1. Flight From Knowledge (Remastered)

R.J. Rushdoony • May, 22 2024

Know someone who would find this encouraging?

  • Series: Flight From Knowledge and Life (Remastered)
  • Topics:

Flight from Knowledge

R.J. Rushdoony

Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior was not only the leading American champion of legal positivism, but he was also prominent in the relativistic hostility to knowledge. In a letter to Harold Laski, dated October 30, 1930 Holmes observed: “I detest the man who knows that he knows.” 1 In part, Holmes’ remark had reference to fanatics who manifested an irrational insistence on the truth of their position, but Holmes had more in mind than this. Basically his position was the same of a later Chief Justice, Frederick Moore Vincent who said: “Nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes.” 2 Vincent and Holmes were both relativists. For them there was no truth, no absolute right or wrong. Their perspective was pragmatic and positivistic and of course anti-Christian.

The possibility of true knowledge concerning ultimate reality is denied by relativism. It is held that man cannotknow God, if he exists, nor can he know the world of nature truly. He can use reality but he cannot truly know it. Not only this but the attempt to gain knowledge is itself condemned. According to Comte, the father of sociology, the quest for meaning and knowledge represents the theological and metaphysical stages of history. Now in the scientific stage, man moves not in terms of myth and meaning, not in terms of knowledge, but in terms of utility. The real question, we are told, is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘How can I use it?’ Man must renounce meaning and knowledge for the pragmatic use of things. The goal of learning therefore is not knowledge but the power to manipulate. In dealing either with men or things our purpose under pragmatism and relativism becomes not a knowledge of things but the power to manipulate them.

Education today is under the influence of this philosophy and expressive of it. Whether it is Marxist, existentialist, pragmatic, instrumentalist, progressivistic, or other forms, modern education is hostile to knowledge, and is in flight from knowledge. Its negative function is to indoctrinate its subjects with a radical cynicism concerning the family, patriotism, religion, philosophy, theology and all things else. The students must be divorced from meaning and knowledge and married to power because it is held: “knowledge is power.” As a result, all the traditional subjects have changed. History is no longer treated as history, the knowledge of the past. It is social science now, the science of human control. And when the past is studied, it is in terms of controlling the present. Philosophy too has changed. It is no longer as its name indicates; ‘the love of wisdom or knowledge.’ Its basic disciplines; epistemology and metaphysics are treated with contempt. Philosophy has become the tool of power, it is instrumental to science and science controls it. The idea that true knowledge should be the goal of philosophy is ridiculed as a prescientific expectation. Much of philosophy has become logical analysis, the study of words and their uses as instruments of power.

Semantics too is interested in language only in the instrumental sense. Thus as S.I. Hayakawa has observed:

“Identification is something that goes on in the human nervous system. Out there, there are no absolute identities.” 3

In other words there is no truth, and therefore man is free to pioneer in this world without any restrictions or inhibitions. Therefore education today is concerned not with knowledge but with the techniques of power. We call it ‘technical education’ or ‘technical knowledge,’ but it is simply the ability to use the techniques of a profession, not the knowledge of things. People in other words are interested in power.

Even in the churches this basic pragmatism prevails. It is not the knowledge of God and his word that men seek, but rather how to live more successfully, how to find peace, how to win friends and the like. The basic question asked of religion is this: “What is God doing for man?” People go to church, not to worship, not to submit themselves to God and to gain knowledge from God’s Word, but to advance themselves psychologically and socially. And increasingly it is held that the church is not truly the church unless it works to further the social revolution. The church itself has become another pragmatic tool of humanistic man.

The flight from knowledge means basically an anti-social movement. To deny that there is any absolute truth and absolute knowledge is to deny that there is a God who is the creator and Lord over all things and whose order and truth govern all things and is the source of all truth and knowledge. If there is no absolute knowledge in God and from God in his revelation, then the only absolute in any man’s life is himself. Then every man is his own God, his own law, and his own source of knowledge. His self-knowledge is the only knowledge possible to him because then there is no other truth than man. Man’s purpose becomes power over other men, that control over the world of men and things that will prove to himself that he is God which he believes he is. As a result, he isolates himself from all men, withdraws into the solitariness of his imagined godhead. And together with all the other men who delude themselves with the same pretension of godhood, he becomes a member of ‘the lonely crowd.’ Instead of being a man among men, he sees himself as a god among men, and his goal becomes not to love or hate men, that is to have a personal relationship with them, but to use men, to manipulate them impersonally.

