June 25, 2014

The Origination of the State

By In Articles, Philosophy

In a more Rothbardianesque libertarian theory, the State comes about by coercion and domination over society.  Rothbard certainly was not the source of these views however, as they can be found even earlier in American history.  Let’s look at two quotes.  Charles Burris wrote the first one when writing about Albert Nock:

The concept of the State is the greatest criminal conspiracy ever perpetuated upon humanity. As Nock details in his book above, all States originate in conquest and exploitation, and as elite oligarchies, continue to exercise this monopoly of crime over their subject peoples through war, taxation, conscription, and indoctrination.

The second quote is by Franz Oppenheimer but provided by Burris at the same link.

“The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against the revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion has no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors.”

The origination of the State is in conquest.  Whereas many Statists will attempt to show that the State is a grassroots or “bottom-up” phenomenon (an interesting claim, as those who today write the political narrative generally despise “bottom-up” approaches), the so-called “Austro-libertarian” theory is that the State forces itself onto the people it claims to “represent.”  There are interests of wealth, money, and economics on one hand, and also a general disposition to be in charge and to rule over others.  The State, therefore, is alien to the people, its victims.  In this view, it cannot be overstated that the State and the “country” or “the people” are two different entities at odds with each other.

Christians however are given a different story, aren’t they?  They believe that the origination of the State is to be found in God’s ordination.  God ordains the existence of the State.  Therefore, it is a reality because He seeks to accomplish some aim by means of this State.   Try to stay with me here.  Many Christians will then say: “Therefore, the State is good.”  But that is absurd.  Doesn’t God ordain evil?  Why would we ever take the position of: “God ordained the existence of Satan, therefore Satan’s existence is a good”?  That is not a Biblical logic.  More importantly, consider Acts 2:23: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  The gravity of understanding that the death of Jesus Christ was planned, ordained, from eternity past should be emphasized.  Is not the murder of the God-man Christ Jesus the most horrific crime in all of history?  Is there any better way of demonstrating the depravity of mankind?  And yet, it was ordained by God Himself.  Yes, God ordains evil.  God ordains all things.  So the assumption that the State is good because it was ordained by God is a poor assumption if that is the only reason given.

(This is, of course, setting aside the discussion of the goodness of some agency, perhaps on the free market, which plays the role of “punisher,” or “government.”  And I assume that by now the reader is familiar with the distinction that I find useful of separating the State as a monopoly institution and the government as a role in civil society.  One can be provided on the free market and the other requires the initiation of force.  Whether or not the State should be accepted as a civil good is a different conversation, but I do want to point out the coercive nature that is core to its character.)

So then, God has ordained the State.  And this does not by itself necessarily make the State good, for God ordains both evil and good.  What should the Christian then make of the Austro-libertarian analysis of the State, especially given that none of those quoted, nor Murray Rothbard, was a Christian?  Is the State born in conquest or was it ordained by God Himself?

My answer is: “Why not both?”  Let me give you a good example.  In the book of Genesis, the brothers of Joseph despised him and eventually manipulated him into a deep pit and then, astoundingly, sold him away!  They even deceived their father and told him that Joseph was dead.  They did all these things with evil intentions and with malice in their hearts.

But years later, after Joseph had been given one of the most powerful positions in Egypt (he basically headed a mass welfare scheme –more on that in a later post.  I know I’ve peaked your interest), his brothers, surely with a deeply seeded sense of guilt, bowed to him in shame.  They begged him for forgiveness because of their transgressions and evil done against him.  But what did Joseph respond with?

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

So in other words, the brothers had a desire to do something long lasting with evil intentions, but God had meant that very deed for a good purpose in the end!  The scenario, like our despicable State, was both established in conquest and by God’s ordination.  At the very same time!  We can affirm that men have advocated for State power because they love the economic protection provided by it, that is, they know they can gain power through it.  They love the State because they be handed more power than ever before and they understand that the bigger the State is, the more they can benefit.  They use the coercion and initiation of force against victims, many of whom blindly accept the parasitic scenario.  Yes, the evil intentions of man are profound.  But God still is sovereign and accomplishes his will through these despicable intentions of man.  Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

God uses means to accomplish his Will.  Sometimes the means is the evil desires of Joseph’s brothers, sometimes it is the men who crucified Christ, sometimes it is the State.

If only Rothbard, Nock, and Oppenheimer recognized that there was more at play than just the evil desires of man.

In conclusion, I want to mention “the good” for which God means things.  It was true that the nation of Israel, because of Joseph’s redistribution scheme, was led into captivity.  How can this be called good?  Because God works all of history toward one end, namely, the glorification of His name! His ordaining Israel into captivity allowed for Him to declare the awesomeness of His name in setting them free and destroying Pharaoh.  And more importantly, the entire history of Israel throughout the great times and the bad were intended to prepare the world for the coming of His Son Jesus Christ, the most important part of history.  This is the good.  God shaping history for the glory of His name and the announcement of His power.  So then, even the American empire and all the pain and suffering that it has caused will eventually prove to be a means by which the might and wonder of God is shown.  For God’s kingdom will overcome the kingdoms of the world.  The world meant the State for evil, but God meant it for good.  He will strike down the evil powers of the world and make Himself shine forth in power.

Thus, the State was born in conquest and is also originated in the eternal plan of God.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

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