by Gary North
Subtitled, "Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy," this is a history of Western social philosophy, written in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity. It should be regarded as a companion volume to Rushdoony's study of the Implications of the Trinitarian creeds, Foundations of Social Order (1968), which is reviewed in Preface 1.
Rushdoony has taken one of the major themes in the writings of the Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til, and he has developed it in areas that Van Til never explored. Van Til's defense of Trinitarianism relies heavily on his insight that all of existence is simultaneously unified and diverse. The familiar final examination question in history courses, "compare and contrast...", reflects the Trinitarian nature of the creation. Things are linked together, yet somehow different. There is unity, yet there is also diversity.
Western philosophy has struggled from the beginning with the problem of unity and diversity (Chapter I). Greek philosophy failed in Its attempt to explain the relationship between the one and the many. The Greeks attempted to explain the two by means of a dualism — a permanent dialectical tension — between form (Idea) and matter. To explain existence either in terms of the static One (Parmenides) or the chaotic Many (Heraclitus) is to fall to understand reality. But later Greek philosophers could not explain how the two are related. Either static, monistic, undifferentiated order swallows up the particulars of life, or else chaotic, formless, atomistic, and equally undifferentiated change swallows up order.
Medieval philosophy also failed to reconcile this dualism. The basic dualism between form and matter was preserved. In medieval philosophy, defenders of philosophical realism proclaimed that all things are essentially one, while defenders of philosophical nominalism proclaimed that all things are essentially many.
In contrast to both Greek thought and medieval thought, Trinitarianism does not hypothesize an eternal and ultimate dialectical tension between unity and diversity, but instead argues that reality always partakes of both the one and the many. God is both one and many. He is three Persons, yet one Being. His creation reflects His being.
Rushdoony begins with this concept of God and demonstrates through a study of the history of pagan philosophy, especially ancient pagan political philosophy, that apart from the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the Creator-creature distinction, political philosophy invariably winds up in one of two positions: total statism (the One) or total anarchism (the Many). Some humanists attempt to locate a middle ground, namely, dialectical tension, but they are unable to establish theoretical limits on the State's legitimate authority. as Rushdoony remarks, "eclectic systems, which lack systematic consistency and organization, are doomed" (p. 7).
The question which haunts the dialectical culture is this: how to have unity without totally undifferentiated and meaningless oneness? If all things are basically one, the differences are meaningless, divisions false, and definitions are sophistications, in that the tyranny, or destiny, of oneness is the truth of all being But, if all things are basically many, and if plurality is ultimate, then the world dissolves into unrelated particulars and becomes, as some thinkers insist, not a universe but a multiverse. and every atom is in a sense its own law and being The first leads to the breakdown of differences and the liberty of atomistic individualism and particularity; the second is the breakdown of fundamental law into nihilism and the retreat of men and their arts into isolated and private universes (p. 22).
Pagan political philosophy therefore creates an "either/or" dilemma for man: totalitarianism or radical individualism.
Authority and Community
Humanistic thought produces inescapable contradictions (antinomies), and one of these is the problem of authority. The question is: Who is sovereign, man or God? This is mankind's most fundamental ethical question. It affects all of human thought and culture. This is the problem of authority. Rushdoony writes:
This is at the heart of the problem of the proper function of government, the power to tax, to conscript, to execute for crimes, and to wage warfare. The question of authority is again basic to education, to religion, and to the family. Where does authority rest, in democracy or in an elite, in the church or in some secular institution, in God or in reason? ... Failure to recognize the fact that all routes to God are not equally valid or relevant to the maintenance of historic Western culture, especially in the United States, has extensively clouded the possibility of an intelligible answer. The plea that this is a pluralistic culture is merely recognition of the problem — not an answer (p. 1).
How can men live in a community if society is either atomistic or totalitarian? The breakdown of community in the West, Rushdoony argues, is a product of the loss of faith in Christianity, first and foremost, but also the result of skepticism concerning any universally agreed-upon replacement faith.
