Curious Connections and Recent Roots of Two Movements

[reposted from a year ago]

I’ve lately become quite curious about the connection between the Christian presuppositionalists and the world of libertarian political philosophy including the economic theories of the “Austrians.” Economists like Ludwig von Mises (a third generation Austrian) advocated an argument for a free society based on the fact that it is the most effective and useful system in helping the most amount of people benefit. In other words, he was a utilitarian. Rothbard (founder of modern libertarianism) disagreed with the approach (not the conclusions). Rothbard held that, in nature, there are certain rights, which include, of course, life, liberty and property. This is the natural law theory.

Generally speaking, these are the two primary approaches to a free society.

But I have been studying a smaller faction in the liberty movement that were influenced by those who say that neither one of these “foundations” are legitimate. The so-called “presuppositionalists,” led mainly by Cornelius van Til (but also by Gordon Clark), quite frankly pointed out that basing a philosophy on rationalistic axioms (Mises) or on empirical discovery (Rothbard) was simply unfounded (of course they never addressed Mises or Rothbard directly). Sola Scriptura, that is, “Scripture alone,” is the bases for all philosophy, which includes political and economic theory.

These presuppositionalists have been around the libertarian movement, but under the radar it seems. This is the part I am curious about. Why has the Christian world rejected their political influence?

Background: Van Til and Clark (both early to mid 20th century) were bitter rivals. Van Til was the pride of Westminster Theological Seminary. Gordon Clark was ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church after Van Til. Van Til protested this ordination on the basis that Clark did not hold an adequate position on the subject of Christian knowledge. Clark eventually left the OPC.

Out of these two factions of the Presuppositionalists came two people. Gary North is a Van Tillian. John W. Robbins (deceased) was a Clarkian. Both happened to be selected by Ron Paul as researchers during his first term as a congressman in 1976. North (Paul’s economic researcher) and Robbins (Paul’s legislative assistant) are both Austrians when it comes to economics. Both are staunch Calvinists and Presbyterians. North is educated in history. Robbins in Political Theory. North is also a theonomist (Old Testament law applies today). Robbins is a Constitutional Conservative (therefore he wouldn’t have voted for any of the Republican candidates in 2012, save, naturally, Ron Paul). They also had frequent banters (mainly on theology). Although these arguments (sometimes very bitter) never occurred until after they left Paul’s office. They were very good about this.

Neither of these two were strict libertarians. In my opinion, North is the better economist. Robbins is the better political theorist. My interest is in utilizing their foundation (Scriptural Presuppositionalism) not only to advocate Austrian economics (as they both did) but also to advocate strict libertarianism (as neither of them did). How did Ron Paul end up choosing such pillars of the Calvinist world? No idea. That is what I am curious about. Perhaps there was a connection with Austrian economics professor (at Grove City College) Hans Sennholz (a very determined Christian). Ron Paul has stated on occasion how Sennholz was very influential to Paul early in Paul’s intellectual development and would help explain things to Paul back in the early ’70’s. Robbins (on his website) attributes Sennholz to revealing that only the Christian has a proper foundation for economics. I’m not sure the extent of this connection.

It is a very curious connection that actually goes even farther back than this. Gary North’s Father-in-Law is the famous RJ Rushdoony, a pioneer in the homeschooling movement. Rushdoony is controversial because of his avid defense of theonomy and his foundational role in the development of Christian Reconstructionism. It seems that in Rushdoony and Murray Rothbard’s early years, both were funded by the now defunct William Volcker Fund. Also, John W. Robbins was the one who suggested to Ron Paul that Murray Rothbard edit Paul’s book The Case for Gold.

Interesting history of these two movements. Especially because it would seem that they could not be further apart. Both culturally and intellectually. Either way, I am still reading up and trying to learn more.