Dominion Theology: Salvation or Snare for Liberty?
A review of Robert Grözinger, Why Libertarianism Needs Christianity to Succeed, Kindle eBook, April 7, 2020.
Dominion Theology: Salvation or Snare for Liberty?
Anthony G. Flood
This provocative essay derives from a talk given to the Libertarian Alliance in London late last summer. German economist and translator Robert Grözinger (Jesus, der Kapitalist: Das christliche Herz der Marktwirtschaft, Munich, 2012) argues that libertarianism, which traditionally prides itself on its alleged independence from philosophical frameworks, cannot succeed without one that gives meaning to liberty-seeking itself. Arguments for, say, the superiority of free to hampered markets don’t compensate libertarianism for its lack of an adequate framework of meaning or worldview. Libertarians should identify theirs and persuade others on its terms if they want libertarianism to be more than an intellectual hobby. For if libertarianism’s attitude toward ultimate-meaning frameworks remains as laissez-faire as its politics, its attractiveness will remain limited. Grözinger believes Christianity best meets that need.
Grözinger believes that most people—regular folks, not nerds who read themselves into and out of ideologies—are not libertarian for this reason: they seek meaning as much as (if not more than) economic well-being. Intellectual conviction that in a libertarian society everyone will be, on the whole, materially better off than in any alternative arrangement is not enough to seal the deal. For the masses, liberty may be a great good, especially when they’re deprived of it, but not necessarily life’s chief good around which all others revolve. If one wishes to attain and retain other great goods, the libertarian argues, one cannot neglect liberty. Liberty doesn’t defend itself, so people must learn to make it an object of thought and protection. Grözinger amplifies this insight: theoretically self-conscious defenders of liberty must, no less self-consciously, ground their defense in a worldview that embraces many values, not just one.
In his short book Grözinger packs in enough topics to fill an interdisciplinary graduate seminar in politics and religion; I’ll have to pass over how he draws upon Jordan Peterson, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and Friedrich Hayek and focus on the writer who answers Grözinger’s question to his satisfaction: Reformed historian and theonomist Gary North. Of the several scholars whose work Grözinger draws upon, North is the only one who’s also a professing Christian—and one with whom many (if not most) other Christians disagree.
I find Grözinger’s gambit odd: first, how likely are non-Christian libertarians to weigh Christianity’s claims, or those of any other worldview, as a function of its political usefulness? That seems a cynical abuse of Christianity; self-respecting Christians certainly don’t view their faith as such an expedient.
Second, for most Christians the Bible is primarily the product of the Holy Spirit Who verbally inspired men to write its books; the contingencies of history (which Grözinger’s touches on in his discussion of Peterson) are important, but secondary. If Grözinger believes Scripture is divinely inspired, he doesn’t make that explicit. We have to infer it from his apparent subscription to Reformed theology. He gives the impression that, in the interest of harmonizing libertarianism and Christianity, he’s constructing, if not contriving, versions of both in which few adherents of either will recognize themselves.
Libertarians will resist the invitation to adopt a worldview to which they’re not already attracted, including the idiosyncratic version of Reformed Christianity of Grözinger’s apparent persuasion. Theonomists—virtually all of whom are Reformed Christians, who believe in the continuing validity and force of the law God gave to Moses—will tell libertarians not only what kind of liberty is consistent with godly order, but also what order-upsetting behavior merits capital punishment. Only in a Pickwickian sense can a Christian theonomy be understood as the ground of a libertarian order.
Grözinger argues that “a re-connection with Christianity is the only way forward for libertarianism.” Re-connection, he says, because Christianity “has been the most important factor in the creation of societies that have the highest degree of individual freedom, internal peace, and prosperity.” I wouldn’t disagree, but such a sociological or historical emphasis will leave many Christians cold.
Missing from his compact discussion of many interlocking issues is saving faith in Jesus Christ. The Reformed interpretation of that faith, however, is not the only one the religious marketplace offers. Grözinger knows this, but he leaves it to the reader to figure out why his theological choice should prevail over its competitors.