In Foundations of Social Order, he argues that the essence of all heresies is the heresy of subordinationism. By placing Jesus Christ below God in terms of His being, power, and knowledge, heretics seek to elevate man, either by making God unknowable to man (no revealed law or ethics from a God-man) or by offering the possibility of the evolution of man into a god — metaphysical unity with God. But subordinationism has political implications, as Rushdoony points to throughout The One and the Many:
In orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, the problem of the one and the many is resolved. Unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead. The temporal unity and plurality is on a basis of equal validity. There is thus no basic conflict between the individual and the community. The individual lives in community, and the community flourishes as the individual finds himself and grows in terms of consistently Christian faith. Instead of a basic philosophical hostility between individual and government, believer and church, person and family, there is a necessary co-existence. Neither the one nor the many is reducible to the other. They cannot seek obliteration of the other, for it involves self-obliteration. The Augustinian and Calvinistic faith, by its hostility to subordinationism, holds, if developed, the possibilities of true social order, and, to the extent that Augustinianism and Calvinism have been followed, Western culture has developed both freedom and order (p. 16).
Van Til's Philosophy
The reader would be wise to begin reading the book by turning to Chapter XIV, "The Christian Perspective." Rushdoony contrasts modern liberal theology with the Reformed Protestant theology of Cornelius Van Til. This 13-page chapter is probably the best brief introduction to Van Til that is available.
"The fundamental principle of modernism has been to express the spirit of the age and to adapt Christianity to it. A changing theology has been accepted because of a basic belief in an evolving truth" (p. 350). In contrast to this process theology stand the writings of Van Til.
Rushdoony summarizes Van Til's thought in eight propositions: 1) "the sovereignty of the triune God and His ultimate decree are presupposed rather than the autonomy of man and man's mind"; 2)"Van Til's premise is the God of Scripture because Van Til accepts the Bible as the infallible word of God.. .. The word of God must therefore be our appeal and authority"; 3) "in terms of the doctrine of the sovereign, uncreated God and His infallible word. Van Til affirms the doctrine of creation. Instead of one great chain of being, there is rather the un created being of God on the one hand, and created being on the other. The doctrine of creation means that God as the creator of all things is therefore of necessity the only true principle of interpretation for all things"; 4) "the doctrine of the trinity is fundamental to orthodox Christianity and to Van Til's philosophy.... God is thus ultimate, and the three persons of the Godhead have equal ultimacy."
With these operating premises, Van Til then deals with the ideas that are the heart of this study: 5) "it follows that, because all ultimacy is ascribed to God by the doctrine of creation, and equal ultimacy to the triune Godhead, the answer to the problem of the one and the many is to be found in God.... Because of the fact of creation, the temporal one and many are not essentially alien things. In non-Christian thought, the one and the many are alien and are held in dialectical tension lest the one reduce the other to nothing and itself to meaninglessness"; 6) "there is no tension between the temporal one and many because they are alike under God, and because of the equal ultimacy of the eternal one and many in the triune God. The plurality and the unity of the Godhead are both equally ultimate"; 7) "this means that the created one and many as God's creation is entirely and absolutely under God and His law"; 8) "because the world is totally under God and is absolutely determined by Him, It is therefore a world with purpose and meaning. History is rescued from meaninglessness.... It has purpose, meaning and direction, because God created It in terms of His ultimate decree and purpose."
Van Til is a theologian, not a social philosopher. Rushdoony has taken Van Til's insights and has applied them to the history of political philosophy. "Society does not speak of the matter of the one and the many; most people are ignorant of the problem, even though it is basic to all life and thought. Because of man's failure to solve the problem, society is caught in the continuing tensions of alternating anarchy and totalitarianism, between anarchic individualism and anarchic collectivism" (pp. 362-63). Chapters I and II briefly survey historical evidence of the inability of humanist social theory to resolve the problems associated with the one and the many.
Political PhilosophyIn chapter III, "The Continuity of Being," Rushdoony discusses the theology-cosmology of ancient paganism. He describes this philosophy as "being in process." It can take on a static form, as it did in Egypt. In Egypt, a divine-human link in the person of the pharaoh was believed to provide order in the otherwise chaotic cosmos. The static order of Egypt was preserved by the power of the pharaoh, for he also brought forth life and change, but under controlled conditions. In Mesopotamia, the divine-human link battled endless process. But in both systems, god and man are essentially participants in unified being. "Both gods and men developed or evolved, and in a very real sense, battled their way out of the original chaos of being" (p. 37).
