July 4, 2015

Secession and Just Dissent: Random Musings

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

In a previous post, I have argued that the relationship between the state and Christianity is a three-pronged issue; that is, it needs to address three distinct categories:

  • whether God has ordained the State in history
  • whether God commands the Christian to subject himself to the State
  • whether the individuals who run the State have the moral authority to act contrary to God’s transcendent and binding moral law

This is a huge point, I am convinced. You should read that post here. I observed that Christians most often only consider the first two questions and then assume that the answer to them can adequately address the third.

This is not true. And the purpose of this website is to develop the third, and come to a conclusion summarized with the phrase: “Reformed Libertarian.”

So then, today is July 4th, a touted celebration of secession from the English throne.  I distinguish between revolution and secession by defining revolution in an offensive way (taking over the government) and secession in a defensive way (protecting one’s own property from continued invasion by the state).  In this way, I consider secessionist efforts far more legitimate than revolutionary ones. Of course, if we define revolution differently, such that it refers to an “intellectual revolution,” I have no qualms. Definitions are important.  In any case, I am not one to advocate “armed revolution,” which I consider “leftist” and “Marxist” and “French” (lol– think Les Miserables). I mostly want to be left alone and protect my property (perhaps from the Marxist revolutionaries), and am willing, sometimes, to use force in a defensive manner.  But we must remember that even secession can be dangerous, if there are (and there always are) those who seek to take advantage of an armed secession for the sake to gaining power under the new governmental order. Gary North is agreeable when he observes:

I am a great believer in secession. I just do not believe in the armed form. Armed secession is sometimes valid as a defensive measure against an illegitimate invasion by the central civil government, but only rarely in history has armed secession not strengthened the political power of the secessionists more than the central government from which the secessionists are seceding.

Secession is first of all a moral rebellion. People perceive that the civil government under which they operate has become inherently immoral. Also, the government shows no sign of reforming itself.

Secession begins when someone offers a moral critique that begins with the individual. Moral reform is above all self-reform. If it is not grounded in a call for self-reform, it is just one more call for a transfer of power to a new group of power-seekers.

Secessions, even if legitimate, do not mean that the result is a better scenario.  On the American secession, here is North again:

Then the law of unintended consequences once again made itself felt: higher taxes, hyperinflation, price controls, default on state debts, and (in 1788) a new centralized government that dwarfed the power of the British Empire’s distant sovereignty in 1776. Finally, a new firm of democracy arose, a democracy of nine Supreme Court justices. The sovereignty of “we the people” — the most rhetorically powerful and most misleading phrase in American history — morphed into the sovereignty of five justices.

Surprise, surprise — but not to the Anti-Federalists of 1787, and surely not to the loyalists of 1776, who had their property stolen by the new governments after 1783. A hundred thousand of them were in Canada in 1788, living under a far less centralized government.

This is not to say I wish the colonists stayed with England. It is to say that we ought to learn from the past. And be honest about the results of war, central banking, central power, and statism.  Today, it seems as if finding fault with the American government –either the current administration or historical ones– is itself a Great Sin. This is idolatry.

Ought we to always be subject to the government, thereby making secession (and nullification along with it) completely immoral? Usually, it is replied that “we ought to obey the government unless it orders us to sin or orders us to not do what Christ has commanded us to do.”  The relevant verses are 1 Peter 2 and Romans 13.  Usually, commenters on these passages aren’t precise enough. The word translated to “subject yourself” here is hypotassō. This word is defined as to “be arranged under.”  I think this clears some things up. We ought to generally live under the civil order to which we belong. That is, we ought not seek revolts, rebellions, and the like.  This does not mean obedience to the state is always the highest end.  This means that we as Christians ought to be above reproach as the world looks at us, seeking a reason to point their finger and convict us.  This is why Paul pleaded with the state by noting that he had committed no crime, broken no law; even though many of the Roman laws were morally illegitimate (that is, they contradicted bullet point three above).

So then, live (arrange yourselves) under the civil order, even though the civil order and the nature of the state, being run by sinners, is not morally upright.

I had a great conversation with my mother today, as we were visiting my family for dinner. She advises homeschoolers.  Under CA state law, the students are not allowed to claim school credit for Christian curriculum.  Other advisers in the area are very strict toward the parents regarding this policy. To them, the state’s law is an end in itself. My mother actively dissents.  I won’t give details, but she advises the parents on how to do what is best for the students even though this is technically against the law. A time is coming when she could be forced out of her position for doing this.  She does it anyway. Her commitment to parents’ rights and the future of the children means too much to her.  She does not obey. But she more generally keeps a low profile and arranges herself under the civil order so as to not attract unwanted attention. I think she is a good example, she is a hero of mine.

As for the bullet points above, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • whether God has ordained the State in history
    • Yes, apparently so, for the state does exist. He has also ordained the devil and Eve’s eating of the tree as well. There is nothing that escapes God’s ordination.
  • whether God commands the Christian to subject himself to the State
    • He wants the Christian to live above reproach and live a quiet and peaceful life generally (arranged under the civil order). But disobedience to an unjust law is not a sin because this would put the state on God’s level in creating moral standard. Thus, when we observe a brother disobeying some unjust state law, we should be slow to judge, and quick to take his side.
  • whether the individuals who run the State have the moral authority to act contrary to God’s transcendent and binding moral law.
    • No. And therefore libertarianism.

Defend yourself and your family. If enough families have this same goal, secession takes place. Pray that the rulers, tyrants they may be, would find the grace of God. Pray that God might hold back the hand of the State, that we might continue to live as Pilgrims in a land that is not our own. And if in his good providence God sees it fit to allow the State’s growth, then so be it.  This world is not our home.

As I leave this blogpost, my thought is this: perhaps the events of the recent months regarding our civil and economic liberty will cause Christian leaders once again to appreciate “rugged individualism” (the man who stands firm against the tidal wave of cultural madness) and “radical dissent” (the man who refuses to go along with the moral and intellectual trends of the multitudes).  The Christian has, in relation to society, long been an advocate of dissent, of standing against the world, of saying no when the rulers chant “yes we can.”

I dissent from the world and the State’s nefarious attempts to render power unto itself. Do you?

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