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The Benedict Option Isn’t “Two Kingdoms” Enough

Brandon already made excellent points about the Benedict Option and I don’t have much more to add. But one thing stands out to me and I’ve had something on my mind for a couple weeks and this is a good excuse to mention it.

First, a summary of the Benedict Option. Dreher:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Important clarifying interpretation from Brandon:

Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”).

Now my own take. The Benedict Option is being seen as an alternative to One Kingdom cultural transformationalism. It is being seen as an alternative to the “change the world” mentality. Thus, the danger exists of seeing all dissenters from the Benedict Option as being in the alternative camp. So when I say the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, I actually mean that I am on the opposite extreme as the transformationalists.

As Brandon noted, the problem with the Benedict Option is not in its “withdrawing from the world” per se, it is in its assumption that there is ever a time to pursue Christendom at all. Dreher thinks that “now is the time” to seek shelter and live “in the world but not of the world.” The problem with this is that it is not radical enough; it does not emphasize our pilgrimage enough; it is not reflective of a strong Two Kingdoms paradigm because it sees our current predicament as a backup plan.

Thus, the Benedict Option does not go far enough. It does not separate that which is temporary (the physical world) from that which is eternal (ideas/truths) in a consistent matter. It waits for a time when Christendom will return, when temporary institutions can once again be united with the Church. But this misses the entire point of Two Kingdoms theology.

Now, don’t get me wrong at all. From a cultural commentator standpoint, I tend to enjoy Dreher and the rest of the American Conservative folks. I certainly read their content and am pleased that there is a voice on the right that is not leftist/neoconservative. I love the Old Right and traditional conservatism. But the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, though it’s heading in the right direction by withdrawing from the empire. I would just ask that it be more radical in doing so.

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Rothbard on Trump

Didn’t think it was possible, did you?

A Strategy for the Right, first published in 1992 in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, it is the opening chapter in a compilation of Rothbard’s essays, entitled “The Irrepressible Rothbard.”

What I call the Old Right is suddenly back!

Rothbard felt the proper home for libertarians was with the right – the old right made up of anti-New Deal elements, for example H.L. Mencken, Albert Jay Nock, Rose Wilder Lane, and Garet Garrett.  He also points to Howard Buffet (Warren’s dad) and Robert Taft.

The old right also included those who were against American involvement in World War II.

…contrary to accepted myth, the Original Right did not disappear with, and was not discredited by, our entry into World War II. On the contrary, the congressional elections of 1942 — elections neglected by scholars — were a significant victory not only for conservative Republicans, but for isolationist Republicans as well.

Neglected by me, as well; but no longer.  Regarding the House of Representatives:

The 1942 United States House of Representatives elections was held in the middle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third term.  The main factor that led to the Republican gains during this election cycle was concern over World War II and American involvement.

Roosevelt’s Democratic Party lost 45 seats, retaining only a slender majority even though they lost the popular vote by over 1 million votes (3.9%).

What?  They lost the popular vote and still won a majority?  I say the Russians did it – and for this claim I actually have some evidence: Roosevelt’s administration was found to be loaded with Soviet agents, sprinkled throughout; Roosevelt’s favorite uncle was named “Joe.”

Regarding the Senate:

The United States Senate elections of 1942 were held November 3, 1942, midway through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third term as President. Although this election took place during World War II, the opposition Republican party made major gains, taking eight seats from the Democrats and one from an independent.

Returning to Rothbard and his writing on Trump:

The Marxists, who have spent a great deal of time thinking about strategy for their movement, always pose the question: Who is the agency of social change? Which group may be expected to bring about the desired change in society?

He first examines what he calls the Hayekian model: convert the top philosophers and intellectuals, and then watch the trickle-down effects.

… I hate to break this to you, intellectuals, academics, and the media are not all motivated by truth alone.

Rothbard believes it will take a few centuries for the trickle-down theory to produce fruit, so he moves on to other possibilities: the “Fabian strategy,” used by the left to gradually increase state power, should be used in reverse.  Such is the wish of beltway libertarian and conservative think-tanks.

The flaw here, however, is that what works to increase state power does not work in reverse. For the Fabians were gently nudging the ruling elite precisely in the direction they wanted to travel anyway.

Twenty-five years after Rothbard wrote these words, the lack of fruit due to such beltway efforts is obvious.

What does Rothbard suggest?

Therefore, in addition to converting intellectuals to the cause, the proper course for the right-wing opposition must necessarily be a strategy of boldness and confrontation, of dynamism and excitement, a strategy, in short, of rousing the masses from their slumber and exposing the arrogant elites that are ruling them, controlling them, taxing them, and ripping them off.

And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well.

He was writing in the time of Pat Buchanan.  He might as well have been writing about Trump.

It seems someone decided to put the Rothbardian strategy to work: Robert Mercer, described as a “reclusive hedge fund manager” and his family.

During the past decade, Mercer, who is seventy, has funded an array of political projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise…. “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government.”

My kind of guy.

There was a time that Mercer was aligned with the Koch brothers, of Cato fame:

By 2011, the Mercers had joined forces with Charles and David Koch, who own Koch Industries, and who have run a powerful political machine for decades. The Mercers attended the Kochs’ semiannual seminars, which provide a structure for right-wing millionaires looking for effective ways to channel their cash.

He and his family soon figured out – as did Rothbard decades before – that the Koch brothers’’ strategy would never achieve much of anything toward real change.  After spending heavily alongside the Koch’s to get Romney elected in 2012…

Rebekah Mercer, meanwhile, was growing impatient with the Kochs. She felt that they needed to investigate why their network had failed to defeat Obama in 2012. Instead, the Kochs gathered donors and presented them with more empty rhetoric. Mercer demanded an accounting of what had gone wrong, and when they ignored her she decided to start her own operation. In a further blow, Mercer soured several other top donors on the Kochs.

Murray must have that “I told you so” look on his face about now, as evidenced in his further comments:

It is important to realize that the establishment doesn’t want excitement in politics, it wants the masses to continue to be lulled to sleep. It wants kinder, gentler; it wants the measured, judicious, mushy tone, and content, of a James Reston, a David Broder, or a Washington Week in Review. It doesn’t want a Pat Buchanan [Donald Trump], not only for the excitement and hard edge of his content, but also for his similar tone and style.

Koch = establishment = Romney; Mercer = in your face = Trump.  Which path offers the better chance for change?  Mercer listened to Rothbard and succeeded; the Kochs kicked Rothbard out and have achieved…nada.

Justin Raimondo gets it:

Libertarianism today is a confused jumble of leftist “lifestylism,” virtue-signaling, and emotional impulses disguised as a political program. You just have to take a look at the Gary Johnson/Bill Weld farrago to see this. On the one hand, the pro-drugs “live and let live” rhetoric, and on the other a declared adherence to a vague “centrism,” brewed a counterintuitive amalgam of “rebelliousness” and pandering to the Establishment. Thus you had Johnson blathering on about the wonders of pot while Weld was endorsing Hillary Clinton. A more disgraceful campaign—in the name of “libertarianism”—would be hard to imagine.

These people have zero understanding of the Trump phenomenon—and I would go further and say they have no conception of the political. Conflating individualism with narcissism, they utilize ideology as a form of self-actualization rather than, say, a way to save the country.

While I have been “associated” with libertarianism, it’s important to note that this association, for most of my career, has been with the perspective of the late Murray N. Rothbard—and Rothbardianism is as different from “official” libertarianism” as it is from modern liberalism.

He goes on to offer:

Buchanan was the necessary prelude to Trumpism, and Pat is clearly the father of that revolution—a fact that is almost never acknowledged.

I will only slightly modify this last sentence: Ron Paul played a key role in this revolution during the time between Buchanan and Trump – both in 2008 and 2012.  The thread runs through Dr. Paul.

Conclusion

Yeah, we all get it: Trump is no libertarian; Trump may even be a Trojan Horse or even co-opted.  This isn’t the point.  What he is, or more importantly what he represents, is the key: a complete rejection of the status quo

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The Sadness of Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig-von-MisesLudwig von Mises:

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.”

Since my college years, I’ve had a hidden fascination with the history and culture– and tragic disintegration of– Old World Austria. One might suppose that my interest in Austrian economics plays a heavy role in that, but while true, there’s always been something deeper than that. Perhaps it was my own mother’s love of the Sound of Music movie. I always connected, at an emotional level, with the tale of Captain von Trapp and the sad fall of Old Austria.

