The State as Sovereign

The State as Sovereign

Christ, Politics, and the Media (Transcripts)

R.J. Rushdoony

Chalcedon Founder

The State as Sovereign

R.J. Rushdoony

Our subject in this morning's session is; ‘the state as sovereign.’ In the afternoon our subject will be ‘the necessary vision.’ To understand the Biblical perspective on civil government we must begin with God, not the state. The fundamental premise of scripture from beginning to end is that God is the Lord. The word ‘Lord’ in the Old Testament Hebrew ‘Adonai’ is the most frequently applied term to God. In the New Testament the term ‘Kurios,’ Lord, in the Greek, is the most frequently applied term to Jesus Christ. Translate that word into modern terminology and it is: ‘sovereign.’ The Bible makes clear that only God the Lord is sovereign, not the state. But nothing is more basic to the doctrine of civil government today than the sovereignty of the state. We are told in Acts 17:28 that all things live and move and have their being in God.

But basic to the concept of the modern state is that all things must live, move, and have their being in the state. And that the state has the right to control all things; all things must live under its jurisdiction and by its law. So that in many civil governments a meeting such as this cannot take place without the state’s permission. And the law actually covers that, I am told, in Florida, so that technically, this is an illegal meeting. The modern state thus sees itself as the sovereign governor over all things, and nothing has a legitimate existence apart from its permission and its approval.

Let us pause for a moment to define the word ‘government’ as Christians have historically defined it, to review matters that I have covered in Atlanta on another occasion. For us as Christians, the basic government is first the self-government of the Christian man. Second, the family. Third, the school. Fourth, the church. Fifth, your vocation. Sixth, society. And finally, seventh, as one form of government among many-civil governments. All these areas govern us; our work governs us; it sets the pattern of our daily life. The conditions whereby we can and must work. Moreover, each of these seven spheres has many sub-spheres, each equally under God, not a head over each sphere.

Thus, in your vocation, there is no emperor or pope that governs every business activity, every corporation, every home industry, every farm under the sun. Each of these sub-spheres is self-governing. Then there are a multitude of professional societies, labor groups, again, self-governing. Society has a multitude of free agencies and associations, all of which govern many peoples without the state.

Some societies in history have had a government but no state. In fact, as scholars like Friedrich and Bilzer have stated, earlier in European history civil government was not a state, but estates, estates. Each of these estates was interlocking, and to a large degree, self-governing. For example: one of the most common divisions of the state was of; nobles, commoners, and the church. In other instances, lawyers and merchants were ‘estates,’ so that the various segments of society were self-governing, had interlocking relationships, and together made up the government of society. Thus, instead of a state, there was a realm and within the realm; various estates, each with its prerogatives, liberties, and powers.

We must not idealize this older, medieval and semi-medieval society. It had its problems. But it represented a tremendous Christian advance over paganism, with its statism, with its totalitarianism, with its belief that the state is God walking on earth, and its worship of the emperor, or of the office of the ruler. With the barbarians and the overthrow of Rome as Christian missionaries moved throughout Europe they began the creation of a new social order; one without a human sovereign, and they struggled reviving paganism over and over again. We too seldom appreciate the battle in the Middle Ages between kings claiming sovereignty and the right to rule over the church, and the attempt of the church to free itself from that.

Our history books are largely false at this point. They tell us about the attempt of The Papacy to rule over Europe, which, except for one or two popes, is largely a myth. The persistent battle was in the part of the church to free itself from the total control of the state, and the state finally triumphed. It would tolerate no bishop or pope who was truly a Christian. It controlled the college of cardinals, and had men named to high office who were their puppets, who confined themselves to an interest in the arts and left religion and the state alone.

The modern idea of the state is a product of monarchism. Power was gained by the monarchs over the estates, and over the church, and the state replaced them. Before independence in the United States, both church and state were under the British crown. With independence, one of the things dispensed with was precisely this kind of control and sovereignty. We must remember that the constitution at no point uses the word ‘sovereign’ or ‘sovereignty’; it is deliberately omitted. It was believed that the term was theological and belonged only to God.

Step by step, however, the courts began to reintroduce the concept. It is significant that they began it with a claim to sovereignty over money: to control the blood of economics. The doctrine, however, was still not in very great repute until World War I when under Wilson it began to be asserted a little more boldly. With Franklin D. Roosevelt became a basis of Federal operation, and since then it has routinely been claimed and asserted that the state is sovereign.

In state and federal courts where I have been a witness for parents, churches, and Christian schools I’ve often cited the fact that the constitution makes no reference to ‘sovereignty,’ and the judges have usually looked surprised, it is routinely assumed.

Using the old pre-independence laws which established the church under the crown in a couple of states after independence, The Unitarians gained control of the church and seized all the property in Connecticut and Massachusetts. And the Calvinistic churches, the old Puritan churches, which broke away from that incorporated to assert their independence and freedom with the state. With the de-Christianization of Western societies there came a steady insistence and a drive towards what David Martin has called ‘the secularist monopoly.’ That is the Humanist insistence on a monopoly by the state and Humanism over every area of life.

