October 21, 2013

The Civil Magistrate and the ‘Reformed Libertarian’ Attempt to Establish a Libertarian Framework

By In Articles, Philosophy

[UPDATE: This is a three page article. Don’t miss the page numbers at the bottom to continue reading.]

The issue at stake here is simple: Secular libertarianism, at least in the Rothbardian tradition, bases its political philosophy on the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP).  What is NAP? The principle that no individual may initiate coercion against another individual.  It really is an easy-to-understand political theory.  But is it justified in the Christian worldview?  Specifically, what about the Protestant Confessions? Our goal is to answer such questions.   

Introduction

In a brief blog post from 2010, RC Sproul Jr. sought to answer the questions that made up his title: What is Reconstructionism?  What is Theonomy?  Several statements in there are worth mention to initiate the present article.  He noted in the first paragraph that theonomy, broadly speaking, “might be understood as the conviction that the civil law God gave to Israel in the Old Testament ought to be the law of the land in all nations everywhere.”

If one is not aware of the Reconstructionist movement by now, they surely ought to be.  For while we, as libertarians, might disagree with several aspects of their very holistic program, there is actually much good in it.  For example, sifting trough RJ Rushdoony’s Roots of Reconstruction we find a very wonderful and provoking analysis of things like public education, the welfare state, and the income tax.  Sproul, who is certainly more libertarian (if I may be so bold) than he is a Reconstructionist, concludes his article with this:

…be careful not to heed those critics who have precious little understanding of theonomy or reconstruction. Those on the left, both theologically and politically, delight to present these heirs of the Puritans as evangelical jihadists hell-bent on imposing a Calvinistic fascist regime on the rest of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Theonomists, like the rest of us, long to see justice in the political realm. They long to see the nations discipled. They long to see the kingdom made manifest. They long to see every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Who, within His kingdom, could ever argue with that?

“Who… could ever argue with that?”  In the spirit of this question, Sproul also writes the following earlier in the blog:

Whether one embraces theonomy as defined above [first paragraph] or not, all of us ought in some sense to be theonomists. My theonomic friends want to drive us to one of two choices, “Autonomy or theonomy!” And of course they are precisely right. We will either have man’s law, or God’s law and only a fool would choose man over God. The question then rightly understood isn’t whether we ought to have law as God would have us have it. The question instead is what law would God wish us to have.

This is precisely right and it is the heart and soul of us here at Reformed Libertarian.  When we say we oppose Reconstructionism, we are not claiming that our idea of the government’s just powers, if there are any at all, are based on the political theories of man.  If we can establish limited government, let us do it because of our Biblical conviction.  And if we can conclude a more precise and consistent libertarianism that is of a similar flavor to, say, Murray Rothbard, let us draw these conclusions because of our faith.  We certainly shouldn’t look outside of our own worldview to find a premise that we can manipulate for the sake of our preferred conclusion.  Is this not forbidden when studying doctrines like justification or eschatology as well?

In this article then, we will maintain a distinction between Reconstructionism as theonomy formally articulated by Rushdoony/North (etc) and theonomy more generally as a desire to apply God’s law to society today.  Theonomy means that God’s law is applicable to society today.  With this more general definition, we can say that a “Reformed Libertarian” adopts theonomy.

One thing that the Reconstructionists have long held as an advantage over the Christian libertarians, the Christian mainstream conservatives, the Christian Constitutionalists, etc., is their ability to ask their opponents whether or not their ideal role of government is founded in the Scriptures.  An answer in the negative is easy to argue against.  An answer in the positive provokes the further question as to whether or not the non-Reconstructionist thinks he is being consistent.  Moreover, the best that the non-Reconstructionist could possibly do is either explain why he thinks God is generally silent on the role of the State, and thus allows us to come to our own conclusions, or why he thinks that there are only broad concepts and no details.  As it turns out though, these two final choices are virtually the same.  That is not to say that I think the Reconstructionists are always consistent with themselves or that they are being Biblically accurate either.  But it does so happen to be their methodology of defense for their position.

And this is why we at the Reformed Libertarian seek to answer Sproul’s understanding of the true question: “The question then rightly understood isn’t whether we ought to have law as God would have us have it. The question instead is what law would God wish us to have.”  It is only then that the Reconstructionist can be answered and the Christian libertarian world (though small as it is) can have a solid defense for their position.

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
  • Thanks Mr. Engel for this article. While I am not a Calvinist and remain a dispensationalist Arminian, it was very valuable. I will send it to my friends and relatives.

    As for the issue of tyranny vs. anarchy, which is worse? Many Christians say its anarchy that’s worse, and tyranny is better, but I have doubts about that. Is that really biblical, or is it really unbiblical theology masquerading as Bible Christianity?

  • Mike Lewis

    “Where neither Church discipline nor coercion apply, then we let God take care of the matter privately.”

    I can just hear the objection now that if we do that, then we are neglecting God’s command to enact justice on the “evildoer”. But the critical question is “justice for whom?” If there’s no human victim, there is no need for human justice. God is perfectly capable of inflicting divine justice on those who curse him either by worshiping false gods, by defiling his own body, or committing shameful acts with other consenting adults. How often do the Theonomists go right to Romans 13 while skipping Romans 12? “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”