There is dialectical tension here: between chaos and life, for chaos is both the source of life and the enemy of life. "Life requires order, and order means death, the triumph of chaos" (p. 37). In the ideal civilization, chaos and order balance. It is the task of the divine-human link, through the State, to seek and produce this Ideal order. Such a State would become "the center of the earth." Rushdoony uses this interpretative framework to explain the Tower of Babel :
True social order requires peace and communication with both chaos and deity, and society either moves downward into chaos or forward into deity. The significance of the Tower of Babel is thus apparent: it denied the discontinuity of God's being and asserted man's claim to a continuity of being with God and heaven. The Tower was the gate to God and the gate of God, signifying that man's social order made possible an ascent of being into the divine order. The Egyptian pyramid set forth the same faith (p. 40).
In Egypt, which believed that the static order had to be preserved, "the state was not one institution among many but rather the essence of divine order for life and the means of communication between heaven, earth, and hell. Life therefore was totally and inescapably statist" (p. 44). In Mesopotamia, which was not so confident about the arrival of the static order, anarchy threatened. Chaos was man's great enemy. "Man's life was comprehended and made comprehensible not through religion but through the state, for religion was in essence political theory. The state rather than God is thus the basic environment of man, and the ruler is beyond appeal in his authority, for there is no order which transcends the state" (p. 46).
A very similar view of man undergirds modern humanism, Rushdoony argues. Of course, there are no gods above mankind for the humanist. But the problems are much the same. Men seek the unity of man, for man is the essence of the godhead. Man is the high point of being, and he must be an undivided being, "and no law can be imposed upon it save its own will, as manifested in an elite or in a consensus" (p. 58).
Chapter IV, "The Unity of the Polis," and Chapter V, "Rome: The City of Man," demonstrate that the philosophy of classical civilization did not overcome the dialectical tension of order and chaos, and that classical culture collapsed as a result of its inability to solve this tension. In Greece, the city-states could not unify, and therefore fell to conquerors. In Rome, the massive State grew stagnant, and men sought life and meaning in chaos festivals and immorality: regeneration through chaos. In both cases, the political order was to serve as the savior of mankind. In both cases, it failed.
Rushdoony argues, in effect, that the most enduring of all Greek myths is Greece .
The majority of scholars turn to Greek culture, not for its own sake, but to find a heritage and a homeland to buttress their anti-Christianity. Thus, Greek scholarship is more often autobiography than history. Hence the inappropriate emphasis of many, and here we can exempt [Werner] Jaeger, on Greek rationality, happiness, individualism, secularism, and democracy. In attempting to read their modern understanding of these terms into classical Greece, or derive them from that culture, they are clearly guilty of wishful thinking. Greek culture was clearly and emphatically religious; its center of orientation was not the individual and his fulfillment but rather the city-state and its destiny ... (p. 63).
The Greeks and the Romans both accepted the idea of the continuity of being, and therefore both societies suffered from the dialectical tension of permanence and change, the chaos-order dialectic. Both Plato and Aristotle set forth the Ideal of a State directed by elites; both used esoteric, hidden teaching to educate their followers, the hoped-for elite who would rule. "Since being was seen as continuous, an elite could embody divinity or wisdom.... The United Nations today is the heir of this ancient city-state elitist concept" (pp. 72-73). "The city-state was an esoteric, mystical, and divine body with a kind of androgynous wholeness, and the religion of the city-state was basically a fertility cult. Justice was defined as the law of the city.... There was thus no element of transcendence: no justice existed beyond the city-state because it was an entity with wholeness" (p. 71).
"Discussions of Plato usually concentrate on the Platonic doctrine of Ideas or forms, and the result is a serious distortion," Rushdoony writes, "because, central to Plato, is not the doctrine of ideas but his concept of the city-state, of which the ideas are simply a central aspect.... The cosmos is a community of gods and men, and the city-state is such a cosmos....
The Guardians or elite of the state represent 'God-like wisdom,' and they must be obeyed. Citizens must be educated into accepting this wisdom of the elite as their own mind in order to obey voluntarily, but, if not, it must be imposed from without" (p. 79). The guardians can use lies to mold other men's thinking. "For Plato, ethics and politics were essentially the same ..." (p 82).
