mexican positivists hold that a thing is free when it follows its natural course and encounters no obstacles. It then follows the law of its being. A stream coming down a mountainside is in terms of this definition free. However, where applied to man, this doctrine has some interesting consequences, because freedom is then clearly related to the doctrine of man. If man is God’s creature, then freedom is only under God. If, however, man is an evolving animal whose being is determined by naturalistic drives and forces, then religion is a dramatic restraint on his freedom.

Thus, for Gabino Barreda, the individual was not free to do as he wished. Rather, “Freedom ought to be subordinate to the interests of society, namely, to the interests of the Mexican nation.” A laissez-faire freedom is to be seen instead as disorder, not liberty. “The freedom of the individual must subordinate itself to the social order.” Freedom is not under God, but under the state. “Thus, the state should intervene, as an instrument of society, in the moral education of Mexicans. It must prepare Mexicans to be good civil servants by stimulating their altruistic sentiments.”3 For this reason, Barreda could say, “[T]he rights of society are more important than the rights of man.”4 It follows also that Barreda could propose a civil dictatorship to promote freedom.5

The equation of reason and morality with the state is commonplace to humanistic thought. (A variation is its equation with the autonomous man.) Such a view is productive of a new phariseeism. In this self-righteous faith, the state as the great good passes judgment on all other segments of society. It holds that the state and its sovereignty constitute the necessary order for life, indeed, the saving order. Dissent from the state then becomes true evil. Not crime but non-conformity is then seen as the great problem.

As a consequence, in the USSR, criminals are not seen as the great offenders. Rather, it is the dissenter of any kind, especially the Christian or the libertarian dissenter. The uniform testimony of former slave labor camp prisoners is that criminals have a privileged status and are commonly used to terrorize political prisoners. The only offense of these political prisoners, when there is any offense, is their real or fancied dissent. Vicious hoodlums do not threaten the political philosophy of the state, but dissenters do, and they are accordingly treated more severely.

We see steps in the same direction in the United States. As the state’s ability to cope with crime, and its concern to do so, diminishes, its zeal to penalize dissent increases. The persecution of churches and of independent Christian schools points clearly to this zeal to limit liberty. Thus, many people find a dual limitation on their freedom. In major cities, freedom of movement, especially after dark, is limited because of the freedom of the criminal element. At the same time, their personal and religious liberties are increasingly restricted by statist claims and the growth of statist power.

Bussell pointed out how, in medieval Europe, the empire revived Roman law (in the twelfth century) to destroy the freedom of the church. Roman law “could not conceive of a genuine diarchy in which both parties respect the limits of the sacred and profane departments.”6 By 1453, Bussell held, the ideals of the medieval world were dead, and statism in the saddle.7 The savagery of the modern age was under way, and the Renaissance of paganism was also the renewal of tyranny and barbarism.

Despite the rise of the national states, the Holy Roman Empire and its dream persisted. Maximilian I (1459–1519), called the “foremost knight of the age,” is like Sigismund, well regarded by many historians. However, as we know from a letter to his daughter Margaret, Maximilian hoped to gain the papal throne on the death of the pope, and, at times thought of deposing Pope Julius II. Moreover, Maximilian dreamed of the “good” he could accomplish by using the church’s wealth for the empire.8

There were and are no restraints on the dream of the modern state. What Maximilian dreamed about, Henry VIII in effect did, and also Louis XIV and other monarchs with their state churches. With the French and Russian Revolutions, the state made itself man’s church and savior. As man’s true savior and church, the modern state began an open or a covert war against the church, and also against man’s freedom. The only freedom desired by the modern state is its own.

As we have noted, man’s freedom was separated from God and creation in His image and made a natural fact, freedom to follow our natural course. One religious consequence of this has been the sexual revolution. Another, and an earlier one, is aptly summarized by Hallowell: “Communion with nature replaces communion with God as the source of inspiration and true enlightenment.”9 An early example of this was William Wordsworth. The environmental movement has deep religious roots.

This “natural freedom,” however, does not make possible any freedom for man other than an esthetic and sexual venting of his impulses. To “do your own thing” is a logical consequence of Wordsworth’s religion. It means submission to, not resistance against, the forces of history, and it is the death of freedom, which is an anti-naturalistic motive. Because the Biblical doctrine of freedom is anti-naturalistic and supernatural, only Christ can make us free (John 8:36). We are made free by the supernatural act of regeneration. Since our natural course is a fallen one, natural freedom is to sin and die. The history of true freedom cannot be known or written apart from Jesus Christ. Inevitably, the modern humanistic state is anti-Christian and anti-freedom.

1. Cited by John H. Hallowell, Main Currents in Modern Political Thought (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1950, 1959), 318, from Ludwig Gumplowicz, Outlines of Sociology, 180.

2. Leopoldo Zea, Positivism in Mexico (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1974), 126.

3. Ibid., 98–99.

4. Ibid., 115.

5. Ibid., 95.

6. F.W. Bussell, Religious Thought and Heresy in the Middle Ages (London: Robert Scott, 1918), 848.

7. Ibid., 646–647.

8. Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire (New York, NY: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), 139.

9. John H. Hallowell, Main Currents in Modern Political Thought, 167.

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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