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The Rich Dynamic of Faith in Action

The Rich Dynamic of Faith in Action

“Today, as the floodtide of Western power and influence ebbs, the illusions of European and American liberals risk being left stranded. Much that they have sought to cast as universal stands exposed as never having been anything of the kind. . . . Humanism derives ultimately from claims made in the Bible: that humans are made in God’s image; that his Son died equally for everyone; that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Repeatedly, like a great earthquake, Christianity has sent reverberations across the world. . . . All bore an identical stamp: the aspiration to enfold within its embrace every other possible way of seeing the world; the claim to a universalism that was culturally highly specific. That human beings have rights; that they are born equal; that they are owed sustenance, and shelter, and refuge from persecution: these were never self-evident truths.”[1] – Tom Holland 

Gresham Machen on education and the state 

One of the most incisive analyses of the secular transformation of America’s – indeed the West’s – ruling ideology was published a century ago in 1923 by a Presbyterian theologian, J. Gresham Machen. James Kurth would later describe its evolution as “the Protestant Deformation.”[2]

During the so-called Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy which began before the First World War, Machen was the most articulate critic of a theological movement known as Modernism or Liberalism: a secular religion of sentiment poached from Christianity. His critique begins as follows: 

“The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meaning, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which we are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. . . . But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism – that is, in the denial of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.”[3] 

Machen also argued that the modern naturalistic religion could be traced to important changes in the conditions of life during the past one hundred years – now two hundred years. After acknowledging the many benefits resulting from modern inventions, industrialization, and science, Machen observed that they are inescapably part of the world in which we live. What is really at issue is a change in attitude: a skeptical eye or a searching criticism turned on every inheritance from the past, some of which has “crumbled to pieces in the test.”

Indeed, dependence of any institution upon the past is now sometimes regarded as furnishing a presumption, not in favor of it, but against it. So many convictions have had to be abandoned that men have sometimes come to believe that all convictions must go. 

“If such an attitude be justifiable, then no institution is faced by a stronger hostile presumption than the institution of the Christian religion, for no institution has based itself more squarely on the authority of a by-gone age.”[4] 

Machen contends that the problem is not resolvable simply by “disentangling religion from pseudo-scientific accretions.” The problem is whether Christianity may be maintained in a scientific age. 

“It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion – against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection – the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting ‘the essence of Christianity.’”[5] 

But, in the event, theological liberals conceded too much, and the secularists who succeeded them seized the rich dynamic of Christian faith in action and turned it to their own purposes. The isms of the modern world – liberalism, utilitarianism, idealism, Marxism – owe their vitality to identifiably Christian presuppositions. The Gospel is so powerful that any variant retelling of it borrows some of that power. Ideologies, heresies, heterodoxies may be likened to transplants which require appropriate amounts of fertilization and climate-control to keep them alive. All of them eventually languish and fail as they stray further from their original source.

Machen’s objections to the liberal movement are twofold: it is un-Christian and it is unscientific. In addition, he dismisses its efficacy as a strategy to carve out a sanctuary where quaint beliefs and practices may be tolerated. The problem is not with science as such, as some may claim; the problem is the materialism – the positivism – which lurks behind the mask of science, just as theological liberalism must be regarded as another religion – philosophical idealism – hiding behind the mask of Christianity. 

“Modern materialism, especially in the realm of psychology, is not content with occupying the lower quarters of the Christian city but pushes its way into all the higher reaches of life; it is just as much opposed to the philosophical idealism of the liberal preacher as to the Biblical doctrines that the liberal preacher has abandoned in the interests of peace. Mere concessiveness, therefore, will never succeed in avoiding the intellectual conflict. In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be no ‘peace without victory’; one side or the other must win.” [6] 

What is at stake must be understood in terms of doctrines and presuppositions. Christianity and liberalism are distinct religions which reflect very different worldviews. Liberalism offers major doctrinal concessions for the sake of respectability, for a place at the table of sanctioned – licit – religions.[7] In place of the offense of the cross, it seeks to be inoffensively inclusive. Yet as the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:11: “If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.”

What liberalism fails to grasp is the importance of Christianity’s doctrinal distinctives for society as a whole, Christian and non-Christian.[8] Both the West and the modern world as a distinctive civilization were founded as cultic expressions of the Christian faith. Machen contends that, by uprooting that faith from the fabric of the culture it generated and shaped, it degenerates. Machen illustrates from the fine arts: “the art that still subsists is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is bizarre.” 

