October 7, 2013

The Authority to Coerce

By In Philosophy

Several weeks ago, we gave a first account of what it means to be a Reformed Libertarian.  While there will be many more articles posted in this vein, I want to offer a quick follow up in regards to the specific foundation of the libertarian framework from our “Reformed” perspective.  We discussed the fact that “libertarianism” has a variety of foundations –from Rothbard’s Natural Law basis to Mises’ Utilitarianism.  Our contribution here was that we presuppose as our axiom a “Propositional Revelation,” to use a phrase from the late Gordon H. Clark.  Our libertarianism, or so we claim, is based on Scripture alone.

 

We discover that the principles which pour forth from our “first principle” or “axiom” are strikingly similar to Rothbard’s even though we stand on different foundations and thus, due to his famous consistency, we reach many conclusions that might be called “Rothbardian.”  That is to say, aside from the basis of our political theory, we agree with him on 99% of the issues (the 1% might include subjects such as children and abortion).

 

On the flipside, we share a common foundation with the so-called, and constantly misrepresented, Reconstructionists.  The Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the ground on which we stand.  But of course, our hermeneutic methodologies and principles lead us to different theological conclusions and therefore some political ones as well.  Whereas it is the vision of the Reconstructionists to apply the civil law of the Old Testament to contemporary society, –and to all societies forevermore since this is God’s unchanging law– we Reformed Libertarians interpret the use of the law a bit differently.  Thus, while we have the same foundation for our political theory, we reach different conclusions and have some serious reservations about their application of the law. It is important though, as we investigate the law which should be applied in society, that this law be founded in God’s law. Man must not make his own laws but must adhere to the supreme lawgiver. This, for example is why we say things like, “the Bill of Rights did not create law, but rather expressed rights that previously existed.”

 

We share with the Reconstructionists (and all Calvinists) the foundation of Scripture alone.  And we share with the Rothbardians the conclusions of their libertarian theory.

 

Among our many claims in the “manifesto,” we stated that the the role of government (as opposed to the institution of the State –which has a monopoly on government services) was strictly limited to “punishment of the one who breaches the rights of another man.”  That is, the role of government is to coerce against those who have previously coerced.  Coercion is of extreme importance in this equation.  Because those individuals who are participating in the role of government are not exempt from the standard of non-aggression, these individuals cannot announce a monopoly on their services.  This is the foundation for free-market government.  For even the agnostic anarchist Murray Rothbard noted that

 

“…it should never be forgotten that a libertarian society does not mean the total absence of coercion but only the absence of coercion against non-criminals.  Those who invade the rights of others by violence deserve their proper check and punishment by the force of law.”

 

In other words, whoever provides this “proper check” is acting in the role of government and the institution that monopolizes this “check” is the State and has clearly acted in a way that breaches it’s own goal.  They have declared illegal the competition from others who wish to offer “proper check” services.  But this is ipso facto an initiation and improper use of (the threat of) coercion.  Therefore, they have broken the law.  As can be seen, I make a clear distinction between government as a role and the State as an institution.  Government is moral, the State is not. One can exist on the free market, the other is the antithesis of the free-market. Most governments today have become States and it is a detriment of the present era to confuse the two terms.

 

The problem with which I would challenge Rothbard, as he is a natural law theorist, is why a government has the authority to coerce against the individual who did coerce previously.  In other words, why can one group of people, calling themselves the government, punish the criminal? Do two wrongs make a right?  Assuming that the criminal is, in fact, acting unethically when he steals something, why is it legitimate for someone to “punish by force” that criminal?  Where does the “proper check” provider get such an authority?  “Natural law” gives no answer here, unless he takes the utilitarian path.

 

The Reformed Libertarian, leaning on the fact that the role of government is a reflection of the divine demands for justice, notes that this authority is given by God!  If Romans 13 is a chapter that has been radically abused, perhaps here it finds its proper application.  The authority to punish the coercive criminal comes not from man, but from God.  A free market provider of criminal punishment, known simply as the “government,” gets its authority to coerce against those who have first coerced, from God, who is the author of justice.  And it is an abuse of such power to use this authority against any other non-coercive individual.  In other words, such authority can only be applied against criminals.  Taxation is theft because it is coercion against an individual (or millions of individuals) who did not first coerce, that is, against noncriminals.  One party earned that money honestly and the other did not.  It is with great sadness that we report that the so-called government in America is the party that gained its money unethically!  All is backwards in this sinful world.  Our prayer is that the perfect justice of God would soon be applied to the State –both here in America and everywhere it exists.  “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

 

Clearly, we have gone deep into pure theory.  At a more simple level, we can safely say that the only actions that are legitimate when done by our current government structure today are those that are consistent with their actual role. We can applaud the government today when it captures and punishes the thief, because this is what it is supposed to do.  At the same time though, we disapprove of its own thieving actions and we call upon its members to repent of their sin.  Parenthetically, we deride the idea that the application of criminal law, no matter how just, should come from the Federal Government.  No libertarian or conservative ought to advocate for such centralism.  Government services should be local –indeed they would be on the free market.  Let each small area have competing government services.  Enough with the nationalistic sensationalism.

 

The authority to coerce comes from God, and it may only be applied to those who first coerced.  Individuals have rights to life and property.  No murder, no theft, no initiation of aggression.  It does not matter your background, class, or career. This is the foundation of individual liberty.

 

 

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com