January 27, 2015

The State Exemplified, With Help from Becky Akers

By In Blogs

The always enjoyable Becky Akers posted a short couple of paragraphs regarding the “snowstorm” that the media and politicians were up in arms about over the weekend and yesterday.  It was portrayed as if The End Was Near and only the politicians could Save Us Now.  Seriously, as Akers noted, the headlines declared that this was Snowmageddon and the “storm of the century.”  And then today came and there wasn’t even a foot of snow.  Akers writes:

[T]he National Weather Service is as incompetent as the rest of the government. I suspect (but do not know: I’ve never researched this) that its silliness infects most if not all forecasts on American weather. Several friends emailed me early yesterday, asking if we were OK given the approaching storm, and I told them that not only were we fine but greatly amused: on Sunday, the forecasts called for 38 inches of snow; by Monday morning, that had dropped to 24 inches; I predicted that we’d actually see 6 inches or so. Maybe I’ll open a “weather service”; I was certainly closer to the mark than the one Our Rulers force us to sponsor.

All that hype, and nothing to show for it. But besides the silly and overdramatic headlines, people have dealt with storms for thousands of years and elsewhere around the United States it snows by the foot all the time.  So, as a little snow makes national news, we ought to respond: “so what?”  Why is this news?  Akers’ next paragraph includes an explanation:

Ah, but never let a crisis, even a fake and manufactured one, go to waste. Inclemency is the State’s newest excuse to increase its control of us; “Juno,” exaggerated and hyped, perfectly suited that purpose. Both New York City’s mayor, Bill “Commie” de Blasio, and New York State’s governor, Andrew “No Room In My Fiefdom For Anyone Who Disagrees With Me” Cuomo, eagerly issued diktats and curfews, forcing drivers off the roads for which their taxes pay with threats of arrest and fines of $300 (wonder if we’ll receive rebates for the time that Our Rulers denied us the use of the streets), shutting down New York City’s subways (first time ever for snow; indeed, closing the subways for a “natural disaster” is a novel manifestation of dictatorship, dating only to 2011. One marvels that folks in the ten previous decades of the subway’s existence braved these underground trains regardless of blizzards, hurricanes and the odd earthquake), and in effect ordering private businesses to decamp as well. No, neither tyrant actually commanded companies to close, but when you decree a “travel ban,” prohibiting workers and customers from driving and suspending the subways, you have pretty much destroyed that day’s commerce.

She continues:

Naturally, Commie couldn’t resist a potshot at entrepreneurs while dispensing his cowardly advice: “’He … asked employers to not be ‘cheapskates’ and let employees go home before all roads, bridges and mass transit shut down at 11 p.m.” And “No Room In My Fiefdom” announced, “I’d rather err on the side of caution. I don’t even think it’s a tough call…” Of course it isn’t when you’re making other people’s decisions: you don’t pay the price for a bad one nor must you cope with the consequences.

Politicians obtain their pay from our pockets no matter what. But many of New York’s poor work jobs for hourly pay. One of the city’s biggest industries, restaurants, employs an army of waiters who served no patrons and received no tips last night. Meanwhile, consider the vast disruptions the sociopathic Commie and No Room imposed on their hapless subjects: what of the vacationers or salesmen driving home, who arrived at the George Washington Bridge at 11:15, too late to cross since Our Rulers closed it at 11 and prohibited all private cars from the streets? What of the daughter whose elderly mother called at 11:30 PM to say, “Honey, I think I’m having a heart attack”? How would she reach her mom to comfort and help her? Alas, the serfs’ mundane concerns never trouble Our arrogant Rulers.

Nor are we hearing apologies from either despot now that they stand exposed…. Indeed, No Room was already bleating this morning about his wise decision on our behalf, immobilizing, inconveniencing and impoverishing us.

