John Gresham Machen's "Christianity and Liberalism," I remember browsing this book when I was in the seminary, but I never realized the significance of its message not until now. Though the case presented in the book was considered close, I want to revisit it to remind myself of my theological roots.
In revisiting it with my basic knowledge of classical liberalism, I sense in Gresham Machen the spirit of a libertarian. Simply reading the 1st chapter, I encounter a long material to prove this. At least 6 pages were spent to expose the danger of tyranny posed by socialism and statism. Machen's message remains relevant.
Machen combats liberalism in his book. Not a few theologians and pastors I know are capable to distinguish between these two kinds of liberalism, the classical and the American brand. Classical liberalism upholds sound money, private property, free market and personal freedom. American liberalism holds the exact opposite of these. It is related to all the plagues that afflict contemporary society: progressivism, socialism, protectionism, statism and interventionism. It is not unfair to say that it is the mother of fiat currency, progressive taxation, welfarism, the abolition of private property, the conversion of free market into cronyism, corporatism or state capitalism. Its final destiny is tyranny.
So much for the rant. It is time for me now to share what Gresham Machen has to say about personal liberty, welfare, education, classical liberalism, and the need to distinguish historic Christianity from liberal Christianity. Here is an excerpt taken from the Introduction that demonstrates the libertarian spirit of John Gresham Machen:
On Personal Liberty and Welfare
"The whole development of modern society has tended mightily toward the limitation of the realm of freedom for the individual man. The tendency is most clearly seen in socialism; a socialistic state would mean the reduction to a minimum of the sphere of individual choice. Labor and recreation, under a socialistic government, would both be prescribed, and individual liberty would be gone. But the same tendency exhibits itself today even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad. In other words, utilitarianism is being carried out to its logical conclusions; in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds." (pp. 9-10)
"The result is an unparalleled impoverishment of human life. Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily contracted. The tendency is making itself felt especially in the sphere of education. The object of education, it is now assumed, is the production of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. But the greatest happiness for the greatest number, it is assumed further, can be defined only by the will of the majority. Idiosyncrasies in education, therefore, it is said, must be avoided, and the choice of schools must be taken away from the individual parent and placed in the hands of the state. The state then exercises its authority through the instruments that are ready to hand, and at once, therefore, the child is placed under the control of psychological experts, . . . ."
"Christian schools and private schools, at least in the all-important lower grades, are thus wiped out of existence. Such laws, which if the present temper of the people prevails will probably soon be extended far beyond the bounds of one state, . . . . I mean of course the ultimate destruction of all real education. When one considers what the public schools of America in many places already are − their materialism, their discouragement of any sustained intellectual effort, their encouragement of the dangerous pseudo-scientific fads of experimental psychology − one can only be appalled by the thought of a commonwealth in which there is no escape from such a soul-killing system. But the principle of such laws and their ultimate tendency are far worse than the immediate results. A public-school system, in itself, is indeed of enormous benefit to the race. But it is of benefit only if it is kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free possibility of the competition of private schools. A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free." (pp.10-13)
On Gresham Machen's Prayer for the Rediscovery of Classical Liberalism
"God grant that there may come a reaction, and that the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty may be rediscovered before it is too late!" (p. 13)
About the Need to Distinguish Historic Christianity from Liberal Christianity
". . . . the Christian religion which is meant is certainly not the religion of the modern liberal Church, but a message of divine grace, almost forgotten now, as it was in the middle ages, but destined to burst forth once more in God's good time, in a new Reformation, and bring light and freedom to mankind. What that message is can be made clear, as is the case with all definition, only by way of exclusion, by way of contrast." (p. 14)
Source: Machen, G. J. 1923. Christianity and Liberalism.