Skip to content →

Reformed Libertarian Blog Posts

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

Leave a Comment

Cartel Land

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

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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?

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

One Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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. 

Leave a Comment

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.

One Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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)

One Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

The Decivilization of the Income Tax

While reading a short essay by Frank Chodorov called the Income Tax: Root of All Evil, I came across an interesting, succinct point.  On page 22, Chodorov states:

“If we examine the income tax carefully we find that it is not a tax on income so much as it is a tax on capital. What the government takes from me is not what I consume but what I might have saved. To be sure, I might have spent some of it for a new suit or to paint my house, but some of it I might have put in the bank, where it would have become available, at interest, to someone who would have used it to build a new factory, enlarge his plant, open a store, or buy a farm. That’s what generally happens to savings. Certainly, a good part of the earnings of a corporation are put to plant improvement or expansion, which it cannot effect if the earnings are confiscated. Hence, the effect of income taxation is to impair the capital structure of the country.”

Chodorov makes an excellent point in regards to the state’s attack with the weapon of the income tax on the capital structure of the country.  The capital structure of a country is the key to advancing the civilization of the country.  The greater the capital structure the higher the division of labor, the higher the standard of living, the higher the wealth.  The income tax clearly is a weapon of decivilization.  It must be stopped.

Leave a Comment

De jure magistratum (On the Rights of Magistrates) – Beza

Theodore Beza wrote De jure magistratum (On the Rights of Magistrates) in 1574. It provides a helpful, somewhat concise summary of reformed thought on civil government at the time.

The Origin of Magistrates

People desire to be ruled, so they elect someone to rule over them.

To give a clearer answer to this question I must first lay down certain principles constituting as it were the foundations of the whole question. Assuredly, (it is clear) that peoples did not in the first instance originate from rulers, but whatever peoples desired to be ruled by a single monarch or by chief men elected by them were anterior to their rulers. Hence it follows that peoples were not created for the sake of rulers, but on the contrary the rulers for the sake of the people, even as the guardian is appointed for the ward, not the ward for the guardian, and the shepherd on account of the flock, not the flock on account of the shepherd. This proposition is not merely obvious in itself but may be corroborated by the history of nearly all nations, So much so that God Himself, although he had elected Saul to substitute him for Samuel in accordance with the desires of the people, yet willed that he should be chosen and accepted as King by the suffrages of the people. Thus David, although he had first been chosen as king by God Himself, yet would not undertake the administration of the Kingdom except he had first been confirmed by the suffrages and unfettered concord of the tribes of Israel. (Question 5)

The Purpose of Magistrates

Magistrates are necessary for the preservation of the human race.

In short, if we would investigate the histories of ancient times recorded by profane writers also, it will be established — as indeed Nature herself seems to proclaim with a loud voice — that rulers by whose authority their inferiors might be guided were elected for this reason that either the whole human race must needs perish or some intermediate class must be instituted so that by it one or more (rulers) might be able to command the others, (and) protect good men but restrain the wicked by means of punishments. And this is what not only Plato, Aristotle and the other natural philosophers — furnished with the light of human reason alone – have taught and proved, but God Himself by the utterance of St. Paul writing to the Romans, the rulers of almost the entire world, confirmed this with clear words. There the origin of all States and Powers is with the best of reasoning derived from God the author of all good. (Question 5)

The Constitution

Those who elect a ruler lay down conditions for that ruler.

[T]he people existed before there was any magistrate and that the magistrates were made for the sake of the people and not vice versa… [T]he authority of all magistrates, however supreme and powerful they are, is dependent upon the public authority of those who have raised them to this degree of dignity, and not contrariwise… I maintain that as long as right and justice have prevailed no nation has either elected or approved kings without laying down specific conditions. (Question 6)

[L]et those who so far exalt the authority of kings and supreme rulers as to dare maintain that they have no other Judge but God alone to whom they are held bound to render account of their deeds, furnish proof that there has been any nation anywhere which has consciously and without intimidation or compulsion of some kind subjected itself to the arbitrary rule of some supreme ruler without the express or tacit addition of the proviso that it be justly and fairly ruled and guided by him. (Question 6)

Constitution Limited According to Its Purpose

The people have no authority to delegate a ruler contrary to the purpose of magistrates (the peoples’ self-preservation).

[A]n agreement whether freely manifested by or extorted by means of violence or intimidation from the whole people or a majority of them should rather be annulled than observed if it were established beyond doubt that such agreement was clearly incompatible with fairness and honor. For who would persuade himself that some nation would freely, wittingly and unconstrained wish to subject itself to some ruler to this end that it might subsequently be murdered and utterly destroyed by him? (Question 5)

[I]f someone were to furnish an example of peoples who upon being defeated in war surrendered at discretion and swore to the conditions dictated by the victors, it would not be enough for me to answer with the lawyers that (undertakings) extorted by violence or intimidation which is the rule of consciences does not easily permit oaths of that kind to be heedlessly violated. But I shall further add that even if any people has consciously and of its free will granted assent to an undertaking which is as such evidently sinful and opposed to the law of nature, such obligation is null and void; so little ground is there for reasonable doubt whether that obligation which was contracted as a result of violence or intimidation or of open deceit and malpractice should be regarded as valid and binding.

