Theocratic Libertarianism: Quotes from Gary North, Ludwig von Mises Institute Scholar
Rachel Tabachnick printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jan 06, 2012 at 02:02:15 PM EST
Gary North, son-in-law of the late Rousas Rushdoony, is one of the most prolific Christian Reconstructionist writers.  He is also an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute (the U.S. center for Austrian economics), recipient of the its 2004 Rothbard Medal, and contributor of hundreds of articles for LewRockwell.com, the newsletter of the institute's founder and chairman. Link to my previous article on this topic, Waiting for the Day When We Can Say We're All Austrians: Ron Paul's Brand of Libertarianism.

North's writing explains the theocratic libertarianism of Christian Reconstructionism, a Dominionist movement which would dramatically reduce the federal government and control society through enforcement of biblical law at the local and state levels. Theocratic libertarianism has become a foundational philosophy for some of the Religious Right, but it is also surprisingly seductive to Tea Partiers and young people, some of whom may not fully understand what is supposed to happen after the federal government is stripped of its regulatory powers.

Following are quotes by Gary North in from the 1980s when he was part of a core group of Christian Reconstructionists in Tyler, Texas building the movement.  North stated in the introduction to his 1989 book Myth of Pluralism,  
"I am trying to lay the biblical foundations of an alternative society to humanism's present social order."

Christian Reconstructionism is often described as the movement that wants to execute adulterers, blasphemers, and homosexuals, by stoning.  Since this is not likely to happen any time soon, the movement is often dismissed as fringe and inconsequential.  The preoccupation with the stoning aspect has obscured the fact that many other foundational components of the movement have been mainstreamed in the Religious Right since the time when Gary North wrote the following words.  As you read the following quotes, consider how much of North's philosophy is now commonplace, not only in the Christian Right but also in this year's political campaigns.

One of the most revealing of Gary North's writings is in the first volume of the journal Christianity and Civilization, published by the Geneva Divinity School in Spring, 1982.  The entire issue was dedicated to "The Symposium on the Failure of American Baptist Culture."  According to editor James B. Jordan,

"The New Christian Right has indicated time and time again, that it does not know what it is doing, and its program is riddled with contradictions."
The Calvinist contributors to the journal were coming to the rescue to help the New Christian Right find "sure footing" and  argued that the movement would have to abandon its "Baptist individualism" and adopt the Christian Reconstructionist's brand of "full-orbed Biblical and Reformed Theology" in order to survive.  Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist Baptist, and Paul Weyrich had founded the Moral Majority three years prior, in 1979.

The following quotes are from North's article titled "The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right."  North begins by describing the 1980 Religious Roundtable-sponsored event in Washington, D.C., which drew 15,000 people.[Correction: The Religious Round Table office was in D.C. The rally was in Dallas, Texas.] The "National Affairs Briefing Conference" featured New Christian Right leaders and was keynoted by Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan.  North describes it as "watershed moment for American fundamentalism."

"The rally was a political rally; more precisely, it was a rally for politics as such, and for Christian involvement in politics. It was a break from almost six decades of political inaction on the part of American fundamentalist religious leaders.
[p. 2]
North continues,
"Bible principles" is a euphemism for Old Testament law. The leaders of the fundamentalist movement are generally premillennial dispensationalists.  Some are believers in a pretribulation "rapture," meaning that Christians will be secretly "called into the heavens" before the great tribulation of the nation of Israel.  Others, a growing minority, are post-tribulationists, who think that Christians will go through the tribulation period before Christ comes to transform Christian believers into sinless, death-free people who will rule the world under Christ's personal administration for a thousand years. All premillennialists believe that the world will become worse before Christ returns in person to set up his thousand-year reign, so that they have tended in the past to take a dim view of those who preached the moral necessity of social and political action.  The campaign of 1980 changed this outlook.  Now they are talking about restoring morality to politics by imposing "Bible principles" on the nation.  Not Old Testament law exactly, yet "principles" based on Old Testament law. [p. 8]
North explains that the majority of American fundamentalists rejected Old Testament Law as valid because of their Dispensational theology and shunned political participation.  He also explains how this began to change after the election of President Jimmy Carter, when the Christian Right was "stung" by the "self-proclaimed born again" Baptist who North described as "handpicked by David Rockefeller and the Trilateral Commission."

North credits Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, as laying the foundation for political activism by the New Christian Right.

It was only with the publications written by R.J. Rushdoony, beginning in the early 1960's, that any theologian began to make a serious, systematic, exegetical attempt to link the Bible to principles of limited civil government and free-market economics. [p. 11]

North then describes a "black-out" of Rushdoony's work during the 60s and 70s, when he was not able to get his books reviewed in the Westminster Theological Journal with the exception of his Institutes of Biblical Law.
Thus, the fundamentalists have had no intellectual leadership throughout the twentieth century.  Only with the revival of interest in creationism, which was made possible by Rushdoony's support and Presbyterian and Reformed initial investment for The Genesis Flood, did the fundamentalist movement begin to get involved in arguments outside theology narrowly defined. [p. 11]

The 1960 book referred to by North, The Genesis Flood, was authored by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb, and is credited as triggering the modern revival of creationism.