In one scene in the movie, von Trapp gazes off into the distance and reflects on the rise of democratic statism and very painfully laments a “world that is slowly fading away.” It’s a sad moment. Internationalistic statism was gaining the upper hand in Europe and forever changing the European landscape. It was the rise of globalism, of one-world-orderism, multiculturalism, the loss of national sovereignty.

Mises' apartment door-- from my trip
Mises’ apartment door– from my trip

Did you know that the Habsburgs, the Family Elite of Old Austria, opponents of global government and the evils of democracy, were supporters of Ludwig von Mises? The son still lives and even reflected on the Mises he remembered.

For my first anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Vienna for two weeks. It was remarkable. I was able to visit Mises’ apartment, walk where he walked, read where he read. It was surreal.

For all his heroism and courage, Mises too felt the deep pain and loss of the beloved culture of his ancestors. It was not just that Hitler was a bad man. It’s that socialism and revolutionary leftism destroyed an entire Old World culture that pulled deeply at Mises’ heart. In fact, his wife Margit reflected on this pain when she wrote:

From the day of our marriage he never talked about our past. If I reminded him now and then of something, he cut me short. It was as if he had put the past in a trunk, stored it in the attic, and thrown away the key. In thirty-five years of marriage he never, never– not with a single word– referred to our life together during the thirteen years before our marriage.

The decade before their marriage was their time in Austria, before they were forced to flee as the Nazis raided his apartment and burned his books and writings. It was too painful, what became of his beloved homeland. Indeed, for Mises, the rise of socialism and the German statism was a reflection of a “world that was fading away.” Margit:

Lu followed the political situation in Germany and Austria with passionate interest. He saw the slippery road the Austrian leaders were forced upon. He knew Hitler’s rise to power would endanger Austria, and he knew exactly what the future would bring. Only the date was a secret to him. Lu was a typical Austrian. He loved his native country, the mountains, the city of Vienna, the beauty of the old palaces, the crooked streets, the fountains-but this, too, was something so deeply imbedded in his soul he rarely would talk about it. But I knew how he felt and how deeply he was hurt.

I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.
I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.

Not many people understand how the world changed during the world wars. It was during these times that the entire west became rich soil for the doctrines of etatism (Mises’ word, which meant statism) and socialism and democratic egalitarianism. Which is why Rothbard’s essay on World War I is called “World War I as Fulfillment.” War is the stepping stone to cultural and academic upheaval. Hence why Progressives love war and true conservatives despise it.

When one reflects on the fall of Western Civilization, it’s not just the state itself that must be blamed. It’s the entire culture. Look at what happened to Charles Murray. Everything is racist, sexist, bigoted. These words have no meaning. They are merely bully clubs intended to destroy the remnants of Old World traditions and mannerisms.

Consider then Margit’s remembrance of Mises’ pain:

In retrospect I judge these attacks differently, and I believe I understand the reason for them. Lu wrote some notes in 1940, and I read them again and again. He wrote of Austria and of Carl Menger, who as early as 1910 recognized that not only Austria but the whole world was getting nearer to a catastrophe. Lu, thinking alike, tried to fight this with all the means he had at his disposal. But he recognized the fight would be hopeless, and he got depressed– as were all the best minds in Europe in the twenties and thirties.

He knew that if the world would turn its back to capitalism and liberalism (in the old sense of the word) it would tumble into wars and destruction that would mean the end of civilization. This terrible fight against corruption, against the foes of liberty and the free market had broken the spirit of Menger, had thrown a dark shadow over the life of Lu’s teacher and friend Max Weber, and had destroyed the vitality and the will to live of his friend and collaborator Wilhelm Rosenberg.

Theirs was a fight for a world that did not want to be helped. Few people recognized the danger, and even fewer were readyto fight alongside Lu. It was like being on a sinking ship on which people were dancing though the end was near. Lu recognized the danger. He knew how to help his fellow passengers. He tried to lead them to the right exit, but they did not follow him– and now doom knocked at the door.

_________________________

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.” –LvM

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The Benedict Option?

After listening to two interviews (here and here) with Rod Dreher about his new book The Benedict Option, and reading his FAQ, I really don’t think he has anything to offer Reformed Christians.

At first, he seemed to have a good thesis:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Three cheers for that! Dreher seemed to be criticizing the idea of Christendom, where the church and the world are one. He notes

As lay Christians, we have to build some kind of walls to separate ourselves from the world so that we can continue to go out into the world and minister to people and be who Christ asked us to be. The culture itself is so toxic and so anti-Christian that we’re just not going to make it if we let anybody and anything come into our hearts and into our imaginations.” (Mohler @39:00)

Three cheers! Christ established his church to be in the world, but not of it. The church is a gathering of those called out of the world and it establishes the wall of membership to distinguish itself from the world and through the means of grace to put to death the love of the world. Christendom severely compromised this call by equating the world and the church. Living in Christendom, Calvin commented upon 1 Cor. 5:10-12 “Paul said this at a time when Christians were as yet mingled with heathens, and dispersed among them, what ought to be done now, when all have given themselves to Christ in name?… [T]here are none that are strangers, when all take upon themselves Christ’s name, and are consecrated to him by baptism.” In this sense, the fall of Christendom is to be cheered for Christendom has always been an enemy of the kingdom of Christ.

But that is not what Dreher has in mind. Rather, Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”). Dreher’s focus throughout is this world, this life, the kingdom of this world. Ironically then, the Benedict Option is a very worldly call for Christians to separate from the world. Why? Because Christians are not of this world? No, because the world is no longer Christian.

As others have noted, when you listen to everything Dreher has to say, the Benedict Option is really nothing more than a call to be intentional about being a Christian. Be careful what you listen to and watch and read. Be intentional about community and education. Be intentional about raising your children. All basic stuff. Of course the question is, why do we have to start being intentional now? Well, because Christendom has fallen and Christianity is no longer the dominant worldview, therefore Christians need to be deliberate and intentional about their Christian life. Before you could just go to school and go to work like everyone else, watch the same stuff as everyone else and live like everyone else and still be a Christian, because we lived in a Christian nation. But now we don’t, so now you have to stop and think and be intentional about being a Christian, since most people aren’t anymore. So now, “to live in the world as faithful Christians [will] require some critical withdrawal from the mainstream.”

This worldly focus comes as little surprise when you find out Dreher “came to Christ through the Roman Catholic Church” and that he “read [his] way into the Roman Catholic Church from being an agnostic, atheist teenager… It was a very intellectual conversation. I was extremely prideful intellectually. I thought that if I had the syllogism in my head, my faith could withstand any trial.” But later he realized he needed more than a syllogism (proving the existence of God), he also needed ritual. So he became Eastern Orthodox, where he made his faith “incarnate.” There is little evidence Dreher is someone who has been convicted of his sinfulness and his need for a Savior, rather than simply someone who found atheism, and then the Roman Catholic Church, untenable. Consider how Dreher thinks Mormons relate to the Benedict Option.

One thing that’s really delighted me and surprised me in doing this research is to get to know more about what the LDS church does. Leaving theological concerns aside, as a social entity they do a terrific job of integrating faith with communal life and to looking out for each other. I think the rest of us from the older Christian traditions have a lot to learn from Mormons.

The Benedict Option is a thoroughly worldly vision of cultural transformation written by a cultural commentator (who admits he’s kind of making it up as he goes). He does not have anything to offer Reformed Christians about how to live our life as pilgrims in this world. Go listen to some expository preaching on Christian living instead. (That doesn’t mean everything he says is wrong, it just means there’s no reason to look to him for answers)

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Vern Poythress’ Critique of Prisons

From Vern Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (which is very worth reading, though I would disagree with and refine many points).

15 A Critique of Prisons

How do we evaluate the present systems of criminal justice in modern societies? Most modern societies use imprisonment as the primary form of punishment for crime. Some limited steps have been taken here and there to introduce alternative punishments, such as making thieves pay back for their theft. But such alternatives are the exception rather than the rule. For practical purposes we must focus attention on the value of imprisonment as a form of punishment.

First of all we should distinguish carefully between using prison for punishment and using it as a means of custody before trial. The use of some form of custody until the time of trial is attested in the Bible itself (Lev. 24:12; Acts 21:34; 23:35) and is widespread elsewhere. Sometimes no reasonable alternative is available. In such cases the temporary use of a prison is surely legitimate. To prevent this practice from becoming an unacknowledged or unintentional form of punishment, state authorities have an obligation to work for practices that promote speedy trial. In addition, the provision for bail works in favor of preventing unjust punishment in the form of confinement.

