Is the Non-Aggression Principle biblical?

By Dan Coats

The Non-Aggression Principle is an axiom which states that all aggression is illegitimate. It has been stated in many ways over the years, especially with the rise of 19th century classical liberalism, market capitalism, individual human rights, and limited government. John Locke formulated it as, “Being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Murray Rothbard in his essay War, Peace, and the State put it this way:

“No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.”

When asking if this axiom is Biblical, we are not asking whether the Bible explicitly spells out the NAP. You won’t find Rothbard 2:8 in the Bible.  So in asking this question, we must not ask for a mere proof text. What we must ask is “does the NAP (as far as it goes) accurately summarize the individual moral obligation in God’s Moral Law of each human toward every other human?” Jesus positively summarized all the Law and the Prophets in the Great Commandment, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28) and in the Golden Rule, “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets” (Matt 7:12). Can threatening or initiating violence against our neighbor ever fit into Jesus’ definition of loving our neighbor?

The implications of the NAP, if it were applied consistently, are massive. If the NAP accurately summarizes (as far as it goes) the moral obligation of individuals as they relate to their neighbor, then does it apply to groups of individuals? If it applies to groups, then does it apply to groups calling themselves States? This would force us to conclude that States, founded as they are on coercive taxation and routine initiations of violence against the property rights of their subjects, are illegitimate. For example, try taking the command from God’s Word, “Do Not Steal” and run it through the same analysis from individual to group to group-with-shiny-badges-and-uniforms. At which point, is it Biblical to say there is an exception to Do Not Steal?

Many Christians are content with mere hand-waving and obfuscation and no shortage of appeals to utilitarian consequentialism at this point (“What about the roads? What about national defense? If we don’t tax the people, what about X?”). Some obfuscation arises with a refusal to precisely define the State. There is also a problem of reading too much into the text of Scripture and eisegeting meaning into a text such as when many Christians resort to using Romans 13 as a Foe Hammer and bashing their opponents on the NAP over the head. As CJay Engel writes, the relationship between the Christian and the State is a multifaceted issue and texts like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:17 do not do away with the question being asked. He says that most Christian thinkers make a critical category error:

The first category that needs to be addressed is whether God has ordained the State in history…

The second category that needs to be addressed is whether God commands the Christian to subject himself to the State…

They assume that because we ought to be generally subject to the State, this means that there is no moral (or economic) problem with the State’s activities whenever it doesn’t prohibit that which God commands or command that which God prohibits.  In this way, things like Social Security (a retirement scheme which exists by government coercion), because saving for retirement in itself is not contradictory to God’s precepts, are far too often completely ignored by the Christian political thinker.  But what they don’t realize is that there is a third category that we must consider; namely whether the individuals who run the State have the moral authority to act contrary to God’s transcendent and binding moral law.

This is exactly what we must ask! Where does God give moral authority to a group of individuals to act contrary to the moral law?  No one is disputing that we need some sort of civil magistrate (not necessarily the State) to enforce property rights in society (Do not steal, Do not kill, Do not defraud). But, we can’t merely assume things about the State, resort to prooftextism, and eisegete meaning that isn’t there into Romans 13.

Historically, there have been Christian views about the State ranging from evil-but-necessary to being God’s “wonderful gift” to mankind.

Augustine wrote of “two governments” in the City of God, and this developed into the Two Kingdoms views of Luther and Calvin in more detail. The Two Kingdoms view is that there is the common realm made up of unbelievers and believers which God oversees in His common grace on all- in which it is ordained by God that there be magistrates and even evil people like Nero to wield authority over others for the higher purposes and plan of God for all of human history- and there is also the Spiritual realm made up of the Church, the true Israel of God, a nation of priests who are awaiting their eternal city and must endure in this present evil age as the Israelite exiles in Babylon did.  While this is all well and good as far as it goes, if imprecise language is used allowing obfuscations to creep in, it can also lead to a dangerous positive political theory and strict dualism that leaves for no voice of the Church upon governments or the human institution of the State. It its worse forms, this theology posits that God, not merely ordaining that evil States come to pass, actively creates such States, as unqualified good gifts to manage the affairs of the common realm, imbuing them with special privileges to violate aspects of God’s law so that they may not be hindered to punish violations of the the law by other aggressors.  Yet, Augustine’s original view of political authority was that without Justice, kingdoms were just criminal enterprises. He tells the story of a pirate being captured by the State:

Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.