Constitution Limited According to the Law of God

[T]he authority of all magistrates (with however great power and sovereignty they be vested) is as it were hedged in by these two limits set by God himself, namely Piety [first table] and Charity [second table]. And if they themselves should chance to transgress these, it will be well to call to mind that saying of the Apostles: “It is better to obey God than men” lest we be of the band of those whom the Lord cursed by the mouth of Micah because they obeyed the impious commands of their King, or lest we follow the perverse examples of those who worshipped even the most cruel tyrants as if they were gods, ascribing to them the titles and acts of God. (Question 1)

Obedience to Rulers

Inasmuch as only the will of almighty God is the eternal and immutable Rule of all Justice, we declare that it must be unconditionally obeyed. As regards however the obedience due to Princes, they too would doubtless have to be obeyed always and unconditionally if they ruled constantly in accordance with the utterance of God. Since however theirs is often the contrary case, such obedience must be made subject to the following condition, namely that they command nothing impious [first table of the law], nothing unjust [second table]… Pharaoh’s command to slay all the male offspring of the Jews was unjust and the midwives rightly refused to obey him, whose houses or families God therefore blessed… The command of Jezebel, however, to slay the prophets of God was both impious and unjust; therefore Obadiah who not only refrained from slaying them but concealed them alive and nourished them, acted piously. (Question 1)

Illegitimate Rulers

A conqueror or an elected ruler who violates the election agreement is an illegitimate ruler.

Since these principles which were demonstrated above concerning the origin of kings and other rulers have been established, it follows that they are not legitimate rulers who by force or deceit usurp that authority which by no right belongs to them… Of such tyrants there are two kinds: for some, in violation of the laws laid down and received, usurp tyranny over their fellow-citizens… Others however, not content with that absolute power which they rightfully acquire over their own people, extend their dominions at the cost of their neighbors’ liberty and increase them by means of fortified boundary-lines; for this reason have monarchies ever since the origin of the world achieved such wide dominions; of this the sacred writings offers us an example in Nimrod… it was a true remark which the captive pirate dared to utter when he was dragged before Alexander; he declared that he differed in no way from (the king) but that the latter plundered the world with a multitude of ships whereas he did so with but a single vessel. (Question 5)

Self-Defense Against a Conqueror

Private citizens may defend themselves against any non-elected conqueror, whether foreign or domestic.

[I]f anyone strives to seize or has already usurped an unjust tyranny over others, whether he be a stranger or whether as a viper he leaps from the womb of his country that by his birth he may cause her death, then shall private citizens before all else approach their legitimate magistrates in order that it may be the public enemy he cast forth by the public authority and common consent of all. But if the magistrate connives (at the attempt) or in some way refuses to perform his duty, then let each private citizen bestir himself with all his power to defend the lawful constitution of his country, to whom after God he owes his entire existence, against him who cannot be deemed a lawful magistrate since he either has already usurped that rank in violation of the public laws or is endeavoring to usurp it. (Question 5)

[H]e who launches an attack upon those who are in no way subject to him… may lawfully be prevented even by force of arms and by any (citizens) soever, even of the humblest station, to whom he desired to do violence, since they are by no obligation bound to him. (Question 6)

Self-Defense Against Lesser Magistrates

Only magistrates have the authority to act in self-defense against other magistrates.

[I]f it were to happen (as happens only too frequently in our times) that one lower magistrate should undertake some act of violence against another against the express will of their superior, then I should assuredly say that the magistrate who had been wronged is, when he has first exhausted all legitimate and peaceful means, entitled to equip himself with the armor of the laws and to oppose unjust violence with a just defence as was done by Nehemiah against Sanballat and his associates. (Question 4)

Self-Defense Against a Tyrant

Three kinds of subjects… some are private citizens performing no duty of public administration… others [are] inferior magistrates… [others are] the bridles and reins to keep the supreme ruler to his duty.

Private citizens may not defend themselves from a lawfully elected ruler.

Private citizens may not offer resistance to their lawful ruler who is a tyrant… [N]o private citizen is entitled on his own private authority to oppose the tyrant with violence against violence, but that it in every way behooves him either to depart from the realm of that (ruler) and change his domicile or to bear the yoke of the tyrant patiently by taking refuge with God in prayer…

[H]e who has once been approved and accepted by his people, though he abuse his right, yet retains the basis of his authority as against his own private subjects, since an obligation entered upon publicly and by mutual consent cannot be dissolved and broken by the will of any private citizen. For were this otherwise, endless disorders, worse even than tyranny itself, would ensue, and in the place of a single tyrant whom it might be our intention to cast down, a thousand would succeed. Furthermore, a single reason derived from the authority of the Word of God should here be of greater weight than anything else that could be adduced to the contrary. St. Paul in prescribing their duty to men in private station not merely forbids them to resist their rulers (supreme rulers as well as subordinate) but enjoins us to obey them also for conscience sake…

I maintain that no one in private station is allowed to set himself in open violence against a tyrant to whose domination the people of its own free will previously consented; for if we must so far abide by private contracts, pacts, agreements and undertakings that we suffer damage rather than break our word, how much more should private citizens be on their guard lest they in any way refuse to honor an obligation entered upon by a solemn and public agreement?…

[P]rivate citizens, unless they have authority from a subordinate magistrate or the saner part of the Estates, concerning which more is discussed shortly, here have no other just remedy but reflection combined with patience and prayers which God will assuredly not always reject and without which all other remedies however legitimate will be subject to His curse. (Question 6)

Lesser magistrates may defend themselves and private citizens, but they may not punish the tyrant.

[T]he obligation between the king and the officials of the kingdom is mutual and that not the entire administration of the kingdom is entrusted to the king alone but only the highest rank, and that the subordinate officials severally hold part of it each in accordance with his own rank, and that on fixed conditions on either side. If those conditions are not kept by the subordinate magistrates the supreme magistrate is entitled to discharge them…

In the contrary case, however, if he who has received the royal dignity either by being elected thereto or by hereditary right openly departs from those conditions under which he was expressly recognized and approved as king, who would be inclined to doubt that the subordinate magistrates of the kingdom and further the very provinces also and the cities whose administration has been entrusted to them are automatically (ipso iure) free from their oath… [W]ould it not be just according to all law, diving and human, that by reason of the oath taken by them to ensure the observance of the laws, somewhat greater (liberty of action) should be granted to these subordinate magistrates than to those (citizens) who are of entirely private station and without any public office?… [W]e are not treating the tyrant who must be utterly thrust and cast down from his throne, but we are inquiring whether no one can and should in accordance with his rank set himself against his open violence (Question 6)

The Orders or Estates may and must punish and dethrone the tyrant.

