Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism? A Response

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

I ran across a series of articles lately on a blog called “The Kuyperian Commentary.”

The Article in question is titled “Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy or Statism?” and was written by Adam McIntosh, a former missionary kid, and currently a pastoral intern in Southern Illinois. It is my intention over the next series of articles to interact with the ideas McIntosh presents in his article. Before, I get into it, though, I would encourage you to read the entire thing for yourself. It’s a bit long – a five parter – but it’s well worth it, and you’ll have a much better context for what I am going to say.

I must start in the positive. I have several points of critique with his article that I will highlight in the coming installments, but I found myself overwhelmingly agreeing with McIntosh. In fact, much of his article constitutes a clearer articulation of the concepts I was attempting to posit in my Biblical Theology of Human Authority and Civil Government series. However, there are a few points of critique that I must make. These are not foundational, but I believe they are significant enough for me to refrain from spreading his article directly and without commentary.

McIntosh represents a particular subset of Christianity that I find myself contacting more and more frequently, and the more I do, the more I am encouraged. Much of my crusade on this blog is against the Theonomists, which I set out with the belief were all statists. I do indeed think there are many statist Theonomists out there, but McIntosh, and many from my church, seem to come from a camp of Minarchist Theonomists. Perhaps there are two kinds of Theonomists. Perhaps my understanding of Theonomy was incomplete.

Nevertheless, I still have significant disagreement with them, as will become apparent in this series. However, I am encouraged that I share much more in common with them than I do in disagreement, and if I found myself living in their utopian world, I would not be too terribly uncomfortable, though there would be some changes I would advocate. McIntosh and those who subscribe to similar ideas have a healthy distrust of government, while still recognizing its Biblical role. We are very close to being on the same page. We both believe in the primacy of God’s Law. It’s just over those nitty, gritty details that we disagree, the most critical of which is over what the Word actually instructs us to apply to civil society, and this is because we disagree on the proper method of such extraction. But I digress. I will leave specific objections to future installments.

As I said, there is much to commend about this article.

He Soundly Rejects Statism From the Word of God.

He provides an excellent definition of statism.

stat·ism: The practice or doctrine of giving a centralized government control over economic planning and policy, usually including the acceptance of welfarism and militarism.

I might add to this that statism is grounded squarely on collectivism, which is the notion that individuals belong to society and not to themselves. Therefore, the society has the right to impress certain obligations upon the individual.

In rejecting statism, he said,

God gives judicial authority to humanity after the flood in Genesis 9:6:

Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man.”

Here we see the death penalty enacted for murderers. They take away innocent life, therefore their life will be taken away. Romans 13 reiterates that civil rulers function under God’s authority to “punish evildoers.” Contrary to statism, the Bible never gives them the authority to control the economy, provide welfare, or to start prohibitions against raw milk. Justice is the focus.

This is an excellent appeal to Scripture to show that God has indeed sanctioned government, but he has given it certain boundaries. You can see why I was encouraged by this article on a whole. This is just one example of the rigid Biblical defense he gives to his positions.

He Holds High God’s Moral Law as the Objective Standard of Justice.

This is where I’m going to get in trouble with my Anarchist friends here, but I agreed with the following statement from McIntosh:

…contrary to anarchism, God wants justice to be dispensed according to his standards, not by competing agencies that rule from their own subjective opinions.

Now, ultimately the Christian anarchists do not really believe that justice ought to be defined by a market – not even the atheist Rothbardians believe this, as McIntosh himself acknowledges. But rather than just giving a sweeping generalization of anarchists, McIntosh does a good job of demonstrating that the system anarchists envision would fail to achieve its goals.

McIntosh has the following to say:

What this means is that within any given territory, multiple judicial agencies would open up and compete for your business. Different agencies would provide different services based on different standards of law. Hypothetically, you could have a Muslim agency that operates under sharia law and a Christian agency that operates under biblical law. You simply pick which company you prefer. When two people are in conflict, their respective agencies will deliberate until they agree on the appropriate conviction and punishment. Rothbard admits that this could not work unless all agencies followed the non-aggression principle.