Rushdoony's insight into the popularity of Plato among academicians is illuminating: "It is the dictatorship by the intellectuals which is both the goal and product of The Republic and its greatest appeal to the modern academician. The realization of the idea of justice, then, and the realization of every idea, means the triumph of the central idea, guardianship as the principle of order and oneness" (p. 81).
Aristotle was equally a teacher of secret doctrines, and was equally devoted to the Greek polis as the source of meaning to man. He was not a communist, as Plato had been, because he was a pragmatist. Like Plato, he was opposed to free trade, he favored abortion, and he allowed no appeal to a divine order above the city-state. "For the Greeks, the state was the highest order of being and man's truest life" (p. 88). The same can be said of the Romans, and Rushdoony says it in Chapter V, " Rome : The City of Man."
The Trinitarian Solution
In Chapter VI, "The World De-Divinized, "Rushdoony summarizes the Christian alternative to pagan dualism. Christianity proclaimed the equal ultimacy of the one and the many, of order and change, of law and freedom. The opening paragraph of Chapter VI is the heart of this book; indeed, it is probably the most concise statement of the underlying philosophy of all of Rushdoony's books:
The essence of the ancient city-state, polis, and empire was that it constituted the continuous unity of the gods and men, of the divine and the human, and the unity of all being. There was no possible independence in a society for any constituent aspect. Every aspect of society was a part of the all-absorbing one. Against this, Christianity asserted the absolute division of the human and the divine. Even in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the human and the divine were in union without confusion, as Chalcedon so powerfully defined it. Thus, divinity was withdrawn from human society and returned to the heavens and to God. No human order or institution could claim divinity and therefore claim to represent total and final order. By de-divinizing the world, Christianity placed all created orders, including church and state, alike under God. By denying divinity to all, and by reserving divinity to the triune God, all created orders were freed from one another and made independent of each other and together interdependent in their dependence on God. Church and state were alike required to be Christian, but neither was able to be total Christian order (p. 124)
Because of their commitment to the Bible as the governing standard for human ethics, and because they did not ascribe divinity to anyone but Christ, the early Christians took stands against several heresies, including mysticism, Gnosticism (both dualistic and monistic, secret initiations, secret wisdom), abortion, and emperor worship. Their view of the family inevitably brought them into conflict with the Roman authorities:
The Christian family in the Roman Empire was clearly an alien institution. Living within a totalitarian, unitary state, it moved in terms of a law which had no standing in Rome, God's law as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. Rome recognized various national traditions and legalized them as subordinate aspects of imperial law. Christian family life, however respectful of Roman law, moved clearly in terms of a law claiming priority to Rome and, indeed, granting tolerance by way of commanding obedience to it (Rom. 13).Christians could defend their position as an obedient, law abiding people, but their defense was obviously offensive. Rome claimed the right to establish the gods and religions, but the Christians obeyed because they declared their God had established Rome and commanded obedience to civil authorities. A more direct assault on the fundamental principle of Roman law is hard to imagine. Whether the God of the Christians commanded obedience or rebellion, the principle of the priority of His law, and His right to ordain and to recognize, was clearly treasonable ... (p. 134).
The second half of this chapter is essentially a summary of Foundations of Social Order, a survey of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity by the major early church councils. Jesus Christ is both divine and human, the link between God and man. He possesses two natures, in union but without intermixture, but was one person. Men are to imitate Christ's perfect humanity, but they are not to attempt to become divine. The Creator-creature distinction was fundamental to the orthodox creeds.
Augustine's intellectual battle against Pelagius in the early filth century was of monumental importance for Western thought and culture. Augustine rejected Pelagius' concept of free will, as well as his denial of original sin. Pelagius' rejection of God's predestination was an affirmation of chance (p. 174). Augustine's system was an affirmation of predestinated linear history:
... history is important precisely because it is determined by the omnipotent and sovereign God and is an area of valid secondary causes rather than fortuitous events. Because the universe and history are created by the triune, absolutely self-conscious and self-sufficient God, It is totally predestined and governed by Him, since nothing can be unknown to Him or exist apart from His decree. Hence, the world of time and space cannot be an atomistic and meaningless world of independent particularity. Neither can it be a world with its own independent universals and plans, because it was created in total accord with and in terms of the plan or the universal of God. The one and the many, the universals and the particulars, cannot exist in history in independence of God or in independence of one another. They are interdependent upon one another since they are from a common and equally ultimate creative act, and hence they are both derivative from His decree. In God, the One and the Many are equally and absolutely ultimate. History, therefore, is completely meaningful (pp. 183-84).