As a result, we have seen the most fanatical religion in all of history in Humanism. It has destroyed millions upon millions of human beings, beginning with The French Revolution, The Russian Revolution, The Chinese Revolution, the revolutions in South-East Asia, in Central Europe, in Africa, and elsewhere. All asserting their duty to annihilate all unwanted religions, all non-humanistic faiths and peoples. This has been done in the name of Democracy, in the name of Fascism, and Nazism, and in the name of the name of every form of Humanism.

Let us pause for a moment now to review briefly the points we have touched on. First, that the state is now equated with government; undermining all old spheres of self-government, the state has replaced the estates.

Second, that the modern state is a secular humanist monopoly. With Comte, the father of sociology and one of the great figures in humanism, there was an attempt to establish a Catholic humanistic church to be a world church. However, this very quickly was scuttled, because the humanistic state did not want to share power with any other institution even though it was also humanistic.

Now, the third aspect of this development, one we’ve also cited. The Bible says that God alone is Lord, or sovereign. As we have seen, the U.S. Constitution refused to use the term ‘sovereign,’ a term now claimed by the federal government. Now sovereignty is a total concept. There can be no partial Lord or sovereign. A sovereign is either sovereign or he is not. When sovereignty was claimed by monarchs, they quickly recognized what it meant, indeed, they did from the very beginning. Simply this; ‘no law can limit or restrict a sovereign.’

Because the sovereign is the source of all law. The sovereign is the source of all power in a realm. He can be bound by none. No laws passed can restrain a sovereign. He can make, he can break, he can restrain all law. Thus, it is futile to attempt to pass laws which will limit the power of state and federal governments. In the long run it does not work, in the short run I’m all for it, but in the long run unless we replace the state as sovereign with the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign our work is futile.

Men cannot live without a sovereign, without a Lord, and if the Triune God is not man’s Lord, then some human being or agency will be. And it is because the church has failed in asserting the crown rights of Christ of our king, that we now have the state as our sovereign. The only way a sovereign can be undermined is by faith in another sovereign. This has been the reason why Marxism has been successful. It has propagated the belief that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the only true sovereign, as against the other forms of government. And with a faith in this, Marxist have overthrown government after government.

Now as a growing number of Christians recognize the crown rights of Christ our King, we are beginning to see the impact of God’s sovereignty on our nation.

Then fourth, according to scripture God in his infinite wisdom predestines all things, ordains all things, and determines what is right and wrong. With Humanistic Statism the elite planners assume the right to plan and to predestine all things. To determine what is good and evil, and we see today the arrogance of humanism as it plays God, and attempts to provide cradle to grave security for all men.

In a recent review just a matter of days ago in the Wall Street Journal by Guy Thorman, a French journalist, of a book by an American professor David P. Jordan on the revolutionary career of Maximilien Robespierre the French Revolutionary leader,  Guy Thorman writes;

“Mr. Jordan following strictly the lines of Robespierre’s own text, does not try to reconcile ideology with shrewdness, but Robespierre’s great innovation had been to justify any private or public deed by ideology. Revolution was a discourse, Robespierre’s discourse. Any enemy of Robespierre was an enemy of reason and progress. When Robespierre intoned ‘I am the people,’ he set off echoes that still sound today in totalitarian revolutions. It is not by mere chance that the first and perhaps the only statue of Robespierre was erected by Lenin in Moscow. In contrast, no street in Paris bears his name. Robespierre is not a national hero in France, but a Partisan hero. There is a good reason to celebrate the liberal and bourgeois revolution of 1789-1792 which brought to France a constitution guaranteeing political freedom, civil equality, and private property. But the world today still suffers from the stamp of Robespierre, the first Democratic leader who somehow knew better than the people what was good for the people.” 1

This is now the identifying mark of the humanist and the statist. They know better than the people what is good for the people. As the doctors of the state, they prescribe for the people of the state and they compel compliance.

This takes us to our fifth point, the reason for this is the identification of the state and its elite rulers with reason, so that the state is seen as reason incarnate and its elite planners as reason incarnate. For Hegel, one of the great sources of revolutionary thinking, the state manifested the high point in evolution of reason so that reason incarnated itself in the state. Hegel, the father of modern political thinking of every stripe; Fascism, Marxism, Democratic, Nazism, Revolutionary thinking, wrote in his philosophy of history;

“The only thought which philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of history is the simple conception of reason. That reason is the sovereign of the world, that the history of the world therefore presents us with a rational process. This conviction and intuition as a hypothesis in the domain of history, as such, in that a philosophy it is no hypothesis, it is there proved by speculative cognition that reason, and this term may here sufficeth without investigating the relations sustained by the universe to the divine being is substance as well as infinite power. Its own infinite material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates has also the infinite form. That which sets this material in motion. On the one hand, reason is the substance of the universe by which and in which all reality has its being and subsistence. On the other hand, it is the infinite energy of the universe. Since reason is not so powerless as to be incapable of producing anything but a mere ideal, a mere intention, having its place outside reality, nobody knows where, something separate and abstract in the head of certain human beings. It is rather the infinite complex of things, their entire essence and truth.”