The Orders or Estates, established to curb the supreme magistrates, can and should in every way offer resistance to them when they degenerate into tyrants… [N]o nation has either elected or approved kings without laying down specific conditions. And if those kings violate these the result is that those who had the power to confer this authority upon them have retained no less power again to divest them of that authority. [Beza provides historical examples from Rome, Athens, Sparta, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, England, Poland, Venice, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Gaul.] (Question 6)

[I]n all compacts and covenants which are contracted by mutual and sole agreement between the parties, those by whom the obligations were entered into, can of themselves cancel and annul it, whenever reason so demands. Accordingly those who possess authority to elect a king, will also have the right to dethrone him. (Question 6)

In Sum:

The purpose therefore of all that has been said above is as follows, namely that the highest authority rests with kings or other supreme rulers with this proviso that if they violate the nobelest laws and sworn conditions and degenerate into unabashed tyranny nor give heed to sound counsels, it shall be lawful and permitted to the subordinate magistrates to take precautions for themselves and for those over whom they exercise guardianship, and to offer resistance to the tyrant of the people. But the Estates or Orders of the realm upon whom this authority has been conferred by the laws, can and must so far oppose the tyrant and even, if need be, inflict just and deserved punishment upon him until matters have been restored to their former condition. (Question 6)

[E]ven in marriage also, if one party deserts the other, the Apostle proclaims the deserted party relieved of every obligation, because the deserter violates the principal condition of marriage. But let us imagine that someone declares himself willing to keep his wife with him and that he attempts to do so, yet if it becomes known that this man desires to have his wife in order to kill her or to remove her in some other way, will he not have to be regarded in the light of a manifest deserter (of his wife)? But assuredly the design of tyrants does not differ from his since they do not strive to have subjects in their power for any other reason but to persecute and crush them to their destruction while they indulge their own lusts; why therefore should the wielders of judicial authority not pronounce the same judgment over both? But if not even the canons of the Church consider that a wife who cannot safely live with her husband, should be compelled to live with him, why shall a subordinate magistrate not be allowed to take precautions on behalf of himself and his people and to have recourse to the Estates against a manifest tyrant? (Question 6)

Unless they can defend themselves upon the authority of some lawful subordinate magistrate or of the Estates of that nation, private persons must assuredly either go away until such time as a better light shall shine upon them, or bow their necks to the yoke while urgently asking God in constant prayer for patience and meantime proceeding under His chastisements. But it is the part of the subordinate magistrates (to protect against all) strenuously the good laws to whose defense they personally have sworn, each in accordance with the station he has obtained in the constitution of the community, and in general all should strive to prevent the laws and conditions upon which that constitution rests, from being undermined by any violence from without or from within. Finally, emperors, kings or other supreme rulers acquire the highest authority on the understanding that, if it should meanwhile become notorious that they rather plunder the territory of which they have undertaken the government, that cunningly and without self-control they set themselves against law and reason and wantonly break their sworn promises, they can and should be forced, compelled and brought to their duty even by armed force, if it cannot be otherwise, by those who upon special conditions have raised them to this high office. (Question 7)

Christian Meekness

I deny that the patience and gentleness which we require in Christians prevent a man from employing lawful remedies to repel an injury which is being done to him. It is certainly permissible to claim one’s property from an unjust possessor in court, and to lodge complaints with the supreme magistrate concerning the injustice of an inferior; why therefore by the same reasoning should it not be permissible to go to laws against a tyrant before the Estates? (Question 7)

Submission to Providence or Command?

[T]he will of God must be heeded to the extent that He Himself has deigned to reveal it to us; otherwise there would be no crime so heinous but what it could be imputed to the Divine will, since not even those events which are regarded as in the highest degree fortuitous occur by chance or accidentally. Hence it comes about that the man who meets with highway robbers, by whom no one is murdered without the consent of the will of God, has the power in accordance with the authority of the laws to resist them in just self-defense which incurs no blame because no one forsooth has (received) a special command from God that he meekly allow himself to be slain by robbers. Our conviction is entirely the same about that regular defense against tyrants which we are discussing. (Question 7)

Enforcement of True Religion

[T]he purpose of all well-ordered polities is not simply peace and quiet in this life, as some heathen philosophers have imagined, but the glory of God, towards which the whole present life of men should be directed, it therefore follows that those who are set over nations, ought to bring to bear all their zeal and all the faculties they have received from God to this end that the pure worship of God upon which His glory depends should in the highest degree be maintained and increased among the people over whom they hold sway. (Question 10)

True religion in a society is established by the Holy Spirit, but subsequently defended by the ruler by force.

It is one thing now for the first time to introduce religion into some part and another to preserve it when it has already been received somewhere or to wish to restore it when it has gone to ruin and has been buried as a result of the connivance or ignorance or malice of men. For I grant that initially it should be introduced and spread by the influence of the Spirit of God alone, and that by the Word of God (which is) suited to teaching, conviction and exhortation. For this is the particular task of the Holy Spirit which employs spiritual instruments.