Such a view of the State should sober us from thinking very highly of it. As Christians we should long for Justice and should seek governing institutions that enforce justice while acting justly themselves. Nero could be said to be “God’s servant” in Romans 13 in the same way that God ordains other evils to take place to serve His will in a decretive sense (He decrees that they come to pass) while not ordaining them in the sense of His preceptive will or will of disposition (that they obey his commands and he delights in them). To the extent that States serve justice and punish wrong-doing (actual violations of individual property rights), they can be rightly said to be serving God. To the extent that they violate God’s law themselves, they violate the preceptive will of God and can not please him.  So in asking about the Non-Aggression Principle, we are merely asking the same question Augustine brings up in City of God. How does government perform its tasks without taking away Justice? In other words, does the Non-Aggression Principle, and specifically God’s moral commands such as Do Not Steal and Do Not Murder, pose a lingering question unanswered by Statist Christians on this topic?

Senator Ben Sasse seems to have this dilemma neatly resolved in his mind:

Both Church and state are God’s wonderful gifts, and they are spheres in which Christians can faithfully labor to the glory of God and for the good of our neighbors. But we dare not identify the two, limiting the Church to natural tools, or suggesting that political activity can produce genuine righteousness. For we are ‘dual citizens’ and will remain so until Jesus comes to put an end to our pilgrimage, and to identify all our loves as one.

Thankfully, in making the two kingdom distinction, Sasse avoids the pitfall of establishmentarianism and culture warriorism (The State using the sword to punish various moral failings and establishing the “right” Church) and rightly mentions the Christian’s sojourner status in this present evil age, but in taking his words here at face value we find no effective restraint on the State for anything found in the common realm.

The equation here is A+B=C: A) God ordained the State to exist + B) God commands Christians to be subject to the State = C) The State is a wonderful gift of God that has authority to do whatever it thinks is best within the common realm so long as it does not intrude on the Spiritual realm of the Church.

Sasse virtually makes the exact same category error that CJay Engel points out above and gives us no effective theological means of combating a State operating without Justice– in fact, he leaves us with no measuring stick to even evaluate what the Justice is that the State must follow. It can already take what it wants since its stealing is not stealing.  Its killing in war, even in wars that would have been unrecognizable to Augustine as falling under his Just War theory, is routinely placed in another intellectual category than normal killings that a run-of-the-mill murderer would commit. To wit, American Christians are well versed in using the sanitized language of the State in talking about “collateral damage” in the ongoing undeclared wars the US Government is involved in–even dropping bombs in conflicts where it funds and arms both sides.

In other words, the State in this positive political theory (at least as stated) has prerogative to violate God’s commands to individuals and other groups of individuals. Sasse’s view is that the State is ordained to exist, not only in God’s decretive will, but also his preceptive will and will of disposition. God’s “wonderful gift” to us is a State that governs us in the common sphere. So when the State erects a Ponzi scheme like Social Security and forces you to pay into it, it’s totally okay since it has not commanded anything God has not explicitly prohibited and it has not prohibited anything God has explicitly commanded in the Spiritual realm. It is merely exercising it’s given authority to tax you and boss you around in the Common realm. Or when it stealthily taxes you by devaluing your dollars, the State is just managing its affairs in the common realm of finance and managing the national economy. Where ever this positive political theory of the State comes from, it is not explicit in Scripture.

Intimately related to these matters would be Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology, and New Covenant Theology (in other words the frameworks by which we interpret the whole warp and woof of the Bible), and particularly how we interpret the nature of the Old Testament theocracy of Israel, with its civil law code and case law, being carried on or not by the apostolic teaching to the New Covenant Church. Needless to say this is a complicated topic where many perilous traps are laid before we even set out to answer the question of whether or not the NAP is Biblical. What is Biblical? What is carried on in our New Covenant context? What does the text of Scripture explicitly teach about the gentile governments that we live under?

Critics of Reformed Libertarianism within the Christian community often hurl the objection that while the Non-Aggression Principle is perhaps helpful in summarizing negative individual ethics most of the time (ie. the negative golden rule of “Do not do what is hateful to your neighbor”), it is not a sufficient axiom to organize government and society. Oftentimes, they point to Natural Law, the Social Contract, or some other theory to explain their political theory of States and how the same rules do not apply to individuals in government as do apply to individuals outside of it. But if their objection to the NAP was that it wasn’t explicitly taught in Scripture, surely, this should not stand scrutiny either.

We must acknowledge that any political theory bandied about will not be explicit in Scripture.  We are trying to exegete the relevant Scriptures and make sense of them in a framework or context. The Reformed Libertarian argument is that the NAP is derived from God’s Moral Law being applied consistently to individuals both within and outside of the governing authority.

