4 North’s Conspiracy Theories

The Dangers of Covenant Theology, Part 4: A Critique of Gary North’s anti-Constitutionalism

By Vern Crisler

Copyright, 2006, some updates, 2011

Rough Draft 

1.  The Constitution and “Hittite” Treaties

2.  Political Philosophy

3.  Conspiracy Theory

4.  Our Enemy, the State?

5.  The Remnant

6.  Community

7.  Prospects

1.  The Constitution and “Hittite” Treaties

North makes a tremendous error when he describes the U.S. Constitution as a “covenant” and tries to divide it up into his (infamous) five part covenant structure: 

“The five points do not appear in the same order that they do in the biblical covenant model, but all five are present.  In this sense, the Constitution is surely a covenant document—one that is far more visibly covenantal in structure than is the case in other constitutions.”  (Conspiracy in Philadelphia, p. 97.)

This is completely false.  The Constitution is not a covenant in North’s sense, nor is it strictly speaking even a compact.  It is the instrument of government of the compact, a set of operating instructions for government, instructions approved by the People. 

North borrowed the idea of a five part covenant structure from his former pastor Ray Sutton, who borrowed the idea from Meredith Kline.  Kline’s major claim is that the Mosaic covenant adopted the international treaty structure of the ancient Hittites.  (The Structure of Biblical Authority, 1972, pp. 37; 114, 133.)  In our opinion, Kline is simply wrong about this.  None of these suzerainty treaties required vassals to follow a detailed set of commandments, as in the biblical covenant, nor in any case can the treaties of the Anatolian “Hittites” be the basis of the biblical covenant since the Mosaic covenant predated these “Hittites” (on the Courville model).

The basic idea behind these suzerainty treatises is to secure the loyalty of the vassals.  For instance, the “stipulations” or rather obligations of the treaties required that all foreign policy decisions be directed by the suzerain, that all seditious people be handed over to the suzerain, etc.  These treaties were sealed with oaths and often by marriage alliances.  (For a discussion, see O. R. Gurney, The Hittites, p. 61, J. G. MacQueen, The Hittites and Their Contemporaries in Asia Minor, p. 116, and Trevor Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, pp. 141-42.)

Such treaties are clearly distinguished from legal codes.  (Compare, Gurney, The Hittites, p. 71.)  Similarly, the Ten Commandments are a clearly distinguishable legal code, not a suzerainty treaty, and we can uphold the traditional idea that each tablet of the law contains the first and second parts of the Commandments.  In other words, the second tablet of the law contains the second part of the Ten Commandments and is not just a “treaty” duplicate of the first tablet, as Kline claims.  (Structure., p. 117.)

There may be superficial similarities between ancient suzerainty treaties and the biblical covenant, but Kline’s proof really only amounts to fanciful parallels.  For instance, loyalty demands of the ancient treaties are described by Kline as “stipulations,” which are then equated with a set of Commandments; hence the biblical covenant becomes a treaty by way of definition rather than evidence.  Further, Kline interprets the Sabbath law in the Ten Commandments as being the equivalent of the dynastic seal of a suzerainty treaty!  These, however, show the bankruptcy of the whole idea of correlating the biblical covenant with ancient suzerainty treaties.  (Ibid., pp. 118; 120.)  Stipulations are not commandments in any significant sense, and the Sabbath law did not really function as a seal of the biblical covenant in the way that circumcision did.  It was more of an advertisement of how humane God’s laws were.  Moreover, even if there were some vague connection between the Mosaic covenant and the Hittite treaties, to compare these as though the Mosaic covenant were significantly similar to the Hittite treaties would be like comparing J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Excursus:  The following is based in part on my response to a question that arose on the New Courville List about the Hittites.  It may have some relevance in showing that there was no real closeness or proximity of the Israelites with the so-called Hittites of the suzerainty treaties, who we believe were not the biblical Hittites.  If there were any “influence” it would be more likely to have come from the Egyptians, or further back, from the Mesopotamians.  Recall that Abraham was originally from Mesopotamia, and that the sons of Jacob migrated to Egypt and lived in that land for many years. 

