My latest for California magazine is a profile of R.J. Rushdoony, the most influential Christian conservative you’ve never heard of–godfather of the homeschooling movement, frequent guest on the 700 Club, and ideological spur to generations of rightwingers. How best to describe him? In an anecdote that didn’t make the final cut of the story, John Whitehead, founder of the libertarian legal nonprofit the Rutherford Institute, described to me what it was like hanging out with the patriarch. One evening, Rushdoony drove Whitehead up to his rural compound in northern California’s Gold Rush country. After parking outside one of the buildings, Rushdoony embarked on an elaborate anti-theft ritual, inspecting each car door to make sure it was locked. “I said, ‘There’s no one here except us,’” Whitehead remembers with a laugh. “He looked right at me and said, ‘Man is a sinner.’”
And an excerpt from the piece:
Like many conservatives then and now, Rushdoony believed that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation. In the postwar era, when many on the right felt that holy heritage was under siege, his fusion of right-wing politics and fundamentalist Christianity had particular resonance.
Indeed, Rushdoony’s worldview held something for everyone on the right, even if few people subscribed to every aspect. Free-marketeers and self-styled patriots who hated the New Deal and were alarmed by Communism flocked to his banner. (He counted Robert Welch, founder of the hard-right John Birch Society, among his friends.) But Rushdoony also attracted social conservatives who saw the Devil’s hand in feminism, reproductive rights, and civil rights. For these people, he confirmed the sinfulness of all challenges to the traditional order. “In the name of toleration,” he wrote, “the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions as though no differences existed.”
(Illustration by John Stich.)