I picked up a copy of Rousas John Rushdoony’s The Biblical Philosophy of History, after learning about the man from my friend Ben House, who blogs at The Heavy Laden Bookshelf.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed in this book.
I have sympathy for Rushdoony’s general proposition that there is a God and that he acts in history. So my criticism is not on anti-theistic grounds. I disagree, however, with nearly every sentence in the book. I disagree with many of Rushdoony’s historical interpretations (which he has gathered third hand); I disagree with his biblical interpretations (which seem arrogantly asserted); I disagree with his logic. I would probably disagree with his thesis, if I could find it.
Rushdoony, it appears from the book, is quite the conservative. He hates socialism, social science, science, and anything else that starts with the letter “s” and does not appear in the Bible. His enemies are a simplified, unnuanced Freud, Marx, Kant, and Darwin. He likes to drop names like Dewey, James, and Peirce, but even when he discusses his more familiar theological writers like Karl Barth and Cornelius Van Til, he treatment of others is simplistic or wrong.
From an organizational standpoint, the book is a disaster. Rushdoony organizes his blocks of text into thirteen “chapters”, appropriating the term “chapter” from the traditional Western book, in which a chapter designates a coherent set of content organized around an argument, usually presented in the form of a thesis with following paragraphs that include topic sentences. Typically chapters follow each other in some kind of chronological or thematic order. Rushdoony’s writing does not appear to contain any of these traditional elements. He is fond of the epigraph, that is the use of poetry to introduce a chapter. This is not only unhelpful and distracting, but annoying.
As for the content of this book, it consists largely of disconnected propositions lacking argument or citation. He opens with the lines “The question “What is History?” confronts the Christian scholar and student today with a great urgency. Accustomed as he is to believing that history is the story of what has happened in time, in terms of its major events and movement, the average man is little prepared to cope with the many new concepts of history which undergird modern historiography” (3) My response.:No it doesn’t. The question of the nature of history does not confront men then or today. Few ask the question, and fewer still with any urgency.
Rushdoony’s bogeyman is the secular thinker who is totally immersed in history. Typical of his writings is this from page 6: “Man as the high point of process and evolution, becomes also the high point of process and evolution, becomes also the high point of history and of the power of prediction and predestination.” Believe me, this quote makes even less sense when put into context.
For more Rushdoonian wisdom, follow me to page 13, where he writes “Education must be Christian, because all non-Christian education is committed to beliefs which are either implicitly or explicitly at war with the Christian faith.” This is probably the type of guy who thinks we need a Christian geometry and a Christian mathematics, lest the socialists use it for their terrible ends. He makes similar blanket statements when dealing exclusively with theological questions. “Creationism and predestination are logical corollaries of each other and cannot logically be separated.” (24). This seems to be a Calvinist position, but it is hardly the only available Christian view, and one might think that an argument for predestination would introduce rival views. Rushdoony, true to form, appears not to know how to craft a counter-argument.
Rushdoony thinks secular history is mostly social science and prediction. He appears to have little understanding of any historical tradition outside of socialist history, early twentieth century Progressivism, and modern (1960s) conservative history. He never mentions idealist history, for example, or thinkers like R.G. Collingwood, traditionally a hero of mid-century conservative scholars.
I suspected that the man was an idiot, but then he confirmed it on page 60, when he insinuates that an escalation in the number of natural disasters per year since 1950 is the result of divine judgement. For a man who hates science, prediction, and social scientific periodization and concept formation, it is strange that Rushdoony would rely on such statistics to defend his view. It is more odd still that his only source on this data is an almanac which he cites uncritically.
Page 53 includes some arguments about whether Russell Kirk would be a Tory or a Whig should he be transported back to the American Revolution. (Kirk would hardly need a change of clothes to fit in!) With this is a irrelevent three-quarters of a page footnote citation to an article by Gary North.
On page 88, Rushdoony misinterprets part of passage from a book by Kenneth Stamp and spends a page and half slandering him.
The book has no conclusion, which is fitting, since it had no thesis.