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Law and Authority

posted Dec 7, 2016, 11:23 AM by Paul McClintock   [ updated Dec 27, 2016, 1:03 PM ]

Dec 19, 2011 by Rousas John Rushdoony

This article is from Law and Liberty, Chapter 7, by Rousas John Rushdoony, a Reformed scholar and brilliant writer of the last century. Dr. Rushdoony was the founder of Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization devoted to research, publishing, and to cogent communication of a distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. His son Mark continues to publicize and distribute Rushdoony’s work through Chalcedon. We are grateful to Chalcedon for permission to publish this book serially, chapter by chapter. Visit Chalcedon’s website here.

No Thinking Without Authority

All thinking appeals to authority, and the question to ask of any man or of any philosophy or religion, is simply this: “What is its authority?” To what does it appeal as the foundation, the basis, of its thinking?

Now we are used today to hearing some express their contempt of all authority. In particular, many college radicals are quite vocal, as are many of their professors, in despising any appeal to authority. Supposedly, they are free minds and need no such appeal. But all such claims represent either hypocrisy or ignorance, because there is no possibility of any thinking without authority. The only question is which authority?

Which Authority?

For many of these supposedly anti-authoritarian persons, their basic authority is the individual. In other words, they recognize no God or man as authoritative, and they exalt their own thinking to a position of ultimacy. They become gods in their own eyes. In essence, their faith is that every man should be his own god, but that no man can be free or become his own god unless he agrees with them. This position is essentially anarchism, and it is as intolerant and exclusive a kind of authoritarianism as any. The hostility of these anarchists is to every kind of authoritarianism except their own.

People who profess to be believers in democracy also have their own brand of authoritarianism. They claim that democracy is the true way of life and the true form of civil government because it rests on the true foundation, the people. The ancient faith in democracy is summed up in the Latin phrase, vox populi, vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God. The people are thus the god of democracy. No law, no constitution, no religious faith can be permitted to stand in the way of the will of the people. The will of the people incarnates itself in a governing elite who express this general will infallibly. There is a direct connection between the democratic thinking of Rousseau and Karl Marx’ dictatorship of the proletariat.

All Systems of Thought Are Authoritarian

In any system of thought, authority is inescapable. In this respect, every religion, political faith, philosophy, and science is authoritarian. Each appeals to a basic and ultimate authority, to God or man, to the individual or to people in the mass, to reason or to experience; whatever the case may be, something is the underlying authority in every system of thought. Science is as authoritarian as any religion. Science rests on certain authoritative beliefs that undergird all science. Science holds, for example, to the faith, first, that reality is measurable. In other words, what is real is that which can be measured. Second, science holds that reality has unity, uniformity, so that knowledge of reality is possible because reality does not contradict itself. These and many other axioms or presuppositions of science are basically religious beliefs, and they provide the authority for science.

No man can escape the problem of authority. Every man will consciously or unconsciously appeal to some authority as basic and ultimate to life. Most authorities revered by men today are human authorities: the individual, the people, the elite thinkers and planners, science, reason, or the state, these are all humanistic authorities.

Authorities that are of This World Enslave Man

When a man’s authorities are of this world, then man is in danger. These authorities are then not only ultimate, they are also proximate or present. They stand right over him with all their imposing claims, and, because they occupy the same ground man does, they limit and destroy the liberty of man.

Two things of the same world cannot occupy the same point in time and space. If a man’s gods or authorities are of this world, they will insist on occupying his place in time and space, and the result is the enslavement and eviction of man from his due liberties and station in life. A man cannot compete with his authorities, with his gods; they are by his own recognition above and over him. If a man’s gods are of this world, and if they are man-made and humanistic, they know only one realm to occupy, man’s realm. This is why anarchism and democracy, while professing to exalt man, end by oppressing him. This, too, is why humanistic science, while claiming to serve man, ends by using man as its experimental test animal, its guinea pig.

Your Authority is Your God

The authority of any system of thought is the god of that system. Men, by denying God, cannot escape God. God is the inescapable reality, and the inescapable category of thought. When men deny the one true God, they do it only to make false gods.

Behind every system of law there is a god. To find the god in any system, locate the source of law in that system. If the source of law is the individual, then the individual is the god of that system. If the source of law is the people, or the dictatorship of the proletariat, then these things are the gods of those systems. If our source of law is a court, then the court is our god. If there is no higher law beyond man, then man is his own god, or else his creatures, the institutions he has made, have become his gods. When you choose your authority, you choose your god, and where you look for your law, there is your god.

The Ground of Liberty

The ground of liberty is Jesus Christ. Biblical faith places authority in the triune God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost—and in God’s inspired and infallible word, the Bible. God does not compete with man as humanistic authorities do. He is above, over, and beyond man. The purpose of His law and of His government is to establish man in godly order and in true liberty. Because God has created this world and history, God does not seek to obliterate history but to bring man and history to fulfillment.

God, the Source of Authority in this World

Authority in Biblical faith is in this world only under God. Men are given authority over their wives, and parents over children, under God and subject to His laws. The authority of the state over its citizens and the authority of the church over its members are always subject to the prior authority of God and the supremacy of His law. In every area, God undergirds legitimate authority, which is His creation, by His word and law. But, in every area, God also limits all human authority by His own sovereignty and by His word. No human authority can claim to be ultimate, nor can any authority speak with final power.

Both Authority and Law are Necessary

Just as it is impossible for man to live without authority, so it is impossible for man to live without law. Moreover, every honest system of law will openly avow its basic authority and disavow every other authority. Every law presupposes a basic authority, and the ultimate authority of every system of thought is the god of that system.

It is apparent therefore that we are sadly astray today in our thinking about law. Our law has ceased to be Christian and has become humanistic and democratic. Its purpose is to establish the will of mass man, of democratic man, as the ultimate authority. As a result, our law is increasingly an anti-Christian system of law. It is hostile to the sovereignty of God, and it affirms the sovereignty of man. Our lawmakers are saying in effect, “Let us make god in our own image, after our likeness.” They are bent not only on remaking law but on remaking man.

The Purposes of God’s Law and Man’s Law

God’s law has as its purpose the government of man, to guide and direct man into the way of righteousness and truth. Grace recreates man, and law is the form of the new man’s life, in that man is regenerated in order to be conformed to God.

Man’s law seeks to remake man in terms of the humanistic state’s plan for man. As a result, the humanistic state, as the new god over man, controls every fact of life in order to use all things to remake man. Education is increasingly used in order to teach statism and to mold the minds of children. The motto of progressive educators, “We do not teach subjects; we teach children,” is very apt. Their purpose is not the communication of knowledge to children but to re-shape children to their ideas of democracy. The schools thus are instruments of social regeneration. Instead of rebirth by Jesus Christ, they offer rebirth by means of statist, progressivist curriculum. The public schools are the creatures of the state, and therefore they teach and exalt the authority of the democratic state. They exalt the authority of democracy and under-cut the authority of God, whom they bypass as though He were irrelevant to education. The public schools are thoroughly authoritarian and their authority is democracy.

Choose, and Submit to that Choice

Authority is inescapable. The basic question is which authority, the authority of God or of man? If we choose man, we have no right to complain against the rise of totalitarianism, the rise of tyranny—we have asked for it. If we choose God’s authority, then we must submit to it without reservation; we must accept His infallible word and must in all things acknowledge His sovereignty. On this foundation, we are “founded upon the rock,” Jesus Christ, and we shall not fall (Matt. 7:24-27).

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