As a result, in the name of humanity, this man-god treats mankind as an object to be used and manipulated. The modern humanist is in secession from society. He is in flight from knowledge and is in full-scale retreat from reality. The humanist is compelled to deny the possibility of knowledge because it is the only possible way he can imagine of denying God. David declared:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament sheweth his handywork.

Day unto day uttereth speech,

And night unto night sheweth knowledge.

There is no speech nor language,

Where their voice is not heard. 4

Saint Paul said:

“...that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” 5

All men’s knowledge witnesses to God and the law and order of God’s creation witnesses to God. So that man faces everywhere the inescapable knowledge of God. The knowledge of God is inescapable, because all things were created by God and therefore witness to Him. Every fact is a God-created fact, and therefore can only witness to God. Every fact proclaims God when it is truly known.

The only way the humanist believes that he can escape God is to deny the possibility of knowledge. The purpose of relativism in its every form is to shut the door in the face of God, to deny the possibility of knowledge, because all knowledge testifies to God. It is not merely the denial of knowledge but the intense flight from knowledge which characterizes it.

Relativism is the modern form of atheism. It is far more radical than the older atheism which merely denied God. Relativism denies not only God but all knowledge. Relativism therefore unleashes the forces of total negation. It creates an hostility of all fronts to all law and order, to every institution except the power-state. It attacks the family because it hates the ties of family love. Family love involves subordination to an accepted law and order, to parents, to the responsibility of a husband or a wife. Such subordination and responsibility is intolerable to these humanistic gods. The only relationship tolerable to them is ‘free love.’ That is, a relationship without obligation or responsibility, a relationship which can be assumed freely or dropped just as freely. It is an intolerable concept for these humanistic ‘gods’ to be chained to domestic responsibilities.

Total negation means total hatred. As a result relativism attacks every kind of loyalty, faith and responsibility. Love involves affirmation, love means loyalty and association, it means responsibility. For men to maintain the illusion that they are the gods of creation it is important for them to maintain their independence from all other men, and from all ties and responsibilities. As a result, humanism leads to man’s isolation from man, to man’s hatred of every tie that binds, every love that claims him. Total negation is total hatred.

Total negation is also total ignorance. The flight from knowledge can only cumulate logically in ignorance because relativism and pragmatism are dedicated to a systematic ignorance of certain knowledge. It is not surprising, therefore, that progressive education produces academic ignorance. Nor that existentialism produces an unwashed, boorish and ignorant herd of followers. The flight from knowledge, however, is doomed to frustration. Since man also is a God-created fact, man can nowhere escape the knowledge of God. David made clear this inescapable knowledge of God:

Whither shall I go from thy spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

If I take the wings of the morning,

And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall thy hand lead me,

And thy right hand shall hold me.

If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;

Even the night shall be light about me.

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee;

But the night shineth as the day:

The darkness and the light are both alike to thee. 6

Men can neither escape from God nor from the knowledge of God. Saint Paul declared that in the fullness of time:

“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 7

The inescapable knowledge of God shall bring inescapable submission to Jesus Christ, either as savior or as judge.

The conclusion of the flight from knowledge is the grim reality of the inescapable knowledge of judgment. Every individual and every civilization is faced with the fact of inescapable knowledge. Either they dedicate themselves to the knowledge of God and the knowledge of all things in Him,or they face the inescapable knowledge of God in the form of judgment.

1. Edmund Wilson: Eight Essays, p. 235. Garden City: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954.

2. ‘Nothing is more certain in modern society’, Chief Justice Vinson wrote in the First Amendment case of Dennis v United States (1951), ‘than the principle that there are no absolutes’.

3. S.I. Hayakawa, "How Words Change Our Lives," Saturday Evening Post, December 27, 1958.

4. The Holy Bible: King James Version (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ps 19:1–3). (2009). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

5. The Holy Bible: King James Version (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ro 1:19–20). (2009). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

6. The Holy Bible: King James Version (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ps 139:7–12). (2009). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

7. The Holy Bible: King James Version (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Php 2:10–11). (2009). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

More Series