For the New Courville theory, the biblical Hittites were living in Canaan (and probably in the lower portion of south-east Anatolia) during the Early Bronze Age.  Since we have the patriarchs living during this time, these Early Bronze Hittites were the biblical Hittites of the time of Abraham and later.  These were the sons of Heth, of the Hamitic line, and we can refer to them as Hattic-speaking Hittites, or simply Hattic-Hittites.  The Hattic language was very likely a Hamitic language.

Sometime after the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (which Courville identified with the Exodus & Conquest), a new group of people, or peoples, migrated to the Anatolian region.  These migrants (or invaders?) are thought to have arrived from an area near the lower Danube as well as the foot-hills of the Caucasus.  These were Indo-European speakers — sons of Japheth — who either assimilated or conquered the aboriginal Hattic-Hittites living in Anatolia.  These new Indo-European Hittites were not the biblical Hittites.  As noted, the only Hittites the Bible is interested in were those who lived in Canaan, or who tried to stay in Canaan after the Conquest.  It seems likely or at least possible, however, that by the time of the United Monarchy period (David, Solomon and later) the biblical writers began to include the Indo-European Hittites in the broad designation “Hittites.”

The Indo-European Hittites spoke three languages, Palaic, Nesite, and Luwian.  A fourth language called “Hattic” is part of a substructure language, leading many to believe the Indo-Europeans conquered the indigenous Hittites.  (For a discussion of the aboriginal Hattic language and the later Indo-European languages, see J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans, pp. 26-27; note, the chronological ideas are ours, not Mallory’s.)

The fact that the biblical Hittites most likely spoke a Hamitic language (since they were descendants of that line by way of Heth and Canaan) should have served as a warning for older archaeologists about equating the Indo-European-speaking people with the earlier biblical Hittites.  But scholars of yesteryear were too eager to make the identification, and we are stuck with the misleading terminology.  The history of the Indo-European Hittites then proceeds from the initial migration of these people, who apparently swamped the indigenous Hattic (biblical) Hittites, then to the flourishing of the Indo-European Hittite old kingdom, and from there to the Empire period from about the mid-1400s (on conventional dates) to its end, and through the so-called “Dark Age.”  After this “dark age,” Indo-European Hittite history continued into the “Neo-Hittite” kingdom in Syria, which has been called a “strange afterglow” of Hittite culture.  (Gurney, The Hittites, p. 32.)

The language called “Hieroglyphic Hittite” is also an Indo-European language.  Most of these texts were written after the fall of the Indo-European Hittite kingdom, but as MacQueen says, “some texts go back to the hey-dey of the Hittite Empire.” (J. MacQueen, The Hittites, p. 24.)  The Hieroglyphic Hittite language is closely related to Luwian, “and the two seem in fact to be dialect variants of the same language.” (Idem.)  It should be made clear that when scholars refer to the “Hittite” language, they are referring to the Indo-European Hittite language, not to the indigenous Hattic (biblical) Hittite language.  Their term for the latter is, as noted, “Hattic.”

The biblical Hattic Hittites are just that — the segment of the Hittite civilization that the biblical writers were most interested in.  These Hittites lived primarily in the mountainous regions of northern Canaan.  Some of them remained in the land of Canaan even after the Exodus & Conquest.  Courville thinks the rest moved up into Anatolia at the point of the Conquest, but we believe a section of the Hittite people were always up there at least in the south-east portion.  In fact, the land of “Hatti” is attested during the time of Early Bronze Age kings Sargon and Naram-Sin.  Thus, the aboriginal Hittites already had organized kingdoms even before the Israelite Conquest.  When the Indo-European people invaded, or migrated into, the land of Anatolia, they settled in the area formerly called the land of Hatti.  These Indo-European speakers were subsequently designated as Hittites due to their geographic location rather than their ethnicity.  With respect to the Indo-European Hittites of a later period, further discussion can be found in Peter James, et al, Centuries of Darkness, chapter on the “Hittites.”  End of Excursus.