In order to succeed, as Grözinger summarizes things, “libertarianism must want dominion religion to succeed.” But the libertarian character of such success would be problematic, for libertarianism is juridically incompatible with theonomy, dominion religion’s meat and drink. For example, libertarian rights for same-sex couples and capital punishment for homosexuals cannot occupy the same political space. If Grözinger conceives of non-theonomic expression of dominion religion, he didn’t tell us.
. . . [I]f the churches are not offering that [i.e., standards and laws], these people [those seeking a framework of meaning] will go elsewhere. And if people don’t believe in the creator God who has given us the command to govern the world, to exercise dominion according to his laws, there is only one other place to go, and that is to follow the power religion and bow to the state, even as it become more and more absolute, or totalitarian.
Grözinger subscribes to Gary North’s tripartite scheme of religious classification: Power, Dominion, and Escapist. The first is the religion of those who, in rebellion against God and his laws seek to power over others. The second promotes, in accordance with God’s laws, the dominion of God’s people over creation.
The dominion religion . . . commands us to govern the world, but to do so by adhering to the ultimate owner’s [God’s] laws.
The third is for those who evade the decision to choose between the first two. Opting for a third way between (ultimately) demonic power and godly dominion, they hope to wait it out and then join the side that seems to be winning. They shirk their responsibility to choose whom they shall serve.
North’s characterization of the non-Power alternative to Dominion as “escapist” struck me as tendentious. For the record, I’m a dispensationalist. Not a follower of the Darby-Scofield system, but a dispensationalist nonetheless. I believe God’s Kingdom is something God will unilaterally inaugurate—in time and on earth, to borrow Gary North’s concise phrase—bringing our two-millennia-old dispensation of grace to an end. It’s not something we can bring about in obedience to God’s Word. I can’t defend that eschatology within the ambit of a review any more than Grözinger could defend theonomy in his little book. But he didn’t compare and contrast these competing theologies for the reader. To disparage as “escapist” the rejection of theonomy that millions of Christians exercise is merely to express partisanship. Accordingly, I discount his assertion of North’s taxonomy of religion as tendentious.
The argument, again, is over hermeneutics and confessional commitments that flow from one’s interpretation of Scripture. Do libertarians wish to have that conversation? That would be more than fine with me. I’ll need bullet-proof exegesis, however, to believe that Christians are charged, as Dominion theology teaches, with overthrowing Satan’s dominion of this world with its sex-trafficking, drug cartels, arms dealers, blood diamond trade, supervised as they are by pathological warlords; the totalitarian ethnostate of Communist China; radical Islam whose agents are sprinkled the world over; pandemics exploited by globalists and their medicrat tools; the virtually total loss of privacy at the hands of the Deep State, Big Pharma, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence; the trillions of dollars in unpayable debt and the hyperinflation that must follow central banking as the night the day—just to name some of the enormities that blight our planet.
Call me a secular pessimist (although I’m an eschatological optimist), but I see no liberation in this dispensation, libertarian or otherwise, from those scourges. God will stop the wicked in their tracks: “So shall they [God’s enemies] fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). He’ll lift it. God’s promised government is a future intervention that God, not man, will inaugurate; its blessings will be manifest to all, and delivered directly. “Thy Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).
I won’t charge Grözinger with “escaping” my dispensationalist interpretation of Isaiah and the rest of Scripture. But I doubt libertarians will drop what they’re doing to mull over the differences between mine and North’s in their search for an ultimate framework of meaning (which I affirm the Christian worldview is).
Libertarianism as processed by Dominion theology would be unrecognizable. If sub specie aeternitatis the latter were true, however, libertarianism wouldn’t have a prayer. I hope Grözinger will address these issues (if he hasn’t already) in a more systematic work. I appreciate the argument he stimulated in this one.
Anthony G. Flood is a Christian Individualist whose writings have been published in American Communist History, Journal of American History, C. L. R. James Journal, FrontPage Magazine, LewRockwell.com, and Science & Society. A lifelong New Yorker, Flood studied philosophy at New York University in the early ’70s (under Sidney Hook, while working for Herbert Aptheker) and at the Graduate Center, City University of New York in the late ’70s (under Milton K. Munitz and J. B. Schneewind). His Christ, Capital & Liberty: A Polemic and Herbert Aptheker: Studies in Willful Blindness were published in 2019. Visit AnthonyGFlood.com.