The Bastille fell on July 14, 1789; for the rest of that summer, the French people also fell, in their case into The Great Fear, La Grande Peur. None of the fears were true, but their content, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy pointed out, was not the significant fact: “it was this complete paralysis of will and reason, the deep insight that one was no longer safe on land” (Out of Revolution, p. 131; Argo Boots). It was the sign of disintegration: evil and madness took over, because there was despair concerning any good. France went into the Reign of Terror subsequently, but the terror first began in men’s minds with the Great Fear.
According to Rosenstock-Huessy, every revolution begins with a Great Fear; it appeared before the Peasants’ Revolt of Luther’s day, and it again appeared in Germany in the year 1930, preceding Hitler. Frederick II in 1227 described the Great Fear in his day; so intense was it that he said, “the power of love itself, by which heaven and earth are governed, seems now to be troubled, not in its later flowing, but at the very source.”
The Great Fear marks first the break-up of man’s inner being. His way of life is shattered. Man in such eras and now live on borrowed capital, on the inheritance of the past. They assume old religious standards and values without really believing in them. The old faith of society declines from a religious imperative to a convention and an accepted custom. Then the surface begins to crack, and men are suddenly without the religious resources for crisis. They become fearful and guilt-ridden, and they start at shadows.
The inner break-up precedes the outer break-up. The collapse begins in man’s soul and rapidly extends into his society, which begins to disintegrate and go up in flames. Indeed, the flames of destruction become then the only active and potent social force.
In Britain’s 1981 summer riots, the rock music groups had a major part in preparing the youth for the enactment of destruction and break-up. Significantly, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols has summed up the “hard rock” view on life: “We are the future: no future” (Christopher Makos: White Trash, 1977). Modern youth culture, with its love of rock music and drugs, is determined that there be no future.
The older generation sees this with horror and without faith. The war against the Establishment is more than that: it is a war against yesterday, today, and tomorrow, against past, present, and future. Youth sings of belonging “to the blank generation,” to a world without meaning or direction.
The Bible also speaks of the end and of the results of the Great Fear: it is death (Prov. 8:36). Our Lord declares that the times shall come when men shall say to the mountains, “Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us,” (Luke 23:30), as they seek vainly to escape God’s judgment. In Revelation 6:16, we are again given the cry of men in the grips of the Great Fear; they say to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.” Again, in Revelation 9:6, we read, “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.”
The Great Fear begins, as Rosenstock-Huessy saw, in the conscience of man. It is a religious fact, and it is a manifestation of man’s spiritual state. As our Lord said, “Men’s hearts shall fail them for fear” (Luke 2l:26).
There is reason enough for that fear. By their unbelief, men have destroyed the foundations of social order. Their world is crumbling because its moral base is gone; to admit this fully means to repent and to turn to the Lord, which men will not do. As a result, they seek to provide a political, economic, or military justification for their fears. It is usually true that the political scene is an evil one, the economic sphere a decaying one, and the military situation deplorable. To stress these factors can mean covering up the religious break-up behind them. Evading this religious issue, the collapse of man’s faith for living, leads to quackery: easy solutions which deal with the surface sores of the deeply-rooted cancer, or, very popular today, how to profit from world disaster. (Quick! Invest in coffins and cemetery lots! There is a lot of death ahead, and big profits in death-related industries!)
The Great Fear is creeping upon us, and it is in evidence in embryo form on all sides. Occultism and an interest in the demonic are precursors of it. So too, and especially so, is unbelief, and lukewarm religion. The Great Fear means a wild and irrational proneness to believe in anything. This is common to a rationalistic and irreligious age. When men believe nothing they are then most susceptible to believe anything and everything. To believe in God and His infallible word is to limit all possibilities and beliefs in terms of God and His word. If we believe in a world of chance, then we believe in a world of total irrationality and in every kind of irrational possibility. The triumph of humanism, science, and anti-God thinking has always marked the rise of superstition and illogical beliefs. In Greece, Rome, the late “Middle Ages,” and now, this is true. If God’s predestined and absolute order is denied, then man can only believe in a radically irrational and illogical world in which anything goes, except God’s order. And man, when he sees himself as a chance product of a blind world of chance occurrences, is on the verge of the Great Fear.