A note on covenant structure: Of course, any covenant or compact has a structure.  At least two parties must be involved, each making mutual promises.  For instance, a contractor enters into a covenant to build a house with a buyer who promises to pay a certain sum upon completion.  Additional aspects of the covenant might include a statement of purpose, a signature page, or some other explanatory sections of the contract.  One can make the covenant as complex as one likes, but it must have at least two parties, each giving up something in return for something else.

We find little, if any, covenantal structure in the Articles of Confederation, and none in the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution.  These were not compacts made with God (or with a king).  The first document is a treaty between sovereign states but primarily tells what the function of the weak “national” government will be.  The second document is a declaration of causes for separation, not a government charter or compact.  The third document is a set of operating instructions for a new national or centralized government having supremacy over the States in its own sphere of operation, national matters.  In our opinion, North has adopted not only Kline’s speculative approach to the Bible, but has extended it to a speculative approach to U.S. Government documents.  We are not here slamming Kline just to spite North, but one mistake leads to another, and it is well to go back to the source in refuting downstream error.  Kline cannot be held responsible for North’s vicious attacks upon the U.S. Constitution, but it does seem that a large part of his error is based on Kline’s covenantal speculations.

2.  Political Philosophy

Everyone has a political philosophy.  Since 9-11, it seems that America and many countries of the world do not share much in the way of political philosophy; they are far apart in their views on the nature of government.  This division also extends to many Americans as well.  The words of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, the words of Hollywood Bush-bashers, of Muslims who make excuses for terrorism, show that there is a virulent strain of anti-Americanism among these individuals.  Consider:

“There is nothing new here [about 9-11].  We can easily substitute the words ‘King David Hotel’ for ‘Twin Towers,’ but nobody mentioned this.”

“But I don’t see that there was anything new here, either.  Substitute the words ‘Dresden’ for ‘New York City.’  The Allies—mostly the United States—firebombed a defenseless German city, day after day….”

“When [Civil War] General Sheridan adopted a terrorist campaign against civilians in the Shenandoah Valley in October, 1864, after Atlanta had fallen, and the Confederacy was clearly beaten, he made terrorism part of official American military strategy….Sherman immediately put it into mass production in his march to the sea.”

“This country [the US] has been waging a terrorist campaign against Iraq’s civilians for over a decade….Now we starve Iraqi children for a strictly political objective….”

The motive for the terrorists’ attack on America: “Motive?  Here is a motive.  It’s called revenge—not for the sake of the secular Baath party, but on behalf of Islam.”

Another motive:  “First, American Christians and American business interests generally support the State of Israel.  Every Muslim regards this state as an illegal invader into Muslim territory.”

“[C]ivilians are supposed to be given trials.  They are not supposed to be hunted down and killed by our military….But what about civilians who do not see themselves as civilians or act like civilians.  What do you do with them?  Do we bomb them indiscriminately, as the State of Israel does to Palestinian neighborhoods, after a terrorist attack on its own civilians?”

“Phil Sheridan sowed the wind in 1864.  This nation has now reaped the first stage of a whirlwind.”

“So, it’s total war on civilian-occupied areas in Afghanistan, but it’s limited war inside Air Force law offices in Florida.”

“There is no way that the United States is going to stamp out the Al-Qaeda network in the narrow sense, let alone the broader Muslim network….”

“The President is about to receive a history lesson in Islamic studies.  These radicals are part of a long tradition of Islamic war against the West.  They do not forget.  They do not forgive.  This war will still be in operation long after Mr. Bush has joined his father in retirement.”

“At some point, Mr. Bush may realize….that his military strategists’ policy of bombing civilian areas has backfired….his military campaign in Afghanistan matches his own definition of terrorism.”

“If the pressure to start drinking again begins to get him [Bush], does he start attending AA meetings?….I want President Bush to stop bombing the afflicted….I also pray that he will stay sober.”

