November 23, 2014

In the Meantime, the State Should Pursue Justice

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

I have written often on the ideal, how government should be structured in a way that is consistent with the principles of property rights; namely, that government (courts and police) itself should be provided privately and on the market.  This requires an understanding of the nature of society and the natural order that is quite different than the world that exists around us.  It also requires a consideration of the fact that in history, in some of the American colonies, the 19th century “Wild” West, and Old Europe (before the tyranny of the kings), this was the way things were done.  As the industrial revolution brought forth an era of new prosperity, people began to realize that free trade was more efficient, moral, and successful than mercantilism and other forms of statist control.  And yet, at the same time, the State itself began to take on a new form and began to express itself as the great protector of the masses. It was the birth of the modern god.  Being in the United States, we often do not realize the extent to which the State itself was seen as the ultimate object of human purpose in recent history. And yet, Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini taught the following doctrine of the State and compared it to the classical liberalism (NOT modern –or Progressivist– liberalism):

Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual. And if liberty is to be the attribute of the real man, and not of that abstract puppet envisaged by individualistic Liberalism, Fascism is for liberty. And for the only liberty which can be a real thing, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value,-outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people.

This, contra the Christian metaphysical statement that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).  Statism is one great and contemporary challenge to the Christian worldview.

As the production of goods and services increased and expanded through the Capitalist system in the 18th and 19th centuries, people understood that economic freedom, not government control, was the source of economic prosperity and the wealth of the economy.  It is then quite ironic that the theory of the production of security and justice in society would take the opposite path.  The State grew in its power and dominion and was the ultimate challenge to the growing influence of the market.  The struggle in the modern era, from the time of the American Revolution until the present, is the grand struggle between “Power and Market,” as Rothbard termed it.

Most readers of this site understand (even it remains foggy) where I stand on what can be seen as ideal.  In the same way that I say “no one should ever murder or steal,” I also say that in theory, government should be structured in a “Propertarian” manner.  In fact, no one says the State is the ideal for society (except some actual Fascists theorists).  Most just say that it is a “necessary evil.” And yet, murderers, thieves, and States do, in fact, exist.  What then should we say of them?

It is a mistake of the greatest order to assume that the libertarian holds that unless everything is perfect, nothing is helpful.  The State has monopolized the role of the provision of protection and justice in society. Let it then not let murderers and thieves off the hook.  This is why when the State captures and prosecutes a serial killer, we can affirm the benefit that it has provided for society (and then perhaps groan because of the way it makes the taxpayers fund the room and board for this murderer for the rest of his life! –which is another matter for future comment).

Libertarian theorists like Murray Rothbard have always held that the purpose of government is to prosecute criminals; those who have breached the right to life, liberty, and property of legally innocent individuals.  Whether or not we have our theory of the actual way in which this government should be provided, funded, and operated, the fact of the matter remains: the criminals ought to be addressed with the use of coercion.  A thief on his way home from his dirty deed is right to prevent the murder that he sees transpiring in the alleyway.  The criminality of the person or agency does not make some other good work that it undertakes useless.  We may hold that the Sheriff who was using his power for criminal activities should be prosecuted, but before he is caught we would rather him arrest a rapist than let the rapist roam free.

The State is not a morally approvable institution by the definition that we have given to it.  And governments should be formulated in an ethically consistent fashion.  But in the meantime, since the State does exist and since it seems like it will exist in the foreseeable future, we issue praise when it provides justice and criticism when it acts criminally.  Governments are constituted among men to judge and prosecute criminals. These are its functions.  The power that it contains is the most dangerous tool known to man. More human beings have been murdered by governments (by far!) than by individuals or gangs.  We must never forget this. Understanding the propensity of the sinner to utilize his coercive authority for evil ends is an important foundation for free society.  Sadly, it is often under the guise of “protection” and “justice” that the State grows!  Those who misunderstand the nature of the state are susceptible to fall for its evangelism and marketing efforts.

A limited State, while not the “ideal” libertarian or Propertarian solution, is better than a Big State, which is better than Mao Zedong’s ruthless dystopia. This is one reason why decentralization is always preferable to centralization.  This is why “states-rights” are better than Federal decision making on pretty much every issue.  We must understand that we don’t live in the ideal and we never will. The intellectually ideal is the bench mark by which we can determine where the present State goes wrong.  And in the meantime, we ought to encourage the State, by whatever peaceful means possible, to only judge and prosecute the criminal for breaches of life, liberty, and property. This is not an attempt to morally justify the State. This is an attempt to point out that we should understand that when the State punishes an actual criminal, as defined in libertarian theory, it does a good thing. For in doing so it does what a free market government should do.

We worship the True King; and the establishment of his perfect Heavenly kingdom will one day come.  We are pilgrims in this land, for it is not our home.

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