This is a great opportunity to remind the reader once again that the State is not “the people.”  As well-quoted as Abraham Lincoln’s “government by the people” statement remains, this is a very poor way of understanding the state.  The State is something that is fundamentally different than the people in the way it interacts with society, accumulates wealth, and solves “problems.”  The State cannot make economic decisions without manipulating the market decisions of human actors, it cannot contribute to the wealth of society without first taking wealth away.  The State is essentially –that is, in its very essence– distinct from society, which in case of the type of storm that the media-class anticipated, tends to freely band together as needed without the forceful commands of the State’s representatives.

This brings me to my last comment.  What should we say about the fact that those in power are clearly acting wrongly in ordering the property owners to do things that the State has no business ordering?  Often, Christians only consider the question of whether the Christian should obey the State if it orders them to do something morally wrong; and they almost always (rightly) answer no.  But far too many Christians forget that it is also wrong for the state to make the citizen do things that are not wrong. Although for reasons of practicality and in the general spirit of subjection to earthly powers, it is my general opinion that we should submit; but remember subjection to the state does not make the State’s orders morally right.  You may punch your neighbor and he may turn the other cheek as Jesus said, but your punching is not suddenly morally legitimate because of it.  The hope, of course, is that you may see your victim’s humility and be convicted of your sin.  Although history shows that Rulers aren’t so quick to repent.  In fact, they usually do not. But vengeance belongs to the Lord.

If governments are established (whether on the free market [Rothbard] or not [Mises]) for reasons relating to the enforcement of justice, then they act wrongly in acting outside of this.  Make no mistake, I am indeed claiming that almost everything that the State does today (and historically) is morally wrong.  It has no authority to organize society or make sure things run smoothly or to protect people from storms.  The reason why these things are wrong is because they require the state to interfere with the private property that has been entrusted, by God who owns all things, to the individual.  This is the fundamental rule of private property rights.  A government, whether it is a state or not, has a reactionary role in society.  It reacts to previously committed crimes.  It responds to criminals.

So then, how should we speak of the rulers who act wrongly in their seats of power?  In another place, I have written the following on this difficult topic:

My argument is this: When Peter tells us to honor everyone, he is telling us that all types of people should be shown reverence.  Our giving of honor or respect toward others is not dependent on whether they believe or their positions in society. 

Therefore, whether robber or rapist, king or emperor, pastor or missionary, and capitalist or socialist –all types of people should be the recipient of our honor as Christians.

Now, in context of their actions, we must point out sin and unethical behavior as plainly and effectively as we can, without lying or misleading those who hear our message.  This makes sense once we think about the entire picture of an evil action.  Is it honoring to the victim of rape to sugar-coat the actions of her perpetrator?  Should we stay quiet or should we be clear that our stance against sin is not confused?  We must, to be honoring to the victim, make it plain that the rapist is a rapist, disturbed, evil, despicable, deranged, and the like.  It is no honor to mask or shrink back from the accurate expression of the man.

The same applies for thieves and murders.  The same applies for Hitler as a leader –or even American rulers.  It must be made plain that there are terrible words that accurately describe terrible people.  We must not shrink back from identifying evil behavior with strong language, but we must never mislead or misinform.

That same principle was applied by Christ when he labeled the Pharisees as “sons of hell.”  It is healthy that society be united in the mindset of a hatred for evil.  Christ could have stayed with the accurate description of “hypocrite.”  And yet, he wanted BOTH the Pharisees and the people to understand exactly the weight of harm that those evil leaders had.  “Brood of vipers” was a non-literal and dramatic symbol of the rotten mindsets and heart of their activity.  This is the sense in which injustice must be revealed against any who practice these things.  Whether they are rapists on the streets, thieves in a gang, or thugs in Congress.  Ethical standard applies to all.

Practical challenge: give honor to the politicians who don’t deserve it; but at the same time, don’t ignore or gloss over their sinful deeds.  We ought to speak truth and moral clarity to the wicked world in which we wander.

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