Politico-Magical World

A Politico-Magical World

(Comte’s Law and History)

by R.J. Rushdoony

             Agnostic and atheistic historiography begins with a fundamental act of faith, the faith that God has nothing to do with history. This assumption has nothing to do with science or history: it is a pre-theoretical axiom with which all factuality is approached. Lucretius stated it openly and clearly: “The basic principle that we all shall assume as our standing point is that nothing has ever been created by divine power.” By this act of faith, history is declared to be man’s area of operation.

Having made this assumption, these scholars then proceed to apply it to history. History becomes simply men’s development and struggling in a mindless universe. This application is then taken as “proof” of the assumption which produced this view! Clearly, this is circular reasoning: it is reasoning from faith to faith, and it is guilty of the very process of which it accuses the Christian.

A classic example of this is Auguste Comte’s (1798–1857) “Law of Three Stages” in The Positive Philosophy. Comte denied God; therefore God’s presence in history was mythological, and progress in history was progress from theology to positivistic science. The three stages through which each branch of knowledge passes are therefore: the Theological or fictitious, the Metaphysical or abstract, and the Scientific or positive. Man passes from a desire for meaning to a pragmatic recognition that meaning does not exist and reality must therefore be approached methodologically and pragmatically. By this simple scheme Comte applied the doctrine of social evolution (which long preceded biological evolution) to history and relegated theology to the age of myth. That Comte’s general schema is still so extensively held is evidence of the power of faith over fact, because history quite clearly gives a very different picture.

We can, with rough accuracy and for convenience, divide the development of thought into three very different stages as thus far apparent in history. The first stage of human thought was the politico-magical worldview. Apart from the Hebrews, this perspective governed all of antiquity, and it governed the Roman Empire in the Christian era and continued thereafter to govern the non-Christian world. In order to understand the significance of the politico-magical worldview, it is important to know what magic is.

            Such a definition requires a distinction between the technique and the purpose of magic. All too commonly, magic is explained in terms of its primitive techniques and is thereby exorcized from the modern worldview. But magic is better defined in terms of its purpose; the techniques have varied from culture to culture, but the purpose remains unchanged. The purpose of magic is to gain autonomous control over man, nature, and the supernatural; control over the totality of whatever really exists, however it may be defined. Modern science, having steadily forsaken its Christian origins, is governed increasingly by magic, by a desire for total control over reality. In the Biblical perspective, science is a necessary activity of the godly man and society as they seek to understand and subdue the earth under God and in obedience to his creation mandate. In the magical faith, man aims at total control in contempt, defiance, and unbelief of God.

            From the beginning of history, one of the best, if not the easiest, means of exercising this control has been through political control. As a result, magic and politics made an early alliance. And the consequence was that, in antiquity, salvation was not religious; salvation was political. Religion was a subordinate aspect of ancient life and simply a department of the state, a division of public welfare and public works. Man’s basic orientation was political; one can say that his religion was politics, if we use religion as the vehicle of salvation. The state and its rulers, in this politico-magical worldview, were in some sense divine: they were the controllers of the totality of reality. The politico-magical worldview thus supplanted God and religion with a totalitarian magical order.

            Even a cursory glance at ancient and non-Christian cultures reveals the prevalence of this politico-magical perspective. Baal worship in the Middle East was the worship of lords, natural and political, who governed all reality. The political rulers readily adopted Baalism in order to command that total control offered by this politico-magical worldview. Moloch worship, with its demand for human sacrifice, was politico-magical, and Moloch literally meant “king.” The medicine men of American Indian tribes had little relationship to religion; their function was magical, and medicine was one facet of their claimed control over reality. The attempts by caesaro-papism to absorb the Christian Church represent attempts to reduce the church to an aspect of the politico-magical order, as against allowing the church freedom to smash that order and remake it into a religious one.

            The second stage of human thought has been the religious or Christian one. With the coming of Christ, the religious stage, previously, largely restricted to the Hebrews, now moved out to command the world. The result was the immediate warfare of Christ and the “caesars,” an all-out battle between the politico-magical worldview and the Biblical worldview. It is the custom now of the new mythologists to treat the Roman persecution of the Christians as largely legendary. The reality is very different. An attempt was made by Rome to wipe out Christianity. At first, it was through the judicial murder of selected members and leaders. Finally, it was the attempted mass murder of an entire people. It was a long and ugly battle, but the empire, though possessing the power of the sword and using it very savagely, finally lost.

In Jesus Christ, life was restored from a politico-magical worldview to a religious one. In Adam’s fall, his attempt to be as God (Gen. 3:5), the politico-magical perspective was born. In Christ’s temptation, the politico-magical worldview was met and conquered. Life and salvation were restored to a religious dimension.

The result was a new historiography. The older historiography was singularly barren. It simply narrated the possession of power and was antiquarian in all things else. Instead of movement and progress in history, ancient history simply cited power and control. Saint Augustine pointed to the conflict of history, the City of God and the City of Man; between Biblical religion, Christianity, and the politico-magical order. History therefore has a purpose, the triumph of the heavenly city, and history therefore is capable of progress. There is development in both cities, as each works out the implications of its presuppositions. The only development Plato could envision was one of greater controls over man, a communist order, because his perspective was politico-magical. In Augustine, the goal is open to the imagination: the cities will grow, not in controls, but in their epistemological self-consciousness, and the future is therefore both certain and unknown. The progress of Western history is unique in world history; it is simply a product of the triumph of the Biblical worldview, the supplanting of the politico-magical orders with the Christian religion.

The third stage is now in evidence, the attempt to restore the politico-magical worldview. The Christian worldview has been introduced extensively in every continent. The slumbering politico-magical lions are everywhere aroused. In Western culture, they have been active, in the neo-platonist revivals, Aristotelianism, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. The United Nations today is a politico-magical world order, and virtually all nations are also. The churches have been largely captured by magic and accordingly have a social or political gospel. Salvation has once again become political, and Christian salvation is denounced savagely as irrelevant and obscurantist. The battle is joined between the state  as  god and God as God.

It is therefore not presumptuous to posit the rise of still another stage, since God is God and shall prevail: a triumphant Christian order across the earth, and the suppression of the politico-magical worldview. Since God has everything to do with history, its every tomorrow is in terms of Him. There is no other history.

*****

This is an excerpt of the book “The Biblical Philosophy of History,” by Rousas John Rushdoony. Published by Ross House Books; also available to view online at Chalcedon.edu.

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