I’ve been reading two books in tandem with our men’s group study of “Law & Liberty” (Rushdoony). The first is, “God & Politics” (four views on the reformation of civil government…Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, & National Confessionalism) edited by Gary Scott Smith. The second is a little (by word count) gem: “The Law” (the classic blueprint for a just society) by Fredric Bastiat.
In an effort to familiarize myself with the formative political philosophies of America’s founding era, I have begun to cross paths with men like Bastiat in my reading. I find this quote representative of his salient thinking:
“But when the law, by means of it’s necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, religious faith or creed-then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.”
I understand Bastiat as speaking of extra-jurisdictional civil law that is not limited to the agency of justice but imposes a regimen of legislated salvation or legalism where education, ostensibly charitable causes, and wealth redistribution become positive mandates of civil/state law rather than the voluntary out-working of regenerate hearts.
This being said, though I agree with many applications in his essays, discernment is warranted as to the ground of Bastiat’s thinking. In his vague references to God and the absence of Bible quotations, he flirts with the enlightenment heresy of taking for granted the Christian roots of social order. He appears to stand on principles under something like the surname “Natural Law” rather than the revealed Word of God, thus leaving all philosophical authority claims vulnerable to the undermining force of humanism.
Fast forwarding to our world today… the besieging mine of autonomous positive law theory presuming ultimacy in man (Oliver Wendell Holmes) has since met the countermine of arminianism-friendly neoconservatism (Regan/Limbaugh) in the modern era. These converging ideologies and their cultural/political implications now threaten the entire social structure of the West.
Meanwhile Libertarians believe they offer the only verifiable alternative to the whole works (especially economic systems) crashing down. Libertarians, however, are often prone in their own self-contained philosophy to overlook societies’ divinely prescribed fundamental building blocks i.e. the cultural mandate of the individual under God & the centrality of the Biblically ordained family.
In the great read: “God and Politics” I underlined this insightful quote from Kevin L. Clauson: “Politics is an outgrowth of ethics, and ethics is an outgrowth of theology.” Amen. I contend that the fundamental principles of a just society are derivatives of the dual affirmation that God is sovereign, and man is sinful. These are cardinal points of theology; the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man.
By order of priority, it should be understood that these categories of understanding are of utmost importance because the glory of God is at stake in our subsequent confessions. But let us note additionally that the consequences of getting theology wrong are not limited to what some mischaracterize as semantic abstractions. They also have widespread consequences for social order. A dismissive attitude toward the importance of orthodox theology and consequently anthropology, and soteriology is to also dismiss the future of America.
Gary Scott Smith in the introduction to “God and Politics” reminds us that through the constitutional era, for some 150+ years, Americans were affiliated with reformed denominations to the tune of 80 percent. By 1850, however, 70 percent of Protestant church members were Baptists or Methodists and most of these were espousing Arminian theology.
It is not incidental that this modern era of retooled theology corresponds with our precipitous decline via humanism. If man’s will is ultimate in his salvation, it only logically follows that his will is ultimate in other areas of life as well. The notion of transcendent law has been an immediate casualty of our theological drifting. Relative ethics are basic to a materialistic worldview and to a man-centered “gospel”.
At first, this tragic historical shift in the basis of Western thought must have remained largely undetected. Popularized notions of the ultimacy of man’s will, anesthetizing prosperity, and a growing philosophical illiteracy rate rendered the masses blissfully ignorant. Today, however, there is no denying that the consequences of our thinking have resulted in the moral equivalent of nuclear fallout. A great many recognize our emergency situation but, while we agree something is drastically wrong, we remain undecided as to what is right. Thus the 20th century evangelical response generally ranged from oblivious tolerance to attempting to cast out demons by Beelzebub.
In short, we must recognize the options on the table of so-called government reform will fail if they are essentially humanism by any other name. I highly recommend Bahnsen’s essay on ‘Theonomy’ in “God and Politics” for seed thoughts on an epistemologically conscious vision for government reform. The discipline of taking our ideas of government captive to the obedience of Christ is absolutely necessary lest we continue to suffer the judgement of forgetting; Jesus is Lord over politics.