The Risk-Free Life

by Rousas John Rushdoony

It was shortly after World War II that I encountered the demand for an end to baseball playing by grade-school children. It was too competitive, said some angry women liberals; it was too individualistic, they complained, and a boy at bat, or catching a fly ball, had too much concentrated and isolated responsibility placed upon him. Such a game, it was said, could have traumatic consequences. The women were also against losing; they said defeat could be dangerous for some children.

They did not stop to think that there can be no victory where there is no possibility of defeat. It also did not occur to them that the more competitive a group game is, the more cooperation it demands for winning. As for traumatic effects, it is true that defeat can be traumatic for some, but to eliminate the possibility of victory is truly deadly.

It is true that the fear of defeat can be traumatic for a coward, but why encourage the coward in us all by eliminating risks? The risk-free life is a victory-free life. It means a life-long surrender to defeat, and nothing can be more deadly for man and society.

The lust for a risk-free life is all around us. It governs politics all over the world. Its logic leads to the world of Marxism, where the removal of the risks of failure for some means failure for all. An economy guaranteed against failure is an economy ensured against success.

All too often today men want to start with a guaranteed success, not with risks. As a result, we have in increasing evidence fraudulent successes, i.e., insider trading, artificially inflated stocks, and much much more. The goal in all these dishonest activities is success without risk.

The risk-free life, however, is a deadly illusion. Freedom always involves risks. Eliminate the risks of freedom and you thereby establish slavery and defeat. But risk is still not eliminated! If the risks of freedom are banned, the risks of tyranny are ensured. Slave- labor camps represent a higher risk in the U.S.S.R. than do the risks in a free society. But this is not all.

The Soviet military intelligence, GRU, for example, has a high risk factor to ensure performance. Anyone entering the GRU knows from the beginning that, if he disobeys or fails in even minor ways, he will be cremated alive in punishment. (Viktor Suvorov: Inside the Aquarium, pp. 2f., 93, 162, 190, 233, 237, 239f. New York, NY: Macmillian, 1986) In every aspect of the risk-free” life in the Soviet Union, the risks of slavery make pale by comparison those risks which freedom requires.

Unhappily, throughout the Western world, the risks of freedom are highly unpopular. It is not an accident that capitalists and unions alike live monopolies and subsidies: they fear risks. In state after state in the U.S., gerrymandering by Republicans and Democrats serves towards ensuring their control of the political machinery and eliminating risks of defeat.

In whatever the sphere of action, those in power are most opposed to risk, because it can bring about defeat for them. The establishment uses its power to lessen risk for itself as a necessary step towards retaining power. After all, revolutions are made by those out of power who are seeking power!

But there is more, much more. Those who have the most to lose are those least prone to risks and to bold actions. Remember that the bold, enterprising and innovative work that went into the birth of computers came from young outsiders. Most of the bold entrepreneurial action of the post-war years has come from new-comers. The major corporations have declined or stagnated, and their “gains” have come from buying out the new men. Bankers favor such loans, because banks invest usually in established success, which means that banks invest in the past.

Today, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the major political forces are made up of well-established and powerful men. These are men who have the most to lose and hence the least to venture apart from money. Given the liberal establishment of the U.S., it is not surprising that the Democrats command the most wealth in their ranks. The number of wealthy men ready to risk the wrath of the powers that be is very few, and they are under attack. Power always draws the strongest support.

The Republicans, however, are no different; power is always concerned with power, not risk. The conservatives also play the same game. In order to create a movement to win the country over to their cause, conservatives create groups of powerful men, and thereby sentence themselves to impotence, because they have created an alliance, council, or organization of men who have too much to lose to be bold. The result is sterility, and such groups become as effectual on the national scene as a ladies’ sewing circle.

It was no accident that the major political and social impact of recent years came from student movements. These student groups were sometimes chaotic, disorganized, and highly foolish, but their total impact was remarkably great. They had little to lose and hence were ready to lose it. Their causes were far more important to them than any penalties that risks would involve.

In the U.S., since Dorr’s Rebellion and the Whisky Rebellion to the present, the risk-takers have commonly been foolish and have shown a talent for courting defeat. On the other hand, the established power groups have uniformly drifted into disasters because all their efforts have gone to keeping power, not towards creating a harmonious society.

Elsewhere, the men like Cassius, men of envy, hatred, and enmity, have overthrown by revolution their hated power brokers, only to become far worse instruments of power. They have taken risks, but only for evil ends.