“The result is an unparalleled impoverishment of human life. Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily contracted. The tendency is making itself felt especially in the sphere of education. The object of education, it is now assumed, is the production of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But the greatest happiness for the greatest number, can only be defined by the will of the majority. Idiosyncrasies in education, therefore, must be avoided, and the choice of schools must be taken from the individual parent and placed in the hands of the state.”[9] 

Machen, like C. S. Lewis two decades later in The Abolition of Man (1946), argued that education holds the key to the generation and regeneration of civilization. It binds the generations both to the past and to the future. Perhaps the long British heritage of Christianity – and the political reforms it inspired – led Machen to suggest that ignorance of “the higher realms of human life may be slightly delayed in America by the remnants of Anglo-Saxon individualism.”[10] But then he warned that “liberty” – what Francis Lieber had called “Anglican liberty”[11] – “is certainly held by but a precarious tenure when once its underlying principles have been lost.”[12]

To demonstrate the consequences he foresaw, Machen cited two egregious examples of the abuse of education laws at the state level. The first was a case from Nebraska which was presented to the United States Supreme Court that same year, along with similar cases from Ohio and Iowa. Another would be heard by that Court two years later. Of the first, Machen wrote: 

“The dominant tendency, even in a country like America, which formerly prided itself on its freedom from bureaucratic regulation of the details of life, is toward a drab utilitarianism in which all the higher aspirations are lost.

Manifestations of such a tendency can easily be seen. In the state of Nebraska, for example, a law is now in force according to which no instruction in any school of the state, public or private, is to be given through the medium of any language other than English, and no language other than English is to be studied even as a language until the child has passed an examination before the county superintendent of education showing that the eighth grade has been passed. In other words, no foreign language, apparently not even Latin or Greek, is to be studied until the child is too old to learn it well.”[13] 

The other case emanated from Oregon and illustrated how far awry a Progressive reform measure may go. Around the turn of the century, the legislators adhering to the Progressive reform movement introduced mechanisms to permit some measure of direct democracy into states through the Wisconsin Idea and the Oregon System, the latter of which allowed voters either to initiate laws and constitutional amendments, known as the popular initiative, or to permit legislatures to refer laws and amendments for a direct vote of the people, known as the popular referendum. What Machen found particularly disturbing was a referendum which was appealed to the Supreme Court before it could take effect. 

“In the state of Oregon, on Election Day, 1922, a law was passed by a referendum vote in accordance with which all children in the state are required to attend the public schools. Christian schools and private schools, at least in the all-important lower grades, are thus wiped out of existence. Such laws, which if the present temper of the people prevails will soon be extended far beyond the bounds of one state, mean of course the ultimate destruction of all real education.

The truth is that the materialistic paternalism of the present day, if allowed to go unchecked, will rapidly make of America one huge ‘Main Street,’ where spiritual adventure will be discouraged and democracy will be regarded as consisting in the reduction of all mankind to the proportions of the narrowest and least gifted of the citizens.”[14] 

Although it is not necessary to attend a teachers’ college in order to recognize the acuity of Machen’s perception, it may be quite a revelation to those who do. Understanding the historical context helps make more foreseeable the outcome he describes. Yet it was predicted a full century ago by an embattled theologian who already recognized the full scope of the moral hazard of government education. 

Two testimonials 

Far from being a hot-house flower, Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism was so well-written and well-argued. Like the scholarship of Francis Lieber half a century earlier, it exerted real influence in the halls of government where it could make a difference, even though it is remembered today only as a road not taken. Yet Machen won the admiration and respect of some leading cultural figures, such as Walter Lippmann and H. L. Mencken, even though he did not convince either of them to subscribe to the Christian faith. As Lippmann commented in A Preface to Morals (1929): 

“There is also a reasoned case against the modernists. Fortunately this case has been stated in a little book called Christianity and Liberalism by a man who is both a scholar and a gentleman. . . . It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency, and for its wit this cool and stringent defense of orthodox Protestantism is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.