Aquinas' Compromise: Nature and Grace in Chapter VII, "The Return of Dialectic Thought," Rushdoony follows Van Til's lead and argues that the medieval scholastic theologians and philosophers brought Greek dualistic thought into Christianity when they adopted Aristotle's concepts The Greek "form-matter" dualism became the "nature-grace" dualism of the scholastics. (He does not discuss medieval Platonic and neo-Platonic thought.)
Scholasticism was academically oriented rather than practical (p. 187). Many of its key figures were young men when they made their major contributions, in their early twenties. Aquinas was the greatest of them. Like Augustine, he was a predestinarian. But he compromised his position by bringing in a Greek concept of the scale of being a universal being that linked God and man metaphysically. He undercut the fundamental Christian belief in the Creator-creature distinction.
Man was described as a being possessing independent reason. Man reasons upward toward faith. His reason, as it deals with the creation, is not tainted by original sin. Evil becomes a "lack of being," not an ethical condition which distorts every aspect of man's being. All being is seen as good, and "evil is basically accidental and passive, a by-product of good" (p. 191). Therefore, "The differences between men morally have no epistemological (knowledge) significance for Aquinas; his concept of the intellect was one which ascribed neutrality to It. In this respect, he was clearly a partisan of the Arabic and Jewish Enlightenment of that era. He saw the intellect as a passive power. Aquinas followed Aristotle in holding that the intellect 'is like a tablet on which nothing is written'" (p. 192).
In such a view, man's problem is seen as metaphysical rather than ethical. Man's problem is either finitude (lack of being) or lack of knowledge. "Rationality is assumed to be neutral, and sin is stupidity or uninformed reasoning" (p. 193). In contrast, biblical faith teaches that knowledge and ethics are intimately finked. Men are either covenant-breakers or covenant-keepers. Apostate man suppresses true knowledge (Rom. 1:18 ). He asserts his own sovereignty. Rather than being passive to nature, man's mind is active toward nature, epistemologically, morally, and psychologically. Moral responsibility is accented by such a philosophy.
Rushdoony agrees with Van Til, that Aquinas' commitment to an apostate dualism between reason and neutrality on the one hand, and faith on the other, is essentially the same view held by modern fundamentalists. (For example, both Aquinas and the fundamentalists have elevated natural law over biblical law.) Dualism has led to the loss of freedom. "Augustinianism placed the church and stale alike under the sovereignty of God. Aquinas, by holding to the perfection of nature by grace, made the church the perfection of the state and the superior authority. The state had an autonomy in the natural sphere, but at every point this natural sphere pointed to and was perfected in the sphere of grace.... By reviving this Aristotelian concept, Aquinas did two things. First, he made the Church the true slate of man in the ultimate sense, as a perfection of nature. Second, he gave to the state a freedom from the Christian doctrine of the state and a rationale for Its revived assertion that man's true life and community are attainable in the state alone. His Aristotelianism destroyed medieval Augustinianism and furthered two counter-claims to total power, the state and the church each claiming to be the true order of reason and of man's perfection" (pp. 199-200). The struggle between Pope Innocent III and Frederick II of Sicily in the 13th century (Chapter VIII) is one example of this struggle between a total church and a total state.
Later, this dialectical tension in philosophy was resolved in two ways: some philosophers attempted to shave away "the superfluous world of grace and to leave nature a world of anarchic plurality, whereas others so infused the world of nature with the divine being that a virtual pantheism was created. The result was a cultural collapse" (p. 200).
