Sunday, July 6, 2014
Rebuked by My Guru
Christians cannot legitimately adopt the libertarian quest to establish a world devoid of civil government. Sin mandates civil government and civil sanctions. The right of civil rulers to impose physical punishments is affirmed clearly by Paul in Acts 25. He affirms in Romans 13 the legitimacy of civil government among other legitimate governments. He says that rulers are ordained by God as His ministers. This is powerful language. It invokes the authority of God on behalf of the State. If Paul is correct, then anarcho-capitalism is incorrect. There is no way around this.
— Gary North, Cooperation and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Romans
Dr. Gary North more than any living mortal has influenced my moral character. Before reading David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, a refutation of the take-away of Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, I was happy to be a Yankee socialist—middle-class, Progressive, happy to let the government solve social ills, meanwhile warming the pew on Sunday (though preparing to translate the Bible overseas) and waiting for the Tribulation period to begin so human history could end with the Rapture and the Millennium and the real action could begin.
Dr. North’s publications, whether written by him or by others, gave me a vision of a world in which the church of Jesus Christ, through lives joyfully subject to the whole of Scripture, fulfilled the Great Commission and made disciples of the nations, with the result that in some sense never seen since Eden, godly people lived moral, just lives as individuals, giving birth to peaceful and prosperous societies that made the gospel attractive to those yet unreached. In short, individual ethics matter, the moral compass for society is the same as the moral compass for individuals, and God’s plan for victory is people loving God with all their beings and their neighbors as themselves.
What really got my attention was when Chilton pointed out that everything I considered essential for a just, peaceful, and prosperous society could only be brought about through weapons, uniforms, badges, lawyers, judges, trials, commissions, elections, and hearings—all of which I as a good leftist wannabe was suspicious of. But a world where the incentives built into the structure of society mitigate people’s natural selfishness? Bring it on!
Two passages that seemed relevant to the issue soon became my favorites:
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. (Luke 22:25-26)
When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” … he must make a copy of this law … he must read it as long as he lives. ... Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel. (Deut 17:14, 20)
That is, one law for king and commoner alike. This makes the perfect bed for such visions of the stateless society as this model of private dispute resolution organizations by Stefan Molyneux (or my pale imitation) to lie in.
Such a vision, however, flies in the face of Romans 13. Every state since Nimrod has based its legitimacy on the idea that social order is impossible unless some people are above the laws everyone else has to obey: “Taxation as such is not theft,” as Dr. North says. He adds, “Most forms of taxation are theft, and all levels above the tithe surely are (I Sam. 8:15, 17), but not all. Lawful authorities are entitled to economic support. Taxation supports the State.” But if Romans 13 mandates that “the State” is allowed to extract wealth under (the implied ultimate) penalty of death, one must conclude that some people make their livings breaking laws their subjects are forced to live under.
Dr. North offers a defense of the morality of Scripture—tries, as it were, to create a market for it:
The threat of crime forces men to allocate scarce economic resources to the defense against criminals. The State is the primary institutional means of crime prevention. The State imposes negative sanctions on convicted criminals. The goal is to uphold justice by means of fear. … Fear adds to the cost to criminal behavior. As the economist says, when the cost of anything increases, other things remaining equal, less of it is demanded. This is the goal of negative civil sanctions: less crime.
To the anarcho-capitalist proposition of free-market insurance agencies, he replies,
The biblical answer is government, including civil government. In an anarcho-capitalist world of profit-seeking private armies, the result is the warlord society. Militarily successful private armies will always seek to establish their monopolistic rule by killing the competition, literally. Civil governments always reappear.
My question for Dr. North is this: What is the difference between a civil government and a warlord? This question goes back as far as the fourth century:
Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (Augustine, City of God IV:4)
Let us take the example of Castro’s Cuba. The government of Fulgencio Batista had uniformed armed forces, a delegation at the United Nations, and every other accoutrement needed to legitimize itself as a “civil government.” It was also enough of a kleptocracy that a significant portion of the population was in the mood for a change. Fidel Castro and his band of (un-uniformed?) insurgents began an armed struggle. Batista sent his uniformed agents out to stop them. At this point we would have to say that Romans 13 was on Batista’s side.
Yet after the defeat of Batista, Castro’s government became the powers that be, ordained of God. Was Castro not a warlord before he became the civil government? Did he cease to be a warlord once he had defeated Batista?
For that matter, what was the difference between George Washington and George III in 1777? The Tories and Loyalists of the day would have seen little. Or the difference between the USSR puppet Mao Zedong and the USA puppet Chaing Kai-Shek? Or the difference between Ngo Ding Diem and Ho Chi Minh? Or the difference between the armies of countless African kleptocrats and the armies rebelling against them? Isn’t the scene in Ukraine and Iraq and Afghanistan and half of Africa simply the warlord-ravaged Mogadishu of popular lore writ large?
If “the State” is often, if not always, simply the winner of a power struggle, how does God’s way of ordaining the powers that be differ from “might makes right”? And if there is no legitimate competition to “the State,” what is there to stop it from descending into tyranny?
By contrast, then, in a decentralized, anarchist setting, where competition is considered legitimate, is it unreasonable to expect a Christian “profit-seeking private army” to be unable to carve out a niche that reaches critical mass, defend its subscribers (customers, clients, call them what you will) against those who would “establish their monopolistic rule by killing the competition, literally,” establish a code of conduct that comports with the moral demands of Scripture, and build a lasting society of justice, peace, and prosperity? Would financial support of churches and parachurch ministries from the profits of such an organization – think of Chick-Fil-A’s sponsorship of worthy nonprofit ventures, some of which are explicitly Christian – not be a fulfillment of the prophecy that “the kings of the earth will bring their treasures” into the New Jerusalem? (Remember that when European nations tried to fulfill that prophecy by sponsoring state churches with tax revenues, the result was power struggles and apostasy.)
In short, what is inherently immoral about Molyneux’s idea of private dispute resolution organizations? Can a government fulfill Romans 13 only if it taxes, issues uniforms, and is in covenant with the United Nations?
Any replies to this post brought to my attention will be publicized as best I know how.