For the great mass of men, if the history of religion is to be trusted, religious experience depends upon a complete belief in the concrete existence, one might almost say the materialization, of their God. The fundamentalist goes to the heart of the matter, therefore, when he insists that you have destroyed the popular foundations of religion if you make your gospel a symbolic record of experience and reject it as an actual record of events.”[15] 

Mencken, a journalist and philologist who was known for his biting wit, commented on Machen both during his life and following his demise. In 1931, while Machen was still in the fight with the modernism which ended in his defeat, defrocking, and death, Mencken offered a modest proposal to Machen: 

“He not only refuses to expunge from the text [of the Bible] anything that is plainly there; he also refuses to insert anything that is not there. What I marvel at is that such sincere and unyielding Christians as he is do not start legal proceeding against the usurpers who now disgrace the name.”[16] 

Later, following Machen’s death in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, 1937, Mencken wrote an appreciation of a man he had never met. 

“What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind if literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen’s attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia [where he helped found Westminster Theological Seminary] with all the honors of war.”[17] 

This theological battle reflected a much larger cultural struggle which was marked by war, revolution, and the rise of authoritarian and totalitarian ideologies. In America, the social reform impetus took aim at immigrants from southern and eastern European countries, child labor, and alcohol, leading – among many other things – to the rise of public education, the temperance moment, the rise of eugenics, and the Red Scare. Two Supreme Court decisions temporally quashed some of these trends.  

Two judicious reversals 

National sentiment reached a high pitch of intensity during and following the First World War. Various ethnic groups and labor unions were suspected of harboring revolutionary ideas. Nativist organization like the Ku Klux Klan capitalized on sundry fears about blacks, Catholics, and immigrants. War and massive immigration brought about a clash of cultures which sent tremors throughout the western world. Overseas, the term “Americanization” had become a term of reproach for all that was cheap and tawdry about the burgeoning American popular culture which was quickly spreading beyond America’s shores. At home, “Americanization” signified the democratic ideal to which public and even private education were being consecrated.

As part of a general Americanization program, several states which had sizable immigrant communities passed laws under their police powers prohibiting the teaching of any school subjects in a foreign language. In Nebraska, where half the population was not more than two generations removed from Continental Europe, Robert Meyer, a teacher at a Lutheran parochial school, was arrested and convicted on criminal charges for teaching Bible stories to his pupils in the German language after regular school hours.

The ruling by Nebraska’s Supreme Court in Meyer v. State, 107 Nebr. 657, 661-62 (1922), shows that court’s clear perception of a connection between language and ideology: 

“The salutary purpose of the statute is clear. The legislature had seen the baneful effects of permitting foreigners, who had taken residence in this country to rear and educate their children in the language of their native land. The result of that condition was found to be inimical to our own safety. To allow the children of

foreigners, who had emigrated here, to be taught from early childhood the language of the country of their parents was to rear them with that language as

their mother tongue. It was to educate them so that they must always think in that language, and, as a consequence, naturally inculcate in them the ideas and sentiments foreign to the best interest of this country.” 

The decision was appealed to the United States Supreme Court and is designated as Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923), along with four other cases from Nebraska, Iowa, and Ohio which were decided together as Bartels v. Iowa, 262 U.S. 404 (1923).

One of the attorneys for Meyer, Arthur Francis Mullen, conceded the power of the state to require the teaching of English but denied it had the right to prohibit the teaching of foreign languages as an optional subject. Under questioning by the justices, Mullen reviewed the very revealing legislative history of the law. An attempt in 1919 to abolish all private primary education had passed the House – Nebraska still had a bicameral legislature at the time – but failed in the Senate by a single vote. A law regulating private schools was then substituted and passed. Afterwards, the language prohibition law was added to the package.

By the Nebraska Supreme Court’s own admission, the purpose of the law, Mullen testified, was “to stop religious instruction in any school in the State until the child can understand the English language.” He continued: 

“The compulsory system, requiring children to attend some school, public or private, was first enacted in 1852. And now it is seriously argued that a legislative majority can change the entire history of the human race, and by its mere fiat take my children and require me to send them to a public school, and have the course of study absolutely regulated by the State. I deny that any such legislative power exists in a constitutional government.” 

Justice James McReynolds, writing for the majority, likened the Nebraska legislation to the Ideal Commonwealth of Plato and the garrison state of Sparta, which submerged the individual for the sake of developing ideal citizens, then added: 

“Although such measures have been deliberately approved by men of great genius their ideas touching the relation between individual and state were wholly different from those upon which our institutions rest; and it hardly will be affirmed that any Legislature could impose such restrictions upon the people of a state without doing violence to both letter and spirit of the Constitution.

