Frank Chodorov on the State as Golden Calf

Frank Chodorov, that brilliant and engaging writer of the now defunct Old Right, penned one of his greatest essays under the title “The Need of a Golden Calf.”  It is a fascinating piece because it is so pertinent, so obviously applicable to the world of people around us.  The true Christian, despite public polls that give a different impression, is always in the minority.  Those that worship the God of the Scripture, who is known only through the written Word, will never be in the majority; which means that the bulk of humanity struggles with lifestyle idolatry.  Idolatry of course, which refers to worshipping something other than God, comes in many forms.  Many of these forms are easily recognized (while of course others are hard to see) and they most readily include musicians, actors, entertainers.  

But it is Chodorov’s contention, and I am prone to agree, that the State itself is one of the most influential of all Golden Calves.  While Chodorov’s theology, that is, his understanding of God and Scripture, is quite shaky indeed (don’t take theology lessons from the journalists), his statements on the State are both relevant and important to understand.  

The Christian often confuses the State as an institution, with the role that the State often pretends to play within society: governance.  But one is a role, a healthy function that society needs; while the other is an institution, which has monopolized and forced itself on society, deeming itself the god of the land.  At its best, the governance structure will hopefully have adopted God’s law, a private property order.  But the State does no such thing, for the State considers itself as above all laws, and indeed the originator of law itself.  The State creates laws unto itself, answers to no man, and aims only to plunder.  

It works in the State’s favor though that the multitudes sing its praises.  And Chodorov notes this well.  He writes in his essay that the people are commonly irritated by God’s insistence on principles.  He writes the following of the frustrations that the Israelites had with God before the Golden Calf was prepared and then he draws a parallel between the Israelites and the modern multitudes.  Interspersed throughout are my comments in bold and [brackets] so as to bring what is written into an even more Christian understanding of things.  –C.Jay Engel

By Frank Chodorov

[…] He [God] would have no truck with expediency [and] was consequently bringing up long-run consequences.  He enjoined you to keep your eyes off the neighbor’s wife and property, gave you no peace when you indulged your appetite for homicide, perjury, or adultery.

This was most annoying. Other people had gods quite amenable to amendment; one could not only see and talk to them, one could do business with them. If only their palms were properly greased with sacrifices, they could be depended upon to produce anything you wanted, even social security, and no questions asked. Jehovah, on the other hand, was uncompromising.  [God’s preceptive will cannot be changed or amended by popular demand –for this would run counter to God’s nature]

Like all the people who came before or after them, the Jews found these… absolutes rather confining [indeed, all sinners do]. They resented having their aspirations restricted by the natural order of things, their appetites delimited by industry and thrift. They wanted a handout, and on a golden platter. That’s what gods are for, and if Jehovah could not or would not deliver on demand, they would set up reasonable gods. Hence, when Moses took an unconscionable time in getting back from Sinai, and they thought they were through with him and Jehovah for good and all, they went pragmatic. They put in an order for gods capable of producing an inexhaustible supply of bread and circuses.

Aaron had no mind to argue with them. Though he is listed in the Bible as a priest, the evidence shows him to have been something of a politician. For one thing, the Lord assigned him to Moses as a spokesman, or rabble-rouser, when the latter pleaded his lack of eloquence as a disqualification for leadership. Aaron was selected because he was not “of a slow tongue” Better proof of his political gift is the way he handled the clamor for the golden calf: he heeded the will of the mob, as a good leader should, and then he taxed them so that he could give them what they wanted. And it was a stiff tax, in those days: “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, and of your sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”

Having produced, out of their substance, the idol of their hearts, Aaron followed the political pattern by declaring a day of thanksgiving: “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” Notice, he wasn’t breaking with tradition by denying the Lord, but was insinuating divine sanction for the molten image; just as latter day Aarons are wont to equate democracy with planning. And the people had bread and circuses, even as in the days of the Caesars and the New Deal [The New Deal was Franklin Roosevelt’s grand government economic takeover –marketed, or course, as for the “people.”]. Everything was on a practical and immediate basis, with no thought of consequences. Principles were abolished.


The Religion of Statism

Is not the State an idol? Is it not like any graven image into which men have read supernatural powers and superhuman capacities? The State can feed us when we are hungry, heal us when we are ill; it can raise wages and lower prices, even at the same time; it can educate our children without cost; it can provide us against the contingencies of old age and amuse us when we are bored; it can give us electricity by passing laws and improve the game of baseball by regulation. What cannot the State do for us if only we have faith in it?