It will therefore be the part of a pious ruler who wishes to entice his people away from idolatry and false superstitions to the true religion, to see to it in the first instance that they are instructed in piety by means of true and reliable argument, just as on the other hand it is in the part of the subjects to give their assent to truth and reason and readily to submit. Finally the ruler will be fully occupied in rendering the true religion secure by means of good and noble decrees against those who assail and resist it out of pure obstinacy, as we have seen done in our times in England, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, and the greater part of Germany and Switzerland against the Papists, the Anabaptists and other heretics. (Question 10)


Comments

Enforcement of True Religion

The magisterial reformers employed a slight of hand on this issue. They argue first that a magistrate is necessary for the self-preservation of society and that all actions of a magistrate must conform to this purpose. The reason societies elect rulers over themselves is because they cannot otherwise defend themselves against violence. Then they argue that life is about more than just surviving. The chief end of man is to glorify God. That is true, but that is a different question. Why is a magistrate necessary? is not the same as What is the chief end of man? It is true that every man ought to “bring to bear all their zeal and all the faculties they have received from God to this end that the pure worship of God upon which His glory depends should in the highest degree be maintained and increased among the people over whom they hold sway,” but that does not answer whether a ruler has “received from God” any authority to repel false doctrine with violence. Beza argued the purpose of a magistrate is determined by its necessity (what it provides that private citizens need but cannot themselves provide) and its authority is limited by its purpose. Thus, the question is, can true religion “be maintained and increased” without a magistrate, or is a magistrate necessary for true religion to “be maintained and increased”?

The strange answer from the magisterial reformers (see Rutherford here) is that true religion can be first introduced and increased “by the influence of the Spirit of God alone… which employs spiritual instruments” but it cannot be preserved without the magistrate. The enforcement of true religion is thus cast in terms of self-defense. Once the true religion has been established in a nation, it must be defended by violence against false worship. But a distinction between the introduction of true religion by the Holy Spirit and the subsequent defense of it by force is not found anywhere in Scripture. Neither Jesus or the Apostles ever used force to defend Christianity. Rather “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” – which means that violence is not necessary to defend and maintain Christianity. Appeal is made, of course, to Israel. But Israel was established by violence in the conquest of Canaan. It was violent from beginning to end and did not first require a nonviolent establishment, as Beza says is necessary.

It took a while, but eventually reformed theologians started realizing their error. Increase Mather, who initially agreed with Beza and put it into practice in New England, upon later reflection said “A good subject has a title to all temporal possessions and enjoyments, before he is a Christian; and it looks odd, that a man should forfeit his title, upon his embracing the faith.

Private Citizen’s Right to Self-Defense

Beza’s argument for denying a private citizen the right of self-defense is very weak. He was trying to 1) make sense of Romans 13’s command to be subject to rulers, and 2) distance the reformation from the violent, radical Anabaptist revolutions. But his reasoning is self-contradictory. He says private citizens have authority to exercise self defense against a conqueror they did not elect, but they must submit to a tyrant’s killing because they swore an oath to obey him. But he also says the compact was mutual and conditional. Thus if the ruler breaks the agreement, the private citizens no longer owe him their obedience. Later reformed theologians recognized the inconsistency. Sir James Stewart expressed the Scottish reformed understanding when he said “by vertue of this mutual compact, the Subjects, have jus against the King, a Right in law to pursue him for performance… For it is absurd to say, that in a mutual conditional compact, one party shall still be bound to performe his conditions, though the other performeth none” [p. 112, 117 Jus Populi Vindicatum, or The People’s Right, to defend themselves and their Covenanted Religion, vindicated (1669), quoted in Beisner, E. Calvin His Majesty’s advocate : Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) and Covenanter resistance theory under the Restoration monarchy, p. 187]. Continental reformed political philosopher Johannes Althusius said

[N]o realm or commonwealth has ever been founded or instituted except by contract entered into one with the other, by covenants agreed upon between subjects and their future prince, and by an established mutual obligation that both should religiously observe. When this obligation is dishonored, the power of the prince loses its strength and is ended [Althusius, Politica (Latin), 19.15. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

In this election . . . certain laws and conditions concerning subjection, and the form and manner of the future imperium, are proposed to the prospective magistrate . . . . If he accepts these laws, and swears to the people to observe them, the election is considered firm and settled. This agreement entered into between magistrate and people is known as a mutually binding obligation. [19.29. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

If this condition [ruling justly and dutifully] is lacking, the people no longer are obligated to obey. Moreover, the chain of this obligation is dissolved by that one, who first withdraws from the agreements, who therefore loses every right acquired by the agreement, that the other may become free: For the obligation vanishes and is held for nothing, when its essential conditions, on account of which it was concluded, are violated. [38.32. quoted in Beisner p. 185] …

When he abuses his power, he ceases to be king and a public person, and becomes a private person. If in any way he proceeds and acts notoriously or wickedly, any one may resist him [18.95 quoted in Beisner, p. 117]

Thus Beza’s argument that “Private citizens may not offer resistance to their lawful ruler who is a tyrant” is an oxymoron. If a ruler is a tyrant then he is not a lawful ruler and has no right to be obeyed. He is merely a private citizen committing violence against other private citizens. Roger A. Mason referred to this as the “explosive doctrine of single-handed tyrannicide.” [Roger A. Mason, ‘People Power? George Buchanan on Resistance and the Common Man’, in Robert von Friedeburg, ed., Widerstandsrecht in der frühen Neuzeit, in Zeitschrift für Historische Forschung, beiheft 26 (2001), 163–81, at 179. Quoted in Beisner, p. 115] Rutherford summarized the view, saying

[T]he royal dignity doth not advance a king above the common condition of men, and the throne maketh him not leave off to be a man, and a man that can do wrong; and therefore as one that doth manifest violence to the life of a man, though his subject, he may be resisted with bodily resistance, in the case of unjust and violent invasion. [Rutherford, Lex, Rex, Q.XXXII]

If I give my sword to my fellow to defend me from the murderer, if he shall fall to and murder me with my own sword, I may (if I have strength) take my sword from him. [Q.XXXII]

Leave a Comment

Against Conscription

 