The desire of the Legislature to foster a homogeneous people with American ideals prepared readily to understand current discussions of civic matters is easy to appreciate. Unfortunate experiences during the late war and aversion toward every character of truculent adversaries were certainly enough to quicken that aspiration. But the means adopted, we think, exceed the limitations upon the power of the state and conflict with rights assured to plaintiff in error. The interference is plain enough and no adequate reason therefor in time of peace and domestic tranquility has been shown” (262 U.S. 390, 402). 

Although the Court did not question the State’s right to compel attendance at some school or to regulate such schools, it did hold that “a desirable end cannot be promoted by prohibited means” (262 U.S. 390, 401).

In the next case in the series, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), a question was finally raised about the power of the state to abolish private schools altogether. A campaign against private elementary schools in Oregon, which was spearheaded by the Ku Klux Klan with the cooperation of a radical faction of the Scottish Rite Masons, led to passage of the Compulsory Education Act of 1922 through popular initiative. Both the Society of Sisters, which still operates St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, and Hill Military Academy – now the site of Portland Bible College – obtained restraining orders to prevent enforcement of the statute. Although both were incorporated by the state, the Court unanimously ruled that this fact did not prevent them from seeking relief from enforcement of a law which would destroy their business and property. Justice McReynolds reiterated the Meyer doctrine: 

“The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations” (268 U.S. 510, 535). 

Dr. Machen goes to Washington 

The following year, on February 25, 1926, Dr. Machen, who remained on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, testified at a joint hearing of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor and the House Committee on Education. He began the day by testifying against a proposed Federal Department of Education, which was subsequently defeated. His testimony was followed by that of Frank Goodnow, the president of Johns Hopkins University, who had been a major conduit of German administrative ideas first as a student, then later as the first president of the American Political Science Association. Not until 1953 did education become part of the portfolio of a cabinet-level agency. A separate Department of Education was created in 1979, more than half a century after Machen’s testimony.

Machen began by expressing opposition to the offer of federal aid to States for education. “I think we can lay it down as a general rule . . . that money given for education, no matter what people say, has a string tied to it.” The one who controls the purse strings controls the curriculum. Machen also opposed on principle “the notion that education is an affair essentially of the State.” Standardization of production may be useful in the making of automobiles, he declared, but not of human beings. A more immediate danger issue is that it is much easier to prevent a mistake than to correct it: 

“I think it is perfectly plain that we are embarking on a policy here which cannot be reversed when it is once embarked upon. . . . Now, I think, is the decisive time to settle this question whether we want the principle for which this department will stand.

I believe that in the sphere of the mind we should have absolutely unlimited competition.

A public education that is faced by such competition is a beneficent result of modern life; but a public education that is not faced by such competition of private schools is one of the deadliest enemies to liberty it has ever faced.”[18] 

During the questions which followed his testimony, he was asked more than once about “equality of opportunity.” Understanding what this would require, Machen expressed his abhorrence of compulsion by the state. What is often called “energy in the executive” means coercion. The recent wartime suppression of dissent from 1917-1918 was carried over into peacetime in ways which would largely escape public scrutiny, as events would show when one dangerous crisis followed another and peacetime mobilization of the economy began to resemble what would once have been expected only during wartime. The changing role of the State was a sign of the troubling times, both then and now. As it sought to bolster its influence it began increasingly to assimilate all other institutions, including those of the historic Christian Church. 

The scope of politics 

In the conclusion to Politics: A Very Short Introduction (1995),[19] Kenneth Minogue described politics, ab origine, as the business of the powerful – of masterful men who are free to dispose of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, to paraphrase the sentiment expressed in the Declaration of Independence.[20] With the waning of a long American tradition of civil liberty and self-government, politics visibly devolves into a service industry and increasingly fails to serve as an arena in which public issues may be freely debated and decided. When the locus of politics was lifted from county courthouses to the state and federal capitals, it was accompanied by the rise of an extraconstitutional fourth branch of the federal government: the administrative state.

The difference this change has made is crucial. English, Dutch, German, French, Swedish, and other colonists in America enjoyed considerable liberty to speak publicly and to govern themselves. Magna Carta, common law, and equity – what Francis Leber called Anglican liberty – were part of their living heritage. Modern constitutionalism grew out of the practical needs and governing experience of fledgling colonies. Their leaders drew on this heritage, including the Bible, to ensure the rule of law and ordered liberty through constitutional restraints on their governments, reflecting the West’s long-gestating tradition of civil liberty and self-government.