The deliberate use of prison for the purpose of punishing convicted offenders is quite another matter. In practice, it is a disaster. The statistics with regard to repeated offenders give a grim picture. Those who have been involved in prisons, either as state authorities or especially as prisoners, testify to their ineffectiveness, oppressiveness, and destructive tendencies.1

But I prefer to base my arguments on principle rather than on the actual results of the prison system. If I were to appeal only to actual results, I would leave open the possibility that prison reform could straighten out the system. I do not believe that any reform could be adequate, because the system is wrongheaded from the beginning.

To evaluate properly the principle of imprisonment, we must use biblical criteria. As we have seen, proper response to crime involves four aspects, namely restoration, punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Restoration and punishment must be our primary concern. But deterrence and rehabilitation can be significant secondary indicators of whether a proposed solution makes contact with the reality of the human condition.

Does prison justly restore and punish?

Does prison promote just restoration for crimes? Restoration means making things good to the victim of a crime. The victim’s situation must be restored as far as possible to its original condition before the crime. Or if such restoration is not possible, some other kind of restoration to normalcy is appropriate, as when the thief gives back a substitute for a destroyed object, or when the fornicator is forced to marry his partner.

Prison in itself obviously restores nothing. Moreover, in cases where restoration involves the use of money, prison works against restoration by destroying the offender’s capacity to work in order to obtain money to pay the victim.

Does prison promote just punishment? Just punishment, as we have argued, always fits the crime. It always matches the nature and the intensity of the crime according to the principle, “As you have done, it will be done to you.” The only crime for which imprisonment would be the fitting penalty would be the crime of imprisoning someone else! A kidnapper might of course imprison the victim, and so one might deduce the penalty of imprisonment in this special case. But as we have seen in chapter 11, kidnapping also constitutes a usurpation of the authority of the state and as such merits the death penalty. The punishment of imprisonment does not cope with the full guilt attaching to kidnapping.

On a very general level one might argue that all crimes are abuses of the offender’s social powers and his tacit agreements with society. Hence such abuses are met by depriving the offender of interaction with society. But such reasoning grossly misconstrues the nature of crime. It pretends that crime is an offense against the criminal’s social rights, that is, an offense against the criminal himself, and also an offense against society as a whole, that is, society in the abstract. Neither is true. Crime is an offense against the victim. It is a much more personal thing than this reasoning admits, and not seeing the personal character of crime is one of the criminal’s main problems.

Yet another difficulty arises with respect to imprisonment. No plausible means exists for determining a just quantity of punishment. If the punishment matches the crime, as in my proposals in chapters 10-12, its quantity is automatically determined at least in a rough way. A theft of a small amount is met by a penalty proportional to this amount. The theft of a large amount is met by a penalty of a corresponding amount. But what do we do if we must use only the penalty of imprisonment? How much time in prison corresponds to the amount of a theft? We cannot say, because time and money do not directly match. How much time corresponds to murder? How much time to bodily injury? How much time to rape? How much time to adultery? Amount of time does not quantify any crime in a reasonable way.

We might perhaps propose to quantify some things by converting between quantities of money and quantities of time. An amount of time in some circumstances can be reckoned as equivalent to the amount of money that a person could earn during the given amount of time (see Exod. 21:19). But can we use such a criterion to deal with imprisonment? If the time really is equivalent to the corresponding amount of money, we should be satisfied with a monetary payment and not imprisonment. But in fact we are not satisfied, which indicates that the two are not really equivalent. Moreover, the question arises as to whether people who can command a higher salary should therefore be confined for less time. Such a position would offend all our sense of justice. Clearly imprisonment is not merely loss of working time, but in its essence something else altogether. What is it? An extreme form of slavery in which the wardens of the prison have much more detailed control in comparison with most historical instances of slavery? A form of slavery chosen to deprive the criminal of the normal pleasures of slavery, such as meaningful work, access to larger society, some degree of privacy, and social intimacy with spouse and family? What is this monster that we have invented, and how can it ever be just punishment?

Does prison effectively deter and rehabilitate?

Does prison deter crime? As long as the criminal is in prison, he is prevented from preying on the larger society. If and when he is released from prison, there is no guarantee whatsoever that he will not repeat his crime. Because doing time does not effectively match the nature of the criminal’s crime, it does not effectively take away his motive for committing crime again.

An even more telling objection arises from the nature of the small subsociety or subculture within a prison. Prisoners are not totally prevented from preying on fellow prisoners. Murders, rapes, and thefts do take place within prisons. Such possibilities make a mockery of justice. The very thing that is supposed to be punishment becomes the scene of more crime. Prison does not thoroughly deter crime but simply transports crime to another location.

Moreover, the fact of crime within prisons suggests that the real desires of society may be less lofty than its altruistic rhetoric. The motives of a society as a whole are of course varied and confused. But a cynical analysis might suggest the following. The outside society is not really concerned with true deterrence but with its own comfort. By removing criminals from its midst it obtains the comfort of not having so much crime. Subsequently it cares very little for whether crime is deterred inside the prison, as long as this crime is concealed and does not cause guilt feelings. To confine the prisoners for a lifetime would of course produce the greatest freedom from crime for the outside society. But the larger society would feel guilty about such a severe penalty. So it releases criminals after a time for the sake of comforting its own guilt feelings. The amount of time spent in prison is not determined by justice but by the interplay between social desire for freedom from crime and social desire for absence of guilt feelings. In all this interplay society can act with perfect selfishness. At the same time it can pretend that prisons are intended to provide criminals with a rehabilitative environment, and hence it can congratulate itself for having motives of concern for the rehabilitation of criminals rather than their punishment. Such selfishness will naturally produce largely cynicism and not repentance on the part of criminals.

Does prison offer significant hope for rehabilitation? Criminals have the most hope for rehabilitation if they feel the justice of their punishment. As I have argued in the previous chapter, such results are far more likely under a system that takes care to think explicitly in terms of principles of reciprocity and justice. In addition, criminals have a greater chance to reform if they are in normal contact with normal society. They then have opportunity immediately to engage in just, socially profitable work and contributions to others. The abnormalities of prison life can never become a viable environment for training in righteousness. In fact, prison frequently produces results in the opposite direction because the morality of a subculture of criminals reverses the morality of normal society.

In addition to all these factors, prison presents dangerous temptations to injustice on the part of the wardens, guards, and supervisors of the prison. Let us grant that many who are charged with prison supervision act out of true good will and as a service to society. They often do so within circumstances that are personally very difficult for them and sometimes dangerous to their own safety. But there is another side that we seldom think about. Supervisors and guards are exposed to temptations that can easily bring out the worst in anyone. They supervise prisoners some of whom are unpleasant people, sometimes vindictive, spiteful, deceitful, or obnoxious. Petty offenses and back talk from prisoners tempt supervisors to return evil with evil. The substandard morality of many prisoners tempts them to treat all prisoners as subhuman and to prejudge prisoners even before the prisoners do something against them. The prisoners have little effective way of making an appeal against injustice, and unjust acts on the part of supervisors are concealed within the prison from the eyes of the larger society. Hence injustice can be practiced with impunity. Supervisors have virtually totalitarian control over prisoners, and such absolute power tends to corrupt the human beings who possess it.

In sum, I would argue that the cases of injustice and sometimes gross inhumanity on the part of supervisors or guards are no accident but a natural product of the unjust, unworkable character of the system. We should be surprised that the system does not turn out even worse than it is.

As a last resort, one might argue that at least prison represents a kind of shadow of hell. In this very vague sense it expresses a kind of justice shadowing the justice of God’s judgment in hell. In reply I agree that prison imitates hell in one way. Just as hell isolates the damned and prevents them from contaminating the holiness of God’s renewed world, so prison prevents its inmates from contaminating the larger society. So long as people are in prison they are deterred from preying upon the larger society. But this result is deterrence, not justice. In other respects the problems remain. (1) Whereas hell expresses the justice of God, prison does not. (2) In hell people may well be prevented from exercising their unrighteous desires against others, but in prison they are still capable of injuring fellow prisoners. (3) The troubles of supervisors and guards still show prison to be ineffective even as an image of hell. (4) If we think that prison is so bad as to be a shadow of hell, are we still willing to argue that it is less bad than my proposed alternatives?

Meanwhile, as long as the present prison system exists, Christians must do what they can on behalf of prisoners (Matt 25:36-40). Through Prison Fellowship and other Christian organizations many opportunities exist to bring to prisoners friendship, community support, and the gospel itself, which is the power of God for salvation. A convenient list of resources can be found in Van Ness, Crime and Its Victims, pp. 193-217.