“The burning media question of the day is this: What did President Bush know about al-Qaeda’s threat to the United States, and when did he know it?”

“I am saying that the threat of a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan speeded upon al-Qaeda’s timetable.  Bin Laden beat Bush to the punch,.”

“[Bush] has adopted the ‘unconditional surrender’ military policy.”

“In every war, there are those who call for unconditional surrender….the Cannibal-in-Chief….”

“The first step in the defense of Americans is to pull back the American empire.”

Most of us will dismiss Cindy Sheehan, Muslim terrorist apologists, Hollywood airheads and the usual America-hating left wing suspects.  Certainly Christians cannot accept any kind of moral equivalency between America and its enemies, any practice of making excuses for terrorists, any shameful displays of defeatism and cowardice in the face of Muslim “rage,” or any indulging in presumptuous innuendo or slander against President Bush, and so on.  In actuality, however, none of these quotations are directly from this puerile crowd.  These are all quotations from Gary North.  They are taken from some of his on-line essays at the Lew Rockwell website: “The Unasked Question of 9-11: What Was the Motive?” (Sep 13, 01); “President Bush, Al-Qaeda, and Alcohol” (Nov. 1, 01); “Two Long-Ignored Smoking Guns of 9/11” (Apr. 14, 04); “The Cannibals of War” (Aug. 11, 04);  “Cannibals on the Verbal Attack” (Aug. 12, 04).

What has happened to the promising young historian of the 1970’s, who could edit journals favoring America’s unique place in history?  Why does he now speak the language of anti-Americanism, of poisonous moral equivalency?  Perhaps we can get a better understanding of North’s hostility to America and its founding documents by exploring a little more into his background, and into the views of his intellectual predecessors.

3.  Conspiracy Theory

In 1956, a friend of North’s parents took him to hear Fred Schwarz, author of You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists).  North was only 14 years old at the time and it would be only a couple of years later North would be introduced to The Freeman, the libertarian journal kept financially afloat by Leonard Read’s fund raising abilities.  (“It All Began With Fred Schwarz”, by Gary North, at Lew Rockwell’s website, 2002.)  In college, the influence of conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet made an impact, while North also began reading conservative publications such as National Review, Modern Age, and Intelligence Digest.  (Ibid.)  He was hired by R. J. Rushdoony in 1963 as an intern and was able to read the books of the Austrian economists Bohm-Bawerk, Mises, et al.  Eventually, North started his own financial newsletter in 1974 called “Remnant Review” (after Albert J. Nock’s concept of the “remnant”), and subsequently became a familiar and controversial figure in the Christian reconstruction movement.

North admits that he has had a lifelong addiction to conspiracy theories:

“I have been a conspiracy buff for over 45 years.  I got my spurs at age 16 when I wrote a paper on Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor….Over the years, I have stumbled into lots more conspiracies.”  (“My Conspiracy is Bigger than Your Conspiracy!” by Gary North, at Lew Rockwell’s website, Jan. 26, 2006.)

Furthermore,

“There are so many of them that no one can pursue all of them.  In fact, the mark of a deranged conspiracy buff is someone who pursues dozens of them at once.”  (Idem.)

Probably most would regard the term “deranged” in front of “conspiracy buff” as somewhat repetitious, and it would seem that the division between conspiracy buffs and “deranged” conspiracy buffs is North’s way to immunize himself from the usual criticisms of conspiracy theories.  The relevant conspiracy in our discussion is North’s theory that a “freemason” conspiracy replaced Christian government with a humanistic one when the Constitution was ratified.  There is no need to pursue this claim, and it would not achieve anything anyway, for the conspiracy theorist does not start from the evidence, but starts with an a priori theory about the way the world works.  The conspiracy theorist sees all sorts of connections in history, and interprets them as the product of covert causation.  (Cf., Richard Hofstadter’s discussion of freemason conspiracy theory in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.) 

