R. J. Rushdoony’s book Sovereignty is a major work that addresses the theology proper enunciated by the title, the sovereignty of God. The work comprises 80 chapters, so rather than trying to do a short review of the book, which wouldn’t do it justice at all, in future blog articles I will time and again address independent chapters within the book. Each chapter, for the most part, can stand alone for extensive study. For this blog article, I will tackle Chapter 11 of Sovereignty, titled “The Source of Law”. If God is sovereign, and He is, then He is sovereign over every area of our lives for which He has given us His law.
I’ve stated on this blog before that we live in a politicized world today. One only has to observe the reaction to the overturning of Roe V. Wade to confront the politicization of the culture. Although recently coming to its apex, the roots of progressivism and radical liberalism reach back to Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson, all of whom believed in taking the country in a different direction than the founders established. With the rise of progressivism and radical liberalism, we see the growth of centralized government, the bureaucratization of government, and the idea that government institutions should be run by experts who know what is good for the people. As such, the idea of the consent of the governed is jettisoned along with the separation of powers. The basic principles of government as seen in the founders is antithetical to those embraced by the progressives and the later radical liberals. Particularly at stake for the progressives was their stance against Christianity and the idea of eternal verities.
R. J. Rushdoony looks at the rise of the State as an attack on the sovereignty of God and he poses the question in chapter 11 of his book, what is the source of law? If the source of law is not founded on the truths of God, then we are left open to the historical relativism of the progressives, proffered in the name of reason. Rushdoony traces the development of these Enlightenment ideas that eventually spawned the progressive era in America.
Enlightenment & Scientism
With the Enlightenment, scientism began to govern men’s minds and reorder society (Rushdoony, p. 65). What does this mean in terms of the question, what is the source of law? First, one of the basic premises of the Enlightenment entailed the faith that Reason inheres all the natural universe. Hence, according to Enlightenment thinkers, the laws of reason could be applied to the goal of an orderly society. In the 18th century, mathematics became viewed as the triumphant science. The ideology then was that society could be viewed analogous to physics so that the axioms of Euclidian geometry could be applied to the affairs of government with mathematical precision. Thus according to Enlightenment thinkers, social problems were facing the dawn of a new era that would bring about their resolution. According to Geoffrey Bruun (1929), this ideology represented a confusion between scientific and juristic law.
Consequences for the Social Sciences
If society was to take on the laws of physics for its study and understanding, a rational Newtonian order was seen to imbue all being. (Interestingly, Woodrow Wilson in his ideology of progressivism would abandon Newton for Darwin). The first consequence of this rationalistic worldview was that philosophy divided into rational and empiricist camps. However, both camps, according to Rushdoony, stood on a Cartesian premise that man’s self-consciousness became the ultimate point of reference. The second consequence came with the Enlightenment view of anthropology. Human beings are reduced to being no different than the impersonal movements of atoms. As such they need ordering by those who are scientific experts. Human beings were no longer to be viewed as bearers of God’s image, but imbued with the laws of human nature. This especially became pronounced after Hegel and Darwin. As I stated above, the progressives after Woodrow Wilson would view government in Darwinian terms, in terms of historical relativity rather than foundational principles set by the framers of the Constitution. Cornelius Van Til, Christian theologian and apologist, see the root of the dehumanization of man in these Enlightenment premises (Van Til, 1935). The third consequence of scientism for social human beings is that Christianity and the church become irrational, i.e. they have no place in society. We see the full fruit of this thinking in today’s politics where First Amendment rights of freedom of religion are under attack. Nature has replaced God. The basic necessity is adaptation to the environment (Rushdoony quoting Quain Professor of Comparative Law, p. 67).
The Source of Law
Rushdoony states: Where man and nature become the source of law . . . instead of obeying God’s law, seeing the law as above and over us, law becomes something we express and determine in terms of adaptation to our natural being. This then is alone true law. Christianity and the Bible become then alien to the true and natural order (p. 67). We see today that humanistic ideology can attack the church, seeking to prevent Christians and the church from becoming politically involved. When Christians voice their views against abortion, they are charged with the violation of the separation of church and state (Rushdoony, p. 68-69). Rushdoony concludes: If man and the state are the source of law, it then follows logically that no law from God has any standing in society and will be seen as alien to “liberty”. . . the source of law in any society is the god of that social order. The new god is the state, the modern Molech, and he demands human sacrifices. (p. 69). The question that will be catapulted toward the church is, if Christians believe God is the source of law, then what does that mean for the individual rights of non-Christians? That question is packed with several layers of premises, but it is an important question with which Christians should deal. Rushdoony has said many times, regeneration, not revolution and violence, is the path forward to an awakened society.
Both believer and unbeliever must wrestle with the question of what is the source of law. Rushdoony in this chapter does not mention the rise of progressivism under Woodrow Wilson, then FDR, and finally Lyndon Johnson. Post 1965 witnessed a rejection of some of the progressive principles, bringing forth what has been called a radical liberalism, embracing multiculturalism, the sexual revolution, and the challenge to the structure of the family (Hillsdale College, Constitution 201, The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and The Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism). Wilson ushered in the bureaucratic state, which is alive and thriving today. Its existence undermined the founders idea of separation of powers and consent of the governed. The bureaucratic state, operated by experts who have not been elected know what is better for society and its people. Thus the source of law is the humanistic ideology of man, thrust upon people by the state. This is a battle that Christians must fight, but fight in a way that is Biblical and spiritual, not merely, and for sure not solely, political. God’s sovereignty calls on us to exercise the dominion mandate, taking captive every sphere of life to the reign of Jesus, the Christ. The dominion mandate, spiritually and prayerfully considered, is our path toward a Christian awakening in this country.
Bruun, G. (1929). The Enlightenment Despot. New York: Henry Holt.
Rushdoony, R. J. (2007). Sovereignty. [Chapter 11, “The Source of Law”, pp. 65-69]. Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books.
Van Til, C. (1935). Psychology of Religion. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Theological Seminary.
Hillsdale College Online Courses. Constitution 201: The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and The Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism. Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale.edu.
John V. Jones, Jr, Ph.D/April 14, 2023