This is possibly where the accusation against anarchy as being “utopian” originates. History is full of civil rulers committing acts of aggression against their subjects – why will that change if we abolish the state? Well, it won’t, according to anarchists. But since no institution would have a monopoly on justice, consumers have the option of taking their business elsewhere. If an agency becomes tyrannical it will simply go bankrupt as consumers switch to the competitor. In our current situation, the state has a monopoly on justice and we have no option but to submit to its tyranny. Thus, anarchists say that privatized justice is the best option for maintaining a free and peaceful society. While attractive on some levels, I believe this system fails to achieve its goal.

[…] Even if all agencies agreed to follow [the NAP], some will define it more broad than others. Natural law doesn’t dictate standards of crime and punishment. Imagine that a husband belongs to agency X while his wife belongs to agency Y. Agency X says that abortion is murder but agency Y says it is not. […] Even a private court of appeals – as a final arbiter – would not be obligated to side with the demands of either agency. Privatized justice means relative justice; relative justice means no real justice at all. At some point, the agencies will have to compromise with neither receiving the outcome they believe to be morally correct.

[…] holding one tyrannical institution accountable is much easier than holding multiple tyrannical institutions accountable. The best option for maintaining a free and peaceful society is not to privatize justice but to Christianize justice.

There are some weaknesses to this argument, I’ll admit, but I think he raises some good concerns, so I want to focus on the positive, which he summed up very well in the following statement:

Rothbard and others have spent much time thinking through the implications of a privatized system and how it might work in practice. Many of their insights are fascinating and not to be dismissed easily. But justice cannot be a product of the free market because the free market is based solely on consumer preferences. True justice is based on God’s preferences.

I’m still wrestling with these ideas, and haven’t fully answered where I stand on this. This issue is the single key hinge point between minarchy and anarchy, and I often find myself waffling on it. Ultimately, I find myself repeatedly drawn back to minarchy, and McIntosh’s critiques are very similar to my own. For me it comes down to a problem of incentives, which is really another way of framing McIntosh’s point.

Suppose John accuses Jim of stealing. John hires Justice Company A to find Jim guilty of theft, who is Justice Company A incentivized to decide for? John, right? He’s their paying customer. Imagine Justice Company B’s ads if Justice Company A can’t get convictions! The market would produce justice companies who care only about getting their man! Who cares about the rights of the accused?

So perhaps what happens is that the accused runs into the refuge of Defense Company A, who then goes to bat for him and protects him from Justice Company A until they can work things out. But work things out, how? Gan warfare in the streets? Maybe, but maybe they would go to court instead until they reach some sort of compromise? McIntosh points out that in this scenario, neither party gets what they consider to be just. Leaving aside for a moment that this is what happens anyway through settlements and plea bargains, we need to keep our focus on the ideal for the time being. The goal is justice, objectively defined.

By what standard would they hash it out? As McIntosh pointed out, you’ll have the Sharia Law Justice Company and the Torah Justice Company and the Christian Justice Company and the Atheist Justice Company. As he states, markets are about consumer preferences, but justice is about God’s preferences. Or even from an atheist standpoint: justice is about what is objectively morally, as Rothbard himself even believed when he stated that the justice companies would have to be regulated by the Non-Aggression principle.

But regulated by who? How? Who will you appeal to when you get wrongly convicted of something you didn’t do by a justice company overzealous for customer service? At some level, there has to be a government of some kind, right? – a higher authority to run to for refuge. There has to be a constitutionally limited authority with the power to ensure that true justice, the rule of law and the rights of the accused are upheld by all.

What form will that authority take? How will that authority be exerted over the justice companies? What law would it impose, and how would we guarantee that it is just? These are the questions before us, and I find that the only adequate solution is a constitutionally limited decentralized government. Thus I am inescapably a Minarchist.

This still leaves the problem of funding, for although I acknowledge Romans 13:6, I still believe that forced taxation is theft, and therefore would prefer a more just way of funding this public criminal justice framework. If you’re interested in my ideas, stay tuned to the end.

He skillfully demonstrates the Biblical basis of certain Minarchist principles.

Having successfully, in my opinion, argued for a Minarchist view of government, he proceeds to flourish the Sword in support of some of the key principles of justice in a minarchist society.

