Manichaeanism, Law, and Economics
By Rousas John Rushdoony
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 decline 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.
At the heart of our contemporary problem are false theologies and philosophies, and central among these is Manichaeanism. For Manichaeanism, the world is divided into two different and alien substances, spirit and matter. Each is equally ultimate, and both are self-sufficient and separate realms. To be spiritual in the Manichaean sense means to be disdainful about and unconcerned with material things, because they are alien and constitute a drag and a drain on the spirit. Spirit is held to be good, and matter, bad.
From the Biblical perspective, there are no two such different substances or beings (for in some dualistic religions there are two ultimate beings in and behind the two substances). God is the maker of all things, and He created all things good. Because of the fall, all creation is equally fallen. “Spirit” and “matter” are alike fallen; they do not constitute two different kinds of substance or being. The distinction rather is between the uncreated Being of God and the created being of all things else. Salvation is not redemption from matter but from sin, the root of which is spiritual. Instead of despising matter, Biblical faith works to exercise dominion over the material world as God’s appointed Kingdom.
The Bible is full of very precise and detailed laws governing the material world, the use of land, diet, wastes, wild life, and so on. When the Manichaean mentality approaches such laws, it finds them offensive. They are as a result ruled out, first, as a primitive form of religion for the supposedly primitive Old Testament Hebrews, and, second, as merely a secret code, with all kinds of symbolic meanings pointing to the truer and spiritual meaning, and rendering the literal meaning of the law as no more than a useless hull or shell.
The Manichaean influence on Western thought is profound, in both church circles and amongst the humanists. The Manichaean overtones, for example of Barthianism are very obvious in the division between faith and history, between holy history and actual history. Barth thus “affirmed” the Virgin Birth as a spiritual fact, but denied its historicity; Reinhold Niebuhr “affirmed” the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ as a matter of faith but denied its historicity. For them, the world of faith must not be contaminated by the material world of history.
Law and economics are very material concerns, and basic to life. We are born into a law world, physical law, family law, church law, school law, civil law, and so on. We cannot escape from the law: law is inseparable from life and is a condition of it. Not even death affords an escape from law, in that, physically and religiously, we remain in God’s universe of law.
The same is true of economics. From birth to death, our lives are economically oriented and involved, and every aspect of our lives involves economic considerations.
In fact, the progress of man requires the greater development, in terms of God’s word, of law and economics. Attempts to eliminate law and economics from life, as in the Utopia of Marxism’s ultimate goal, mean the progressive reduction of life to be a more and more beggarly status.
In view of this, it is an eloquent evidence of our Manichaean heritage that most students go through their entire schooling with no training in either law or economics. What economics they do get is really not economics as such, but a study of the political control and suppression of economics. It can be added that most lawyers leave law school with no training in the theology and philosophy of law.
But a true theology requires a study of law and economics. If theology takes seriously, first, the fact that God is the Creator, it will recognize the relevance of the material world and the centrality of law and economics. This it has not done. The United States, for example, has well over half its population listed as church members, and their ignorance of law and economics is perhaps equal to that of the unchurched. Such an ignorance is a practical denial of the doctrine of creation and a tacit affirmation of Manichaeanism. Law and economics have theological foundations which cannot be ignored. Our present crisis makes clear that law and economics decay without that basis.
Second, the Bible deals very specifically with law and economics, as I have pointed out in The Institutes of Biblical Law. It is impossible to deal seriously with Scripture without at the same time being confronted by law and economics.
The restoration of Christendom means thus a denial of Manichaeanism, implicit and explicit, and the development of a theology with Biblical roots. This requires a restoration of law and economics to a position of centrality in education and in human affairs. The rise of statism has been in large measure due to a theological default and withdrawal from the material world. To the redeemed man, the creation mandate to exercise dominion and to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), emphatically applies. This, under the guidance of Biblical theology, requires the study and application of law and economics.
Adapted from“Larceny in the Heart: The Economics of Satan and the Inflationary State,” by R.J. Rushdoony, available at Chalcedon.edu.