Conscription has been a staple of developed nations for thousands of years. Conscription existed in such ancient empires as Rome and Egypt, and has continued to be used in many western countries from times before Christ into the modern day. By and large, conscription is broadly supported by the majority of people as a necessary tool in order to ward off potential threats from foreign nations. Most of the louder opponents of conscription in recent history were the anti-war protesters during the Vietnam war, and these protesters are often stereotyped as irrational and angry hippies who spit on soldiers returning from war. However, there is an intellectual tradition grounded in natural law ethics which opposes conscription in all of its forms without falling into the bad behavior of some of the anti-war protestors in the Vietnam era. This tradition is not simply filled with angry hippies and college students without enough knowledge of the situation to evaluate the necessity (or lack thereof) of the use of a military draft, but rather by adept and intelligent philosophers and ethicists who make the argument that the use of conscription is immoral and should be done away with altogether. This school is led by Murray N. Rothbard, who has both written and spoken out against conscription and its immorality since the 1970s. Rothbard’s arguments against conscription are particularly adept, and should be examined and considered carefully by both Christians and non-Christians alike. The argument of this essay then will be that conscription is an immoral practice and should be done away with because it violates man’s natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

 

Conscription and the right to life

For the sake of ease, this essay will examine the ways in which conscription violates the rights to life, liberty, and property in order, so this first portion will be dedicated to explaining how the military draft violates man’s natural moral right to his life. Conscription violates the right to life in several ways. The first is very simple, conscription violates the right to life by forcefully placing the conscript in direct and imminent danger in the field of battle. Since he is forced to participate in this battle by way of the draft, the blame for any injury (up to and including death) which he suffers can be placed on the state which forced him to participate under threat of punishment. He is forced to participate by a number of threats of violence, depending upon the civilization the threats include fines, imprisonment, or even death. Some may object that the man still chose voluntarily to participate by following the orders of the government which conscripted him, but this is not the case. To show how this objection is invalid, let us consider an example.

Imagine Jones and Smith are next door neighbors. Smith decides one day that he is going to take Williams’ television, but he is afraid to face Williams because he knows that if he breaks into his home, Williams will hurt him. So he decides to enlist Jones’ help. He knows that Jones will not be able to resist him if he quickly breaks into his home and marches him at gunpoint over to Williams’ house, so he goes right ahead and does just that. Jones goes inside to steal the television because he knows that if he doesn’t that Smith will harm him, and maybe even kill him. Williams, not knowing that Jones is being sent in to forcefully take Williams’ property under threat of death, shoots Jones and severely injures him. Now, because Williams is not aware of Jones’ predicament, society rightly does not hold him responsible for the injuries of Jones. Instead, society rightly holds Smith responsible for forcing Jones under threat of force (up to and including lethal force) to go inside, leading to his being severely harmed. The same moral judgment applies to a situation in which someone is conscripted. Conscription is a drafting of a man into the armed forces of his country under threat of force, which is morally equivalent to the example story just given. In both cases, force is being used illegitimately (it is wrong to kidnap someone at gunpoint and force them to do your bidding no matter what objection of sovereignty may be offered). In both cases we should rightly recognize that the person forcing the other into a situation with clear and imminent danger is morally responsible for any injuries which may come to that person.

Conscription not only violates the right to life by the clear and imminent danger involved in battle, but also by the kidnapping which it involves. Kidnapping was a capital crime in ancient Israel (Deut. 24:7), which should help us to understand the gravity of this offense. This is because kidnapping and false imprisonment are violations of not only the right to liberty, but also the right to life. Each day which goes by where the kidnapee is imprisoned by the kidnapper is a day which the kidnapper has stolen from the life of the kidnapee. The connection between kidnapping and conscription should be obvious at this point. Kidnapping is simply the taking of a person by force and holding them captive for any purpose. Conscription is the taking of a person by force, holding them captive for a period of time, and forcing them to do all types of labor, mostly the labor of combat. It is impossible to morally distinguish between the two, as conscription is in fact an act of kidnapping. Since kidnapping violates the right to life, and since conscription is kidnapping, conscription clearly violates the right to life. Life, being the first of all rights, cannot be taken away by any person in a moral way except in situations where someone has committed a capital act of aggression. Since a conscript has not aggressed against the state, the state has no right to take away the life of that conscript. The right to life belongs to the individual and any violation of that right is grossly immoral and should not be continued.

Conscription and the right to liberty

Not only does conscription violate the individual’s right to life, it also violates the right to liberty. The way in which the right to liberty is violated by conscription should be immediately obvious, but to many it is not, or perhaps they simply do not care. Since conscription involves forcing someone into a particular labor and location against their will, it is clearly a violation of the right to liberty.  Like in the first section covering the right to life, this essay will turn to an example to show how the right to liberty is violated by the act of conscription. Suppose now that Jones and Smith are neighbors again. A robber comes to Smith’s house and steals some of his property, and in the process, also shoots Smith’s wife. Now, Smith is perfectly justified in responding to this attack by attempting to catch the robber and retrieve his property. But, if for example he decided to go over to Jones’ house and force him at gunpoint to help in the attempt to catch the robber, Smith would clearly be at fault for kidnapping Jones. His cause is justified, but his actions in executing his mission are not. Because Smith has taken Jones at gunpoint and forced him to follow along with his attempt to stop the robber, he has violated Jones’ right to do with his body and time whatever he may desire. This violation is serious, and should not be overlooked. Jones has the right of ownership over his body, and as such any attempt to encroach upon that ownership is a violation of his liberty to do as he may see fit. Conscription then, is a violation of the right to liberty because it is the forceful taking away of a man’s right to do with his body as he sees fit.