The Rule of Law

God says he wants one law for citizens and sojourners in any given territory (Lev. 24:22). This certainly sounds like a monopoly, although it coincides with the biblical principle of decentralization. A biblical system would have multiple jurisdictions, each with civil rulers who apply God’s word to judicial cases. God’s law isn’t magic, however, and we’d still run the risk of magistrates abusing their authority.

Of these, this may be his weakest Biblical defense. I’m not certain whether he is using this passage accurately, but he does affirm the principle, which is repeatedly demonstrated throughout Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. The King is subject to the Law. The Law is not subject to the King. The King therefore has no right to do what citizens may not (initiate force), and he has no right to outlaw that which God’s law permits, nor to permit that which God’s law outlaws – but stay tuned for a further clarification of what that really means.

Decentralization

[…] localization is a principle of biblical government. Moses is instructed to elect judges to rule over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Exodus 18). Israel was decentralized into twelve tribes and each city had their own elders who were responsible for making judicial pronouncements (Numbers 33:54, 34:13-29; Deuteronomy 16:18, 21:1-4, 22:18-19). This was God’s preference even during the time of the kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 2nd Chronicles 19:4-11). He judged the citizens of Babel for isolating themselves into one body politic (Genesis 11:1-9); he destroyed Abimelek for elevating himself above the elders of Shechem (Judges 9); and he judged King David for wanting to centralize the Israelite militia (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21:1-17, 22:7-8, 27:24, 28:2-3). Since men like to abuse the authority God gives them, decentralization is a safeguard against tyranny.

When Israel initially took possession of the land, they had no State. They only barely had a government: The Elders at the gate. Yeah, God directed them to have a king later, but this was Soveriegnly for redemptive-historical, eschatological purposes, not so much because it was objectively what he wanted for them, as demonstrated by his warnings to them through Samuel in 1 Samuel 8, a warning, by the way, that basically boils down to “Are you sure, you want this? He’ll take away your life, liberty and property.” Don’t believe me, go read it. This is an important concept to keep in mind: that much of what occurs in the Old Testament is God’s Sovereign working through imperfect, fallible, or even sinful human means to accomplish his redemptive-historical purposes: Christ. Use of these means is never meant to be construed as prescribed approval of them.

Justice = Restitution, not Punishment, not Rehabilitation

Punishment for crime is based on restitution (not imprisonment) and God tells us what the appropriate punishments are. A thief is to pay back double (Ex. 22:7). This restores the victim to a higher status than before and gives the criminal the chance to rehabilitate himself to an ethical lifestyle. Murderers should receive the death penalty since the punishment must fit the crime (Deut. 19:21). […] Tax-funded prisons actually punish the victim, not the criminal. The criminal is given shelter, food, entertainment and education at the financial expense of the victim. We are supposed to pity the offended, not the offender.

I have various misgivings about the death penalty, but they are not principled objections. They are pragmatic concerns. I agree that the death penalty is the just punishment for murder. I just wish there were more rigid safe guards against mistakenly executing someone who is truly innocent.

Rejection of Victimless Crime. Promotion of “Responsive” Law Enforcement

Restitution can only be enforced if the victim presses charges. Just as God has the authority to punish or have mercy, so do we. If a crime punishable by death was committed, the victim is allowed to demand death, a lesser penalty, or nothing at all. Hosea 3:1-3 is an example where the victim of a crime punishable by death does not press charges. In Matthew 1:19 when Joseph thinks Mary has committed a crime punishable by death, he decides to simply divorce her, yet he is called “just.” The option to press charges or extend mercy belongs to the victim alone. The only crime that has to be punished is murder since the victim is no longer living to bring charges. If there is no way to restore the victim, the criminal cannot be restored either (Deut. 19:10-13).

His point here is more directly about the provision for mercy, but it nevertheless paints the picture of civil law enforcement that shows them being reactive servants of the victim. When needed, the police investigate and apprehend criminals. What we have today is the opposite, where police go around with a “general warrant” looking for “bad guys” to “round them up” so as to “clean up the streets,” an effort that is unjust, unconstitutional, and utterly futile, especially as it deals with victimless “crimes” that would not have a victim to make an accusation!