Now that’s a good philosophical definition of God. Hegel says we live and move and have our being in reason, that reason is the substance, the spirit, the matter, the form, the energy of all Creation and it is incarnate in the state. Nothing remains whereby God can be defined, because for Hegel, although he sometimes threw in the word ‘God’ to keep the church happy, made the state God walking on earth. Hegel brought together the divine spirit/reason in the universe and the human mind in his doctrine of ‘geist’ or ‘spirit.’ In the words of Kroner:

Geist denotes both the human mind, and the divine spirit.” 2

“In his concept of Geist Hegel found the inseparable connection between mind and spirit, between the human and the divine.” 3

Hegel held:

“the shape which the perfect embodiment of Spirit assumes [to be]—the State.” 4

Now in terms of this, it follows logically that the state is God walking on earth. It follows in terms of Hegel’s words; “Morality is a political affair.” 5 Thus, neither religion nor morality can come from the church unless the church preaches statism. In The Positivity of the Christian Religion, Hegel wrote:

“A religion is better or worse according as, with a view to producing this disposition which gives birth to action in correspondence with the civil or the moral laws, it sets to work through moral motives or through terrorizing the imagination and, consequentially, the will.” 6

What did Hegel say? The purpose of religion is to create obedience to the state! Since the state is the source of all morality as reason incarnate. It is not an accident that since Hegel, churches have been more subservient to the state, because this has been the teaching that everyone gets all the way through the educational process. In terms of Hegelian thought, a peculiar interpretation of Romans thirteen is made the only scripture worth considering, so that the church and its members are to obey irrespective of all circumstances. Note too, what Hegel said: There were two means, two stresses that the Christian church should make. First, the subservience of the people through moral other words to equate morality to being a good citizen and obeying whatever the state requires. And second, the subservience of the people to be gained through “...terrorizing the imagination.” That’s Hegel's phrase.

Hegel was not against hellfire and damnation preaching provided it was not with regard to the Christian faith but with regard to the statist faith. Terrorize the people! Bring them into subservience with a horror of what it means to disobey the state! Nothing here but the apostolic affirmation: “We must obey God rather than man.” Of course, while the church supposedly terrorizes the imagination, the Hegelian state terrorizes the body, brutalizes it. And terror is now increasingly a part of the operation of the modern state. The more it grows in the direction of Hegelianism, the more it develops its implications, the more it becomes a terror-state.

A couple of years ago when I was still working on my book Christianity and the State which will be out shortly, I suddenly came to a recognition of something that was startling. I was dealing at the time specifically with a situation in Mexico, and I realized that the intellectuals in Mexico were so far in advance of the American intellectuals that there was no comparison. They didn’t have the drag of all of us to hold them back. They were able to apply their ideas more systematically. They represented a more logical intellectual development. And this is the problem of Mexico. The intellectuals have been in control, they have created, starting a century ago, a totalitarian state in which everything conforms to reason. But reason, we should note, does not conform to reality or to God’s world, and hence their crisis. The only reason we are not in the same boat as The Soviet Union and other countries is that our intellectuals have not had their way to the same extent. That we have, as it were, thinking in terms of Hegel, being a more ‘backward’ people. And hence our progress because we’ve been able to retain freedom as against this statism. The state as God walking on earth, as reason incarnate.

And the intellectual elite, the planners of the state as the voice of reason telling us what is best for us because we are incapable of knowing what is best, especially if our minds are blinded by the ‘superstition’ of religion. This is the great evil of our time. Statism. The state seeks to be worshiped and obeyed as God, to be continually exalted and to be made the ultimate authority on good and evil, on law, on education, and much, much more. Two sovereigns cannot coexist; either the state is Lord, or the Triune God is. Two sovereigns cannot coexist.

Therefore, we as Christians must say “the state as sovereign must go!” Only the living God is The Lord, and you’d better recognize and believe that the premise of statism is that Jesus Christ as Lord, as sovereign, must go, because they cannot tolerate a rival Lord. We have a battle ahead, and while you and I may lose, but not Jesus Christ. And if we stand with Him we are then “…more than conquerors…” for “…this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith…” and none other! Thank you.

1 David P. Jordan. The Revolutionary Career of Maximilien Robespierre. New York: The Free Press, 1985.

2 G.W.F. Hegel. Early Theological Writings. Translated by T.M. Knox and Richard Kroner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948, 24.

3 G.W.F. Hegel. Early Theological Writings. Translated by T.M. Knox and Richard Kroner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948, 33.

4 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. Revised Edition. New York: The Colonial Press, 1900, 17.

5 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. Revised Edition. New York: The Colonial Press, 1900, 71.

6 G.W.F. Hegel. Early Theological Writings. Translated by T.M. Knox and Richard Kroner. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948, 98.