Liberty is the right of an individual to do anything with his person and property, so long as he does not violate another’s right to life, liberty, or property in the process. There are of course things which one can do with one’s liberty which are sinful, but this does not undo the right to liberty for the sinner, unless his actions violate the rights of another person. There is no way for the right to liberty to co-exist with conscription. Conscription is a violation of the right to liberty on a massive scale, and should be treated as the moral atrocity that it is. Some may object to this by arguing that conscription was used in Old Testament Israel and that therefore it is morally acceptable. Though this is historically factual, it is not a correct interpretation of the use of conscription as presented in the bible. Old Testament Israel’s use of conscription is morally equivalent to the current use of conscription. The only conscription which is endorsed by God as morally justified is also directly commanded by God during the campaign to take the promised land. In contrast it can be seen that God even warns the Israelites against the wickedness of conscription when Israel demands that he give them a king (1 Sam. 8:10-18). The warning that their king will take their sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses indicates that the use of conscription is something to be avoided, rather than something to view positively. This warning indicates that the king in his act of conscription is taking away the freedom of the sons of the people to which the warning is written. This warning shows that outside of the single situation in which God directly approved the use of conscription that kings or government leaders do not have the right to force any man to give up their freedom in order to fight in defense of their country, however noble that exercise may be.

This point is worth covering in more than passing. Though the primary argument of this essay is against the use of conscription, this in no way means that the use of force to defend one’s self or one’s neighbors is immoral. Voluntary military service in defense of life, liberty, and property against aggressors of any kind (foreign or domestic) is both an acceptable and an admirable act and thus should be viewed in a positive light by all. The key difference is between the use of force to conscript a man into service and when a man voluntarily decides to take up arms in defense of either himself or his neighbors. A response to aggression (executed in a just way) is both appropriate and at times necessary in order to maintain a free and just society.

Conscription and the right to property

Finally, conscription violates the right to property. It should already be evident how conscription violates the right to property since it violates the rights to life and liberty, but as always an explanation of how and why is necessary. The first property which belongs to any individual is their own body. No one else may make a rightful claim to ownership of another person’s body, the body of an individual is an inalienable property belonging to every person, that is, no man may give ownership of his body to another man. Conscription, while it may not be able to permanently take away the body of the individual, forcibly takes away the right of the individual to use their body (which is their property) in whatever way they may see fit. While conscripted into the military a man may be forced to use his body in any number of ways which he does not wish to, and thus his right of self-ownership of his body is violated. By the same token, the faculties of the mind are inalienably owned by each individual. My mind is mine, your mind is yours, and there is no way for me to give you my mind, or for us to trade our minds, yet conscription forces man to use the faculties of his mind in service of the conscripting army.

On the other hand, labor is easily traded. People trade labor all the time. Workers trade their labor to business owners in exchange for payment. Students exchange their labor for good grades. Children do their chores around the house in exchange for an allowance. Labor is an easily exchangeable service, but labor should only be exchanged voluntarily. In the case of conscription, the labor of the conscript is being taken from him not in a free exchange, but by force under threat of any number of punitive measures. Free exchange is good and healthy, there are any number of ways in which people can exchange their labor with one another, and in fact volunteer armies are known to consistently outperform their conscripted counterparts, since they fight out of a pure sense of duty and knowing what they fight for. Though this pragmatic truth is worth mentioning, it is not the primary brunt of the argument. The argument set forth here is primarily an ethical and moral argument against conscription, and should not be confused with a pragmatic argument on the whole. The coercion necessary to take the labor of a conscript is what makes conscription so evil. Voluntary entry into the armed forces for the sake of defense of life, liberty, and property is perfectly well and good, but when a man is forced into service, those forcing him into that service commit a grossly immoral act.

Another way in which conscription violates the right to property is by stealing time and opportunity from the conscript. Every man owns the right to his own time over the course of his life. The ability to choose what he does with his time is a critical and necessary tool for a man to be able to seek out his own ends, and when it is taken away, he is greatly set back from accomplishing his own goals. Opportunity cost is a common concept in economics. The idea is fairly simple, because it is impossible for a person to be in two places and doing two things at the same time, by choosing to do one he is giving up the opportunity for the other. What he is giving up is the cost of potentially using his time and efforts elsewhere, hence the concept of opportunity cost. An example of opportunity cost would be a student in a class. The student could choose to spend his time writing a paper assigned by his professor, or he could choose to go out with his friends. If he chooses to write the paper, he forfeits the opportunity to go out and enjoy time with his friends. Opportunity cost is no more apparent than in the case of conscription. When the state forces a man into military service for whatever period of time, they have robbed him of the time and opportunity to make choices of any other kind for his own advancement for whatever period of time he may be forced into service. His time and various opportunities to pick and choose whatever he deems best for himself are robbed from him when he is conscripted into service.

Conclusion

Make no mistake, conscription is a form of slavery. Conscription is a grossly immoral practice and it should be done away with immediately. Until it is it should be opposed by Christians and non-Christians alike. Conscription violates the natural and God-given rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property and as such it should not be supported by anyone who believes in the freedom of an individual, the sanctity of life, or in the concept of private property. If conscription is rightly opposed by Christians as it ought to be, there will be a freer, more just, and subsequently better society. If it is not, our society will remain in its current state in which freedom is significantly limited, and whatever limited freedoms we do enjoy will continue to be infringed upon. Defense against aggressors foreign or domestic is a worthwhile and noble goal, but only if that defense is not characterized by aggression against the men being forced into service.

 

Bibliography

 

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: With Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668. Edited by E M. Curley. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., ©1994.

Kindig, Jessie. “Vietnam War.”http://depts.washington.edu/antiwar/vietnam_draft.shtml.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by David Wootton. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., ©1995.

Rand, Ayn. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New York: Signet, 1967.

Rothbard, Murray N., “The Battle Over Conscription.” Libertarian Review 8, no. 3 (April 1979): 23. https://mises.org/library/battle-over-conscription.