We are on the verge of another and the most extensive Great Fear in history. The corrosive forces of humanism are world-wide in their influence. The only thing that can counteract and overcome the deadly personal and social effects of the Great Fear is the Great Faith. Faith today has been reduced to easy believism, to a mere assent to doctrine, and to a verbal profession. In fact, one church today is, as it has been for several years, hounding an able theologian whose only offense is to agree with Scripture that, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). And why not? Let such a text and position stand, and churchmen might be expected to manifest their Christianity in action!
The Great Faith manifests the power of God in history (John 1:12). It declares, “For whosoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4). The Great Faith declares, “If God be for us who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37). The Great Faith is not shopping for Rapture Robes but putting on the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).
The Great Fear is preceded, not only by the general meaninglessness of life, but also by escapism. This takes various forms. Certainly alcoholism and drugs are obvious forms of this escapism which is the forerunner and accompaniment of the end. The end of any age is the death of the faith of that age, and, without faith, man cannot live in either poverty or luxury. The emptiness of life overwhelms him wherever he is and whatever his station.
Empty man tries to find meaning in empty goals and short-term interests. A few years back, a slightly drunk man approached me to unload his random thoughts. (I later learned that he was a man of some means, with a beautiful home in the hills, an alcoholic, and a homosexual.) Life in Berkeley, California (his home) was incredibly dull, he said, enough to drive one to suicide. The only thing that made life bearable for him was the realization that, when things were impossible, he could escape to San Francisco for the week-end. I suggested, then why not move to San Francisco? He looked at me as though I were an idiot and said, before moving on, If I lived in San Francisco, when I got bored, I would have no place fit to go to, and no choice but to commit suicide. Life for him meant having a small goal ahead and no more. But limited and petty goals grow empty also, when man is empty and his world dead of all meaning. This is the prelude to the Great Fear.
It has been said, with some evidence, that the Great Fear was created by conspiracy. Adrien Duport of the Club Breton devised the scheme to demoralize France. Rumors were started all over France to announce the approach of Austrians and English to massacre the people. The result was the breakdown of law and order. The point, however, is that people were ready to believe in anything. There was no hard common sense, not any strong faith, by means of which data could be assessed. One of the most obvious facts of the French Revolution was the sorry performance of the clergy, Catholic and Protestant (Huguenot). Both groups were heavily influenced by the modernism of the day, or too wrapped up in pietism, to be relevant. There was no backbone of faith to resist anarchy. Had Adrien Duport never existed, the Great Fear would have still occurred: it was the product of the break-up of the inner man; his world was collapsing, and he too had collapsed.
Earlier, I cited the words of Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols: “We are the future: no future.” Rock music openly declares the death of all meaning: it celebrates death, contempt for purposes, and a resolute refusal to be other than suicidal. The war against life and meaning began with the sexual revolution, or, rather came out into the open then. Henry Miller set the tone in Tropic of Cancer when he declared his book to be “a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty…. what you will.” With the Marquis de Sade, the modern age says, not, “Let there be light,” but, Let there be universal and cosmic darkness. Now the age has nothing left ahead of itself except the Great Fear. The popular culture around us is empty and suicidal. It is geared to the existentialist moment, because, for all the modern minds, nothing else is real. Man, said Jean-Paul Sartre, is a futile passion, and he well described the existentialist mind. Modern youth is passionate, and it is also futile; its passion is death-oriented; towards life and work, its reaction is one of boredom and retreat.
It is an interesting and revealing fact that in England Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans are in disrepute. Cromwell’s regime, whatever its faults, was England’s last experience with a commanding Great Faith. One thing has since been clear: England has been more ready to honor the likes of the Beatles than Oliver Cromwell. As a result, the land of Cromwell is a very central part of the world-wide break-up of the inner man and the outer society.
The Great Faith must be Biblical. It must know and apply God’s law-word to the totality of life and thought. God is Lord, not only over the church and man’s soul, but over all of life. If He has no word for education, politics, the arts and sciences, and all things else, then He is not God but one of the many limited and local spirits called gods by the pagans of old.
The Bible speaks to all of life. The premise of Scripture and God’s law is that “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). As Creator of all, the Lord God is the Ruler of all, and His word speaks to all things.
The Great Faith lives by the every word of God (Matt. 4:4), and it applies God’s total word to all of life. (September, 1981)
(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 115; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 24)
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.