The essential idea behind conspiracy theories is that unseen actors are pulling the strings of causation behind historical events.  The emphasis is on secrecy and plotting so that the actors are unknown to the majority of people.  Nevertheless, despite all the efforts that such conspirators go through in trying to remain hidden and secret, conspiracy buffs always manage to sniff them out, and are thus able to warn the world about their existence.  It is strange that only conspiracy buffs have this talent, which consists of being able to see causation where everyone else sees only correlation.  It is a puzzle.

Real conspiracies consist of some terribly evil people plotting to change the course of events or to obtain revenge (e.g., John Wilkes Booth), or who want to establish their particular worldview on everyone else through conspiracies of terror (radical Muslims).  Thus, there is no need to deny that real conspiracies exist and have existed in the past, but this is primarily a matter for law enforcement and central intelligence, as well as military action if need be.  Conspiracy theorists, however, almost by definition posit that the really big conspiracies are unknown to normal channels of information gathering.  Only conspiracy buffs, or writers of books on conspiracies, can see through all the elaborate schemes to hide the conspiracy from public attention.  Why the conspirators even bother to spend money on concealment is a question that deserves asking, since the conspiracies will always be exposed by the conspiracy buffs.  Well, actually, it doesn’t deserve asking, and we care little about the conspiracy buffs and their social-historical obsessions.

However, we are interested in North’s conspiracy views since his ideas on the Constitution are a subset of his larger set of conspiracy theories.  He was definitely influenced by Dan Smoot’s The Invisible Government, 1961, and Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, 1966—which appears to be little more than the theory of an international Jewish banking conspiracy minus singling out of Jews.  Also available to North was Allen and Abraham’s None Dare Call It Conspiracy, 1971.  Murray Rothbard’s libertarian acceptance of conspiracy theories probably had an impact as well.  (Cf., “The Red/Blue Map vs. Conspiracy Theories, by Gary North, Lew Rockwell website, Nov. 8, 2004.)  North’s long-time addiction to such views provides a good reason for holding that his freemason conspiracy theory about the formation of the Constitution is just as bankrupt and devoid of evidence as his earlier obsessions.

4.  Our Enemy, the State?

Albert J. Nock stands as a key figure behind modern libertarianism in general and North’s views of the state in particular.  Indeed, North’s idea that the Constitution was a “coup” can be found in Nock’s own theories of the state.  Nock was also an isolationist and was an early practitioner of the idea of moral equivalence with regard to state action.  He regarded the state as evil in itself:

“[T]he State’s criminality is nothing new….It began when the first predatory group of men clustered together and formed the State, and it will continue as long as the State exists in the world, because the State is fundamentally an anti-social institution, fundamentally criminal.”  (“The Criminal State” by Albert J. Nock, American Mercury, March 1939.)

It appears that Nock was an ideologue, who started with the axiom that the state itself, not just a totalitarian state, is an evil institution.  H. L. Mencken was a friend of Nock, and also criticized government, but his criticisms are not the result of ideology, but are just his usual cantankerousness about everything in general.  This often led Mencken into a tiresome cynicism and to a terrible one-sidedness in some of his views on religion, Roosevelt, and World War II.  But he can be forgiven to some extent on account of his hostility to Prohibition (a big plus), and for this prophetic description of the current Hollywood crowd: “[N]o man of genuinely superior intelligence has ever been an actor.”  What Mencken seems to have hated the most was not the state, but ruralism, and this was based on emotional and aesthetic grounds rather than on preposterous deductions from a lone ideological axiom or idée fixe (e.g., “the state is evil, therefore”; or “man is born free, but is everywhere in chains, therefore,” etc.)

In contrast to Mencken, Nock starts our from his ideological axiom that the state is evil and deduces all sorts of theorems from it that are plain nonsense.  Since Nock believes that the state is per se evil, then no moral distinctions can be drawn between states.  By this, he deduces that German barbarity, Soviet despotism, Italian imperialism, Japanese savagery, etc., are all on the same moral ground as the actions of the United States, and that “every public presentation ought to draw the deadly parallel with the record of the American State.”  (Ibid.)  He regards the “totalitarian state” as identical with the state itself—again no moral distinctions:

“[T]he idea that the procedure of the ‘democratic’ State is any less criminal than that of the State under any other fancy name, is rubbish.”  (“The Criminal State,” Ibid.)