Due Process and The Rights of the Accused

If one decides to press charges, there must be at least two witnesses before someone can be convicted of a crime (Deut. 17:6). If you turn out to be a false accuser, then you receive the punishment you sought to impose on the innocent person (Deut. 19:16-19). This is a perfect safeguard from punishing someone unjustly. God’s principle of restitution is the best system for protection, freedom and peace.

The constitutional protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights are essentially enumerations of this principle. When someone is accused of a crime there must be probable cause to search him or his belongings (Fourth Amendment), he may not be compelled to testify against himself (Fifth Amendment), he has the right to a speedy and public trial by jury, during which he may face his accuser and offer a defense (Sixth Amendment), he may not be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law (Fifth Amendment), and he may not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment). These protections exist to keep citizens who have been accused of a crime safe from the sword of government until it can be firmly established that the charge is true.

Excellent Critique of Rothbard

I listed this one last because it’s his central thesis, and it is on this issue that I shift from agreement to disagreement. I both agree and disagree with his critique of Rothbard.

I agree because he challenges Rothbard’s foundation and demonstrates that it is shifting sand. Rothbard relies on Natural Law, which is singularly prescriptive and unable to make moral judgements of any kind. Thus, Rothbard has no real moral framework to operate under, which explains why his brain fizzled out on the question of children. On this point, I agree with McIntosh.

I disagree because… We’ll that’s what I cover in Part 2.

Continue to Part 2 >

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7 thoughts on “Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism? A Response

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I appreciate the interaction and look forward to reading more. Our site has moved, however, from the original WordPress link you shared. My series can be found at the new site here: http://goo.gl/DemZt8. Please scan the comment sections, as there may have been some additional dialogue not found at the old site. Blessings!

  2. I would have agreed with you had I not read some of ancient Celtic Irish Law, that wasn’t really a Rothbardian one, though close to it, nor was it State imposed one, because Irish didn’t have a statist Government from their coming to Ireland between 2000-1000 BC to their end (a consequence of English aggressive takeover) in 17th century. Moreover they allowed for the Christian community to abide by their rules and their law even “evolved” into a more christian one after the christian faith spread throughout the island (without the violent state-imposed monopoly over religion like it was in the rest of Europe, because Ireland didn’t have any government).

    I suggest you reading it (https://mises.org/journals/jls/1_2/1_2_1.pdf).

    However I would say, that even though I do not see the mere existence of (any) State on the face of this planet legitimate, I think that a leader or a representative without legislative or any law making and law executing abilities, should certainly exist (or would 😉 ) within communities. The fear with that is always, that he/she becomes an idol and is given powers that he should not posses, but under the law similar as it was under Celts, that would be unlikely (though Roman church at some point wanted to change the law there, Celts would not yield, only debate… ).

    I would also like to add, that I would believe that in a completely free market even Rothbardian view on free-market justice (or David Friedman’s view in The Machinery of Freedom) would produce justice, that is cheapest and works best only within a Christian Law enforcement agency, hence this one would be most effective overall.

    If speaking on justice, though I would think (thinking as I write right now) that only God could really impose real justice, not man. If all people are really created equal in the face of God, then we can justly only defend ourselves, which I think that could be the only legitimate use of violence anyways (an enforcement agency thus does not posses the power to use violence legitimately in most cases), and people around ourselves. However I would argue that even that might be a problematic (in the sight of God), because we as human beings can’t really objectively judge ourselves, much less another, hence only God could really judge. And most important with that being said is that we ought to, as Christians, live as though we are acknowledging God as the final judge, not a man. Therefore it matters not which law agency is doing the work of an arbiter, because the final judgement really falls unto God’s authority, right?

    Blessings form Slovenia!

    1. Matic, thank you for your comments. That’s some interesting information about Irish history. I’ll have to look into it further.

      I’m still very much on the fence with this anarchy/minarchy thing… I have CJay Engel from The Reformed Libertarian working on me, and I’ve been reading Hans-Herman Hoppe’s “The Economics and Ethics of Private Property,” all of which are providing good food for thought. I will probably be posting more about what I see in the Scriptures, and how that is framing my thoughts on the issue in the coming days, Lord willing.

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