Friday, March 16, 2012

R. J. Rushdoony versus Ron Paul's Libertarianism

by Steve C. Halbrook

The Ron Paul campaign has supporters of various stripes, including some professing theonomists. Some of these professing theonomists might, in an attempt to justify their support for the libertarian Ron Paul, attempt to equate Ron Paul's political philosophy with R. J. Rushdoony's on the basis that the theonomist Rushdoony considered himself a libertarian. 

However, even if Rushdoony ever used the term "libertarian" to describe himself, these professing theonomists commit the fallacy of equivocation. For if Rushdoony considered himself a libertarian, he certainly did not mean it in the sense Ron Paul does. Thus while Ron Paul and Rushdoony may have in common the word libertarianism, they surely do not have in common its meaning; they might as well use two different words. 

In Rushdoony's political philosophy, the Bible is foundational; in Ron Paul's, humanism, or the traditions of men, is foundational.

(It is true and commendable that Paul at some points cites Scripture to support his views [and we think he does so sincerely]. But simply citing Scripture for some issues here and there is not enough to show that one's overall political philosophy is Christian, for anyone [neo-cons, liberals, liberation theology Marxists] can cite Scripture for particular views--whether they are sincere are not. And in fact, Paul's overall philosophy is far from being foundationally Christian,
as we have already demonstratedMoreover, even to the extent that Paul bases any particular political view on Scripture, his pluralistic libertarian philosophy would surely not require society as a whole to accept Scripture or the Lord Jesus Christ as authoritative in political matters.)

That Rushdoony and Ron Paul don't have much more in common than the word "libertarian" is evident in Rushdoony's condemnation of a libertarianism that does not defend the family and Christianity, as well as of a libertarianism that allows for a relativistic, free-market of ideas and practices (namely, polytheism).

Rushdoony said this about libertarianism that does not favor Christianity in general and the biblical family in particular:
Every defense of property therefore is ineffective and paralyzed if it simply seeks to defend private property without at the same time defending the family and Christianity. This is the fallacy of the libertarians who seek to defend private property in isolation from Christian faith and the family. Too often, by this limited approach, they not only begin with two strikes on them but also more than partially in the enemy’s camp.[1]
According to Rushdoony, Ron Paul could be "more than partially in the enemy's camp." For, as we go on to show, Ron Paul seeks to defend private property (one of his chief issues) without at the same time defending the biblical family and Christianity 

As a professing Christian, perhaps Ron Paul supports the family and Christianity on a personal level. But on a public level, he will neither defend the biblical family nor Christianity
; for him, these are "in isolation from" private property. 

Defending them 
would require not just political tolerance of them, but defending them to the exclusivity of rival views. A Christian that tolerates non-Christian religions (and by extension particular non-Christian views about the family) does not recognize that neutrality is a myth: for defending false religions is not merely to tolerate them, but to oppose Christianity. All false religions oppose Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus says: "Whoever is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30a).

Rushdoony opposed the myth of neutrality, and said "
By beginning with the premise that there are neutral spheres outside of God, man ends up by declaring God out of bounds as a concern to men"; and "The myth of neutrality prevents justice because it ascribes to the law and to the courts a character very much in conflict with their very nature."[2]

Ron Paul opposes the biblical family in his tolerance for sodomy. 
In an interview, John Stossel asked Paul, "Should gays be allowed to marry?" Paul answered:  
Sure. They can do whatever they want, and they can call it whatever they want, just so they don't expect to impose their relationship on somebody else. They can't make me, personally, accept what they do, but gay couples can do what they want.[3]
At this point we should note the following by Rushdoony:
Humanistic libertarianism is an exceptionally good critic of state power, especially in the economic realm, but it then warps its own position too commonly by replacing the power of the state with the power of the individual to be lawless sexually; homosexual freedom has become basic to all too many libertarians.[4]
Regarding religion, Ron Paul opposes Christianity in his tolerance of political polytheism: the open practice of non-Christian (and thereby anti-Christian) religions:
My defense of liberty is the defense of their right to practice their religion and say their prayers where they want and practice their life. But if, if you do not protect liberty across the board--it's a First Amendment-type issue. We don't have a First Amendment so that we can talk about the weather. We have the First Amendment so we can say very controversial things. So, for people to say that, "yes, we have our religious beliefs protected," but people who want to follow something else, or a controversial religion, "you can't do this." If you have the inconsistency, then you are really not defending liberty. ... You have a right to do things that are very controversial.[5]
And Ron Paul said this in defense of Mitt Romney's Mormonism:
We live in times of great uncertainty when men of faith must stand up for American values and traditions before they are washed away in a sea of fear and relativism. I have never been one who is particularly comfortable talking about my faith in the political arena, and I find the pandering that typically occurs in the election season to be distasteful.
Our nation was founded to be a place where religion is freely practiced and differences are tolerated and respected. I come to my faith through Jesus Christ and have accepted him as my personal savior. At the same time, I have worked tirelessly to defend and restore individual rights and religious freedom for all Americans.
The recent attacks and insinuations, both direct and subtle, that Gov. Romney may be less fit to serve as president of our United States because of his faith fly in the face of everything America stands for. Gov. Romney should be judged fairly, on his record and his character, not on the church he attends.[6]
Here is, as we quoted Rushdoony earlier, "the fallacy of the libertarians who seek to defend private property in isolation from Christian faith." In his defense of Mitt Romney, Ron Paul defends not just private property, but every political matter in isolation from Christian faith. 