The Revival of Pagan Thought
Two Renaissance humanists, Castiglione and Machiavelli, promoted the « power State as the earthly unity. This outlook was basic to Renaissance thought (Chapter IX). In contrast, the Reformation briefly revived the old Augustinian tradition (Chapter X). Unfortunately, Rushdoony does not develop the theme of the one and the many in the chapter on the Reformation, nor does he discuss Luther's natural law dualism between individual Christian ethics and the autonomy of State authority. Calvin's view of civil law is also not discussed. This is the oddest aspect of The One and the Many.
He discusses in detail the debate between Luther and Calvin over the nature of the sacraments — an Important theological debate, which he needed to relate more clearly to their two respective social theories and the ecclesiastical and social results of this division. He does show that Luther's monumental refutation of Erasmus, The Bondage of the Will, was as forth- rightly predestinarian as Calvin's Institutes. What is needed is a careful discussion of the similarities and differences in their social philosophies that resulted from their theological similarities and differences.
The Chapter XI on utopianism (More, Bacon, Campanella) and Chapter XII on early modern rationalism (Descartes, Berkeley, Locke, Pope, Hume, Rousseau, and Kant) demonstrate the parallel rise of humanism and statism. The chapter on modern thought (XIII), "War Against the Beyond," surveys Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Marcuse. The relationship between their humanism and their statism is not always dealt with, most notably in the case of Sartre, who was simultaneously a communist and also an individualistic existentialist. These final chapters are more technical philosophically than the first half of the book, and they devote almost no space to an explicit discussion of the one and the many problem as it applies to social theory. They are nevertheless quite useful summaries of the development of humanism. They just belong in a different book.
The Book's Chief Defect
The second half of this book, Chapters VII to XIII, are disappointing, at least in comparison with the stunning insights of the first half. The sharp focus of the first half, the brilliant summaries of the political philosophies of entire societies, and the clarity of expression, are far fewer in the second half. Part of the problem may be the complexity of the material. Rushdoony provides seemingly endless citations, and partial citations, of complex, rigorous philosophical arguments, especially in Chapter VII, "The Return of Dialectical Thought," on St. Thomas Aquinas, and Chapter XIII, "War Against the Beyond," which deals with modern philosophers. Another factor in the lack of focus is that Rushdoony neglects to relate the complex ideas he surveys in the second half to the major themes of the first half of the book, most notably political philosophy as it relates to the problem of the one and the many. Other themes are covered in greater detail, such as the problem of meaning, the definition of "being," the problem of subject and object, and epistemology. This lack of focus is especially true of Chapters XII and XIII, which cover philosophy since Descartes.
Rushdoony writes very condensed essays. Sometimes, he overdoes it. The original manuscript of The One and the Many was at least twice as long. He cut out extensive portions of it and threw the deleted sections away (according to what he told Jim Jordan). This book should be twice as long or more. His summaries of the philosophers he covers in the second half are far too short. Complex arguments do not receive the attention they need. Readers are not provided with sufficient transitional sentences and summaries. The arguments of both Rushdoony and the philosophers he covers fail to "stick in the mind" the way themes in the first half do. He should have published a larger book, or else waited and published the second half later on. The second half just doesn't compare to the monumental nature of the first half.
Christians who want to understand the conflict between pagan thought and Christianity need to read this book. The anti- statist nature of Christian orthodoxy becomes apparent in these pages, especially in his discussions of pre-Reformation thought. It is an Important text for any consideration of the myth of neutrality and the supposed autonomy of human thought.
The message of this book is obvious: Christians must abandon all forms of dialectical thought. They must take dominion over the earth in terms of the Christian view of the one and the many. They must recognize dialectical thinking and abandon it, substituting biblical categories of thought and law for humanistic perspectives. In short, they must think differently than the humanists do. This will become one foundation of the victory over humanism, in time and on earth. "Apostate man will become progressively more dialectical in his thinking and more and more given to the absolutizing of the relative, and the deification of his autonomy and his theoretical thought. Redeemed man, as God's vice-gerent living in terms of 'the glorious liberty of the children of God' (Rom. 8:21 ),will progressively develop the Implications of his image in terms of the mandate to know and use creation in terms of the word of God" (p. 34).
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1. Published originally in 1971. Reprinted in 1978. Publisher: Thoburn Press, P. O. Box 6941, Tyler, Texas 75711 ; 389 pp., soft