It is thus important to examine the full implications of a risk-free world. Risks are inescapable, and we face either the risks of freedom, or the risks of tyranny. But risks rest on a world order beyond man and society. We are born into a world of risks, because we face the risk of death from the moment of our birth. Men may imagine it, but they cannot abolish the risk of death from this world.

This is not all. There is also the fact of moral risk. From Day One of creation, man faced moral risk, and death, if he partook of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:17). Risk was built into paradise, and it is certainly very much a part of our fallen world.

To dream of a risk-free world is to imagine a creation without hell, and also without heaven. It means the denial of any moral antithesis in creation. If there is no good nor evil in the universe, then there can be no heaven nor hell. This involves denying the reality of justice. Justice rests on the premise that it matters to God and to the very being of creation that good prevail and that evil perish.

From my earliest days, one of the resounding verses of scripture for me has been Judges 5:20, from the Song of Deborah: “They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” Justice is written into every atom of creation, and justice is inescapable. To deny hell is to deny justice. As Emory Storrs observed years ago, “When hell drops out of religion, justice drops out of politics.” One can add that, when hell is denied as a reality and place, hell reappears as world-wide injustice and evil. Earth then becomes hell because the reality and finality of justice is denied.

To deny hell is to insist that life must be without moral risks. When churches become antinomian, they quickly then downplay the fact of hell because it emphasizes the ultimacy of God’s law and justice. To deny hell is to deny the reality of morality and justice and to affirm a cosmic relativism. The fact of hell is our reassurance of cosmic justice.

But there is more. If we seek to eliminate risk from life and society, and to eliminate hell from eternity, we also eliminate the Sabbath rest and heaven. The Sabbath rest is meaningless apart from salvation. The Sabbath is a covenant fact, a celebration of salvation (hence, the Passover dates the weekly Old Testament rest, and the Resurrection the weekly New Testament rest). If there is no salvation, there is no rest. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:21).

Paul tells us, that our “Labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). He does not say that it is risk-free. In fact, Paul is able to catalogue the risks he took by preaching the gospel, and the penalties he suffered: imprisonment, beatings, stonings, shipwreck, and much, much more. What he does tell us is that the moral risks have their certainty of reward because God’s law and justice govern all creation.

It was after the end of World War II that our child-centered, risk-free culture began to predominate. Today’s newspaper carried a story about the growth of criminal activity among children under 10 years of age; one police officer expressed his dismay at the evil dispositions and vicious street knowledge of such children. This should not surprise us. Children who have been spared the trauma of punishment are taught thereby that justice does not exist. It is still true, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). We teach our children that there is no justice if we do not punish them.

The dream of a risk-free life is an evil dream, because it is in essence a denial of causality; it is an insistence that cause and effect do not exist, and it is a denial that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

It is also a denial of justice, because it rejects the fact that life involves inescapable moral judgments and risks.

The dream of a risk-free life is closely related to the pornographic imagination. Pornography gives man a world which is an imaginary one, one in which moral consequences are totally absent, and a world in which all things revolve around the individual’s desires. Real people are lacking in the world of pornography; the evil imagination runs riot and re-orders all things to suit itself. Risks are removed from pornography in order to satiate without limitations the evil imagination.

The only risk-free world is in the evil imaginations of men: it has no substance nor reality. It cannot exist in the real world. Those who dream of a risk-free life are sooner or later, all losers.

1 Comment

I could not agree with you more that there is no such thing as risk free freedom.I would go as far as to argue that a loss of freedom is in fact a loss of security!When others are given dominion over our lives we are ceartainly not safe.

It is important to remember that one persons freedom ends,’‘or at least should end’‘where another persons nose begins.We should ceartainly not be free to cause harm nor hardship to others.Neither should any individual have an absolute right to profit from the needs of others ! How can a person live freely if even the ‘‘natural resources’‘ needed for survival must be purchased or some how earnend from others who own those resources ? Suppose the owners of the resources which are needed to sustain life choose to no longer market those resources ?

I argue that limitations upon the private ownership of natural resources,’‘espeacialy land,water,timber,minerals and wildlife are absolutely essential in order that freedom flourish.It has been argued that the private ownership of the natural commons leads to greater effeciency and more robust economic growth.This is a claim that may or may not be true.However,economic growth is not a worthy tradeoff for the personal and collective freedom made possible by the common ownership of the natural resources we all need to survive.Without the freedom to derive a living from nature,there is no freedom.

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