Chapter 15 Footnotes

1 For an introductory discussion, see Charles Colson, “Towards an Understanding of Imprisonment and Rehabilitation,” in John Stott and Nicholas Miller, eds., Crime and the Responsible Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), pp. 152-180.

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A 19th Century Presbyterian on Taxation as Theft

In this 1803 selection, American Presbyterian Covenanter Rev. Samuel B. Wylie, A.M. calls taxation theft because a government without divine authority that he does not consent to its taking money from him by force. (Covenanters believed that nations must covenant with God to defend the true religion. Since the United States advocated religious pluralism, they had no divine authority at all – at least in Wylie’s view).


Obj. 6. “The saints addressed them for justice, Acts 25:10,12, and 26:32, where the apostle appeals unto Caesar.”

To this I answer. An appeal to their tribunals, no more involves in it an homologation of their lawful dominion, than an appeal from a murderer to a thief, who would be disposed to save one’s life, would be an homologation of his living habitually in the breach of the eighth commandment. Suppose, for example, that Allegheny mountains were infested with a banditti of robbers, whose captain retained still so much humanity as to establish a law, that no poor man should be robbed of more than ten dollars—you happen to be crossing the mountain—five of the gang approach you, and rob you of one hundred, which is nearly your all—you meet with the master of the fraternity—you know the law—and believe that he still has as much humanity remaining as will induce him to execute it. Will you appeal to him to cause your ninety dollars to be refunded, which are due to you by his own law? If you do, will this implicate you in the immorality of the banditti, or be saying Amen to their unlawful practice? Certainly not. If this hold in the greater, it will surely hold in the less. If an appeal may be made to the captain of a band of robbers, without implication in his criminality, much more to these institutions which, though wrong in some fundamentals, are yet aiming at the good of civil society.

Obj. 7. “Christ himself both paid tribute and commanded his disciples to pay it, and that even to Caesar. Matt. 17:27, and 22:21. Was not this an acknowledgment of his authority?”

Ans. Simple payment of tribute never was considered as any homologation of the authority imposing it. It may be given to the worse of tyrants, if not demanded as a tessera of loyalty.

We might ask here, do the people of the United States homologate the authority of the Dey of Algiers, or, for conscience’ sake, recognize him as their legitimate ruler, when they pay their annual tribute to the haughty Musselman? Do they think that the dey has any moral right to demand such a thing? Do they not rather go upon the principle that it is better to give a part to save the remainder, than, by withholding, lose all? Such a course of conduct may be prudent and innocent with any band of robbers…

The other allegation brought from Matt. 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” &c., is equally unfounded.

It is abundantly evident, from the passage, that the question was intended to ensnare the Lord Jesus Christ, answer as he would. It was proposed by the Herodians and Pharisees; those, votaries for Roman domination, and these, the sticklers for Jewish immunities.

Had he said, “Give it to Caesar,” the Pharisees, ever ready to accuse him, would have represented him to the people as an enemy to their ancient privileges. Had he said, “Do not give it,” the Herodians would have represented him to Herod as an enemy to the government of Caesar. In the fifteenth verse, we are expressly told, they came to him with a view to “entangle him in his talk.” But he, “knowing their craftiness,” split their dilemma, and left their question undecided. He, on several other occasions, thus baffled his adversaries; as in John 8:4,12, in the case of the “woman taken in adultery,” and in Luke 12:14, when application was made to him concerning the settlement of the earthly inheritance. It is objected here, by some, “that this explanation of our Saviour’s answer represents the Lord Christ as shunning to declare the whole counsel of GOD—giving no answer in a case respecting sin and duty.” The inference is false. They were not without information on this very subject. They had the law and the prophets. The Lord Jesus Christ had given specific directions concerning the character of lawful rulers, Deut. 17:15, to whom it was lawful to pay tribute, for conscience’ sake. But it was not information they wanted, but to ensnare him, let him answer as he would, as has already been shown. If silence or refusing to answer in every case, even in matters respecting sin and duty, let the design of the querist be what it will be accounted criminal, in what point of light will the objector view the Lord Jesus Christ, when he finds him actually refusing to answer a question respecting sin and duty, in the case of his own authority? Mark 11:27,33: “Neither do I tell you (says he) by what authority I do these things.” It would be well, if men would consider the awful consequences of some of their objections, before they make them.

But, supposing that CHRIST, in both the instances alluded to, had commanded tribute to be paid to Caesar, what does it prove? Unless he commanded it to be paid as a tessera of loyalty, it proves no more the morality of Caesar’s right, than a minister of the gospel’s advising one of his hearers to give the robber part of his property, to secure the remainder, would, that the minister considered the robber morally entitled to it.

Obj. 8. “But you make use of the money which receives its currency from their sanction; and you support them by paying tribute, &c. Why not swear allegiance, hold offices?” &c.

Ans. We make use of the money, to be sure, but when we give an equivalent for it, by industry or otherwise, it is our own property; and another man’s stamping his name upon our coats is no reason why we should throw them away.

It must be granted, also, that we do support them, by paying tribute, &c. So do we the robber, unto whom we give a part to save the remainder. But will it therefore follow, that I may legally swear allegiance to him, or become one of his officers, in the business of robbery and plunder?…

Should a robber meet me on the highway, and upon finding that I had no money, put his bayonet to my breast; and should it appear evidently, that he intended to kill me, unless I would solemnly engage to take, or send him, a certain sum of money, in a given time, say fifty dollars, ought I not to comply? If I do, the oath is the result of mutual stipulation, which existing circumstances render eligible. It seems to me immaterial, whether the overture originates with him or with me. In either case, I consider it lawful to give fifty dollars to save my life.

TWO SONS OF OIL; Or THE FAITHFUL WITNESS For MAGISTRACY AND MINISTRY Upon A SCRIPTURAL BASIS.


Another American Presbyterian named William Findley, who served as part of Pennsylvania’s Constitutional Committee and served in the U.S. Congress for many years after that, responded to Wylie thus:

Another wonderful illustration, by which the American governments are designated robbers. Did ever the American government rob any man? No. The very insinuation of this is a seditious slander. The author knew that the sedition law was repealed before he wrote his book, but the same authority can renew it again. Robbers, if ever they are so generous as not to take all, give no equivalent for what they take. For what small tribute the author pays in this st ate, which goes wholly to making roads and bridges, or for court houses, courts, &c. the protection and accommodation of which the author and all aliens enjoy, as fully and freely as citizens do, is a full and ample equivalent, which they accept of, and enjoy. They pay no direct tax for the expense of the civil government of the state—this is paid out of another fund, which arose from the state doing more than her share during the distressing period of the war with Britain; of this, the hard earnings of the citizens, in other times, the author, &c. enjoy their proportion, without any equivalent, and they pay none to support the federal government. In England, from which we have copied much of our jurisprudence, allegiance is divided into two kinds, namely, the natural allegiance of natives, which they consider as perpetual, and the local and temporary allegiance, which is incidental to aliens. We have required hitherto only this last, for we have as yet made no law against expatriation, either of native or alien, but freely protect aliens without their giving allegiance. I have already shewn that all approved commentators on the Bible, or on civil and common law, and all moral and political writers, consider it a first principle or established moral maxim, that protection necessarily draws allegiance—that they are morally connected together—that they cannot be separated. This being the case, I recommend to the author to examine the questions over again, on more correct moral principles. In so doing, he will fi nd he has been mistaken; that the state has not robbed them; that it has received nothing but for an ample equivalent; that it did not seize their persons to bring them within their power, nor put them in fear, nor take from them, in this situation, money or goods. This is the legal technical definition of robbery. He will find also, from his own statement, that those whose cause he advocates, intruded themselves within our territory, enjoyed protection to their persons and property, and to their industry in acquiring property—And by his advice refuse allegiance, the only moral return for those very valuable benefits; but instead thereof spurn at the hand that received them when they were strangers, and fed and protected them without receiving the equivalent, which the law of nature, and nature’s God requires. If he does this impartially, he will certainly be convinced that he has cast the charge of robbery on the wrong side—that by the decision of the moral law, himself, and those whom he advocates, are the robbers, in receiving protection without an equivalent, and not the government, from whom they have experienced protection and forbearance, but no violence. (143-144)

For more on Findley see An American Presbyterian Argument Against Covenanters

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Cartel Land

This film is a must-watch. It really sets the stage well for discussing libertarianism, and specifically reformed libertarianism.

