THE ADVERSARY CONCEPT
Frederic N. Andre & Rousas John Rushdoony
The word adversary has an interesting and important background in Scripture. The word in the New Testament Greek is antidikos. It means, first, an opponent in a lawsuit, or an enemy who is perpetrating injustice (Matt. 5:25; Luke 12:58; 18:3). Second, it is used specifically of the Devil or Satan in I Peter 5:8. The two meanings are closely related: the adversary in the lawsuit is the man who is unjust, and whom only the superior force of the courts can bring to justice. Satan, as the Adversary, is dedicated to destroying God’s distinction between good and evil and making every man his own god and arbiter of right and wrong (Gen. 3:5). For God, there is an ultimate good and evil, and good and evil are determined by His nature and being. What God is and does is good, and there can be no altering of His ultimacy or of His nature and being. Satan calls for a fluid concept of good and evil, one relative to man. Since man is in process, changes, and is not ultimate or absolute, good and evil thus must also change as man’s will changes. Satan’s thesis is the thesis of humanism. This does not mean that humanism does not take good and evil seriously. Indeed, it does, but in a fluid manner. During the 1930s and 1940s, fascism (Mussolini and Hitler) was savagely condemned as evil. Today, economic (and sometimes political) fascism is the rule in virtually every nation and is praised as socialism, democracy, a concern for human welfare, and so on. From the standpoint of humanism, a fluid and pragmatic position alone is tenable, and today’s truth is tomorrow’s error, and vice versa. For sociologist Emile Durkheim, evolution meant ‘change,’ and he saw the criminal as often an evolutionary pioneer, charting the next direction of society. His criminal acts could thus forecast the next normality. 1
Biblical faith and modern philosophy thus hold radically different views of the antithesis. Biblical faith holds that there is an antithesis or division in the world, and life can only be truly lived by recognizing this fact. The antithesis is in history, not in God: it is an aspect of creation, not of the Creator. The antithesis, however, is not between God and history, because God made all things good. The antithesis is not metaphysical but moral. When we make it moral, in line with Scripture, we avoid the serious errors which mark non-Christian thought. Where the antithesis is seen as metaphysical, it means that not God but good and evil are ultimate and constitute absolute forms of being. The result is dualism, such as we see in Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism, Albigensianism, and other forms of dualistic faith. Where good and evil (or the antithesis) are seen as relative and pragmatic, then, while dualism is avoided, all judgment becomes relative and ethics disappears into psychology and sociology.
How a man or a culture views the antithesis thus makes all the difference to the structure of law. Anglo-American jurisprudence has been very strongly grounded in a Biblical or moral view of the antithesis. In a metaphysical antithesis, there is no possibility of converting an evil man into a good man, because evil is the metaphysical and permanent character of his being. The moral constitution of a man can be changed, but not his metaphysical constitution. Religiously speaking, a morally evil man can be converted, and the judgments of the law can awaken him to the consequences of his ways and open his heart to religious influences and conversion. A metaphysically evil man can no more change his nature than he can reverse his aging process and become a child in his mother’s womb again. There is thus no hope of reform or change in a society which sees evil as a metaphysical rather than a moral fact. Asia, once far in advance of Europe, collapsed into stagnation when it saw the antithesis as either, metaphysical or purely relative, rather than moral.
In a relativistic view, to which some Asiatic countries came long before modern pragmatism, instead of good and evil being moral realities, they are merely relative and are maya, illusion, and hence meaningless, like all things else. When Hindu thought concluded that the ideas of good and evil are maya, illusion, it did not lead to a glorious freedom beyond good and evil but to a radical decay and collapse in society. If good and evil, the essential means of assessing life and experience, are illusion, then all things are also merely appearances and illusion, and the whole of reality is simply a cosmic illusion. Justice is then an illusion also, because justice is inseparable from good and evil.
This has serious legal consequences. If good and evil are illusions, then justice, compassion, principle, and law are illusions, and men who believe in them are fools. The relativists in the Western tradition still cling to and are motivated by a passion for justice which springs out of their Christian past, but their philosophy and action is leading to a radical disintegration of their causes. If good and evil are relative to man, then they are illusions as far as any objective validity is concerned. There is then no right or wrong, but only the will of anarchistic man, or the superior will of the totalitarian state. There is no possibility of moral criticism, because, if you rob us, we have no moral ground in terms of which we can condemn you. For us, it may be wrong for anyone to rob us, but for you it may be worthwhile and “good.” There is no law or moral principle binding upon both of us which has any objective validity.
