October 17, 2013

Curious Connections and Recent Roots of Two Movements

By In C.Jay Engel

[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.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • Horapollo Aesymnetes

    If you want my honest opinion as an atheist interested in historical and literary criticism, the New Testament is inconsistent and largely apolitical. The Old Testament has some tribal-anarchisty leaning stuff (especially in Samuel) but is basically devoted to the same old Mesopotamian God King worship. Sadly, the world’s most popular religion has no logical connexion to libertarianism.

    Using the Bible as a sock puppet to proof-text your libertarianism is disingenuous. It’s bad for libertarianism, it’s bad Biblical exegesis, and it’s just plain pointless considering your religion is rapidly dying in the face of secular Humanism (a Christian heresy itself!)

    • calrush91

      Well, I appreciate your unsolicited and honest opinion. Naturally, your claims are not agreeable to me. But what did you expect me to say?:)

      Now, when you say that “the world’s most popular religion has no logical connexion [connection I assume] to libertarianism,” my gut reaction is to say: my entire site is an effort to prove this wrong. You’re happy to look around! But it is interesting that you can make such a claim even though you (I assume) don’t subscribe or study the Christian religion.

      As for your final paragraph,considering that the Bible is the foundation for my entire worldview, it would actually be disingenuous for me to use some other basis for my libertarianism. Promoting my views as a “Reformed Libertarian” is about as honest and straightforward as I can get. If I bring more people into the libertarian movement (particularly ex-neocons like myself), how is this bad for the libertarian movement?

      Is my religion dying? If by that you mean that it’s popularity is plummeting, I agree. Also, I suspect it will continue to lose it’s attractiveness over the next centuries. But I don’t believe or advocate a position because it is popular or hip. I’d believe in the free market even if only 15% of the world did and I’d believe in Christianity even if 1% of the world did.

      Secular humanism is indeed on the rise, and it will continue to do so. And yet I will oppose it will everything I can intellectually muster.

      • Horapollo Aesymnetes

        I am well and familiar with the libertarian-Christian syntehsis work that Timothy Terrel (a Reformed Baptist, I believe), Thomas Woods (“The Church and the Market”) and Norman Horn (LibertarianChristians.com) as well as Christianizing websites like Acton.org. I’ve spent /hours/ listening to R.J. Rushdoony and R.C.Sproul. I love Gary North’s book on Marx’s religion of revolution. I’m sympathetic to the aversion to Humanism and pseudo-scientific modernism that religious people tend to have, and that’s probably where we align the most. I’m also more than a bit interested in higher Biblical criticism and theology.

        I mention all this to make it clear to you that you’re not dealing with these fatuous and philosophically barbaric ‘New Atheists’, but someone much more in the tradition of the Old Atheists, from ancient Athens to George H. Smith. Unlike the Humanazis, have no knee-jerk aversion to various religious creeds (though I do consider them spurious, sometimes dangerous and usually nonsensical).

        However, the attempt to read libertarianism into the Bible (or the Quran ala Mustafa Akyol) is flat-out proof texting. I am not surprised that people do it, as most Christian doctrines are proof-texting a document that is not consistent or clear (if ‘the perspicuous truth of scripture’ is real, why does Ligonier Ministries have so many apologetical books for sale?) I can just as well agree that the doctrine of election is /to be found in the Bible/ (a remnant of the Gnosticism Orthodox Cats and Protties are in denial about), but I can also recognize that many of these doctrines are contradicted almost within the same sentence by polemical interpolators. The origins of the Bible /could not/ be what you claim it to be, unless God has schizophrenia.

        To answer this question “If I bring more people into the libertarian movement (particularly ex-neocons like myself), how is this bad for the libertarian movement?” I direct you to a Youtube video I made: http://youtu.be/C1zA0VzuSo4
        Basically: people are not libertarians, for evolutionary reasons, and attempting to ‘bring them into the movement’ destroys libertarianism and leads to Republican minarchist imbeciles calling themselves ‘libertarians’ and rejecting anarchists as somehow imposters. Don’t cast pearls before swine, or invite pigs into your synagogue.

        I suspect that libertarian Christians, like the moralizing libertarians of the NAP brand, are just rationalizing a subjectively important cultural artifact so that it conforms with their personality traits and views about social order. Rothbard is an excellent example: to read his intellectual history, it’s clear what ‘converted’ him was Austrian economics and criticisms of foreign policy. But to hear him tell it, the ‘reason’ he was a libertarian was because of some incoherent, moralistic doctrine about ‘rights’ (a ridiculous Liberal trope inherited, as you point out, from Christianity). Rothbard was not a libertarian because he believed in ‘rights’, he used ‘rights’ as a pseudo-scientific gloss for his personal attraction to the system described by people like Mises.

