Gary North was nearly impossible to track down. He did not return multiple e-mails, and when finally reached by phone, he refused to talk and hung up.
But if you know where to look, he is everywhere.
Mr. North, a onetime aide to Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, is the leading proponent of “Christian economics,” which applies biblical principles to economic issues and the free market.
Largely unknown to the broader public, Mr. North is an influential figure on the American far right. He has written dozens of books, blogs prolifically and is on the curriculum of Christian home-schoolers across America.
He may even have turned up among the antiunion protesters in Madison, Wis., this year.
Not literally, of course (and who would have recognized him if he had been there?). But Christian conservatism and free-market conservatism meet in Mr. North’s writings. A small but vigorous part of the conservative movement has absorbed his view that the Bible is opposed to organized labor, and especially to organized public employees.
“Not only do Reconstructionists believe that public employees should not have the right to organize, they believe that almost all of them should not be public employees,” writes Julie Ingersoll, of the University of North Florida, in the Web magazine Religion Dispatches. “Most of the tasks performed by those protesting the Wisconsin state budget would, in the biblical economics of North,” be privatized.
These “Reconstructionists” are believers in Christian Reconstructionism, the philosophy of R. J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. According to Reconstructionism, a Christian theocracy under Old Testament law is the best form of government, and a radically libertarian one. Biblical law, they believe, presupposes total government decentralization, with the family and church providing order. Until that day comes, Reconstructionists believe the rights to home-school and to worship freely at least provide the barest conditions of liberty.
Mr. North, who is Mr. Rushdoony’s son-in-law but was not on speaking terms with him from 1981 until Mr. Rushdoony’s death, focuses on how that biblical libertarianism applies to economics. He concluded that the Bible forbids any welfare programs, is opposed to all inflation, and requires a gold-coin standard for money.
“God has cursed the earth,” Mr. North writes, alluding to the Book of Genesis in his 1973 book “Introduction to Christian Economics.” “This is the starting point for all economic analysis. The earth no longer gives up her fruits automatically. Man must sweat to eat.” Mr. North writes that no form of government assistance “will escape the ethical limits” of the Apostle Paul’s dictum, in II Thessalonians, that “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
And evidence that God would prefer gold money to paper can be found throughout the Old Testament, according to Mr. North. There are more than 350 references to gold in Strong’s famous Bible concordance, he writes. Gold is used in worship, godly wisdom is compared to gold and the Hebrew prophets used the debasement of metals as a metaphor for immorality.
Home-schoolers can download Mr. North’s economics textbook free from his Web site. And his thinking may have influenced Representative Paul, who briefly employed Mr. North as a speechwriter, working on monetary policy, in 1976.
Michael J. McVicar, who teaches at Ohio State and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Mr. Rushdoony, said Mr. North discovered Mr. Rushdoony’s writing as a young man in Southern California, shortly after he became, along with his parents, an evangelical Christian.
“He corresponded with Rushdoony and made this his livelihood: to generate some synthesis between biblical law and libertarian economics,” Mr. McVicar said. “Eventually Rushdoony took him under his wing and became a sort of surrogate father for North, who married one of Rushdoony’s daughters.”
The two men’s “spectacular break,” as Mr. McVicar calls it, split Reconstructionism into two camps. The break was partly over the kind of theological minutiae that would impress even a rabbinical scholar. In fact, one issue might pique the interest of real rabbinical scholars.
“It was about North’s interpretation of, of all things, Passover and the Israelites’ marking the doorposts with the blood of the lamb,” Mr. McVicar said. “North made this argument, that because of the doorpost’s structure, that this was an indication of hymenal blood from the marriage bed, and tied it into what Rushdoony called this ‘fertility cult’ mentality. And Rushdoony took a much more common-sense approach to the blood.
“The subtext is, it’s a father-son spat,” Mr. McVicar concluded.
The deeper one looks into the obsessions of Mr. North — who was born in 1942 and who as of 2007 lived in Horn Lake, Miss. — the harder it is to spot his influence in Wisconsin. The main themes of the Wisconsin budget battles were union influence, the distribution of wealth and the public fisc; Mr. North, by contrast, is associated with his own brand of far-right Presbyterianism, gun-owners’ rights, home-schooling and the gold standard for money.
Mr. McVicar believes that Professor Ingersoll’s attempted connection between Christian economics and the rallies in Madison is a bit tenuous. “Her insight has to be in my mind so heavily qualified as to make it almost nothing,” he said. But he concedes that it “has the most basic essence of truth,” given how widely Mr. North’s teachings have been disseminated on the Christian right.
Professor Ingersoll concedes it is difficult to prove direct connections between Mr. North’s writings and Wisconsin antiunion conservatism. On the other hand, Mr. North might like to think he has influenced the Wisconsin debate, and he has written in vociferous support of Gov. Scott Walker.
And, as Professor Ingersoll cautions, influence does not always announce itself:
“I like to say, ‘How many Christians know who is Augustine is, and how he influenced them?’ ”
By: Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, April 29, 2011