2. Flight From Life (Remastered)

R.J. Rushdoony • May, 22 2024

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

R.J. Rushdoony

One of the dominant aspects of modern life is escapism. Not only in literature but in all the arts, there is a rebellion against the realities of life and a systematic attempt to find refuge in a dream-world. A prominent area of escape for the past century has been in the academic world, the university in particular. Men who found the realities of a workaday world unpleasant, turn to the university as a way out. It was not scholarship they loved, but the business world which they hated. To them the test of a working world was anathema. They were in a sense a new kind of hermit, running away from the civilized world and renouncing it for a new way of life.

Speaking of some of these men in England, the critic Edward Wilson spoke of them as belonging: “to the monastic order of English University aesthetics.”

Their asceticism was forsaking the world of capitalism and Christianity, the world of the family and its morality for a new order, an anti-Christian one. Everything in the old world was and is to these men evil and anathema. And they denounce it with religious intensity and passion. The basic fallacy of these men was and is their flight from reality.

Now, a rebellion against the injustices and evils of this world is a healthy and necessary reaction in every generation. Progress is in part a product of discontent, an unwillingness to accept the status quo and a desire to establish better law and order, greater justice and a stronger sense of community. Inventions have been a product of man’s restlessness with inadequate devices and a desire to improve on techniques and devices. Progress, however, comes only when men move in terms of a sense of reality, not in flight from reality.

To cite a commonplace illustration, two brothers from a particularly unprivileged home both sought to escape it. One sought refuge in liquor first, and later in narcotics. The other studied at night until he was able to qualify for a responsible and well-paying position. But history has periodically seen man in full rebellion against reality, and in flight from it. They seek to conform life and reality to their dream world, to impossibilities, which seem wonderful in imagination, but produce horror and destruction when forced onto reality. For a man of seventy-five to dream of being twenty-one again is foolish enough. But to attempt to play the part of a young man of twenty-one is insanity! It is a flight from reality and life, because life can only be lived in terms of reality.

University is still a major form of escapism. And the perpetual student who is unwilling to grow up and leave the university is a common fact today. Most universities are crowded with non-students or unweaned students who cling to the school because they are unwilling to face the hated adult world of work and responsibility.

Politics, however, has become an even more important form of escapism. The political escapist hates reality and he plans to abolish reality by means of political action. Basic to the biblical faith is individual responsibility. Man is a sinner, accountable to God, redeemable only by Jesus Christ. And the focal point of social change must be the heart of man. But because man is a sinner, he is unwilling to accept responsibility for his sin. Nor is he ready to blame himself for his failures. Instead, his basic presupposition is that all is well with him and all is wrong with the world. Therefore, his every answer to his problems is to change the world, not himself.

For Karl Marx, this meant revolution. Marx had a religious belief in the power of revolution to create a paradise on earth. The result of the destruction of the old order would be the birth of a new order. This faith was plainly stated by the Marxists in Russia at the second congress of the party, August, 1903. It was actually believed that the revolution would abolish exploitation and class divisions, in actuality, it increased them.

This 1903 manifesto was one of the four great Communist manifestos. Some of the things this manifesto called for are of interest. Thus, it called for local self-government on a wide scale, home rule for all localities where the population is of a special composition, and characterized by special conditions of life. It also demanded:

“...inviolability of person and dwelling, unlimited freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, strikes and unions. Freedom of movement and occupation.” 1

Of course, the very opposite of this is the rule in all Marxist countries. But this is not all. The manifesto called for:

“An eight hour weekday for all hired labor, and also for the complete prohibition of overtime work, and prohibition of night-work from nine p.m. to six p.m. and all branches of national economy with the exception of those in which this is absolutely necessary because of technical considerations approved by labor organizations. Prohibition of the employment of children of school age. Prohibition of women’s labor in all branches of industry injurious to women’s health.” 2

The manifesto cited the need for a complete socialist overturn as the only way for abolishing all poverty and all exploitation. The necessary condition for this social revolution they said was the dictatorship of the proletariat. The revolution, according to the manifesto, would bring about a transition from barbarism to a democratic republic whose constitution would guarantee liberty. The reality of course is that the revolution which the Marxists of 1903 brought about in 1917 in Russia, not only did not bring about the glorious new world they dreamt of, but created a tyranny which executed virtually every surviving framer of the 1903 manifesto. Instead of a glorious liberty, the result was a brutal reign of terror, one which continues to this day.