Rothbard, Murray N. For a New Liberty: the Libertarian Manifesto. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2006.
Spooner, Lysander. Vices Are Not Crimes

 

Leave a Comment

Jordan Cooper (Lutheran) Critique of VanDrunen’s Two Kingdoms

Jordan Cooper is a popular Lutheran pastor who is well acquainted with the reformed tradition. At a recent conference, he critiqued VanDrunen’s two kingdom theology. His primary interest was to clarify that VanDrunen’s view is not Luther’s view. While VanDrunen identifies the kingdom of Christ as the institutional church, in contrast to the state in the other kingdom, Luther identified the kingdom of God as our conscience before God and placed the institutional church in the other kingdom – our life before men.

What Luther’s really getting at when he’s talking about this distinction – the right hand kingdom, the kingdom of God as we usually talk about it, is the realm we live in before God. If I live before God, I am in the kingdom of God. If I am in a right relationship to God, if I am justified, if I am saved, I am in the kingdom of God. Now, it’s important to say, this is not identical with the church as an institution. Luther makes this clear repeatedly. The church itself includes both left and right hand kingdom aspects. This is going to be a huge differentiation. Remember, because I said with VanDrunen, the church as institution is the redemptive kingdom and that means everything the church does including its offices and officers and pastors – that’s all part of the redemptive kingdom of God. But if you have a church constitution and you’re in a church council discussing your constitution, are you talking about the law or are you talking about the gospel? Law! You’re talking structure. You’re talking about who does what. What are the rules here? How does this church function? How do we make decisions? How do I make corrections in our church constitutions? These are issues of structure and issues of organization. These are part of the left-hand kingdom.

If we come with that understanding we see that even the church – it’s not so much the church and the then the state. But the church itself has both realities.

Anything having to do with my interaction with other men is part of the left-hand kingdom. My inward conscience before God is part of the right-hand kingdom. Here is a diagram of what Cooper is referring to:

It’s important to understand how different this two kingdom theology is from VanDrunen’s because Calvin largely followed Luther. Both were simply adopting the typical medieval view.

The important difference between Luther and Calvin has to do with the relationship between church and state within the outward kingdom. While Luther believed the state had authority over the institutional church, Calvin argued they were coordinate jurisdictions working side by side. Many wrongly read Calvin’s two-fold government as referring to church and state. (For more, see Calvin’s Two-fold Government). This leads Cooper to say

The radical two kingdom theological school is not two kingdom theology at all, but a modern caricature of Luther’s thought. And, unfortunately, I think it is the case that it is exposited through the lens of an American division between church and state. Now, they’re going to deny that. They’re going to say “No, that’s not what we’re doing.” But I think historically a two kingdom distinction in the way it is formulated could not exist apart from our American culture. And I think whether intentionally or not, it is impacted by the various divisions that we have, sort of the Jeffersonian type stuff.

But Cooper is not quite correct here. The identification of the institutional church with the kingdom of God was developed by 17th century reformed theologians in Britain in response to Erastianism as it was debated in the Westminster Assembly. They were merely refining Calvin’s insistence that the state has no authority over the church. This became known as de jure divino Prebyterianism. God immediately instituted the church with its government apart from any mediation by the civil government. For more on this, see the excellent essay Confessional Two Kingdoms. 30 years after the Westminster Confession, the particular baptists refined that even further to the logical conclusion of liberty for all religions in the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Natural Law

Cooper also points out VanDrunen’s strange view of natural law.

They say, “Well, the redemptive kingdom is governed by what God’s revealed” which they would say is law and gospel. Again, I would say just gospel – talking about the right hand realm. But then they would also say “Then the left-hand realm, or especially the government, should be governed by natural law.” Now, it seems to me, in the way some of them describe this, you end up with two separate laws. So you have the natural law in creation over here, and then you’ve got God’s law over here that’s revealed. Well, natural law’s nothing different than God’s revealed law. It just means that you can discover God’s law through reason and creation because it’s written on the heart. It’s not a different law. It’s the same law.

In his excellent Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Richard Muller defines natural law as

lex naturalis: natural law; also lex naturae; law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [i.e., Mosaic law, which includes the natural law, though in a different form] with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia. The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis quoad substantium, according to substance, and distinguish them quoad formam, according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.

That is what VanDrunen says he does not believe.

I believe that my project, in many significant ways, stands in continuity with the perennially important natural law theory of Thomas Aquinas, but also is biblically reformed in other important respects… Thomas understood the natural law more in terms of a moral order than a series of discrete rules. Natural law, for Thomas, is encapsulated in one rule – pursue good and shun evil – but this is so general that it is of little concrete usefulness. More specific rules (such as those of the Decalogue) can also be understood through practical reason, but even these do not capture the natural law comprehensively, for natural law pertains to all things to which human beings are inclined by nature. Though again I develop these matters differently, the idea of natural law in terms of moral order rather than discrete rules is also important to the theology of natural law for which I argue in subsequent chapters.

Divine Covenants and Moral Order (22-25)

And just to be clear:

Turning to Calvin’s epistemology and definition of natural law it will become evident that the most notable difference between Thomas and Calvin is that the latter defined natural law primarily in terms of the Decalogue and Thomas did not… Far from being a conduit of the Classical or Thomistic view of the lex naturalis Calvin made a very sophisticated revision of the concept of natural law by removing it from the Stoic and Thomistic corpus of “self-evident” truths and identifying it with the content of the Law revealed in the Garden and at Sinai and in the Sermon on the Mount… The “scholastic” view was really Calvin’s. It was also the view of the confessional age theologians and it was grounded in their view of the covenant, which they learned, in substance, from Calvin… Calvin did not follow Thomas’ doctrine of natural law, though he did make significant use of natural law.

-R. Scott Clark, “Calvin and the Lex Naturalis,” Stulos Theological Journal 6 (1998): 1–22.