We must remember that the question of the NAP and of all libertarian theory is always “What is lawful for the magistrate to punish with the sword?” The Reformed Christian must ask, “What is Biblical for the magistrate to punish with the sword?” Every single law put into effect by the State carries with it the implied threat of violence. Right now, it punishes income tax evasion with the threat of the lethal weaponry at the IRS and the jail cell. Did God authorize that?*

For any Reformed Christian consensus, we have to start with God and His Word.

To answer the question “Is the Non-Aggression Principle Biblical?” we need to answer:

Does the NAP (as far as it goes) accurately summarize the individual moral obligation in God’s Moral Law of each human toward every other human?

Does the Bible anywhere explicitly establish a different set of rules for government than that given to individuals in our New Covenant context?

If the answer to 1. is yes and the answer to 2. is no, the NAP is Biblical and should be our basis for government.

Historical variations of the Non Aggression Principle led to the limiting of State power most exemplified by the libertarian revolution of the American War for Independence. The classical liberal revolution broke down the Ancien Regime and led to an unprecedented new era of peace, prosperity, and liberty. Alas, the radical liberals never realized the full vision of their philosophy.

*Some objections arise: Jesus told his followers to pay taxes. Romans 13 tells Christians to pay their taxes. 1 Peter 2 tells Christians to honor the emperor.  Yes, this is all true. But this doesn’t establish an explicit authorization of the governing authorities to violate God’s law.  Slaves are also told to obey their earthly masters. Yet, if they can gain their freedom, they can avail themselves of the opportunity.

FIDUCIARY DUTIES IN A LIBERTARIAN SOCIAL ORDER

Agency is “a fiduciary relationship created by express or implied contract or by law, in which one party (the agent) may act on behalf of another party (the principal) and bind that other party by words or actions.” Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Edition, page 62.

Fiduciary relationship is “a relationship in which one person is under a duty to act for the benefit of the other on matters within the scope of the relationship.”  Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th Edition, page 640.

An underdeveloped aspect of libertarian theory is that of agency law, fiduciary relationships, and fiduciary duties and how they arise in a libertarian social order or their application in a pure private property society governed by the non-aggression principle.

Positive rights or positive duties are contraindicated in libertarian theory.  The non-aggression principle is based on negative rights of the right of self-ownership and private property rights acquired by homestead or valid contract.  Such rights are negative in the sense that a person is entitled to have others refrain from aggressing against their person or property.  Positive rights on the other hand implement a positive duty in regards to other’s person or property.  The non-aggression principle does not impose positive duties upon people.  However, in a libertarian social order, as in our present day society, relationships are voluntarily entered into through contract and individual action may create positive duties in regards to others.

A fiduciary relationship established by explicit contract wherein a principal pays an agent a fee for a high standard of care in handling legal affairs, handling personal finances, or managing property is easily seen to fit inside the legal workings of a libertarian social order.  These arrangements are voluntary on both the side of the principal and agent and are merely a matter of contract law, which in a libertarian social order is governed by the title transfer theory of contracts.  See Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 19.  Furthermore, we even find a biblical foundation for agency law and fiduciary duties in the parable of the unjust steward found in Luke 16:1-13.

Less clear in a libertarian social order are fiduciary duties created either 1) implicitly through contract or 2) by the actions of an individual.  Are such fiduciary duties contrary to a libertarian social order?  The thesis of this article is that such fiduciary relationships are consistent and necessary with a libertarian social order established by a natural order of persons with authority.

Implicit fiduciary relationships exist in the context of a certain explicit contracts for goods or services.  An example would be a passenger upon an airplane or boat.  The passenger enters into an explicit contract for voyage upon the plane or boat paying a fare and the owner of the plane or boat in exchange agrees to give license to the passenger onto their property.  One property right the owner of the plane or boat has is the right to exclude persons from the property upon breach of the license.  Does this give the owner of the plane or boat the right under breach of the license of drop the passenger out of the airplane or to drop the passenger in the middle of the ocean wherein death is nearly certain?  Regardless of the result of this remedy (the death of the passenger) being out of proportion to the breach of the license, the owner of the plane or boat has an implicit duty as a result of the relationship, the privity of contract, to waive their right to exclude said passenger upon their property until the destination is reached.  Once the destination is reached, the owner could file suit under contract against the passenger for any breach of the license.