“Stripping the American State of the enormous power it has acquired is a full-time job for our citizens and a stirring one; and if they attend to it properly they will have no energy to spare for fighting communism, or for hating Hitler…or for anything whatever, except what goes on right here in the United States.”  (“The Criminal State,” Ibid.)

Given his hostility to the state-as-such, it is no surprise that Nock was critical of the Roosevelt administration, and regarded it as a coup brought about by public money:  “This regime was established by a coup d’etat of a new and unusual kind, practicable only in a rich country.”  (Nock’s Our Enemy, The State, Chapter 1.)  Nock belittles the American founders in a style borrowed from the discredited Charles Beard, who is infamous for his quasi-Marxist “economic” interpretation of the American Constitution.  Nock even describes the Constitution as a coup:

“[W]hen the redistribution [constitutional convention] took place in 1789, it was effected with great difficulty and only through a coup d’etat.”  (Ibid., Chapter 5.)

In order to counter the charge of advocating anarchy, Nock distinguished between the terms “state” and “government,” and said the latter was good, but not the former.  In our view, this seems a distinction without a different, for both the state and government involve the monopoly on coercive power or force.  That the distinction made no difference to Nock or his followers is evident in Frank Chodorov, chief disciple of Nock, who argued that “taxation is robbery.”  Here we have the notion of moral equivalency combined with hostility to all government, not just the state, since such institutions depend on taxation for their existence.  In fact, as has often been said taxation is the very life-blood of democracy.  It is therefore ethically fallacious to equate the evil of common robbery with the necessity of state taxation.  Another distant follower, Murray Rothbard, went so far as to advocate private police forces in place of city or government police forces, so strong was his libertarian hostility to all government.  Describing Rothbard’s view, William F. Buckley says, “There exists a small breed of men whose passionate distrust for the state has developed into a theology of sorts, or at least into a demonology, to which they adhere as devotedly as any religious fanatic ever attempted to adhere to the will of the Lord.”  (The Jeweler’s Eye, 1969, p. 16.)

It is evident that Gary North’s anti-statist rhetoric, his hostility to American intervention, and his doctrine of moral equivalency in the war on terror, are all rooted in the Nockian and Rothbardian paradigms.  This would also account for North’s seeming difficulties with the biblical patriarch Joseph, who had provided material salvation for the Egyptians and other peoples during a seven year famine, but in doing so had reduced the whole nation to “bondage to the Egyptian State…..”  (North, The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, p. 228.) In rescuing the Egyptians, Joseph brought almost all Egyptian personal and real property under title to the king of Egypt.  North says,

“It might be argued that Joseph’s experience in Egypt serves as a biblical justification of central planning by the civil government.”  (The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, p. 227.)

North disputes the analogy by pointing out that both Joseph and Pharaoh had been given a direct revelation from God about the future.  Central planning would be acceptable only if modern day politicians could make omniscient predictions about the future.  “If this assumption is rejected,” says North, “then central economic planning initially has no greater claim to biblical sanction than private economic forecasting does.”  (Ibid., pp. 227-228.)  North is correct to say that planning for the famine involved infallible knowledge of the future, and the king of Egypt, with Joseph’s help, stored up enough grain for the coming emergency.  The real estate transfers from the populace to the Egyptian king took place during the years of famine, and were essentially land-for-grain purchases.

On the other hand, while it is true that modern politicians and bureaucrats do not have infallible knowledge of the future—no matter what they might claim or how they might behave—does this justify the notion that there should be no planning?  Since when has planning for the future ever required infallibility?  Even without knowledge of the future, planning could be proportioned to historical probabilities about future events.  Most people understand the wisdom behind Aesop’s fables, that it is better to plan ahead and save up for the future rather than be caught flatfooted.  (In other words, you don’t want to end up waiting on rooftops for rescue helicopters, so plan ahead for emergencies.)  From our point of view, there is no need to be embarrassed by Joseph’s “enslaving” of the Egyptians, not unless one approaches the Bible with a pre-conceived ideology.