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Gordon Clark on Truth and the Eternal Mind

In a world where “science” (rarely defined) reigns supreme and where “scientific studies” determine whether or not something is to believed, the idea of God smacks of anti-reasonable (in the purist meaning of the term) and almost barbaric, unenlightened. This can be blamed partially on the rise of the dominance of mechanism, but also partially on certain and influential theories of “religious” teachings; even, sadly, amongst self-described Christians themselves.

The attempt to dismiss logic and reason from religion and instead emphasize something that is allegedly completely distinct from reason, namely faith, has given ammunition to critics of Christianity to blame it for being unreasonable and backward in its thinking. Why, without reason, Christianity is no different from the pagan and polytheistic religions of Old. Mostly, this is true. There is no point in embracing “religion” without reason and in pursuing “faith” without “logic.” If it’s all some undefinable “leap of faith” (Kierkegaard) that is more similar to emotion, the critics have it right.

Unfortunately those who might be agnostic or atheistic are quite on the money when they dismiss Christianity as being against reason, if by Christianity they mean what is popularly presented as a Christian understanding faith and reason. And I don’t just mean in the world Joel Osteen. I mean in conservative, evangelical, oftentimes Reformed circles as well.

This is one reason why delving into the Christian thought of Gordon Clark has refreshed me over the years and why I so often return to his clear headed account of Christianity, reason, and religion. For Clark, religion means philosophical system, if it is definable at all. In that sense, everyone has a philosophical system. Once we explain this, the atheist might take us more seriously; for who can blame us for having a system except the anti-intellectual? We are comparing conglomerations of epistemology, metaphysics, linguistics, ethics, and so on. What is faith? For Clark, it is not some undefinable emotional “longing” or “hope” or anything non-intellectual. Faith is synonymous with belief, which means to mentally assent (mentally assent is technically a redundancy, but it clarifies) or agree with a proposition. It is, in Clark’s framework, given a purely intellectual (mental) definition. So then, every proposition that is agreed to, is an example of faith (belief, assent). This is a radically unique definition of faith in relation to both pop-Christianity and modern atheistic understanding of the Christian system. In one fell swoop, those Christians who hold to the intellectualist framework of Christianity completely rock the presumptions, perpetrated by many Christians themselves, of non-Christian atheists.

Next, “reason” itself in the Clarkian framework, is stripped of its empirical contents in favor of a purely aprioristic understanding of epistemology. In this sense, we can agree by technicality with the accusation that “Christians don’t use reason like scientists do.” Very true. Instead, we use reason like the apriorists and rationalists do. Or as Clark once wrote after dismantling empiricism, “a satisfactory theory of epistemology must be some sort of apriorism….” Suddenly, we must be classified more similarly to apriorists like Ludwig von Mises because, when framed like this, Mises himself doesn’t “use reason like the scientists do.” The reason why this is a powerful clarification to use in talking with atheists (especially those who know Mises of course) is because they mean to accuse us of being anti-reasonable altogether. But we need to help them see that reason itself has differing meanings based on differing schools of thought and classifying them all as “scientific” is historically wrongheaded. What about the non-empirical rationalists and those, like Descartes, Mises, and Hoppe, who consider truth to be a product of logic/deduction rather than empirical “testing?” There’s the “reason” of Thomas Aquinas, and there’s the reason of the later rationalists. To refuse these distinctions is to equivocate.

Now then, consider the extended quote by Gordon Clark. Here, we see that he frames the Christian view of God –theism– as something entirely unsuspected by the atheist who is loaded with misconceptions about the Christian system. For Clark, quite radically, all propositions that are true, and none that are false, make up the mind of God. What is God? God is the conglomeration of true propositions.

Obviously, if skepticism is to be repudiated and if knowledge is a reality, truth must exist. In ancient Greece Parmenides was the first to state it, and Plato repeated it: If a man knows, he must know something: To know nothing is not to know. Knowledge therefore requires an existing object, and that object is truth – truth that always has and always will exist.

Contrary to ancient and medieval philosophy, the pragmatists and instrumentalists of contemporary times have tried to defend a “truth” that may be true today but was false yesterday and will be false tomorrow. They would quite agree that science is tentative; a scientific law is “true” so long as it works; but progress ensures its replacement by another “truth.” Very able, and, I would say, completely destructive criticisms of instrumentalism have been made, and their common theme seems to be that instrumentalism is self-contradictory. If truth changes, then the popular instrumentalism that is accepted as true today will be false tomorrow. As Thomism was true in the thirteenth century, so instrumentalism is true in the twentieth century, and within fifty years instrumentalism, in virtue of its own epistemology, will be false. But it is to be doubted whether John Dewey would appreciate the imminent passing of his experimentalism.

As was said before, these relativistic theories tacitly assume their own absolutism. This or that hypothesis may be tentatively accepted for a limited purpose; but if all statements without exception are tentative, significant speech has become impossible. It follows, then, that truth must be unchangeable. What is true today always has been and always will be true. Any apparent exception, such as, It is raining today, is an elementary matter of ambiguity. Two and two are four; every event has a cause; and even, Columbus discovered America, are eternal and immutable truths. To speak of truth as changing is a misuse of language and a violation of logic.

The idealistic philosophers have argued plausibly that truth is also mental or spiritual. Without a mind truth could not exist. The object of knowledge is a proposition, a meaning, a significance; it is a thought. […]

With considerations such as these Augustine was able to explain the learning and the teaching process. The teacher in the classroom does not give his students ideas. The ideas or truths are discovered by the student in his own mind; and as he contemplates the truth within, he judges whether the teacher has taught the truth. But though the truth is discovered within the mind, it is not a product of the student. Truth is not individual, but universal; truth did not begin when we were born, it has always existed.

Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, a Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language,… and say, we have a vision of God.

Gordon H. Clark A Christian View of Men and Things (Kindle Locations 4666-4728). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

To think a true proposition is to contact the mind of God, who is every true proposition. Or, as Paul writes, “we have the mind of Christ.” Thus, in this framework, to say that the Christian –who believes that there is a God– is unreasonable, a denier of logic and pure rationality, is a complete and total nonstarter; simply by definition.

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The Bible, Political System, Ethics

One difference between a theonomist and a Reformed Libertarian is that the former argue that the Bible offers a political system, a set of laws for government to enforce. For the theonomist, this was originally provided of course in the Old Testament– the Mosaic law. And since, according to their view, these laws were never specifically abrogated, they are to be understood as still in effect. Thus, the Bible demands a certain system and governments are bound to uphold this law.

Some conflate a similar framework with what has come to be known as Reformed Libertarianism– that is, certain well intentioned folks wrongly agree with the theonomists that the Bible has given us a set of laws for government to enforce: it’s just that they are more libertarian ones!

This is a misleading way to look at the problem. It is better to sharply differentiate between a positive law (civil rules of a particular community to be enforced by a government/magistrate) and a moral law. A moral law is synonymous with “Natural Law.” Natural law refers to a law that transcends particular human contexts– it has to do with Ethics, which is not bound by time and space and people group.

Under this framework, the Mosaic civil laws were not abrogated in the sense that certain ethical principles were abrogated. Rather, they were abrogated to the extent that the “particular community,” which existed under a specific covenant no longer exists. It no longer exists because it was always meant to be temporary and to point forward to a better community (the church) under a better covenant (the New Covenant). The Mosaic law code was positive law. It was an application of moral law for the Israelite situation.

Thus, for the Reformed Libertarian, we don’t claim that the Bible offers a specific political system or set of laws for government to enforce. We approach the problem from a different angle altogether; namely, we observe that Natural Law (Ethics) does not have exceptions in regards to the individuals to whom it applies. Since every person is held to the same ethical standard, the implications extend to questions of which types of actions are legitimate for those in a position of governance.

In other words, we don’t go looking in the Bible for a blueprint for building the perfect government system. We merely have a set of ethical principles that we hold each person to indiscriminately. And since the government is made up of persons, we extend the logic to them.

Why are we comfortable with the idea that God doesn’t have a revealed set of positive laws for governments today? Simple: because the New Covenant era is about the spiritual kingdom; eternal things.

By conflating moral law with positive law, all sorts of difficulty is unavoidable.

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The Remnant and the Message

Been thinking a lot about the next steps for the liberty movement recently. Where do we go from here? We have seemingly lost the momentum of the Ron Paul movement where 18 year old college students were chanting “End the Fed!” and reading 900 page books because a goofy old doctor told them about Austrian Economics. Now the kids are chanting for free college and socialized medicine. How do we get back?