First, Ron Paul said that he has "
worked tirelessly to defend and restore individual rights and religious freedom for all Americans." Second, he implies that one's faith makes no difference in one's character. In working tirelessly to defend anti-Christian religions and in denying that only Christian faith produces character, Ron Paul clearly does not see the importance of the Christian faith--let alone the importance of defending the Christian faith. 

Ron Paul's radical relativism and advocacy of a free market of morality in the civil sphere amounts to what Rushdoony condemns as "blind faith in man":
Modern libertarianism rests on a radical relativism: no law or standard exists apart from man himself. Some libertarian professors state in classes and in conversation that any position is valid as long as it does not claim to be the truth, and that therefore Biblical religion is the essence of evil to them. There must be, according to these libertarians, a total free market of ideas and practices.
If all men are angels, then a total free market of ideas and practices will produce only an angelic community. But if all men are sinners in need of Christ's redemption, then a free market of ideas and practices will produce only a chaos of evil and anarchy. Both the libertarian and the Biblical positions rest on faith, the one on faith in the natural goodness of man, the other on God's revelation concerning man's sinful state and glorious potential in Christ. Clearly the so-called rational faith of such irrationalism as Hess and Rothbard represent has no support in the history of man nor in any formulation of reason. It is a faith, and a particularly blind faith in man, which they represent.[7]
While Ron Paul, a professing Christian, would surely not call biblical religion the essence of evil, nevertheless, at their core, Rushdoony's and Ron Paul's political philosophies differ radically. For Rushdoony, politics cannot be in isolation from Christian faith. For Ron Paul, politics and religion can and ultimately should be isolated from one another. As he said in his book Liberty Defined, "Christ dealt with spiritual matters, not temporal or political."[8]

A further antithesis of the views of Rushdoony and Ron Paul is seen in the case of Murray Rothbard. While Rushdoony above said that Rothbard's (a vile anti-Christian humanist) philosophy represents a "blind faith in man," Ron Paul called Rothbard while introducing him
at the 1987 Libertarian Party Convention
a very special person, somebody who has been very important to me over the years in my studying and understanding of the libertarian philosophy, and in particular the libertarian free market message. A recent article in the Washington Times labeled him as the Libertarian Guru, Murray Rothbard.[9]
Of course, Ron Paul dedicated his book Liberty Defined not to those who share Rushdoony's view of civil government, but to such libertarians as Rothbard, F. A. Hayek, and Ludwig Von Mises. Of them he says, "This book is dedicated to the great intellectuals of freedom who taught and inspired me and so many others."[10]

Thus for Rushdoony, Ron Paul's opposition to statism is not enough. (And their view of tyranny would differ radically, as Ron Paul's libertarianism would cause him to view a biblical theocracy--which Rushdoony holds to--as tyrannical.) In not holding to an explicitly Christian view of small government, Ron Paul's labors are in vain. As we quoted Rushdoony earlier, "
Every defense of property therefore is ineffective and paralyzed if it simply seeks to defend private property without at the same time defending the family and Christianity." 

And so according to Rushdoony, the labors of professing theonomists supporting Ron Paul are worthless.

(Indeed, such labors are more than worthless. 
Ron Paul is not biblically qualified, and thus voting for Ron Paul is a violation of God's law. And violations of God's law invites God's judgment, including the judgment of a tyrannical state. Thus voting for Ron Paul is implicitly statist, and therefore self-defeating.)

The difference then between Rushdoony and Ron Paul is the difference between theonomy and autonomy; their philosophies cannot be harmonized. Rushdoony understood the myth of neutrality. We urge his followers who support Ron Paul to do the same. 

