By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony
A persistent myth cherished by humanistic man is to locate sin and the responsibility for it not in himself but in his environment, and in the ruling class. In every era, men have blamed their griefs and sins on the existing establishment or power structure. To cite a few examples, during the “medieval” era, men found it easy to see evil as the monopoly of rapacious churchmen, and the myth of the greedy, lustful priest was fostered. True, some priests were evil, but, to this day, we hear much about the sins of the priests and too little about the sins of the people. No class has a monopoly on sin or virtue. There were many sensual priests, but only rarely are we told of the many women whose delight and game was to seduce sexually innocent and dedicated priests. At a later date, we hear of the debauched royalty and nobility, who bled a people of their meager means and dishonored their wives and daughters. Again it must be pointed out that the royalty and nobility were freely robbed by those under them, and women thrust themselves at them as a means to personal advancement. In the last century, when a young king went to a spa, the place was crowded by mothers and daughters anxious to advance themselves as royal mistresses. The bourgeois also, on attaining power, became the targets of the same mythical thinking. The brutal factory owners seduced working girls and cast them aside, according to the myth. Certainly, this happened, but as often as not every attempt was made to gain advancement by seducing the factory owner, or his sons. The same was true of slavery; slaves as often seduced and exploited their owners, as the owners their slaves. Vice and virtue have never been the monopoly of a class, and it is only mythological thinking that makes it so. In fact, a sure road to disintegration and decline is for a ruling class to become sufficiently immoral to feed the myth with a semblance of confirmation and thereby inflame reaction.
The myth of the monopoly of evil by the power structure is best promoted when the intellectuals and artists of a society become hostile to the rulers and then promote hostility in their culture. Intellectuals and artists have been essentially a subsidized group in most societies. At first, the clergy supported them, and there are Biblical grounds for a close tie between the church and the arts. However, as both intellectuals and artists saw themselves as the true elite of a society, they then became of necessity the enemy of their rival, the current ruling class. Today, it is increasingly the state that subsidizes them, so that every “Establishment” is becoming the enemy of its intellectuals.
In the modern era, the monarchy and nobility were both excellent patrons and easy targets. The evil of monarchy was not that its taxation was so great but that its rule was so selectively restrictive. The monarchs taxed far less than modern democracies do, and they generally ruled much less restrictively; their failing was that their governments were restrictive of production and trade, and economic progress was stifled thereby. The decline of monarchy was essentially an internal decline. Courts became no longer a place of justice, i.e., the nation’s supreme court, but a place of social events. Louis XIV created the first “pentagon” and bureaucracy of power, while turning his palace into a pleasure area to seduce the nobility away from power. Middle class men were used to rule, while Louis XIV gave the forms of power to the nobility. The old upper class was turned into a show piece, irrelevant progressively to the nation and to its power.
Even more serious, royalty had begun to commit suicide by both unwise unions for political purposes and excessive inbreeding. To cite examples from England, there was a “taint of madness” in the Tudors, which showed up in Henry VII and Henry VIII. (Paul Murray Kendall: Richard III, p. 186. New York W.W. Norton, 1955.) Even the respectful biographer of Mary, Queen of Scots, admits to the weaknesses inherited by that queen. (Antonia Fraser: Mary Queen of Scots, p. 12. New York: Delacorte Press 1970.) Catherine of Aragon brought a questionable heredity to her union with Henry VIII, and their child was Mary. Some of these, and others, were rulers of faith and dedication, but at critical points their judgment was faulty. George III and George IV suffered the consequences of excessive inbreeding, and porphyria as well as leukemia became “royal” diseases. Of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria (in the 19th century) it was unhappily true that her “whole life was clouded and confused by an unshakable conviction that she had once swallowed a grand piano made of glass.” King Ludwig II of Bavaria had impaired judgment, which led to disaster, and his brother Otto was pronounced “incurably insane.” (Wilfred Blunt: The Dream King, Ludwig II of Bavaria, pp. 16, 159. New York: Viking Press, 1970.)
The monarchs and nobility made themselves irrelevant to their times by their pursuit of pleasure. Being themselves empty, they came to see life as empty. Voltaire himself, both a critic and very much a part of this culture, said, “Trifle with life; that is all it is good for.” (Pierre Schneider: The World of Watteau, 1684-1721, p. 60. New York: Time, 1967.)
Long before the monarchs and the nobility either disappeared or were relegated to ceremonial functions, in Western Europe effective power had been assumed by the middle class. Commerce and industry came to the forefront, and the new power structure began to remake Western civilization, rapidly and efficiently.
Unfortunately, however, the new ruling class began to imitate the old ruling class. It became fashionable for artists, intellectuals, and businessmen to imitate the vices of monarchs of an earlier era, or the surviving ones. Had women like Madame Pompadour ruled kings once? The new elite made courtesans into rulers, and their salons into palaces and places of judgment. By the 1860s, Theophile Gantier wrote, “the religion of money is today the only one which has no unbelievers.” The courtesans of Europe rose to great power and wealth. According to Richardson, “Sexual license had always been a privilege of the aristocracy, an element in their education; but now it was claimed by the middle classes who had risen to wealth and power.” Rather, the middle class equated the degeneracy of royalty as the mark of its power, and it imitated those same vices with relish. The courtesans were made rich and famous, because they “symbolized frivolity and irresponsibility.” (Joanna Richardson: The Courtesans. pp. 2, 22I, 230. l,ondon: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967.)
