All Commentary
Saturday, January 1, 1966

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1966/1


This Independent Republic

Rousas J. Rushdoony, who has been a pastor of two churches and a missionary among the Paiute and Shoshone Indians, has been called to his greatest work as a writer who specializes in the in­tellectual, religious, and moral ori­gins of the United States. The word “called” is used here ad­visedly, with full realization of its religious shading. For Dr. Rush­doony considers that constitution­alism, in the United States, is, as he puts it, “a form of covenantalism,” with civil policy limited by antecedent considerations of the “rights of Englishmen” which had been established in feudal Britain under the religious dispensation of the Christian church. He speaks always in terms of a higher law to which positive law must con­form if our nation is to continue to observe its Burkean contract with its traditional past.

The Rushdoony way of thinking is becoming increasingly quaint in the age of collectivism, and his searching book, This Independent Republic (The Craig Press, $3.95), must mystify a generation that has been nurtured on the pure majoritarianism that is preached by James MacGregor Burns, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and other historians who care little for the rights of individuals as citizens of the separate cove­nanting states. In a way, the chapters of This Independent Re­public consist of pellets thrown into the teeth of a howling gale. The U.S. Supreme Court no longer thinks of law and sovereignty in Rushdoony terms; it has turned against the covenanting states and told them how they must appor­tion the representation in their own local legislatures, and it has long since repudiated the idea that there can be such a thing as real intrastate commerce. The public, whether through apathy or fear, has gone along with the superim­posed idea that no rights are sac­rosanct against the decision of “one man, one vote.” Hence Rush­doony, and those who believe with him, must think of themselves as a “remnant.”

Whether this remnant can be a “saving remnant,” or a “happy few,” is an interesting question as the Great Society carries on its work of blotting out the small Burkean platoons. But there is no virtue in trying to be with history when history itself is riding to a fall. The Rushdoony hope must be that some of the pellets thrown into the wind will be picked up and used once the gale has blown itself out.

A Contract Broken by King George III

Picking up one pellet and un­wrapping it, the man of the fu­ture will have to consider Dr. Rushdoony’s amplification of Peter F. Drucker’s contention that the American Revolution was, in actuality, a counterrevolution against King George III’s as­sumption of the arbitrary power of “the king in parliament” over colonials who had never relin­quished their rights as English­men. It was King George III who broke the contract, not George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Drucker, in his own now-forgotten book, The Fu­ture of Industrial Man, recalled the wide development of freedom in the Middle Ages, when the king was bound by his own feudal du­ties as “first among equals” in a society in which the basic struc­ture of society was the local land unit. It wasn’t until after the big emigrations from England to America that the British parlia­ment ceased to be what Rushdoony refers to as “a nonstatist feudal body, a court of contract and law between king and vassals” in which “representation was based on feudal classes,” Since they were never consulted in the shift that made parliament over into “a statist body, exercising divine right,” the colonists were merely holding to their own inheritance when they proclaimed their inde­pendence of King George III’s gov­ernment of usurpers.

Tenth Amendment Voided

Rushdoony’s description of America as the land of “cove­nanters” assumes that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution has never been repealed. Only spe­cified powers were delegated to the Federal government by the con­tracting states in 1787. But what is the actual status of the Tenth Amendment today? According to this amendment, Federal interven­tion in the self-government of states — and, “by implication, of their constituent units, the coun­ties”— is forbidden. Alas, a vaguely worded clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been stretched totally out of its context by modern Supreme Court justices to nullify the Tenth Amendment, which the formulators of the Fourteenth Amendment had no in­tention of repealing. The “cove­nant” of 1787 has been broken as arbitrarily as the covenants be­tween the colonists and the Brit­ish government were shattered by King George III way back in the seventeen seventies.

Areas of Intervention

So we have arbitrary govern­ment by Federal intervention. Dr. Rushdoony is unblinking in his re­cital of the scope of this interven­tion. In economics, the Federal welfare economy presumes to tell individuals what and where they may plant; where funds must be channelled to rehabilitate “de­pressed areas”; how much a marginal laborer must be paid; who shall hire whom; in what manner the right to free speech shall be fettered if your radio or TV company has been allotted a wave length; and so forth and so on (the list could be extended al­most indefinitely).

Foreign policy, under the Con­stitution, is left to the President acting with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. But the Con­stitution did not give Presidents the right to employ huge armies. Dr. Rushdoony insists that Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution makes universal military conscrip­tion possible for “the stated pur­poses only,” which are “(1) to ex­ecute the laws of the Union, (2) to suppress insurrections, and (3) to repel invasions.” This means that “conscripted men… could not be used in foreign wars.” Well, they have been so used in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the present war in South Vietnam. I personally happen to think we are fighting a just war in Southeast Asia, but the Rushdoony interpretation of Article I, Section 8, makes the point that men can be illegally conscripted to fight in even the most justified crusades.

In the matter of money, the Constitution imposes restrictions on the states as well as on the Federal union. Yet modern banks effectively “coin” paper money in a way that would have horrified Andrew Jackson or even Alex­ander Hamilton. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that “no person shall be… deprived of property… without due process of law” and “nor shall private property be taken for pub­lic use, without just compensa­tion.” Yet urban renewal consist­ently takes property from some for the profit of others, which is hardly consistent with the qualifi­cation about “just compensation.”

