Calvin's Covenantal Pronomianism
No one has described the dilemma of modern Western thought with greater faithfulness to the Calvinistic literary virtues of clarity and brevity than the Roman Catholic scholar Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. "The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?" is the title of a perceptive article in which he charts the development of Western thinking along the lines of the two great "Jeans" from Geneva. 
Kuehnelt-Leddihn describes the Reformed rejection of Rome as a return to the middle ages rather than, as is often thought, the beginning of liberalism and democracy.  In the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century "the medieval concept of the world as a circle with God as its center had been replaced by the concept of an ellipse with two focal points -- God and man."  The theocentric thinking of Luther and Calvin remained the most conservative force in Europe for some time after the deaths of the great Reformers.
But the Reformed countries were much more influenced by the Enlightenment than were the Catholic, who had been vaccinated, as it were, from ideological infection by the Renaissance. Gradually the Reformed nations succumbed to the other Jean of Geneva. This includes even the United States of America, begun by "Founding Fathers" who were culturally the children of the Puritans and grandchildren of Calvin.  Although the "American spirit" is still to a degree "more medi(I>(Jval than modern" and "the American retreat from Calvin was never a complete one" since Calvin's influence "continues to run like a dark, subterranean stream through the American subconsciousness,"  the fact remains that, beginning even with Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and the influence of Free Masonry from the time of the War of Independence, America has gradually transferred her loyalty to Rousseau.
This is especially evidenced in the changed view of man. From the Calvinistic belief in man's inborn and total depravity, but equally total responsibility, Americans turned away with revulsion to accept instead the Roussellian idea of man as "at once good and irresponsible."  According to Kuehnelt-Leddihn, "It is in the social and political spheres that the shift of loyalties from the religious reformer to the philosophic romanticist has wrought the greatest mischief."  A naive belief in the goodness of man leaves all responsibility on "social conditions" that must be "constantly criticized and corrected" by one "noble experiment" after another, all of them ending in failure. The Roussellian creed confesses its faith in the "infallible majority ruling by a kind of divine right," conveniently forgetting the very fallible kind of majority (actually, dominant minority) that elected Hitler.
"We are living today in an age of Roussellian triumphalism. . . . Rousseau is the grandfather of the concentration camps and also of those armed brothels that we continue to call universities."  But the Roussellian triumph can only lead to the dissolution of Western culture, unless, by the grace of God, American is granted a Calvinistic revival. 
Although Kuehnelt-Leddihn is thinking primarily of the Calvinistic doctrine of man as a sinner versus the Roussellian doctrine of man as god, social and political philosophy naturally involves much more. One's doctrine of man will presuppose and include certain ideas of God, history, and law, for example. Calvinistic social philosophy, based upon the personal sovereignty of an Absolute Triune God who has spoken definitively in the Holy Scriptures, offers a covenantal world-life view that is centered on God Himself, that defines man as a sinner, but also considers him responsible, and that sees history as a process in which God redeems the world by grace. Law is an essential aspect of that covenantal world-view, for the very idea of the covenant includes law. 
Calvin's view of the covenant, and especially his view of the law of God, is the key to a Calvinistic philosophy of history as well as Calvinistic social philosophy. It is the key to a world-view Calvinism that does not stop at TULIP, but relates the Calvinistic vision of God's sovereign grace to all of life.
 Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, "The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?" in George A. Panichas (ed.), Modern Age, The First Twenty-Five Years: A Selection (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Press, 1988), 520-531. Almost as if to verify one half of Kuehnelt-Leddihn's thesis, historian Paul Johnson wrote a book describing leading Western intellectuals who presume to the office of secular prophet as followers of Rousseau. Intellectuals (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).
 It must be remembered that Kuehnelt-Leddihn is using the words "liberalism and democracy" in a negative sense here. Calvin's theology did make an important contribution to the development of liberty in the West, see: Douglas F. Kelly, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World: The Influence of Calvin on Five Governments from the 16th Through 18th Centuries (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992).
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 521.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 524.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 525.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 527.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 527.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 529.
 Kuehnelt-Leddihn speaks of a new life for the "other Genevois" rising from the "deeper recesses of the American subconscious." But since he is a serious Catholic, I am sure he would not mind my emending his phrase to express the fact that new life must come from God.
 For an extended discussion of a Biblical definition of the covenantal idea, see: Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper (Tyler, Tex.: 1987).
[ Calvin's Covenantal Pronomianism Index | Introduction | Calvinism in America Today | Calvin on Natural Law | Calvin on the Covenant | Calvin on the Judicial Law of Moses (Part 1) | Calvin on the Judicial Law of Moses (Part Two) | Conclusion ]