What animated the patriots of 1775 was not a wish to be newly free but a determination to protect the liberties they already enjoyed against a perceived threat. As Captain Preston, a veteran of the Battle of Concord (1775), remarked in 1842 it was not intolerable oppressions or abstract political theories that caused his contemporaries to take up arms they already owned. “What we meant in going for those redcoats is this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”[21] In light of J. Gresham Machen’s observations about the coercive power of an imperial State – increasingly in support of an imperial Self – and its displacement of the Church, it may be wondered how much of that fighting spirit remains. What it lacks today is the much of resilience and recuperative power of the Church that once nurtured it. 

Politics vs. despotism: a summary 

As Francis Lieber observed a few years later in 1859, political liberty arose during three distinct historical periods: classical Athens, republican Rome, and early Christendom. Politics is premised on well-ordered and -protected civil liberty. Politics properly understood must be distinguished from three gusts of passion which taint public affairs: 1) flattery of the people to such a degree that “philosophic candor is felt by many as a lack of patriotic sympathy,” 2) a handling of public business “with such impunity” that it results in “a disrepute of politics,” and 3) the politicization of every conceivable question so that “fair and frank” discussion becomes “emasculated.”[22]

As for the authority of rulers, the English political philosopher Michael Oakeshott taught that: 

“the first incipient medieval beliefs about the ‘authority’ of kings were in terms of authority derived from God and of authority derived from the ‘consent’ of their subjects. And these beliefs were inherited and transferred in modern European political thought.”[23] 

Oakeshott further noted that all the analogies which “have been used in modern times to illuminate the business of governing tend in one or another of two opposite directions of thought.” 

“They tend to attribute to the activity of governing either: (a) the business of organizing its subjects in the pursuit of a single, premeditated end or purpose [telocracy]; or (b) the business of providing the conditions in which its subjects may pursue their own chosen and various ends while still remaining a single association [nomocracy].”[24] 

Telocracy” is a word that might better describe the Church as an institution. It is wholly inappropriate for an institution which “does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:4). In Politics: A Very Short Introduction, Kenneth Minogue takes Oakeshott’s model and further refines it. For the term telocracy, he substituted political moralism in order to distinguish it from the originally nomocratic meaning of politics. Beginning with a chapter entitled “Why Despots Don’t Belong in Politics,” Minogue discusses the rise of politics in the succeeding three chapters: “The Classical Greeks: How to Be a Citizen,” “The Romans: The Real Meaning of Patriotism,” and “Christianity and the Rise of the Individual.” He explores the importance of institutional pluralism in “Constructing the Modern State” and “How to Analyse a Modern Society,” devotes three chapters to “The Experience of Politics,” then distinguishes between two modes of analysis in “Studying Politics Scientifically” and “Ideology Challenges Politics.” This progression culminates in a final question – “Can Politics Survive the Twenty-first Century?” – in which Minogue shows what it means to substitute ideology – or political moralism – for politics proper.

The remainder of this section offers a quick paraphrase and summary of Minogue’s argument in the final chapter. He begins with a story: 

“Machiavelli recounts in Book III of the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy the story of a rich Roman who gave food to the starving poor during a famine, and the Romans executed him for it. They reasoned that he was building up a following in order to become a tyrant. This response highlights the tension between morals and politics, and shows that the Romans cared more for freedom than for welfare. It throws into relief the fact that that the way we judge actions depends on our idea of what politics is.”[25] 

What should be clear to us today is that the ancient Romans cannot be fit into the modern view that politics is primarily a service industry. With the addition of welfare to warfare – the sport of kings – politicians and civil servants augment their power by giving aid to the needy.[26]

Minogue observes that politics – and the civil liberty which enables it – was originally born out of certain historical conditions. It might well deteriorate or die as those conditions decline. The inclination of political moralism is to have society replace politics by moral judgment – something akin to what is often called political correctness or cancel culture. Minogue characterizes internationalism as a form of political moralism which claims that war, like other ills, results from bad institutions. Indeed, the ambition to replace politics by morality involves superseding both individuals and nation-states for being too selfish. Justice, it is claimed, has been blocked by the selfish interests of the dominant elites. [27]

By writing in this manner, Minogue seeks to correct a misunderstanding about the nature of politics. Politics has always been the business of the powerful: citizens, nobles, property-owners, and patriarchs. This is because the state was originally organized by and composed of “independent disposers of their own resources.” So constituted, it could not turn into a despotism. 

