Human Nature

A common objection from reformed conservatives against libertarian theory is that it fails to take human nature into account. They claim (since) men are totally depraved that a substantial civil authority is necessary to ensure that society remains morally upright. However, this objection misses one important point: Every man in a position of governmental authority is just as depraved as any other. Frederic Bastiat deftly points this out:

“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?”

This is an important truth to keep in mind when dealing with the wickedness of men. No wicked man ceases to be wicked when you give him a badge. Bad trees still yield bat fruit even when given authority over others. One can certainly try to limit the damage by only giving power to the most upright of men, but this will still not ensure the just behavior of anyone, be they rulers or subjects. Even David, the “man after God’s own heart”, a king operating in a constitutional minarchy, enslaved and murdered a man through the means of conscription because he had a desire for a woman who was not his to have. Solomon, arguably the wisest king to ever rule the earth, blatantly disobeyed the law regarding kings by having over 700 wives. Even the best of those who are granted in positions of power are still liable to commit gross and heinous sin, just as much as anyone else.

Laws, in and of themselves cannot limit the wickedness of men. The fear of punishment may act as a temporary, imperfect deterrent against immoral behavior, but the only true answer to man’s fallen nature is the gospel. Just as we should not treat the state as God the Father by asking it to provide us with our daily bread, we should not treat it like God the Holy Spirit and expect it to perform regenerating work on the people over which it rules.

The state should not exist to do anything more than to preserve man’s right to not have himself or his property aggressed against. We already have an institution for teaching and enforcing Christian morality, the church; and not only do we not need another, but we ought not to add one either. Want to improve the moral structure of a society? Good, then practice pure and undefiled religion. The answer to moral decay in any society is not to use the forceful arm of the state to inculcate children with Christian ideals, to rob our neighbor to support our churches, or to wage aggressive wars in regions dominated by other religions. Christ certainly commanded His apostles to sell their cloaks and buy swords but these swords were not for aggressive fighting. Instead, the apostles were instructed to have the means for their own defense as they continually labored to fulfill all that had been commanded of them. This is made even more clear by Paul, when he states that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh”. The calling of the Christian life is not to aggressive, carnal warfare, but is instead to the building of Christ’s kingdom.

Human nature is totally depraved, that is, it is inherently inclined towards wickedness. However, the fix for this problem is not a baptized Leviathan state, and this solution will never work. The answer is and always has been the gospel of Christ. No state program will fix our moral ineptitude, nor will any state program be able to maintain improved moral behavior. The only means by which the behavior of individual men (and subsequently larger groupings of these same individuals) is for them to be granted new life through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to receive the sanctification promised to all men who receive this new life. There is no other fix for this problem, so perhaps we’d best go start baptizing and making disciples like Jesus said to in the first place, rather than asking the state to do so by force.

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