A Deficient Understanding of the State Leads to a Deficient Political Theory

One of the most challenging aspects to writing the blogs on this site is the fact that there is a disconnect between some of my audience and myself in regards to understanding the precise nature of political theory, law, and civil government.  Many of the libertarian readers, especially those who came to libertarianism through the Mises Institute, understand these things quite well. But the other half of my readership, those Christians who are only secondarily interested in political theory, have a gaping hole in regards to the roots of political conversation.  This represents a monumental challenge, because to use the phraseology and themes of the Misesian/Rothbardian tradition is to distance myself from those who are yet unfamiliar with what libertarianism really has to offer.

Most modern theologians have completely ignored the developments of political theory since the dawn of socialism in the 19th century.  Seeing Adam Smith as the beginning and end of the defense of free trade, they neglect the roots of free market theory stretching back to Augustine and beyond.  And after Smith, there came the Marginal Revolution, which provided the ground work for the eminent price theorist Eugene Bohm-Bawerk and his more famous student Ludwig von Mises.

And the theologians may praise the developments in Christian political theory from Calvin to Rutherford, and later from Rutherford to the nonconformist Puritans, and, if they are really radical, from the noncomformists to the American Reformed Baptists; but rarely do they consider the logically driven improvements since that time.  And this is completely reasonable in one sense; namely, for the Pastor and Theologian, getting the gospel right is far more important than getting political theory right.  The gospel is about what saves man from the wrath of God; political theory is a consideration of the proper use of violence in society and is a subset of ethics.  However, if the Theologian is to comment on political theory –because surely the Bible which defines our ethical standard does have things to say on the matter– it would be a tragedy if he was not familiar with what is at stake. In my estimation, most Pastors and Theologians don’t understand what questions to ask in their seeking of answers.  This is because they have simply not considered the developments of political theory.  Interestingly, this is also why so many modern Pastors misunderstand the doctrines of Christian Reconstructionism and Bahnsenite theonomy, with which I have my own disagreements.

The challenge that the above leads me to is the fact that I disagree with some of the most important theological voices of our time on matters of economics and politics.  To be in disagreement with these great men is a bit awkward. Because here I am claiming that the Reformed Libertarian vision is the most consistent political theory with the Bible, and yet I am at odds with the most authoritative theological voices on technical matters of political theory!  Now, I am certainly not at odds with them in total; and in fact, with the divide between practical and theoretical political philosophy, am probably very close in the “practical” category.  Moreover, most of their comments on the theoretical side is broad and not well defined, which means that I can interact with it and express where it is good and where it is not so good. This plays in my favor. When one gets down into details and definitions of political theory, an entire new world opens.  It’s quite delightful.

I say all the above after reading a section of Dr. John Cobin’s book called Bible and Government: Public Policy from a Christian Perspective.  I think he and I have a lot in common.  He is a very orthodox Reformed Baptist who takes both the Bible and the 1689 Confession seriously.  And he is a staunch follower of the Austrian School of Economics.  Moreover, he is very Rothbardian in his political philosophy.  All of which tells me one thing: he understands what is at stake in these matters.  He understands the problems that Christians need to answer in developing a political theory.  About halfway through the book, he interacts with the comments of Sam Waldron in his 1689 Confession exposition on the subject of the civil magistrate.  Cobin clearly reveres Pastor Waldron, as do I, and feels the weight of disagreeing, in some areas, with such an important voice in Reformed Baptist circles.

The problem lies in the fact that there is a widespread deficiency of understanding regarding the nature of the State, the monopolization of the role of governance in society.  With the awareness that Austro-libertarianism brings to the table regarding economic incentives, monopoly theory, human action, the division of labor, the problem of knowledge in society, and all the rest, we are able to understand in a unique way the nature of the Roman Empire as it existed over Paul and the early church.  The theologians of today, those that are interested in matters of political theory, should be willing to read the developments of the Austrian school.