“Having projects of their own, powerful individuals of this kind had no inclination whatever to become the instruments of someone else’s project. This is the sense in which despotism and politics are precisely opposed, and the state was distinguished by the right of the individual to dispose of his (and in time her) own property. . . . Politics was strictly defined by its limits, and the limit was what was necessary for a complex civilization to work.”[28] 

Unlike politics, political moralism takes the independence of citizens not as a guarantee of freedom but as an obstacle to the project of moralizing – and thus regulating and controlling – the world. What emerges from this difference is a new meaning of politics which covers every small detail of life. “In this new sense of politics, . . . there are no limits.”[29] States whose authority is constitutionally limited are imperfect instruments for redistributing life’s chances. Instead, “politics becomes, in a famous formula of political science, ‘the authoritative allocation of values.’ In other words, it is the business of society to tell us what we should admire or condemn.”[30]

From all this, it follows logically that moralizing the human condition – telocracy in the name of social justice – is only possible by instituting despotism. A political form of charity thus expands to take over politics. Political moralism inculcates an attitude that the relief of suffering is now the province of the state, requiring that the people – citizens and noncitizens alike – be managed by experts,[31] resulting in a notable contradiction between the theory and practice of democracy.[32]

Consequently, the poor and dependent become the lever by which governments accumulate power over everyone. The very character of the people must be changed, especially those identified as oppressors. “Human beings are becoming the matter which is to be shaped according to the latest moral ideas.”[33]

So in the egalitarian world of the future, as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, everyone is equal, “except perhaps the managers of equality.” 

“And certainly in the foreseeable future, there will be endless and not unprofitable work for those whose business is to spell out in ever greater detail the rules of the game of life, and adjudicate conflict, and to teach the benighted what thoughts a just society requires. Politics will have died, but everything will be politics.”[34] 

Photo source: [1] PxHere, [2] PxHere


[1] Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books, 2019) 539-40.


[3] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1923) 1-2.

[4] Ibid. 4.

[5] Ibid. 6.

[6] Ibid. 6.

[7] “Licit” was the Roman designation for a lawful or permitted religion.

[8] See Rousas John Rushdoony, Foundations of Social Order: Studies in the Creeds and Councils of the Early Church (Thoburn Press, 1978); Pierre Courthial, A New Day of Small Beginnings, trans. Matthew S. Miller (Zurich Publishing, 1918).

[9] Machen, op. cit. 11.

[10] Ibid. 11.

[11] See Francis Lieber, Miscellaneous Writings, vol. 2: Contributions to Political Science (J.B. Lippincott and Company, 1880) 371-88.

[12] Machen, op. cit. 11.

[13] Ibid. 11-12.

[14] Ibid. 12-13, 14-15. “Main Street” may be an allusion to a 1920 Sinclair Lewis novel of that title.

[15] Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (Time-Life Books, 1964 [1929]) 1, 2.


[17] Gary North, Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church (Institute for Christian Economics, 1996) 942-43.

[18] J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity, and the State, ed. John W. Robbins (The Trinity Foundation, 1987) 100, 103, 104, 106-07.

[19] Kenneth Minogue, Politics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 1995).

[20] Thomas Jefferson’s original draft reads somewhat differently than the final document, which sometimes was more explicitly religious. For example: We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. . . .

[21] Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, vol. 1 (New American Library, 1972 [1965]) 284.

[22] Francis Lieber, Miscellaneous Writings, vol. 1: Reminiscences, Addresses, and Essays (J. B. Lippincott, 1881) 383-84.

[23] Michael Oakeshott, Lectures in the History of Political Thought, ed. Terry Nardin and Luke O’Sullivan (, 2006) 459.

[24] Ibid. 459.

[25] Minogue, op. cit. 109.

[26] Ibid. 109.

[27] This is what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony. The remedy offered by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971) is for justice to be made fair.

[28] Minogue, op. cit. 112-13

[29] Ibid. 114.

[30] Ibid. 114.

[31] The state takes over the historic rule of the church and its institutions; its experts play the part of a new priesthood.

[32] Minogue, op. cit. 116.

[33] Ibid. 117. See C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (New York: Macmillan, 1965). Lewis entitled the second lecture “Men without Chests.” See also C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups (New York: Macmillan, 1965 [1946]).

[34] Ibid. 118.



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