As the world reels from crisis to crisis, the most serious one seems to draw the least attention. And that is the crisis of the Western mind. The seeds of radical subjectivism sown at the time of a previous such crisis, chronicled in Paul Hazard’s Crisis of the European Mind, have now borne fruit, fruit of such stupendous magnitude that they threaten to drag us down into the depths of cultural despair.
In The Rise and Fall of Natural Law, this descent into the maelstrom was chronicled from its origin to its inevitable conclusion – at least, in the world of intellect. Culture lags intellect, but it is never insulated from it. Ideas do have consequences. The intellectual counterpart to our cultural crisis already played itself out 200 years ago. The crisis of the European mind, by which intellectual culture shifted from Revelation to Reason, found its fitting conclusion in the work of the ultimate solipsist, Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Fichte’s focus on enthusiastic conviction and the primacy of the subjective makes him the prophet of the modern world. Indeed, his orientation has now triumphed for all to see. His story, and the stories of those leading up to him – the leading characters in “the Rise and Fall of Natural Law” – are crucial to understanding the genesis of the modern world.
But that is not the end of the story, for history goes on. That spot, precisely where the first half of Stahl’s history of legal philosophy leaves off, is where the second half picks up. The Recovery of Historical Law narrates the attempts to overcome this radical subjectivism and establish a functioning social order in which the ideal matches up with the real, the theory is in harmony with the practice.
After discussing the work of Locke, Montesquieu, Constant, and the Doctrinaires….
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Nowadays we in the church hear much of the task given to us to be good stewards over God’s creation. We are to treat the creation as a fragile, vulnerable artifact given us by God, to be cherished and taken special care of. The animal and plant kingdoms are precious treasures to be maintained in unspoiled beauty, preserved from the corrupting hand of civilization.
But how much of this is derived from Scripture, and how much from romantic secular philosophy? To what extent does the Bible speak of man as steward of the planet? And to what extent does it validate the view of nature as unspoiled perfection marred by humankind’s intervention?
This view of nature is based on a philosophical presupposition: the balance of nature. Nature is considered to be poised in a delicate and fragile equilibrium, the slightest disturbance of which will have the direst consequences. But how valid is this presupposition?
It is of the utmost consequence that we recognize this…. click here to continue reading
Stephen Wolfe reviews The Debate that Changed the West at Philosophia Reformata. Go here for details.
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Three copies of A Common Law are going to be given away. Go here to participate.
What is the place of “organization” in the church? To what degree does the church need to be “organized”? At bottom, that was the question addressed by the famed Lutheran legal scholar and church historian Rudolph Sohm (1841–1917). His conclusion was radical: organization was anathema to the church as a spiritual body, and was only tolerable as a concession to the necessities of temporal life.
While this conclusion sounds radical, it is actually, in practical terms, the baseline position of the denominational framework as we experience it in our day. Denominationalism treats outward organization as a matter of indifference, so that any number of options are available, all of them equally legitimate. The rationale behind this indifference lies in the notion that each individual Christian is the source of authority in the church, the framework of which depends upon consent and choice. It is not a question of what God says about it, but what man says. For to think otherwise is to impose upon our wills, our choice, and that is not something moderns can tolerate.
Sohm and the moderns meet at the point of departure: the church in terms of outward, external order is the product of man’s decision, not God’s command. The two authors included in this book beg to differ. Adolph Harnack (1851–1930), distinguished church historian, argued that the church developed an organizational structure early on, and it did so in obedience to its Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Organization and law are indeed spiritual values, not just earthly constructs. Josef Bohatec (1876–1954) similarly argued that John Calvin’s opposition to Lutheran indifference in matters of organization and law was a matter of obedience to the Word of God. Their positions are presented here, in their own words.
The issue is anything but academic. A proper doctrine of the visible church is the prerequisite for a recovery of Christian culture and politics, indeed for the extension of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Indifference in this is in fact supremely dangerous, because it betrays Christ’s lordship. The arguments presented, taken together, lead to the inescapable conclusion that Sohm’s concept of the church and of law are crippling to a proper ecclesiology. They provide aid and comfort to the notion that the visible, organized church is the problem, when in fact it is the solution.
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