Recently a frequent commenter on our blog mentioned Christian Theocracy movements, and we responded, in part, that we were familiar with the writings of some of the leaders of the movement, and mentioned in particular Gary North. As Providence would have it, at about the same time an atheist blogger at Patheos, Libby Anne ( Love, Joy, Feminism) wrote a blog post entitled "The Bizarre Libertarian / Christian Reconstructionist Alliance." She noted that the leading libertarian politician Ron Paul has started his own home-school curriculum, and that the curriculum director is none other than the very same Gary North!
For those not familiar with Mr. North, he is an economist who became closely associated with the late Rousas J. Rushdoony, one of the founders of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, even marrying Rushdoony's daughter. The basic premise of the movement is that the Old Testament Law is still valid today and should be applied to American society. As Libby Anne pointed out, this means, among other things, stoning adulterers and homosexuals.
How is it possible, Libby Anne wants to know, to combine libertarianism with theocracy? "I'm having a hard time reconciling the libertarian ideas of freedom from government interference, legal marijuana, etc., with a Christian theocracy based on the Old Testament legal code. Something extremely strange is going on here."
Something strange indeed. But it should come as no surprise that Gary North is working with Ron Paul. He was first hired by Paul as a research assistant when Paul was first elected to Congress in 1976. The problem, rather, is a jarring disjunction between North's economic philosophy and his professed attachment to biblical ideals.
Libby Anne tells us that she can "understand how people combine Christian social conservatism with libertarian positions on economics . . ." If she does, she understands more than we do. Rather, we think that North has misunderstood biblical economics.
North has been committed to the "Austrian School" of economics right from the very beginning. The problem is that when he became associated with Rushdoony he read laissez-faire capitalism back into the Bible. It was Vienna thinly disguised as Jerusalem; Ludwig von Mises masquerading as Moses. But they are actually quite different.
The real Moses actually had quite a lot to say about economics. While it is true that an essentially free market was allowed to operate, and no provision was made for an elaborate welfare system run by the state, the idea of the private ownership of property was significantly qualified. Every seven years debts were to be forgiven and slaves were to be freed, and every fifty years agricultural land was to be returned to its original owners. Farmers were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so that the poor could come in and take what they needed. The underlying principle in all of this was "you shall love your neighbor as yourself: (Lev. 19:18; NKJV). ". . . you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs" (Dt. 15:7,8).
Rushdoony, in his landmark work The Institutes of Biblical Law (Craig Press, 1973), insisted that all true law, if it is to be valid and binding, must ultimately flow from the Creator Himself. He rejected natural law concepts and denied the state the power to enact positive law. ". . . revealed law is the need and privilege of Christian society" (p. 10). Yet Rushdoony was capable of using creative exegesis to explain passages that seemed to with his free-market assumptions.
|Rousas J. Rushdoony
In his treatment of the Eighth Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal"), Rushdoony begins with a discussion of "dominion." The concept of private property is rooted in the fact that God created man to have dominion over the earth. Thus, Rushdoony says, "Man has a God-given urge to dominion, to power" (p. 450). He then goes on to discuss theft, which he defines as "taking another man's property by coercion, fraud, or without his uncoerced consent" (p. 452). This, he says, would include "passing a law which steals from the rich, the poor, or the middle-classes, for the benefit of a particular group. The state then becomes the agency whereby theft is accomplished, and a pseudo-moral cover is given by legal enactment."
But what about those laws in the Mosaic code that require the redistribution of land every fifty years? According to Rushdoony, they have no applicability outside of Palestine. He then concludes by saying that "The purpose of Biblical law with reference to land is to ensure the security of man in his property . . . "(p. 493). Thus it became possible for North to meld the "Austrian School" of economicsd with a professed regard for biblical law.
They are, in fact, fundamentally different. In a secular legal system there is no sense of moral accountability to a transcendent Supreme Being. Hence the emphasis tends to fall on property rights. What's mine is mine, and I get to keep it. One of the chief functions of the state is to protect my property. But if one looks at human society from the standpoint of God, the Supreme Law-Giver, humanitarian concerns become more important. It is unconscionable that some should starve while others live in luxury. God is less concerned with helping millionaires keep their millions than He is with meeting the basic needs of the poor. "A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, / Is God in His holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5). Granted, there was no elaborate state-run social welfare system; rather the moral burden for caring for the poor rested directly on property owners, usually through extended family relationships.
Libby Anne is right: there is a contradiction between libertarianism and theocracy. But it does not appear that Ron Paul has fatally compromised his values. The proposed curriculum says little about Theonomy or Christian Reconstructionism. It does not even contain a Bible curriculum as far as we can see. But it says a great deal about free market economics. It is Gary North who has made the fatal concessions. We do not think that either Ron Paul or Ludwig von Mises pretended to be biblical in their approach. The problem is that neither is Gary North.
Other blog posts you might enjoy:
Capitalism and the Sabbath
The Social Agenda of the Tea Party
Capitalism and Christianity (click here, here, and here)
Jesus and the Torah