Meanwhile, the same bitterness men had once felt for the royalty they felt now for the middle class and for the intellectuals and artists. Marie Antoinette had earlier been blamed even for bad weather; the new power structure was now the target of like unreasoning hatred. It first became vocal, after the French Revolution, when it was only partially expressed, in the revolutionary movements of 1848. The moral scandals of industrialists and the poverty of the working class were widely discussed. Moreover, the intellectuals and artists were also debauching the wives and daughters of the citizenry! As Tom Prideaux observed, “An outbreak of personal scandals -among them a jealous husband’s discovery of his spouse in a hideaway with Victor Hugo – convinced the man in the street that the morals of the dominant bourgeoisie were no better than those of the decadent aristocrats they had supplanted.” (T. Prideaux: The World of Delacroix 1798-1863, p. 166. New York Time, 1966.)
The poor, down-trodden people, and the torch-bearers, the intellectuals favoring socialist revolutions, became now the new bearers of innocence, and all other classes were seen as evil exploiters. Everything was done to develop and perpetuate this myth, and to suppress evidence to the contrary. Thus, on June 23, 1851, Helene Demuth, the Karl Marx family servant, gave birth to a son. Marx had either seduced or raped her, and Payne feels the slim evidence suggests that “it was rape rather than seduction.” (Robert Payne: Marx, p. 260. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.) The Communists, having made much of the bloated capitalists ravishing working girls, worked to suppress the fact that their great theoretician is the best example of this kind of exploitation, as have been most other Communists. Peter Stafford, in Sexual Behavior in the Communist World, has made clear that communists are as ready to exploit people as any other class, and, because of their totalitarian powers and goals, more able to do so than any class heretofore. Moreover, the lives of intellectuals and artists have been no more reassuring that they represent any power to reform society, let alone themselves.
In recent years, therefore, the position of the self-styled intellectual and artist has been to favor perpetual opposition and perpetual revolution. Having been burned by favoring various alternatives to the church from monarchy, through the bourgeoisie, the working class, the Communist movement, and the new left (which turned on it’s teachers), the intellectuals favor now the “adversary role.” Their own political action has revealed their failings too well. If anyone adopts a position defensive of a faith or tradition, he is called a “counterintellectual”, and some who are described this way include Edmund Burke, Alexis De Tocqueville, August Comte, Harold Lasswell, George Orwell, Raymond Aron, Eric Hoffer, Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Daniel Moynihan, Irving Kristol, and others. (Peter Steinfels, “The Counterintellectuals”, in New American Review, no. 14, pp. 115-138. New York: Simon and Schuster,1972.) The intellectual stance now is a radical cynicism and relativism, “the adversary role”, but every critique is in terms of a criterion, and the criterion of the intellectuals is a deep faith in the reason of autonomous intellectual man. The absence of a social program is, however, a major retreat from responsibility; whatever is offered is done in the spirit of relativism and cynicism. Not surprisingly, the word to intellectuals in Washington politics from their universities has been a demand to “come home” and be again the critic on the side-lines.
The humanistic myth is playing out. Sin has become a chronic factor on the political scene as elsewhere, and no power structure has been immune to it. No class or power structure has had a monopoly on virtue or on sin, and sin has become a dark cloud on the humanist horizon, a forerunner of a destroying storm. Reinhold Niebuhr, to whom sin was a sociological reality and grace a religious myth, taught the intellectuals well. The lesson has come home to them in varying degrees: man’s efforts to reconstruct society are always limited, frustrated, and defeated by the fact of sin. Men like Robert Ardrey have since been documenting man’s rapacious and quarrelsome nature. The modern world was fashioned by thinkers whose faith came into focus in Rousseau; now it is kicking against the pricks of a self-knowledge which smacks more of Calvin’s doctrine of man. In fact, whether it be Orwell, Golding, or any other contemporary writer, the emphasis on man’s depravity in some respects goes beyond Calvin’s imagination.
The emphasis on sin, evil, and depravity is all around us. Pornography, once a vice of a degenerate and declining royalty and nobility, is now mass produced for mass consumption. The world of humanism is everywhere in decay, and the humanists themselves acknowledge that this age is in serious trouble. Leslie Fiedler has described this mood as “waiting for the end” (see Report no. 87).
The alternative to waiting for the end to come is to wait on God’s grace, and this too many refuse to do. Milton’s Satan held that it was better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, and this is the mood of many. The end, however, does not come, only progressive slavery.
The alternative is the freedom of grace. It means a distrust of man, and of man’s agencies. It means a strict limitation of power for man, and for church, state, school, and all other institutions. It means that, instead of submitting to man-made controls, man submits to divine controls, the sovereign sway of God’s law in every area of life. Trust in God requires a distrust of man, man as monarch, industrialist, worker, intellectual, and clergyman. To be truly dependent on God we must be independent of man except and insofar as God, within very narrow limits, requires it in His word.
Sin is not abolished by the abolition of monarchy, democracy, or oligarchy, nor by abolishing the state, the church, or anything else. The problem is in man, and the answer is in God. The age of the state has seen the answer in a reformed state, a state purged of an evil, oppressing class, but humanism is running out of classes to abolish! Isaiah, in speaking to the humanists of his day, who had debauched the country, and its money (Isa. 1:22), said, “Cease depending on man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for at what should he be valued?” (Isa. 2:22). This means us, first of all. The world is too full of people like us, “good people”, who trust in our own righteousness too often more than we trust in God. No state can supply to its people that character which the people lack. The need for grace begins with everyone of us.
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 829; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 88)
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.