To support political polytheism is to support
 treason against the highest political authority in the land, the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ. By extension, to support a political candidate who supports political polytheism is likewise treason against the Lord Jesus Christ. R. J. Rushdoony says the following relating treason to polytheism: 
Basic to the health of a society is the integrity of its foundation. To allow tampering with its foundation is to allow its total subversion. Biblical law can no more permit the propagation of idolatry than Marxism can permit counter-revolution, or monarchy a move to execute the king, or a republic an attempt to destroy the republic and create a dictatorship.[11]
[S]ocial health requires the prohibition of idolatry, because its toleration means social suicide. ... It [idolatry] constitutes treason to the King or Sovereign, the Almighty God.[12]
Most importantly, the word of God warns:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindledBlessed are all who take refuge in him.(Psalm 2:10-12)


[1] Rousas John Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1984), 66.
[2] R. J. Rushdoony, Roots of Reconstruction (Ross House Books, 1991), 1114, 1112.  
[3] John Stossel, Live and Let Live, Says One Candidate (, January 9, 2008). Retrieved August 30, 2011.
[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law: Volume Three (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1999), 156.
[5] RonPaulSource, Ron Paul on legalizing drugs and gay marriage - SC Republican debate 5/5/2011 (YouTube, uploaded May 5, 2011). Retrieved August 30, 2011. 
[6] tarabyte, "Romney's Faith Should Not be an Issue" (Ron Paul Forums, December 6, 2007). Retrieved October 19, 2011.
[7] Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973) 289, 290.
[8] Ron Paul, Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues that Affect our Freedom (New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2011), 244. 
[9] Paul's introduction of Rothbard can be seen in Covenant Commission, Covenant Commission Vindicated (YouTube, uploaded Jan. 23, 2012). Accessed Feb. 29, 2012.
[10] Paul, Liberty Defined. See the book's dedication prior to the Introduction.
[11] Rushdoony, Institutes, 38, 39.
[12] Ibid., 66.

More on Ron Paul's humanistic libertarianism 


Anonymous said...

Some excellent points made by Mr. Halbrook most worthy of considering, pondering, and acting upon! However, another interesting point to consider is the relationship of Gary North (no lightweight theonomist in his own right) and R.J. Rushdoony (Gary is the son-in-law of Rushdoony). As some who read this blog know, Mr. North worked closely in the 1970s with Ron Paul on his staff. (A side note is that libertarian Lew Rockwell did as well, but that's another topic). Many/most who read this blog would agree that in addition to theonomy being in distinct contrast to the autonomy of much modern day libertarianism, theonomy also shares some distinct common ground with libertarians in terms of economics as admitted by Mr. Halbrook, albeit working from a different foundation. I'm sure you'd agree that it would be most interesting to listen in on Rushdoony-North family-personal conversations about Ron Paul in the 1970s and 1980s regarding theonomy, political philosophy, the Constitution, etc. I also have reservations about what looks like libertarian autonomy in some of Dr. Paul's applied worldview. But it must be admitted that Ron has significant relationships and common ground with a good number of current theonomists as well as other theonomists, dead and alive over the years. This reality is simply not true of any other candidate current or in recent history that I know of. One other point is that in addition to Dr. Paul looking to his philosophical mentors in Austrian Economics (Hayek, Rothbard, others), Ron also looks reverently and respectfully to the Constitution and takes his oath before God to uphold the Constitution most seriously. This is NOT insignificant. Without going to the quite legitimate argument of Patrick Henry "smelling a rat" and being against the Constitution, the document is obviously not without extraordinary merit in protecting the life, liberty, and property of men and contains MANY biblical principles and safeguards within the document. It's also not too much for argument that Dr. Paul has a three decade track record of unsurpassed adherence to this document. It's interesting to conjecture if Rushdoony would support and vote for Dr. Paul in the current presidential election or if he would abstain. This is the same question theonomists must ask themselves. Certainly it could be argued that Ron could do much to forestall tyranny (by auditing/ending the fed, establishing competing currencies through biblical sound money, implementing a limited executive office, undoing the warfare and welfare state systematically, and on and on and on and on. These are some thoughts to consider, ponder, and act upon with wisdom. Ron Paul may be an imperfect stopgap, transitional person of historical import, on the way to a more perfect consciously chosen application of biblical/theonomic principles to all of life as outlined by Mr. Halbrook. Selah.

Isaac said...