And we have faith. No creed in the history of the world ever captured the hearts and minds of men as has the modern creed of Statism. Men may differ in their rituals, they may call themselves Americans, Englishmen or Russians (New Dealers, Socialists or Communists), but in their adherence to the doctrine of the omnipotence of the State they are as one. It is the universal religion. There may be some who maintain the State is a false god, that it is powerless in the face of natural law [again, we must insist on “Divine Law”], incapable of doing anything the individual cannot do for himself, and is in fact a hindrance to man in his effort toward self-improvement; but such dissidents from the norm are few indeed. From New York to Moscow to Peiping, and all way stations between, men pay homage to the State. It is a universal passion equal in intensity, but much larger in scope, to the spirit of the Crusades.

In the Moslem world, men turn toward Mecca at certain times of the day and pray to Allah according to prescribed rules. In America, all hands are constantly outstretched toward Washington, shamelessly demanding alms, subventions and whatever else their hearts desire, accompanying their prayers with threats of retribution if their supplications be denied. The din of the litany of “gimme” is heard all over the land. School teacher and banker, war veteran and labor union aristocrat, business man and college president, cry out in unison: “Thou who canst do all, do unto me more than thou dost unto others.”

And what is Washington but the shrine of the largest golden calf in the world? Here men of all degree come to press their claims on the provider of all things good. Here dwell in splendor the high priests of the church, and those upon whom the graven image grins favorably, while those who have not yet attracted its attention fan their hopes. There is no other occupation in Washington than to propitiate the god of gods. Throughout the day, in its many-tiered houses of worship, splendid in construction and air-conditioned for comfort, high-heeled cattlemen from Texas and high-hatted tycoons from Wall Street vie with one another in obeisances and genuflections; and in the evening, worn out by their devotions, the worshippers foregather at cocktail parties to repair their energies for tomorrow’s prayers.

As for the substance of this religion of Statism, the absolute upon which its theology is based, it is that political power can do anything. There is no limitation upon its scope, except a contrary and more potent political power. Of a certainty, say its theologians, there are no “natural laws” [Divine!] to hamstring the State; that is a well-exploded myth of the dark ages. We have seen, they declare, how through the use of force every so-called immutable consequential relationship has been made mutable and inconsequential. All things are relative. There are no certainties, either in the nature of man or the nature of the world. In fact, there is no nature. Whatever men set their hearts on doing that will be done, provided only that they put their collective powers to the job. And whatever the collective powers of men accomplish, that is “good,” simply because it “works.” The religion of Statism is thoroughly pragmatic; sufficient unto the day is the accomplishment thereof.

The State is the true god, its votaries maintain, because it is immortal. Men come and go, the State lives on. The priesthood who tend it may be Republicans or Democrats or what-not; the State outlasts them all. It is self-sufficient because it is sovereign, omniscient because it has an intelligence superior to the combined intelligence of all men, beyond censure because its morality transcends that by which mere man lives. It is not a social contract, not the product of a body of laws which men make and unmake. It can say, as the God of the Bible said of Himself: “I Am.”

Yet, the State does not say that, or anything else, for it is in fact only a golden calf. We who worship the fiction endow it with superhuman gifts and capacities by merely demanding of it accomplishments that presuppose such gifts and capacities. It is good because we want it to be. Out of the fervency of our prayers comes the State.

Were we to take the trouble to examine the product of our imagination, we would find the State to be only a body of men who, taking advantage of our weakness, make the best of it. They promise; because of our self-deception, we do not question their ability to make good; nor do we take notice of he contingent clause accompanying the promise, that we give them power over our persons and our property. Because they are human, because they, too, are incapable of defying or circumventing the laws of nature, they cannot do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and their promise is never fulfilled; but, the power they have acquired is not relinquished. Thus, the State consists of a body of men who, by virtue of our need for a golden calf, acquire the power to compel us to do what we do not want to do.

In the present circumstances, seeing how far we have gone in the worship of the State, we are probably in for a smash-up similar to that which befell the Jews when they asked Aaron for “gods which shall go before us.” We could use a Moses to put us on the track of first principles.  [Unfortunately for Chodorov, not being a Chrisitian, he does not realize that we do not need a Moses because we have been given a better Moses.  Moses was a type, a shadow who pointed to someone better. That better person, of course, is God Himself: Christ Jesus].


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