North continues,

In the speakers' room at the National Affairs Briefing Conference, I spoke with Robert Billings, who had worked with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority organization.  (He was subsequently appointed to a high position in the Department of Education.)  We were speaking of the conference, and what a remarkable event it was.  We agreed that it was unfortunate that Rushdoony was not speaking.  He said, If it weren't for his books, none of us would be here."  I replied, "Nobody in the audience understands that."  His response: "True, but we do." [p. 12]
The fundamentalist have picked up the phrase "secular humanism."  They do not know where they found it.  It comes from Rushdoony's writings throughout the 1960s.  Rushdoony influenced lawyer John Whitehead, who helped popularize it in a new widely quoted article by Whitehead and former Congressman John Conlan.  [p. 14]
Under the heading "State-Financed Education," North writes,
Fundamentalists are still trying to win their battle for the public schools.  Not all of them, perhaps, but enough of them, especially those who lead the creation science movement.  In 1982, they were still trying to get the public schools of the state of Arkansas to adopt creationist materials to be taught as part of the schools' curricula in science.  They had already given away the case by arguing only that creationism is a legitimate theory and explanation of the origins of the universe and man, to be taught alongside of evolution.  [p. 18]
The government schools are established as a humanist religion aimed at stamping out Christianity.  This is what Rushdoony said in his pathbreaking scholarly study, The Messianic Character of American Education (1963) The creationists are still schizophrenic.  They do not recognize the mythical nature of the objectivity hypothesis, and therefore they have chosen to do battle in terms of that mythical framework.  They therefore have to grant the evolutionists, in advance, equal rights with God's own revelation of Himself.  If they refused to do this, they would have no legal case to get their materials into the public schools.  Yet the public schools are a fraud; they are humanist schools that have had as their goal, since the days of Horace Mann, the express goal of wiping out Christianity. [p. 19]

Note that Gary North uses the term "government schools" in place of "public schools," almost two decades before Dick DeVos recommended using the change as a way to promote school vouchers in his 2002 speech to the Heritage Foundations. Also note that Gary North is a signer of the Alliance for Separation of School and State mandate for the eradication of public schools. Other signers include Rep. Ron Paul and numerous Religious Right, Theocratic Libertarian, and libertarian leaders.

North:

What is the proper argument?  Simple: there is no neutrality, and since there is no neutrality, the present legal foundation of government-financed education is a fraud. Conclusion: close every government-financed school, tomorrow.  Refund the taxes to the taxpayers.  Let the taxpayers seek out their own schools for their children at their expense (or from privately financed scholarships or other donations).

But the fundamentalist instinctively shy away from such a view.  Why?  Because they see where it necessarily leads: to a theocracy in which no public funds can be appropriated for anti-Christian activities, or to anarchy, where there are no public funds to appropriate.  It must lead to God's civil government or no civil government.  In short, it leads to either Rushdoony or Rothbard.  Most fundamentalists have never heard of either man, but they instinctively recognize where the abandonment of the myth of neutrality could lead them. [p. 20]

Rothbard in the above quote is Murray Rothbard (1926 - 1995), the Austrian School economist who promoted "anarcho-capitalism." He was a founder of the Cato Institute, one of several libertarian think tanks funded by Charles Koch.  At LewRockwell.com, Rothbard is described as the dean of the Austrian School of economics, the founder of libertarianism, and an exemplar of the Old Right. Another LewRockwell.com article describes how Rothbard parted ways with the Cato Institute.

North:

The Christians are caught in an intellectual bind.  They use the doctrine of religious freedom to defend themselves, yet this involves, necessarily, the right of all other religious groups, including the satanic cults, to set up schools for their children and other people's children.  It means, in short, that Christians windy up giving "equal time" in society to the devil.   [pp. 22-23]

In the next section, titled "The Christian School Movement," North states that it is legitimate as a short term tactic for the movement to use the "doctrine of religious freedom" in order to buy some time.  He argued previously that "religious liberty" is a trap because it allows rights to all religions and forms of belief.  However, in the short term, it could be used strategically.

So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government.  Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.  Murder, abortion, and pornography will be illegal.  God's law will be enforced.  It will take time.  A minority religion cannot do this.  Theocracy must flow from the heart of a majority of citizens, just as compulsory education came only after most people had their children in schools of some sort. [p.25]

Rushdoony and North wrote extensively about changing the tax structure to align with biblical law. For instance, inheritance taxes would not be allowed.  North writes in this article about taxes not exceeding the tithe.

The idea that the state has the right to get inside one's mind or attempt to do so, is humanistic.  It makes the state a pseudo-God.  It also drains the resources of the state, which means that the state must collect taxes far above the tithe, yet the state's taking a tithe was considered an affront to God.  

