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Between God and Man

The State seeks to do what reason tells us is wrong, and what religions prohibit.

by James Leroy Wilson
June 23, 2011

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Between God and Man

I read an interesting essay by Kevin E. Schmiesing for the Acton Institute: A Circle of Exchange is Better than a Circle of Protection.

It's about a group of Catholic leaders who condemn Republican plans for allegedly wanting to cut off federal aid to the poor, claiming such proposals violate Catholic social teaching.

Many Protestant leaders have laid the same charge, invariably against Republicans, for decades.

But, as Schmiesing writes,

"Defenders of government welfare programs not only cannot conceive of the possibility that government programs actually harm rather than help the people they target; they cannot conceive of the possibility that anyone else could conceive of the possibility. Those of us who sincerely believe that such programs are harmful are baffled at what we perceive to be stubborn resistance to the facts of the matter: Spending for programs related to the War on Poverty has increased 13-fold since Lyndon Johnson inaugurated them, without appreciable positive effect."

I agree with Schmiesing's point as it is, but there's an even bigger division than the one between so-called "social justice Christians" and the GOP straw men they invent. Democrats and Republicans may disagree about what "works," but what their solutions boil down to the same thing: point guns at people.

Whether it's economic redistribution, the jailing or forced "rehabilitation" of the nonviolent, or forced taxation to build war machines, people of "faith" seem to place their real faith in the State, rather than in their God. And because the State is nothing but a monopoly of the use of force, faith in the State means faith in violence.

Two secular perspectives show the absurdity of faith in violence.

Yet, people of faith will probably dismiss them as "individualists." That's an excuse to ignore their arguments.

What if a Christian makes the same arguments?

David Lipscomb did (.pdf). His 1889 book On Civil Government argued that God alone was the law-giver. Men who tried to govern other men were, in Lipscomb's eyes, at war with God.

Lipscomb took the pacifist implications of Christ's example to their logical conclusion. He was not only anti-war, he condemned the use of the State to tax, or to make "morals" or "social" legislation. He makes a compelling observation that those persons who held office before becoming Christians gave up their offices afterwards, claiming that when this was not stated specifically, it could be implied just as easily as it could be implied that, after becoming a Christian, a thief stopped being a thief.

Lipscomb logic here is persuasive. A Christian jailer can't "arrest, scourge and place in the stocks, or execute men and women convicted of being Christians." Then how can he do it to "real" criminals? What information does the jailer have as to the guilt or innocence of the people he's jailing?

Lipscomb recognized the "calculation problem" before it had a name. 20th-century Austrian economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek developed this idea in terms of government economic planning, but it applies to politics generally. When stepping in the political arena, even if just to vote, not even a Christian has a clue what he's doing:

"Many men voted for secession of the States South, with a view that that was the only way to prevent war. Some thought separation, as between Abraham and Lot's families, would end the strife that would be interminable within the Union. Others thought, argued and voted, If the Southern States show a united front there will be no war. If we are divided the division will invite war. So voted for secession to avoid war."

How did that well-intentioned plan work out?

Obviously, Lipscomb did not believe in ignoring social problems or public affairs. His expressed his views on pacifism and The State through his magazine Gospel Advocate. But he rejected the political means, preferring persuasion, example, and spiritual methods to convert individuals to Christianity. He believed this would evenutally smash the State.

In many ways, then, he came to the same conclusions as Molynieux, Rose, and previous non-religious libertarian intellectuals like Albert J. Nock and Murray Rothbard. Nock made the distinction between State power and social power, rejecting the former (.pdf). Rothbard wrote (.pdf), "If you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all of the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place."

Many secularists have come to the conclusion that the State is the enemy, and that non-aggression is the foundation of civilization. Some Christian sects, most famously the Amish, live their lives as best they can this way, eschewing violence and the State. Many other prominent Christian "pacifists" seem to extend their abhorrence of violence only when it comes to war, but seem to have little problem with government regulators and social workers whose salaries are paid for by the people without their personal consent, and whose foundation is guns and prisons. Lipscomb is set apart as he was wholly engaged with the modern world and 19th cenutry commerce, but understood the implications of Christ's teachings (at least how he understood them) when it comes to the State.  

The Non-aggression Principle" of modern-day radical libertarians, voluntaryists, and individualist anarchists leads to many of the same conclusions as does the radical pacifism of a staunch conservative Christian such as Lipscomb. This is all further evidence of Mary Ruwart's statement, "All paths, whether spiritual, practical, rational, or humanitarian, appear to lead to liberty, where these separate modalities become intertwined. Perhaps we truly are hard-wired for freedom so that nothing less will do."

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