This makes apparent why there is a legal and a moral crisis today. In the Anglo-American tradition of jurisprudence, the Biblical revelation has been decisive. The purpose of law is to codify and enforce the moral system of Biblical faith. The common law embodied this purpose. As Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, “Common Law was the product of a union between universal Christian laws and local customs.”2 This heritage was further developed by the adoption, in New England and other American colonies on a wholesale basis, of Biblical law directly from Scripture. The result was that the American tradition of jurisprudence was biblically reinforced at a time when the tradition was waning in Britain.
After the Civil War, statute law rapidly took over in America, and the background of this statute law was the revelation imbibed from European philosophies. The issue was clearly forced by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, in the first paragraph of his very influential work, declared:
The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.3
By logic, we are to understand a religious system of truth and moral law, a theological-philosophical system having an inner consistency, meaning, and purpose. By experience, we are to understand all local customs, traditions, prejudices, passions, hopes, and practices of a society during its history. Now according to Rosenstock-Huessy, the legal inheritance of the Anglo-American systems of jurisprudence has been Christian law and various local customs, i.e., both logic and experience. Those “experiences” that have been retained in these legal systems generally have conformed to the biblical standard. Logic has thus been determinative. Why then did Holmes deny the reality of law as logic? Was he not aware of the long governing of the Anglo-American systems of law by Biblical standards? Was he not aware of the fact that even the statute laws of his day reflected Biblical premises?
The answer is that Holmes was fully aware of these things, but he still reduced the law to experience, to a body of incoherent social mores and requirements, because for him no system or logic is possible or can exist. As a relativist and a legal positivist, he saw no truth, meaning, purpose, or logic in the universe. The Bible, in offering a logic for law and a law of logic, premised on the sovereign and omnipotent God and His will, was for Holmes a myth, one aspect of social experience. Thus, for Holmes the law was not logic but experience because the universe is without logic, and only experience is real.
This meant that for him there was no adversary, no good and evil, which law was to reckon with, but only conflicting interests to be adjusted. Justice thus was in effect abandoned as a legal principle and goal in favor of an adjustment of conflicting interests and groups. The goal of the law then ceases to be justice but becomes instead the peace of compromise and adjustment. The shift was also from equity to an equality of good and evil, since both are equally important and equally meaningless.
The roots of this legal revolution are deep in modern philosophy. With Rene Descartes, the center of philosophy was shifted from God to man, and ultimacy was given to the autonomous mind of man. This new centrality, authority, and ultimacy of man led to some radical problems, especially with regard to epistemology, the theory of knowledge. Having started with man, philosophy could not get beyond man, even to prove the reality of the external, physical world. Philosophy had become dialectical, i.e., was holding two ideas which its premises made mutually contradictory, but refusing to surrender either. The dialectic of modern philosophy is a nature-freedom dialectic. The world of “nature” is out there, existing without man’s government or creation, and a challenge to man’s assumption that man is ultimate and is his own god. Moreover, contact between the mind of man and the outer world is managed only through sensory perception. Are the reports of the senses valid or illusory? The mind has only secondary data at best. This dilemma was resolved after Immanuel Kant by making a distinction between what we experience and whatever may be really out there. The “real world” for man then became, not the thing in itself out there but man’s experience of it. The “real universe” for man is the universe of his experience.
Practically, this means that the real world is the world of experience, not of logic. Religiously stated, this means that the real world is what men think it is, not what God has created it to be. Logic is denied even to man. For Jean-Paul Sartre, and for his existentialist followers, there is no logic or pre-established nature or pattern to man. Man, he holds, has being but no essence. If there is any essence, logic, or meaning to an individual man’s life, it will be of his own making. There is no superimposed or God-created essence, logic, or pattern to man or to anything else. Man is thus to all practical intent his own and only real world and his own universe.
An immediate consequence of this philosophy was Romanticism, the glorification of the anarchistic individual and his feelings and passions. The individual’s feelings and passions became the center of the universe, and no moral law could outweigh the value and importance of human passion. In terms of the romantic ideology, law was an ugly, repressive force in society.