        The Left are Tribals, the Right are Oligarchic Townships, and both of them are anti-civilization and irrational (because they are imperfect heuristics of evolutionary origin). The Individualist-rationalist, the rarest heuristic, is also a non-scientific and subjective heuristic, though vastly smaller than either of the so-called ‘wings’ (really, the difference between Left and Right is the difference between a Mob and a Gang; same thing with minor variations).

        Libertarians are a /different kind of person/, and the untermenschen will never care or be persuaded because non-rational moralizing, ‘fitting in’ and beating up ‘the other team’ outweighs all concern for truth or justice.

        I suspect that Albert Jay Nock, himself a reverend, would tend to agree with me. Certainly Mencken and Mackie would.

        • calrush91

          Considering that your reply to me brought forth a plethora of new comments and topics that were painfully distant from my reply to your original comment, I will not feel burdened to address every single claim you make.

          But to make a general statement and to bring back your commentary to the original conversation, I assume you have figured by now that we here are “like the moralizing libertarians of the NAP brand.” Yes, (Biblical) morality is the basis of our libertarianism. We are not (philosophical) pragmatists nor consequentialists. Rothbard was an ethical-based libertarian as well; although, ironically, as a presuppositionalist Christian, I can give a qualified agreement to your statement that “he used ‘rights’ as a pseudo-scientific gloss for his personal attraction to the system described by people like Mises.” But we love Rothbard here (sorry to disappoint).

          Of course being a purist, that is, dismissing any libertarians who disagree with you, you have yourself done far more damage to the libertarian movement, assuming of course the goal of a “movement” is to attract a great mass to bring about a social or intellectual change. If the goal is not to simply change minds and pursue a better liberty than we have now, then what fear have you that we hurt the movement when we use the Scripture to base our libertarianism?

          The claim you make that I most seriously take issue with is that we proof-text, that is to say, you must think we love libertarianism, and we therefore look for verses and passage which endorse it. This is the opposite of everything we stand for. Libertarianism is the result, not the cause, of our firm believe that no one should murder or steal and that all should treat others as they wish to be treated. Libertarianism stems from the Bible. This is why we put “Reformed” first, and then “Libertarian.”

          • Horapollo Aesymnetes

            “Of course being a purist, that is, dismissing any libertarians who
            disagree with you”
            I am not a libertarian. Libertarianism is a secular religion. I’m an amoral egoist interested in Austrian economics and the development of ideologies and intellectual history. I have more than a passing sympathy for market anarchism, but I don’t pretend I got it via Stone Tablets from on high. That’s just the sort of person I am.

            “you have yourself done far more damage to the
            libertarian movement”
            The very notion of a ‘libertarian movement’ is repellent mass-man idiocy, and the whole point of my ending argument was that most people are no attracted to libertarianism, and trying to pitch it for mass appeal just ends up with fake-libertarians muddying the water and no actual gains for capitalism or free thought.

            ” assuming of course the goal of a “movement” is to attract a great mass to bring about a social or intellectual change. If
            the goal is not to simply change minds and pursue a better liberty than
            we have now, than what fear have you that we use the Scripture to base
            our libertarianism?”

            I’m not afraid of it at all, I just think it’s intellectually dishonest. All apologists are liars; whether it’s for Krishna, Christ or “natural rights”.

            I like Rothbard just fine as an economist and a polemecist, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t full of it when he went off the rails for his Rightsist nonsense.

            “The claim you make that I most seriously take issue with is that we
            proof-text, that is to say, you must think we love libertarianism, and
            we therefore look for verses and passage which endorse it. This is the
            opposite of everything we stand for. Libertarianism is the result, not
            the cause, of our firm believe that no one should murder or steal and
            that all should treat others as they wish to be treated. Libertarianism
            stems from the Bible. This is why we put “Reformed” first, and then
            “Libertarian.”
            Of course you think of it that way, so do the Christian communists (and they’re more on target, at that). Libertarian Christianism, much like liberal Christianity, is just trying to make a modern secular ideology and culture fit into a book full of old myths and propaganda because you have some non-rational, inherited attraction to it.

          • calrush91

            Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s nice to know where you stand:) It’s difficult to argue in the dark. Perhaps soon I’ll have the time needed to analyze each of your worthy claims –they’d make for some great site content. Thanks for dropping by. Come again, and hopefully I’ll have some posts up dealing with our conversation in more detail.

            God bless.