Infallible knowledge is beside the point if an emergency is already upon the nation.  Then, central government planning and intervention are a response to known conditions and may be necessary for the well-being, and even survival, of the nation.  At the least Joseph’s example shows that there is nothing evil about central planning per se.  True, it may not be the best political or economic arrangement, and many practical arguments can be brought against it in the normal case, but on the other hand, it may be a necessity in a time of emergency, such as in a famine, or in a war, or perhaps even in an economic depression.  This is something that the Nockians, Rothbardians, and Northians of the world will not acknowledge.  As the story of Joseph demonstrates, the Bible is not concerned about the precise nature of the state, or with central planning, but only that in whatever form government takes, righteousness should be its chief characteristic.

5.  The Remnant

North mentions the “remnant” quite a bit in his writings.  He basically borrowed the “remnant” idea from Nock, who first used it in an essay called “Isaiah’s Job.”  The prophet Isaiah, who had lived during the days of king Uzziah, prophesied the future destruction of Israel, but also promised that a “remnant” would be recovered from foreign lands and restored to the land of Israel (Isa. 11:11; 14:1).  Nock’s idea was that Isaiah had faced the question, if the masses were never going to listen to his message, what was the point of preaching and warning?  Nock has God say to Isaiah that there is a “remnant” out there that Isaiah knows nothing about.  “Your job” says the Lord in effect, “is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”  Then an explanation of the concept of the “remnant” and “the masses” is provided.  For the latter term, Nock describes it as “simply the majority.”  In his view:

“The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct….The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance.  The Remnant are those who be force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able…to cleave to them.  The masses are those who are unable to do either.”  (“Isaiah’s Job”)

Nock warns against attempting to appeal to the mass-man, against watering down one’s message to the “order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit.”  To be sure, Isaiah’s message was given in public, and therefore to the masses, but only the “remnant” would truly listen.  One will never know how many of the remnant there are, or who they are or where they are.  One only knows that they exist and that “they will find you.”  There  is no need for advertising or “schemes of publicity” to attract their attention.  Preaching to the remnant is likened to planting or watering seeds.  After a while the idea-seeds germinate and spring up as full grown ideas.

Nock, of course, was talking about his own anti-state philosophy, that the masses would reject it but the “remnant” would accept it and eventually find their way to him.  The “remnant” seems to be a substitute for the old idea of “posterity” as when one writes for “posterity,” but the notion of the remnant “finding” the prophet of ideas makes it more of a contemporary audience than a posthumous one.  North applies the “remnant” idea to his own writings, and assumes that he is something of a prophet who is preaching to a remnant in the way that Nock described.

There are problems with this remnant idea.  First, Isaiah’s prophetic task was redemptive-historical, not sociological.  He made no distinction between elites and masses, for all were under the judgment of God.  The remnant was a product not of culture, intellectual power, moral character, or anything else resting in man, but was a remnant according to the election of grace.  It was a matter of God’s gratuitous choice, not of man’s right thinking or character.  Secondly, there is something a little “hyper-calvinistic” about this sociological concept of the remnant.  It’s as if a frozen chosen were out there who will come to the correct ideas automatically, if only they hear the words, simply because they are the “remnant.”  This attitude produces in the new prophet of ideas a kind of quietism about means, a do-nothingism about organizing or advertising, and a minimizing of the role that persuasion has in converting foes into followers, or the indifferent into the interested.

It seems that in terms of the Nockian remnant concept no genuine offer of ideas can be given to the masses, for only a few of them, by definition, will listen and receive the ideas.  This lack of a genuine offer makes the preacher of ideas guilty of rhetorical hypocrisy since he knows that most will not believe in his ideas.  Thirdly, the sociological concept of the remnant idea appears to be a subtle ad hominem argument.  Those who do not accept the message of the prophet are dismissed as “mass-men” who do not have either the intelligence or character to accept the message.  It does not occur to the new prophet that the so-called mass men may reject his message for the simple reason that the message is wrong or perverse.