Andrew Sandlin said,
"We don't get the millennium all at once.
This is especially true in politics. It's amazing (and sad) at how many Christians have begun to ape the Left. The Left believes that political change is central. We believe that spiritual change is central. Spiritual change comes first.
...Barring a miracle, we won't have a thundering Calvinistic Congress any time soon. We won't have a Ten-Commandment-observing Supreme Court next term.
Our system is not designed for drastic political changes. The Founders were too smart for (and scared of) drastic political changes - and so should we. They wanted there to be a consensus in the population and in the civil government before there could be political change. This is why we have a Constitution. It puts the skids on both passionate minorities and fickle majorities.
We have too many impatient Christians - this is counterproductive. And it is contradictory for postmillennialists. They often want Christian politics before a Christian population. Sorry, you won't get it. The system is rigged against it.
And it's a good thing too. This forces us to be faithful in the small things."
This lines up with what Bojidar Marinov was saying about incremental victories. A step in the right direction, even though imperfect, is better than taking no steps at all. If we wait for the "prefect" theonomist to come on the scene we will miss the opportunity.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Isaac, I've already addressed Bojidar's arguments in a previous post. The incremental approach that is antinomian doesn't work--disobedience to God never does.

gcdugas said...

I predict that Mr. Halbrook will have a different opinion as he ages. Even an opinion that he would presently denounce as "pragmatic" "syncretistic", "unprincipled" and "dissonant". I believe that we need not affirm every jot and tiddle of a candidate before we support them. We live in occupied territory. We are like the French underground. Sometimes members of the underground hold actual positions in the Nazi regime and subvert, pass on info about supply trains, troop movements, obtain travel papers for fleeing dissidents and do many other good things. They do however feign obeisance and say "Heil Hitler".

If Rahab, the Magi, or the Hebrew midwives applied "Thou shalt not bear false witness" in the manner Mr. Halbrook applies his principles they would have never received divine approbation in the scriptures. When the knock on the door comes asking "Are there any Jews here?" we must be prepared to answer "No" with a poker face that would convince the most scrutinizing opponent because our life and that of many others depends on it.

I would be interested in what Mr. Halbrook thinks about evasion, subversion and actual life circumstances like: "Are there any homeschoolers here?" "Did your children get all the required vaccines?" "Did you fill out your taxes exactly right under the penalty of perjury?" "Do you spank your kids?"

It is one thing to approve the concept of overt conquest by proclamation of the gospel and it is another to live it out in an occupied land. Like the French underground, sometimes progress requires getting a little messy.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

" I believe that we need not affirm every jot and tiddle of a candidate before we support them."

Neither do I, nor have I ever. But a candidate does need to be qualified. As I demonstrated, perfection and qualification are two different categories entirely.

As for the Hebrew midwives, I have no problem with them not telling the truth, for in that case not telling the truth was not a violation of God's law. This is because the Bible praises them for their actions. But only God can make qualifications to his law, not us. Once we think we can do what is right in our own eyes, we are antinomians and at risk of God's judgment.

Michael said...

I love how you have found these citations for Rushdoony's view of libertarianism in the political sphere; I think they're apt and relevant. Thank you for putting them all into one convenient post.

Austrian_guru said...

"homosexual freedom has become basic to all too many libertarians." ~ This has more to do with libertarianism on a non-Christian worldview as opposed to libertarianism on a Christian worldview. Libertarianism is not a worldview, but an ideology. It does not advocate all that is immoral, it only demarcates immorality from crime.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

You must presuppose a worldview to decide *which* immoral matters are demarcated from crime, as well as to even decide that certain moral matters *ought* to be demarcated from crime in the first place. All of our decisions are based on a worldview, as all of our decisions have ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical assumptions.

Hence the word "world" in worldview - a worldview relates to all of life.

The definition of ideology sound very worldview-related to me:

1. the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.
such a body of doctrine, myth, etc., with reference to some political and social plan, as that of fascism, along with the devices for putting it into operation.

Rev. Dr. Paul Michael Raymond said...


Great piece along with some great arguments and counter-arguments to those who fail to see your concern and misunderstand your points. As one who knows you, I can attest that you will "never" become pragmatic. Only a pragmatist would say that pragmatism comes with age. Yet, it can never come with maturity. What must be understood is that with "Christian Maturity" a man becomes "less" pragmatic because he becomes more knowledgeable of God, His Sovereignty, and His Holy decree. Furthermore, the more a man grows in Grace he fears men less and less and God more and more sacrificing himself for the Kingdom's advance.His faith becomes keener and more crystallized and in that maturity he is unstoppable.Time is on his side. God will prevail.

Deo Vindice!!!

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Dr. Raymond,
Thanks so much for your encouraging insights - Soli Deo Gloria! Christ indeed reigns, and He does so without the need for pragmatic compromises on our part ...