... A civil tax of 10% or more of one's annual increase is satanic. [p.26]

North closes with advice to the New Christian Right on how to get out of the intellectual bind of the "doctrine of religious freedom" by pursuing their own definition of "religious liberty."  
In order to survive the onslaught of the humanists, Christians must oppose the humanists' version of religious freedom, which is officially grounded in the myth of neutrality, and which is really being used to construct a temple of man, with tax revenues.  We must argue that true religious liberty is exclusively for people to obey the social laws of the Bible. [p. 32]

We have to face up to the choice that must be made between God's law or man's law.  We have to acknowledge the inescapable decision: God's covenant or natural law? [pp. 37 -38]
North then spells out "The Tactics of Victory" for the New Christian Right.
The taste of political victory is sweet.  The New Christian Right has had some victories.  They have developed satellite television networks.  They have created newsletter and mailing networks.  In short, they have the means of achieving victory.  What they lack is: 1) eschatological dynamism, 2) a program of social reconstruction, and 3) the willingness to abandon all traces of the myth of neutrality.  When the taste of victory finally overcomes a century of pietistic retreat, the humanists will see their civilization salted over; a new society will replace the collapsing social order of today.  If the New Christian Right abandons its schizophrenia - eschatological pessimism in the face of victories, antinomianism in the face of the power of biblical law, an outmoded "common ground" philosophy (neutrality doctrine) in the face of a consistent presuppositional biblical philosophy - then the humanists will at last have a real fight on their hands. [39 - 40]

In closing, I would argue that North's advice has been taken very seriously over the last 30 years by much of the Christian Right, and that Christian Reconstructionism has been at least partially successful in redefining the meaning of "freedom" and "liberty" in a way that has escaped the notice of much of the American public.

Additional Notes:
I woud also recommend reading the second article in the journal quoted above  titled "Social Apologetics" by Kevin Craig in which he declares that only "Postmillennial, Theonomic Reconstuction  can provide the proper goals, motivation, and standard for biblical social action."  Another entry in the journal was authored by Peter A. Lillback, now president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  Lillback is author of George Washington's Sacred Fire and president of the The Providence Forum.

For more information on the success of Gary North and other Dominionists in drawing large numbers of Charismatics and Pentecostals away from pre-Tribulation eschatology and into Dominionist belief, see Frederick Clarkson series on Theocratic Dominionism including Part Three, No Longer Without Sheep and my previous article The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism.    Also see the following articles at Talk2action.org on "Biblical Capitalism" and the role it has played in the current war on unions and federal regulatory policy including:

The War on Unions, Regulatory System, and Social Safety Net - Examples from Fundamentalist Textbooks

Two Decades of Christian Nationalist Education Paved Way for Today's War on Labor

Biblical Capitalism - The Sacralizing of Political and Economic Issues




Display:
I can't imagine that they would like the concept of setting the economic clock back to zero every 50 years. Talk about inheritance tax! The Jubilee would function to take away far more assets from "the elect" every 50 years than would the most aggressive inheritance tax.

by NancyP on Fri Jan 06, 2012 at 08:51:10 PM EST
The theocratic libertarians' reliance on Scripture is selective at best. They tend to view the accumulation of wealth as representing God's favor, and want to impose biblical punishments for flouting certain behavioral rules, then they proceed to ignore the concept of Jubilee. I would count upon them ignoring it.

by khughes1963 on Sat Jan 07, 2012 at 03:32:30 PM EST
Parent
argue against something from the bible because it doesn't fit their greedy, callous views. Rather than ignore, I want them to vocally denounce Jubilee-style debt forgiveness, so that more can see their true hypocrisy.

by trog69 on Sun Jan 08, 2012 at 02:57:43 PM EST
Parent


The point about the Jubilee is an great point.  If I remember correctly, Thomas Cahill discusses the concept of Jubilee in his book "Desire of the Everlasting Hills, The World before and after Jesus".   Apparently, according to Cahill, in ancient Israel, the "Biblical" economic system, featured a once every 50 year "year of Jubilee" which operated to maintain the ownership of land (the only important income producing asset at that time) so that it was as widely distributed in the hands of as many families as possible.  But, by the time of Jesus all of that had been swept away.  So, Jesus, during His ministry, appears to sympathize with the poor and the dispossessed.   At one point Jesus staged what we might describe today as an "Occupy the Temple" demonstration.  In some passages, Jesus says things such as "the "first shall be last and the last shall be first". He seems to caution his listeners about the morally corrupting influence of wealth. He castigated the religious conservatives of that time as those who would "strain at a gnat, but swallow a camel".  Matt 23:24.  The fact that many present day Christian conservative politicians, claim to follow Jesus, and yet tend to support the interests of the rich and powerful over the interests of the poor and the dispossessed is, at best, ironic, but should probably be viewed by serious Christian scholars as tragic.  

by WichitaBob on Mon Jan 09, 2012 at 02:17:04 PM EST
Parent


North resides in Tyler, Texas and operates this economic institute that few people in Tyler even know about.  North took his family and others to Arkansas during y2k to survive Marshal law. He is still "under the radar" for most folks who know little of him. He is one of the few who will admitt, as his father in law did, to wanting to kill homosexuals with rounded stones.

by wilkyjr on Mon Jan 09, 2012 at 09:30:08 AM EST


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