I remembered Dr. Paul would mention The Remnant all the time. At the time, I never really knew what he was speaking too much about and I kind of overlooked it. But turns out, it’s actually a very important concept for us moving forward and can tell us a lot about the strategy that we should take. It comes from a great little essay called Isaiah’s Job written by Albert Jay Nock in the 1930’s.

It gave me a lot clarity of where we need to go from here. We must take care of the Remnant.

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The Logical Inconsistency of Open Borders…

…for libertarians…

Jacob Hornberger has written a new post on open borders.  Several months ago I went on a back-and-forth exchange with him on this topic.  I found it a most frustrating experience, as he would either ignore or misrepresent my positions (for those interested, I offer the running dialogue, in order: here, here, here, here, and here).  Therefore, I will not comment directly on his current post – instead, I will touch on one logical inconsistency inherent in his view.

Anarcho-Libertarian Borders

I have argued before that in an anarcho-libertarian world, there would be no such thing as (state) “borders” because there would be no such thing as states.  I welcome anyone to prove this wrong.

In such a world, every “border” would be a private border demarcating private property and that these borders most certainly would be “managed” by the property owner.  I welcome anyone to argue otherwise.

In such a world, everyone has a right to emigrate (assuming the individual has not voluntarily bound himself to stay); no one has a right to immigrate.  Immigration onto a private border without invitation is a trespass.  Again, I welcome contrary opinions.

In conclusion, in an anarcho-libertarian world, there would be no such thing as open borders.

Limited Government Libertarian Borders

I have suggested that in a world of state borders, there is no libertarian answer to the issue of crossing those borders.  There are, of course, libertarians such as Hornberger who disagree.  The closest libertarian-consistent answer I can derive is one where the potential immigrant has an invitation from a citizen, along with guarantees of employment and housing.

There are many libertarians who advocate for limited government; Hornberger is one of these.  What is typically meant by “limited government”?  I offer a definition from Hornberger:

Thus, as limited-government proponents have long pointed out, there are three primary and legitimate functions of government: (1) to punish murderers, rapists, robbers, and the like; (2) to provide a court system in which people can peacefully resolve their disputes; and (3) to defend the nation from foreign invasion.

The Logical Inconsistency

Hornberger advocates for limited government; Hornberger advocates for open borders.  These two positions are logically inconsistent.

The limited government has responsibility “to defend the nation from foreign invasion.”

Does this not require controlling the border?

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Austrian Oriented Investing

AS-for-Investors-Cover
Best Book on Austrian School and Investing

Most of my readers know I’m an Investment Advisor. The last couple months I’ve been busy working closely with Charles Schwab on our firm’s new investment platform. My goal was to craft portfolios that, as closely as possible, reflect what I see going on in the global macro economy. I’ve been paying particular attention to the activities of world central banks and various currency trends. These trends, coupled with the stunning victory of Donald Trump and all his political efforts, of course have implications for investments.

At the same time, while I have my preferred positions and selections, the allocation adjustments need to reflect precisely where my clients are in life. A 25 year old with $10,000 has a different allocation need than a 55 year old with $400,000.

Schwab’s fantastic platform has allowed me to apply my global economic framework and tie in the automatically adjusting and rebalancing features of the modern “passive” investment platforms so that I can accomplish both my above goals. It’s sort of like “quasi” passive investing. I’m actively watching, overseeing, interpreting, and tinkering. But the platform itself is doing its own rebalancing, tax loss harvesting, and risk-level calculating work behind the scenes.

This is so much more perfect for my clients than anything we’ve done before, inside or outside this Intelligent Portfolio platform. I am very happy that I am not limited in my investment choices and can choose from all asset classes in putting together a portfolio that really reflects the way I see the economic horizon. I can manage anything from a retail/brokerage account to a IRA rollover, and traditional/Roth/Sep IRAs as well.

What I am wanting from my readers, if anyone is interested, is questions that I can add to a FAQ page. You can review what I have here (platform overview) and here (investment philosophy page). The only thing I can’t do is give out specific positions, for compliance reasons. Though I’m happy to answer questions relating to certain sectors, trends, etc. My email is cjay.engel90 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Mohler’s 12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics

Back in April, Albert Mohler posted 12 Theses on a Christian Understanding of Economics. It’s a very brief bullet point overview, so it doesn’t warrant any in depth analysis. But one important point should be mentioned. Mohler’s outlook is fairly collectivist in nature. He personifies “A Christian economic understanding” as if it is an entity that thinks and acts on its own. It “seeks” and “rewards.” What is missing from Mohler’s 12 theses is the individual. This is evident from his statement that “the family (biblically defined) is the most basic and essential unit of the economy.” No, the individual is the most basic and essential “unit.”

Mohler’s 12 theses all start with “A Christian economic understanding…” Using that personified entity he argues for the duty of “A Christian economic understanding” to “incentivize” “righteousness” through the tax code, noting that disagreements over taxation only amount to disagreement over how to “re-calibrate” the tax machine to produce the desired result in society (central planning). That’s not biblical (and thus not Christian).

Mohler also conflates economics, politics, and the Christian life. Economics is a descriptive study of human behavior. Politics is a prescriptive theory regarding the use of force. The Christian life encompasses everything a redeemed individual does in conformity to Scripture. They are all distinct.

I would suggest that Mohler’s confusion and errors could be ironed out, and important points could be retained, if he simply replaced “A Christian economic understanding…” with “A Christian…” For example, “10. A Christian economic understanding rewards generosity and proper stewardship” should be “10. A Christian should be generous and be a proper steward.” That way we avoid nebulous references to collective actions never taken by any individual and therefore provide a more accurate summary of what Scripture says on each point.

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Apparently Some Confusion?

A question was asked of Walter Block; the bulk of the question regards something written by me!

He [that would be me!] makes the following claim: A common culture – and a culture beyond merely the NAP – is necessary if we are ever to move closer to a libertarian society. Asks the rhetorical: What is aggression? What is proper punishment? How is it determined when the age of minority ends and majority begins? What is property? Then answers by saying there would actually be many different answers to these questions that could be compatible with the NAP.

This seems contradictory to his original statement about a common culture…

Now, I don’t know why I am not asked directly to clarify this seeming contradiction; I will do so here.

My point is simple: for example, what is “aggression”?  We debate libertarian theory to the nth degree with the hope of precisely defining what is meant by “aggression.” Is it only physical acts?  Is it the threat of a physical act?  Does it include libel?

Theoreticians pretend that they will be able to definitively answer these questions using libertarian theory – and come to one definitive answer.

I will suggest: In a given society, as long as all individuals generally accept the same definition – say…physical acts only – there is a better chance to maintain peace and therefore avoid calls for “someone to do something about it” (aka “government”).

Now, individuals in another society – somewhere way over there – might generally accept that threats are “aggression.”

Who is the purist to say this is not acceptable?  As long as those in the society generally accept such a definition, they will live in something approaching their version of a libertarian world.

My point about “common culture” isn’t one definition for all, everywhere – as the questioner implies.  My point is different societies will come up with different answers to these questions – and each can be compatible with a libertarian society populated with imperfect humans.

Let’s take this one step further: a common culture, generally libertarian, which does not morally accept the libertine libertarian.  Perhaps a society that generally accepts what is known as a traditional lifestyle – a male husband, a female wife, 2.5 children and a white picket fence.  Acts of procreation happen in the bedroom.

Then one day, a new neighbor comes in; he decides his front yard can pass for the set of a XXX movie.  Plenty of oil and whipped cream are involved.  Now – it is his property – he is not violating the NAP as far as I can tell.  Where he came from, this was…normal.

Look, we can say “look at the contract” all we want.  The nudist will say “I see no restrictions on the CC&Rs.”  Is this a situation where peace can easily be maintained?

So…even if the nudist is correct within the thinnest of thin libertarian theory, he is creating a situation where the traditional libertarian community will transform into one that demands “someone do something about it” (aka “government”).

And there goes the previously generally libertarian community.

A generally accepted culture “around here” (based on more than property rights) is necessary to develop and maintain a libertarian community.

BTW, Walter answered the question perfectly – and I agree with his answer:

As far as I’m concerned, some cultures might well be more compatible with libertarianism than others. I’m not enough of a sociologist or historian to say which is which though, although I have my guesses. The point I would leave you with it that this is an entirely different issue than what does libertarianism consist of? As far as this latter issue goes, I’m a thinnist: that is, this issue is entirely outside the realm of what is libertarianism.