Modern Changes Based on Changes in Underlying Faiths

Dr. Rushdoony notes that the wide ramifications of Federal intervention of mean that “we are less and less under the constitution and increasingly under the Supreme Court.” But he does not particularly blame the Court for this state of affairs. The trend, he says, is a cultural phenomenon, and its origins are religious. The eighteenth century meanings of words have changed because our informing faith has changed. We have lost our old character. We produce short-cited Supreme Court justices because ewe fail, in the first instance, to educate potential judges as men. It is hard to visualize Great Soceitarian reading This Independent Republic. The very concept would be alien to him. He would not report your meaning if you tried to tell him that 1776 represented a “consecutive counterrevolution.” Law, today, is anything that 51 per cent of the people want to impose on 49 per cent. It’s “one man, one vote.” So it was for a moment in Hitler’s Germany; so it has been in some of the modern African states. But (see the Ghana Nkurumah) “one man, one vote, once.” The italics would meet with Dr. Rushdoony’s approval.

 

HENRY DAVID THOREAU by Joseph Wood Krutch (New York: Dell Publishing Company, Inc., 1965), 298 pp. $1.95.

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

Albert Jay Nock one remarked that Thoreau is a man to know, about not merely to know about. Mr. Krutch agrees, for his study is not just a collection of biographical data; it helps us understand the uniqueness of the man who wrote Walden.

Everyone knows that Thoreau lived in a shack by a pond. “He knew quite specifically know he wanted to live,” writes Krutch, “and what he wanted to live for; he was also sure that his discoveries had general relevancies had general relevance – not that everybody should live as he did but that each should go about the solution of his own particular problem in the same radical way.” In seeking the solitude Walden Pond Thoreau “was not merely running away from human society but attempting to run forward into something, and it was not a sense of richness which his solitude brought to him.” Thoreau is renowned as a lover of nature; but Krutch, himself one of the breed, explains that this does not mean going out to view nature as one visits an art gallery. Rather, Thoreau wished to become, in a sense, one with na­ture instead of being an intruder as are most men; his approach to nature was that of the poet.

Thoreau has two chunks of wis­dom for those of us living a cen­tury after his death. His most fundamental injunction was “sim­plify, simplify,” and this is espe­cially urgent in an age when trivi­alities occupy so much of our time and energy. In our eagerness to “go places” and “do things” we do not truly live but rather go through life, gaining the whole world, perhaps, but losing our souls.

Secondly, there is Thoreau’s con­tempt for group action, his rejec­tion of mass movements as a cure for the ills of the world. As Mr. Krutch explains, the great ques­tion of our day is whether man is a responsible being or a mere prod­uct of the environment. Whenever the latter answer prevails, we seek to change the system, believing that improved social machinery will produce better men. Thoreau disagreed; he accepted responsi­bility for himself. He saw no rea­son to postpone life while waiting for a new world, but sought to live the good life in nineteenth-century Concord. He did not come into the world chiefly to make it better, he said, but to live in it good or bad. Thoreau knew that if he busied himself with trying to reform others, he would neglect the only true reform possible, the upgrad­ing of himself.

 

THE IMAGE: A GUIDE TO PSEUDO-EVENTS IN AMER­ICA, Daniel J. Boorstin. Atheneum (cloth) $5.00; Harper (paper) $1.75. 315 pp.

Reviewed by Robert M. Thornton

“The villains who are said to be responsible for our perplexity — the hidden persuaders, the or­ganization men, Madison Avenue, Washington bureaucracy, the egg­heads, the anti-intellectuals, the power elite,” and so on, do not im­press Mr. Boorstin with their vil­lainy. What ails us, writes the Chicago professor of American history, “is not so much a vice as a ‘nothingness,’ ” and in seeking to relieve our boredom by filling the void with the pseudo-events he describes in this book we are divorcing ourselves from reality. Mr. Boorstin is “suspicious of all mass medicines for national malaise and national purposeless­ness…. Our real problem,” he asserts “is personal.”

Ours is a nation founded, and in earlier years guided, by ideals — chiefly, the freedom of persons to work out their own destinies, to discover purpose in their indi­vidual lives. But we are losing our vision, and American ideals are being replaced by American im­ages — dreams by illusions. As per­sons, whether individually or in groups, our concern is not, for instance, to be good or kind, but to create the image of being good or kind. We “talk constantly not of things themselves, but of their images.”

In the last few paragraphs of his book, Mr. Boorstin pretty well sums up what he has to say about America’s lost dream:

“… the prescriptions which nations offer for themselves are also symptoms of their diseases. But illusory solutions will not cure our illusions. Our discontent begins by finding false villains whom we can accuse of deceiving us. Next we find false heroes whom we expect to liberate us. The hardest, most discomfiting discovery is that each of us must emancipate himself….

“Each of us must disenchant himself, must moderate his expec­tations, must prepare himself to receive messages coming in from the outside… from our own past, from God, from the world we may hate or think we hate…. One of our grand illusions is the belief in a ‘cure.’ There is no cure. There is only the opportunity for discovery. For this the New World gave us a grand unique beginning….

“The least and the most we can hope for is that each of us may penetrate the unknown jungles of images in which we live our daily lives. That we may discover anew where dreams end and where illu­sions begin. This is enough. Then we may know where we are, and each of us may decide for himself where he wants to go.”

 

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Treason To Freedom

The greatest enemies of democracy, the most violent reactionaries, are those who have lost faith in the capacity of a free people to manage their own affairs and wish to set up the government as a political and social guardian, running their business and making their decisions for them. This is statism, or Stalinism, no matter who ad­vocates it, and it’s plain treason to freedom.

MAXWELL ANDERSON, The Guaranteed Life 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.