As a result of this continuing and now highly developed Romanticism, a new concept of the adversary has developed in the twentieth century, although its roots are in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the French Revolution. For Rousseau, the natural, passionate, and uninhibited man was the true man, and the enemy of man is civilization, Christian civilization in particular. The adversary is thus civilization; it’s law and order, and, above all else, it’s religion. Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses and the great adversary of man. Freedom for man requires, for Marxism, the total overthrow of religion; Christianity in particular.
A new adversary concept was thus unleashed on Western civilization; a relativistic faith, for Marx and Rousseau were at bottom relativists, now declared that its grand enemy was the affirmation that God is sovereign, and His moral law absolute over man. For relativism, there is no good and evil, only pragmatic considerations. Its absolute is thus man, not God. All things are relative to man and man’s wishes, because man is the absolute or god of modern thought, or humanism. God is thus the great enemy, and law, order, morality, and everything that smacks of God is to be warred against.
Albert Camus, as an existentialist, stated the matter bluntly and honestly: “…only two possible worlds can exist for the human mind: the sacred (or, to speak in Christian terms, the world of grace) and the world of rebellion.”4 The world of grace versus the world of rebellion or revolution: this is the battle line. In the world of rebellion, whatever belongs to God and His order must be destroyed. Camus again stated the situation with clarity and honesty:
We are living in the era of premeditation and the perfect crime. Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and they have a perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be used for any purpose—even for transforming murderers into judges…. Once crime was as solitary as a cry of protest; now it is as universal as science. Yesterday it was put on trial; today it determines the law.5
Camus was in deadly earnest, and his analysis, coming from the enemy camp, must be recognized as an honest one. The modern state is increasingly anti-Christian, and its law structure is more and more humanistic and relativistic. Shortly after World War II, Chief Justice Frederick Moore Vinson of the U.S. Supreme Court declared emphatically what the Court had long held in practice: “Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes.” No moral law binding on all men is recognized, no universe of principles, only sovereign man and the sovereign state.
State schools (so-called public education) are relativistic to the core, and John Dewey and others very early declared the enemy or adversary to be supernatural Christianity. Of the ideas of the saved and the lost, heaven and hell, good and evil, Dewey said that it represented a “spiritual aristocracy” and an alien creed. “I cannot understand how any realization of the democratic ideal as a vital moral and spiritual ideal in human affairs is possible without a surrender of the conception of the basic division to which supernatural Christianity is committed.”6
In the 1960s, this faith in relativism was very much on the march, and the student movements of the decade treated the “Establishment” as the enemy; law, order, the state, church, everything that historically has meant society was condemned by the students as a crime against man. Convicts who rioted were made into heroes; homosexuals were regarded as an oppressed people. In the 1970s, this movement continued. Prostitutes became regarded as the finest of women, and every kind of erstwhile outlaw, including pimps and criminal leaders, was lionized.
Camus was right. What for the world of grace was a crime, today determines the law increasingly. Only the willfully blind fail to see that the adversary concept has been reversed, and it is now God who is the great criminal and adversary. At the time of the French Revolution, a brilliant English artist and gnostic stated with intense feeling the creed of the new era. William Blake’s manifesto to the orthodox Christians was very clear, however obscure some of his writings are. It was simply this: your God is my devil.
Here we have the heart of the modern philosophy. There can be no living in peace with the modern age, nor any patchwork of reform or compromise within it. The modern adversary concept is the total reversal of all Christian faith and civilization, and it is a war unto death against that faith.
The tragedy is that too many churchmen are not even aware of the fact that a war is on, nor of the nature of the issues. The battlefield of history has no time for fools. The victory belongs only to the Lord, and to those who stand unequivocally with Him.
1. Emile Durkheim, “On the Normality of Crime,” in his The Rules of Sociological Method, in Talcott Parsons, Edward Shils, Kaspar D. Nargele, Jesse R. Pitts, eds., Theories of Society, vol. II (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1961), 827-875.
2. Eugen Rosentock-Huessy, Out of Revolution (New York: William Morrow, 1938), 270.
3. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., The Common Law (Boston: Little, Brown,  1946), 1.
4. Albert Camus: The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 21.
5. Ibid., 3.
6. John Dewey, A Common Faith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934), 84.
Article from Chalcedon.edu, Journal of Reconstruction.