My one slight difference – I have my guesses about which type of culture is more compatible with libertarianism, and have written about this often.

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The Spencer-Tucker Incident

I wrote the following in the TRL Facebook group, after some conflict took place as the ISFLC incident was brewing:

Regarding the Spencer incident and Jeff Tucker’s childish (“you’re a Nazi”) overreaction: This group does not allow promotion of actual race-centric nationalism or supremacy. On the flip side, it does not allow attempts to place everyone to the “right” of your own stance in the “white nationalist” category. We neither allow claims of race-based supremacy (this includes leftist positions like black lives matter and general indentitarian victimization) nor do we allow exaggerated accusations of the same (I rarely take claims of “racism” seriously).

We do allow the opinion that some cultural traditions, practices, habits or social structures are superior than others– as long as these aren’t race-based. That is, if the cultural mannerisms do not necessarily depend on race, it won’t result in a warning (per se). For example, saying something like “anglo-american mannerisms are more appealing than Ugandan ones” is not racist and therefore allowed, as long as the tone is civil, respectful, rational, and defined in a sound manner.

I also have three notes of opinion (my opinion–not necessarily the other group admin’s) on the whole incident:

1: Spencer has some distasteful and disagreeable views; but he’s not really the antichrist most people make him out to be. He’s misguided and overdoes his main issue of racial strife (which, thanks to the race-baiters in the Mainstream Media, is now an everyday theme). Okay, I disagree with him, now let’s move on.

2: Jeff Tucker thinks everyone is a fascist. He’s become an intolerable social leftist who goes out of his way to make sure everyone knows how open minded he is, how much he loves all the branded “victim groups,” and how everyone who rolls their eyes at such claptrap is a fascist sympathizer (Trump is LITERALLY HITLER). Tucker is destroying libertarianism by making it a necessarily socially-progressive “movement.”

3: Apparently it was the Hoppe Caucus that invited Spencer. This of course has been red meat to the insufferable Steve Horowitz– that rotten ooze of quasi-libertarian and smarmy-academic circles– who has since attempted to say provocative things like “kids should read Marx over Hoppe.” This was a stupid decision by the Hoppe Caucus, who apparently (much unlike Hoppe) find more pleasure trying to stir up controversy and “trigger” those they don’t like than in actually developing arguments and challenging ideas. This is a direct result of too much internet. As much a cultural rightist I am, I am beyond annoyed by the Pepe-standard self-described rightists on the internet. If you want to be on the right, be more like The American Conservative and Unz, and less like 4Chan.

I know nothing about the Hoppe Caucus, but at this point I hate that such a thing exists. And, as a diehard Hoppean, I think this for the precise opposite reason as people like Horowitz –we need more people interested in the intellectual ideas of Hoppe, not less.

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George Kennan and Hayek’s Knowledge Problem

In 1950, George Kennan delivered a series of lectures on American diplomacy since the turn of the twentieth century. These lectures would later appear in book form, appropriately titled American Diplomacy.

In the opening of his lecture on American policy in the Far East, he paused to specifically disclaim any specialized knowledge about that region, despite his having been a diplomat before, during and after World War II. He went on, 

“If it should seem in an academic setting unscholarly, or perhaps not even useful, to examine this subject against such a backdrop (of less than comprehensive knowledge), I can only say that this is what the policy makers in Washington, for the most part, have to do. The heart of their problems lies – and will always lie – in the shaping and conduct of policy for areas about which they cannot be expert and learned.”

With this statement Kennan had stumbled, perhaps accidentally, upon a specific application of Hayek’s famous “knowledge problem” – the idea that government planning always fails due to a lack of specialized knowledge of the planners. 

Kennan’s observation was essentially that the problems that plague the attempts at economic planning are no less in force when it comes to the attempted diplomatic planning of world affairs. 

As we look back at history and see politicians frustrated in their attempts to bend the world to their wills, we can see why those attempts have failed and why the answer to any problem will never be more government intervention, foreign or domestic. 

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A Single or Dual Rule of Morality?

The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics recently published an essay by Timothy D. Terrell about Frederick Nymeyer, a 20th century Dutch Calvinist (CRC) libertarian who promoted and published Austrian economics in Calvinist circles. I haven’t read enough of his work to comment on his theology. The bits I have read I would agree and disagree with various points.

He founded the Progressive Calvinism League to respond to the growing propagation of socialism in the CRC and other Calvinist churches. He published a journal called Progressive Calvinism. The first volume contains a manifesto listing 6 Declarations. Here is Declaration #4

DECLARATION NO.4
(a) Promote a single rule of morality; and (b) reject a dual rule, namely, one rule for individuals and a conflicting rule for groups.

Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the famous theologians in America today who influences the trend of theological thinking as much as any man in America, has indicated that it is moral for society to do what it is immoral for an individual to do (see his Moral Man and Immoral Society). This is a vicious principle. It establishes a double standard of morality – one for a man as an individual and another for a man as a member of a group, a union, a state, a race, a class, or mankind as a whole. It is wrong for a man to steal as an individual, but as a member of American society, which is deliberately inflationary, a man may engage in public stealing every day (by means of inflation)! This is only one of many examples we intend to cite and explain.

The “church” is almost universally silent on all this public iniquity. The “church” has retreated. Many churches have no discipline any more against individual sins. But in regard to public sins, is there one large denomination in all America which concerns itself about them and has a Biblical answer? Or do the answers of the great denominations allow more or less for a double standard of morality? Where there is no personal (private) discipline the church is dead. Where there is no testimony against public sins the church is worse than dead; it is a renegade.

And the outcome? As Solomon says about events in the social science field, the effects are  “no speedily executed” – it takes time, but they are as sure to come as effects in the physical sciences. And the effects of a dual standard of morality, the effect of the church (by inaction) blessing public sins will be what? The effect on the reputation of the church will be calamitous; the church will be cursed, as apostasy was cursed by the prophets of old – it will be a desolation, a hissing and an execration. Not for nothing is the church generally in disrepute among smart people.

C.Jay has previously quoted John W. Robbins making the same point (See here as well. I would be surprised if Robbins had not read the journal).

Nymeyer makes additional comments in a subsequent essay in the journal.

[W]e do not think highly of the Calvinism which props the Christian religion with the ideas of the Greek philosophers.

We can state it pretty simply. Our fourth Declaration reads:
( a ) Promote a single rule of morality; and ( b ) reject a dual rule, namely, one rule for individuals and a conflicting rule for groups.

Now what did Plato put in his dialogue called The Republic, Book III? This:

Then if anyone at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good. But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind. ..

Just as ordinary businessmen, we do not believe what Plato writes.

And what is the real “joker” in the statement. It is four words which we have italicized, the words “for the public good.” That dangerous phrase masks every public iniquity which people tolerate and accept. A great Netherlander, Groen van Prinsterer, called attention to the fact that every piece of evil perpetrated by the French Revolution was defended as being “for the public good.” Those words always betray self-deception or masked malignancy. The principal is: the end justifies the means, and there is always an assumption of a dual moral rule.

We ourselves hold to Declaration Four. We hold to one and the same standard of morality for both individuals and the State, Plato to the contrary notwithstanding.

Scripture is far more “simple” than Plato. Where in Scripture is lying justified! Scripture does not talk about ends or purposes. It talks about means. It has no hypocrisy about the ends justifying the means.

In short, we plan to stick to Scripture, and we have no inferiority complex about Calvinism or Christianity even though we do not prop them up with Greek philosophy.

We hope you will not miss Plato’s point nor our point. The “public good” is something different from “personal good.” Plato recommends a dual morality. We believe in a single morality. Read again our Declaration Four.

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On Matthew 22 And Taxation

Next to Romans 13, there are few passages in scripture used to justify the existence of the taxation more often than Matthew 22. In this passage (particularly in verses 15-22) the pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking him whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. The verse that many people go to to advocate for taxation is verse 21 in which Jesus says “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, ESV). On its face this verse seems to indicate that Jesus was advocating for the legitimacy of taxation as a means to fund civil government, but upon further examination of the text we will find that this is far from the case.

The first thing that is often overlooked by those who attempt to use Matthew 22:21 as a prooftext in favor of taxation is the context of the question that the pharisees ask Jesus. In verse 15 we find that the pharisees were plotting to entangle Jesus in his words, and that this was the sole motivation for the question, rather than the pharisees genuinely attempting to understand whether paying taxes was lawful. Understanding the pharisees motivation in asking the question is a crucial piece of context to having a correct grasp of Jesus’ response to the question. The pharisees knew that if Jesus came right out and answered yes to their question that the Jews would reject him as a pawn of the oppressive Roman government. They also knew that if he were to answer no that the Roman authorities would crack down on him and his followers for spreading a message that was subversive to Caesar’s rule.