(On this point, see more here)

Leave a Comment

John Frame on Gen 9:6, the Avenger of Blood, and Romans 13

Understanding that the avenger of blood (Deut 19; Num 35) was a “private” individual, not any kind of “public” servant or government official is key to understanding the biblical nature of libertarianism (more on this in the future). Researching this issue led me to John Frame’s essay “Toward a Theology of the State.” While there is much to disagree with in the essay, Frame does one thing correctly that most people do not. Rather than starting with Romans 13, he starts in the Pentateuch and seeks to understand the authority of the sword from the fall onward and then interprets Romans 13 in light of that. That is my approach as well. Here is a brief summary:

First, Frame notes that Genesis 9:6 does not establish any kind of new institution called the state, but rather gives the authority of the sword to the family.

“State” is not a biblical category in the sense that “family,” “people of God,” “Israel,” and “church,” are biblical categories… But in what passage did God establish the state? 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.

Second, he recognizes that a natural outgrowth leads to various ways of ordering this authority as societies grow, but that these changes (including numerous judges, a head judge, and then a king) do not introduce anything essentially different in nature than the authority given to families.

What we see in Scripture, rather, is a kind of gradual development from family authority to something which we would tend to call a state. The borderline between family and state is not sharp or clear… Jacob’s family multiplied and became a nation. From nuclear family, it became an extended family, and then a “clan,” or indeed a group of clans… The picture to this point, then, is that as Israel developed from nuclear family to extended family to clan to nation, family authority became more elaborate and complicated… 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… New machinery, of course, was put in place (by some combination of tribal tradition and Mosaic appointment) to resolve disputes, but that too was essentially a family function… Apart from his prophetic and priestly functions, Moses was essentially the chief of the clan leaders, the head of the family of God. Had God not selected him directly, the people might well have selected him or someone else as a chief of chiefs, without violating the overall family structure. Such a choice would merely have been a natural continuation of the movement toward greater complexity as the nation increased in size. Indeed, there was popular ratification of Moses’ rule… During the period of the judges, no new institutions were added… From the viewpoint of the people, they are selecting another tribal ruler [the king], a “chief of chiefs,” who bears the same sort of authority held by the other chiefs or elders, but over a broader territory.

Third, he notes that this is the authority referred to in Romans 13.

Once kingship appears in history, are we then able to speak of an “institution of the state”? Well, it isn’t too important what you call it, as long as you understand what is going on. Yes, God has ordained authority within the family. Yes, he warrants the extension of that authority to extended families, tribes, nations. Yes, he warrants the popular selection of leaders to implement that authority (a selection into which, of course, he is always free to intervene, and over which he always exercises providential superintendence). Yes, that authority includes the power to use deadly force and to resolve disputes which cannot otherwise be resolved. In that sense, we may say with Paul in Rom 13:1 that “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” But it is important to remember that the authority of the state is essentially a family authority, not something different. For that reason, I consider it somewhat misleading to talk about a “divine institution of the state,” or to speak of “family, church, and state” as “God’s institutions,” on a level with one another. I shall, however, use “state” to refer to the family elder-structures beyond the nuclear and extended families.

Frame’s error is that he thinks the authority in Gen 9:6 was given to families as such, or as he later calls it, to “mega-families” (extended families with a patriarch). Genesis 9:6 never says that. The authority was given to all mankind, who merely happened to be organized in a family at the time (and families tend to make for a default/natural outworking of that authority). That’s why Cain worries that “anyone who finds me will kill me.” (Gen 4:14). (Note Frame’s attempt to deal with the problem of societies not made up of intact family structures).

And there you have it. God has given all mankind the authority to justly wield the sword to execute vengeance against physical violence and that is what Paul is referring to in Romans 13. God never instituted a special office for select individuals to rule over the rest of humanity with monopolistic authority to wield the sword in a way that no one else has authority to. Paul is simply addressing Christians who lived in an empire that wrongly claimed exclusive right to that God-ordained authority (John 18:31).


Post Script:

Commenting on Genesis 9:5-6 in Lex Rex, Rutherford says

The consequence is vain: His blood shall be shed by man; therefore by a magistrate ? it followeth not; therefore by a king ? it followeth not… There was but family-government (p. 28)

Rutherford incorrectly argues it’s just a general descriptive proverb about the fate of a murderer, not a command to execute murderers, but he correctly notes that it neither says or implies anything about a ruler/magistrate.

Matthew Henry notes

by man shall his blood be shed, that is, by the magistrate, or whoever is appointed or allowed to be the avenger of blood. There are those who are ministers of God for this purpose, to be a protection to the innocent, by being a terror to the malicious and evildoers, and they must not bear the sword in vain,Rom. 13:4 . Before the flood, as it should seem by the story of Cain, God took the punishment of murder into his own hands; but now he committed this judgment to men, to masters of families at first, and afterwards to the heads of countries

I believe that Henry is mistaken that God took the punishment of murder into his own hands before the flood, but he correctly recognizes there was no civil government when God commanded Noah and his descendants (all mankind) to execute murderers. When Henry argues “afterwards to the heads of countries” we would simply ask when and where did God do this?

William Findley notes

In this second infant state of the human race, too few in number to form a civil society, capable of enacting and executing penal laws, it pleased God himself, among other precepts, to prescribe death to be inflicted by man, as the penalty for murder; and as there were not, at that period, civil courts, or officers for public prosecution, he enjoined the brothers (explained to include others near of kin) of the deceased, to execute the sentence, under the penalty of God himself requiring his brother’s blood at his hands, as he had formerly done the blood of Abel at the hand of Cain. This precept, given to the family of Noah, then containing the whole human race, is still in substance equally applicable to all nations, and at all times. It is the only punishment adequate to the offence; but the appointment of the brother, or near of kin, to be the avenger of blood, arose from the then state of society, and pointed out the expediency of civil government, when men became sufficiently numerous for that purpose. (11-12)

4 Comments