The root cause of the failure of the Marxist dream was that it represents a flight from reality. Marxism denies the biblical doctrine of original sin. Instead of dealing realistically with men as sinners, it holds to the neutral or even good nature of man and his perfectibility. This means that, instead of distrusting men and hedging him in checks and balances in the state, Marxism trusts power in the hands of men and creates a totalitarian state.

The result of this inability to see man as he is, is an inability to live in terms of reality. The Marxist lacks the capacity to govern because he knows neither his own nature nor the nature of man everywhere. He lives under the illusion that his Marxist dream represents inevitable historical truth instead of error. As a result, his mental perspective is no different than that of the insane. He regards his illusions as reality, and insists on living in terms of his illusions. As a consequence, his government can only produce chaos and destruction. It is a perpetual hindrance to the very productivity it demands of the people. A Marxist state accuses the people of sabotaging the national economy, when the actual saboteur is the Marxist state.

This flight from reality infects more than the Marxists of our time. It infects, as we have seen, the world of the university. It also infects liberalism, which builds also on the fallacious premise of the goodness of man. Some forms of political conservatism, because they reject Christian foundations, are guilty of the same illusion concerning man.

Every failure to recognize man as a sinner, every failure to face reality as it is before we begin to deal with it constructively, is not a flight from reality but a flight from life. We are running away from life if we refuse to face it as it is. If we demand that life conform itself to our illusions. Dostoyevsky saw clearly the implications of the radical thinkers of his day. Starting from unlimited freedom, they arrived at unlimited despotism. Mankind was divided into two unequal parts.

“One-tenth enjoys absolute liberty and unbounded power over the other nine-tenths. The others have to give up all individuality and become, so to speak, a herd, and, through boundless submission, will by a series of regenerations attain primeval innocence, something like the Garden of Eden.” 3

In effect, what the advocates of this socialist world demand is the right to become gods and rule over all other men. For men to imagine themselves to be gods is a flight from reality into monstrous delusions. Dostoyevsky has a radical declare:

“Every one belongs to all and all to every one. All are slaves and equal in their slavery.

“There has never been either freedom or equality without despotism, but in the herd there is bound to be equality…”

“The moment you have family ties or love you have the desire for property. We will destroy that desire…” 4

“We'll reduce all to a common denominator! Complete equality!

Absolute submission, absolute loss of individuality.” 5

Dostoyevsky attempted to warn man of what was coming. But men failed to heed his warning because they shared the same humanistic illusions concerning man. They refused to face the fact of man’s total depravity. They were themselves too guilty of the desire to be gods to see this urge as a sin in other men.

Basic to every flight from reality is a flight from creaturehood, an unwillingness to accept the fact that we are men, not gods. Satan’s basic temptation and man’s original sin is the attempt to be as gods, knowing or determining good or evil for ourselves. Man was created by God to be a man, not a god, and given a glorious destiny as man under God. Man was summoned to be king, priest and prophet under God over the earth, but man sinned by attempting his own god.

In Jesus Christ man is restored to his destiny. Apart from Jesus Christ, man lives under the illusion that his sin, to be as god, is fact, and he attempts to make his word become flesh, that is, his illusion to become fact. The consequence is destruction and chaos. Every flight from reality is suicidal. It is the flight also from life. Life can only be realized in its potentialities on God’s terms, not man’s. Christ’s words speaking as wisdom are still true.

“He that sinneth against God wrongeth his own soul. All they that hate me love death.” 6

1. Thomas P. Whitney, ed., The Communist Bluefnint for the Future: The Complete Texts of All Four Communist Manifestos 1844-1961 (New York: Dutton, 1962), 68.

2. Thomas P. Whitney, ed., The Communist Bluefnint for the Future: The Complete Texts of All Four Communist Manifestos 1844-1961 (New York: Dutton, 1962), 69-73.

3. Fyodor, Dostoevsky. The Possessed, A Novel in Three Parts. Translated by Constancwe Garnett. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925, 377.

4. Fyodor, Dostoevsky. The Possessed, A Novel in Three Parts. Translated by Constancwe Garnett. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925, 391.

5. Fyodor, Dostoevsky. The Possessed, A Novel in Three Parts. Translated by Constancwe Garnett. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925, 391, 392.

6. Proverbs 8:36

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