Jesus’ answer then, is a (very effective) attempt to sidestep the trap that the pharisees laid out for him. This is not to say that his answer was dishonest or inaccurate, but rather it means that he intentionally hid the actual wisdom of what he was saying from the pharisees who did not have ears to hear. With the context of the question established, now it’s time to examine what Jesus actually said in response. First of all, Jesus called them out for their attempt to trap him saying “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” This start to his response goes to show that he was well aware of the trap. After they brought him a denarius he followed up with “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” and they answered him “Caesar’s.” Jesus then finishes his answer with “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Many people interpret this answer to mean that the money belongs to Caesar, but this is a faulty interpretation of Jesus’ teaching in this passage. That Caesar’s image is on the coin does not make it his any more than if I were to put my image on something I own and then exchange it with someone else. That item ceases to be my property as soon as I give it to someone else, regardless of whose image is on it, and scripture’s teaching on property makes this quite clear. So, when Jesus says to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” he is not arguing that the money belongs to Caesar at all, he is simply dodging the trap of the pharisees. Likewise, nowhere in this text does Jesus justify the practice of taxation. Jesus does not say that it is lawful or unlawful to pay taxes, nor does he say that it is lawful to charge taxes. A good analogy to understand this is in Jesus’ teaching on turning the other cheek. In Matthew 5 when Jesus commands us to offer the other cheek to someone who slaps us on the right, he is not legitimizing cheek-slapping, nor is he legitimizing theft when he tells us to give our cloak to those who take our tunic.

To argue from Jesus’ response to the pharisees in Matthew 22 that he is saying that Caesar taking taxes by force is a legitimate action is a massive logical and hermeneutical leap that is not supported by scripture, either in the immediate text or in the broader teachings of scripture on the subject overall. Our calling to live peaceably with all men does not make any man initiating violence against us a righteous action, rather our calling to be peaceful shows that we are to forgive as Christ forgave us. Jesus’ answer to the trap laid by the pharisees in Matthew 22 is not an example of him legitimizing taxation.

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Justice or Public Utility?

“[T]hough many things are copied from the law of Moses into the laws of the modern nations, yet so far as I know none of them have introduced the lex talionis in the case of injuries, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, &c. and yet perhaps there are many instances in which it would be very proper.” (Jurisprudence, John Witherspoon, Scottish-American Presbyterian minister and a Founding Father of the United States)

It’s worth reflecting on that a bit and asking yourself why. Is it because justice is not the true function of modern states? Lex talionis is a principle of retributive justice. Just one page earlier, Witherspoon himself argues:

Therefore the punishment in general must consist of two parts, (i) reparation to the sufferer. (2) the vindicta publica, which has sometimes two ends in view, to be an example to others, and to reclaim and reform the offenders, as in corporal punishment less than death. Sometimes but one, the good of others in the example, as in capital punishments, and banishment.

The kind of punishment and the degree, is left wholly to different lawgivers, and the spirit of different constitutions. Public utility is the rule. Punishment is not always proportioned to the atrociousness of the crime in point of morals, but to the frequency of it, and the danger of its prevailing.

Witherspoon continues the opening quote about lex talionis by noting “The equity of the punishment would be quite manifest, and probably it would be as effectual a restraint from the commission of injury as any that could be chosen.” He then closes his lecture by insisting “Let the laws be just and the magistrate inflexible.”

First, he already said that the magistrate is given entire flexibility as to “the kind of punishment and the degree.” Second, if “public utility is the rule” then justice is not.

Note Machen:

What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?

There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God.

If we want to restore respect for human laws, we shall have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man. But they are instruments of righteousness all the same, and when that is not recognized, disaster follows for the state. Society will never be preserved by attaching savage penalties to trifling offences because the utilitarian interests of society demand it; it will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect as a deterrent from future crime. No, we say, let justice never be lost from view – abstract, holy, transcendent justice – no matter what the immediate consequences may be thought to be. Only so will the ermine of the judge again be respected and the ravages of decadence be checked.

-The Christian View of Man p. 193

See also Punishment and Proportionality (Rothbard)

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Kline’s “Oracular Origin of the State”

In Episode #11 of the Glory Cloud Podcast, Charles Lee Irons and Chris Caughey discuss Meredith Kline’s understanding of the Covenant of Common Grace. It’s a helpful podcast that I recommend all libertarians listen to as it provides the proper biblical framework for approaching the question of civil government. I also recommend this more in-depth lecture from Irons on the topic.

In the episode, they discuss Kline’s essay The Oracular Origin of the State. Kline argues that God institutes the city-state in Genesis 4 in response to Cain’s complaint. I have to say, I think he rather significantly misinterpreted Genesis 4.

Kline’s thesis is that when Cain complains “whoever finds me will kill me,” he was primarily concerned that he would be executed by vigilantes, rather than by the proper authorities. Thus God assures Cain that only the divinely appointed city-state ruler may execute him as a manifestation of God’s judicial oversight. According to Kline, Cain’s great concern was that his execution would be disorderly, “lawless,” “mindless,” “anarchical terrorism,” and “absolute anarchy” rather than orderly and lawful by a “minister of God” in a city-state. God sympathizes with Cain and institutes the city-state. Thus Genesis 4 should be “Understood as a foundational revelation of the judicial order of the state.” “To Cain, God signified that for mankind in general he would provide in his common grace an institutional agent to bear the sword of his wrath in the temporal course of world history (cf. Rom 13:4).”

That’s obviously not Cain’s concern. And it’s obviously not God’s concern. God does not swear an oath to Cain that he will be executed by the proper authorities once he reaches a city-state. Rather, he says he will not be executed by anyone at all, which is a response to Cain’s complaint that he will be executed. In a footnote, Kline acknowledges “God’s judgment on Cain’s act of murder was, indeed, distinctive in its sentence of exile rather than the death penalty subsequently prescribed for that crime; but that is another matter.” That is not another matter. It is the very matter at hand.

Rather than subjecting Cain to the established justice: execution for murder, God cursed Cain to wander the earth in exile. Normally, Abel’s murder could be avenged by any image bearer, thus God had to let everyone know that the normal procedure does not apply to Cain. He is not to be executed per lex talionis clarified in Genesis 9:6, but is rather to be left a vagabond and exile to wander the earth cursed by the ground.

Kline says

The consequences of the judicial dereliction Cain anticipates (Gen 4: 14b) will be, he laments, that everyone in the family of mankind, kinsmen all of his innocent victim, Abel, will be let loose in a mindless blood feud to take vengeance on him (v 14d): “Everyone who finds me will kill me.” [11] Hidden from God’s face, he will have no judge to appeal to. Society east of Eden will be devoid of God’s judicial ordering. Cain will be exposed to lawless men bent on vengeance. He will be ex lex on a God-forsaken earth.

This betrays Kline’s presuppositions, rather than his exegesis. The text says absolutely nothing about such vengeance being “lawless” and “mindless.” In fact, this process of a kinsman executing vengeance upon the murderer was the default, lawful practice under Old Covenant law. Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 19 explain the role of the avenger of blood (the kinsman of the murder victim, not a state official). Numbers 25:19 says “The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death.” This is precisely what Cain was afraid of – his lawful execution. For more on this, see The Avenger of Blood.

John Frame has correctly understood this.

Some have found divine warrant for the state in Gen 9:6, where God commands Noah’s family to return bloodshed for bloodshed. But this is a command given to a family. There is no indication of any new institution being established. And in the law of Moses, the execution of murderers was carried out, not by the state as such, but by the “avenger of blood,” kin of the murder victim, Num 35:19, 21; Deut 19:12. The family, here, is the instrument of justice. We have no reason to believe, therefore, that any special institution beyond the family for the establishment of justice was created in Gen 9:6… Was there, at this point in history, also a divinely appointed “state”? I would say no if, again, “state” refers to something above and beyond the natural authority of the family. As far back as Genesis 9, as we have seen, God called the family to execute vengeance for bloodshed, and so no new order was needed to administer capital punishment… Thus I believe we may eliminate from our consideration the views of the Lutherans and Meredith Kline, as well as others, who see the state as a distinct institution ordained by God, with powers and responsibilities different from those of the family.

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