We reject the remnant idea as a sociological concept.  It seems that the “preacher” of new ideas must first of all make sure he is right in his new ideas before fobbing them off on the public.  Once he determines that they are right, he must use all powers of persuasion to spark the interest of his hearers.  He must not regard his audience as “mass-men” but as real individuals who are capable of using right reason, sound science, common sense, and reasonable faith, in judging the new ideas.  That, of course, is a lot more frightening to the “preacher” of new ideas, in that the burden of persuasion, and of being right in the first place, falls squarely on him.  Here there can be no “preaching to the remnant” as an excuse for failure.

6.  Community

North says that he was greatly influenced by Robert Nisbet, who writes about community as a mediating institution between the state and the individual.  It is similar, in some ways, to Russell Kirk’s idea about tradition, which functions as a source of authority over against what Kirk thought of as rationalistic abstractions.  There is some similarity between North’s attack upon the “rationalism” of the founders and Kirk’s attack upon Lockean contract theory.  (The Roots of American Order, 4th ed. 2003, pp. 285ff.)

Nisbet emphasizes community in place of Kirk’s traditionalism.  Richard Weaver, by no means opposed to traditionalism—even to the point of being a reactionary–questioned Kirk’s version of the “wisdom of our ancestors.”  Which ancestors?  Which tradition?  “If we have an ancestral legacy of wisdom,” said Weaver, using Adam as an example, “we have also an ancestral legacy of folly.”  (Cited in G. H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, 1979, p. 161.)  The same point can be urged against Nisbet.  Which community?  Which mediating institution?  If we have the church at Philadelphia, we also have the synagogue of Satan (Revelation 3:7-9).  If we have the Salvation Army, we also have the Ku Klux Klan.  Our view is that man is not principially trapped in a community or in a framework or in a language game.  Without denying the power of presuppositions, prejudices, or biases, we affirm that man can use reason, science, common sense, and faith, to free himself from inherited paradigms if those should prove unacceptable.  It may be difficult, but it is not a priori impossible, contrary to Wittgenstein or Kuhn.

Besides Nisbet, those who have seemingly followed along in Kirk’s train include Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, and the elder Brent Bozell.  Eric Voegelin latched on to “gnosticism” as his key interpretive idea, but in our opinion, Voegelin’s views on this subject are greatly misguided.  His application of the concept of gnosticism to both the Reformation and Communism shows that the term is too broad to have any real meaning.  And the meaning he gave to it — that the gnostics wanted to bring heaven to earth — is clearly false, since the gnostics wanted to do just the opposite, bring earth to heaven, or rather, they wanted to free the spirit of man from the prison of the material world.

Leo Strauss preferred classical authoritarianism to Lockean contract theory, and also made use of crank hermeneutics as a way of interpreting texts.  Brent Bozell believed the highest purpose of government was to promote virtue rather than secure freedom, and on this basis attacked the founding fathers.  Describing Bozell’s position, Nash says, “[T]he American commonwealth—from the very start—was corrupt and ‘bound to fail.’  For it deliberately left God out of the political order and relied instead on a self-interested autonomous republic, based not on God (as Christianity taught) but solely on the people.”  (Nash, p. 311.)  North sounds a lot like Bozell here.

In any case, it is difficult to believe any of these men would have been taken seriously by conservatives if it were not for the fact that in the beginning, and throughout much of its history, the conservative movement was dominated by Roman Catholics, who have not historically been strong proponents of political liberty.

7.  Prospects

In the next essays, we will concentrate on the political philosophy of the founding fathers, the Revolutionaries, and the framers of the Constitution.  It is not hard to discern this philosophy, especially since we have that classic in political philosophy called The Federalist Papers.  This will be of great benefit in our study and defense of the U. S. Constitution against North’s misrepresentations, but we will also need to go back further to the sources, i.e., Locke and Montesquieu.

End

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