R.J. Rushdoony’s thought extends over an incredible range of topics, but his thought on law and economics has been the most helpful to me. To Rushdoony, law and economics were extensions of theology, so that a nation losing its theological roots would also reject those legal and economic institutions that encouraged growth. Although law schools and economics departments had long ago rejected the authority of Biblical law, Rushdoony wanted to reestablish the connection:
Law and economics are necessary aspects of man’s daily life: it is impossible to live without them. The more a sound knowledge of law and economics declines in a society, the more radical will the decay of that society be. A decadent and dying society is one in which law and economics are in a state of radical decay or collapse. Together with theology, law and economics constitute the foundations of order in a society, and what men think of law and economics depends on their theology.1
Rushdoony’s writings are a gold mine of economic thought. Books like Roots of Inflation are still important today, while the massive collection of his short articles, Roots of Reconstruction, contains numerous essays on economics that surprised me with their depth.
For example, an essay from 1971 on the “fallacy of simplicity” shows that he understood the importance of decentralization in society. He understood from Scripture that it was impossible for anyone, however intelligent, to organize society according to a central plan. I expect that Rushdoony had also read enough of the work of Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek to be familiar with their arguments against socialism, which went along similar lines. But Rushdoony had the ability to establish a logical link between Biblical principles and these concepts. This means that Christians wanting to construct a Biblical economics could be assured that their Bibles were relevant, indeed vital, in countering statism. At a time when many Christians were being enticed by socialist ideas, Rushdoony provided Bible-based counter-arguments.
The kind of work Rushdoony did is critical to the building of a Biblical society. It is meaty, practical, and fascinating to read. It remains relevant to this day, and my hope is that funds will always be available for the books to be published and put online. Christians cannot remain content with the self-help books and pop psychology increasingly filling Christian bookstores (which are turning into gift and trinket shops). People who can build on what Rushdoony did, and communicate it to a wider audience, are desperately needed.
1. Rousas John Rushdoony, “Manichaeanism, Law, and Economics,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. II, No. 1, Summer, 1975, p. 5.
- Timothy D. Terrell
Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.