Fiduciary relationships where no explicit contract exists between the parties but merely determined out of the actions of an individual in regards to another seems to be less clear, especially in a libertarian social order.  One assumption creating such fiduciary relationships is that a natural order of society has hierarchical orders establishing authority and responsibility in certain social relationships.  An example of such a hierarchical order of authority is the family unit.  Though outside of the realm of explicit contract and voluntary agreement, families naturally have a hierarchical order wherein parents hold authority over children.  Of course, this is explicitly held in the 5th Commandment.  However, so too, the actions of the parents create the relationship.  The parents act to conceive a child either intentionally or unintentionally.  The mother acts to carry the child through pregnancy and birth.  The parents act to rear the child.  It is clear that an authoritative relationship is created by the parents toward a child.

Parents have the negative rights of the right of self-ownership and private property rights.  The question presents itself whether or to what extent the negative rights apply to children?  The question further involves the issue of abortion in a libertarian social order.  One can make an analogy that the mother’s body is like a plane in midflight or a boat in the middle of the ocean and that since the baby would die upon abortion then the same result as the above analysis with the passenger and owner of the plane or boat should apply.  However, there is a difference here as there is no explicit contract between the mother and child.  In fact, the child could have been conceived either unintentionally or involuntarily in the context of rape. How are these issues solved?  If the actions of a person, regardless of the action being voluntary, establish a relationship of natural hierarchical order or a relationship of control over others, then such a person has a fiduciary duty to protect the rights of others in the context of that established relationship.

Why must a fiduciary relationship out of the context of hierarchical social orders be established?  Hierarchical social orders are established by individual actions (personal achievement) and promote stability and maintenance of a libertarian social order and low time preference.  As Hans Hermann Hoppe states in Democracy – the God that Failed, page 71:

“But at the same time, and still more importantly, a positive alternative to monarchy and democracy—the idea of a natural order—must be delineated and understood. On the one hand, this involves the recognition that it is not exploitation, either monarchical or democratic, but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that are the ultimate sources of human civilization.  On the other hand, it involves the recognition of a fundamental sociological insight (which incidentally also helps identify precisely where the historic opposition to monarchy went wrong): that the maintenance and preservation of a private property based exchange economy requires as its sociological presupposition the existence of a voluntarily acknowledged natural elite—a nobilitas naturalis.

The natural outcome of the voluntary transactions between various private property owners is decidedly nonegalitarian, hierarchical, and elitist.  As the result of widely diverse human talents, in every society of any degree of complexity a few individuals quickly acquire the status of an elite.  Owing to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, bravery or a combination thereof, some individuals come to possess “natural authority,” and their opinions and judgments enjoy widespread respect.  Moreover, because of selective mating and marriage and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are more likely than not passed on within a few noble families.  It is to the heads of these families with long-established records of superior achievement, far-sightedness, and exemplary personal conduct that men turn with their conflicts and complaints against each other, and it is these very leaders of the natural elite who typically act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge, out of a sense of obligation required and expected of a person of authority or even out of a principled concern for civil justice, as a privately produced “public good.”

A natural order presents persons of natural authority with positive obligations (in other words fiduciary duties) due to their positions of authority.  This position of authority is established due to personal achievement or certain individual action.  One personal achievement that establishes a natural position of authority is that of conceiving a child and becoming a parent.  It is a privately produced “public good” as establishing family promotes low time preference and advancement of civilization in a libertarian social order.  To undermine the natural role of a parent in authority over a conceived child through abortion, eviction, or shirking of parental duties toward the child, undermines the preservation and maintenance of a libertarian social order.  Therefore, fiduciary duties with respect to the parent-child relationship is consistent with a libertarian social order in that it is established by individual action and personal achievement and necessary for its preservation and maintenance.

So does the fiduciary duty attach to a preganant mother who is in such a state involuntarily through rape or incest?  Yes.  Regardless of circumstance, conception of a child is a personal achievement establishing a natural order of the mother in a position of authority over the needs of the conceived child.  As such, the mother has a fiduciary duty to provide for the maintenance and preservation of the child’s right of self-ownership.  So to the father has a natural position of authority and must be legally obligated to provide for the maintenance and preservation of the child’s rights until such time as the child is emancipated.

Does the propagation of illegimate children promote high time preference and thus undermine private property rights in a libertarian social order?  No.  Rearing children, regardless of legitimacy, promotes low time preference.  An unwanted child could also be put up for adoption.  It is the killing of any child in the womb that promotes a culture of high preference as relief of present inconvenience is held higher than future reward.  As such, abortion must be illegal in a libertarian social order under all circumstances not just as a violation of the child’s righ of self-ownership nor just as a violation of the parents’ fiduciary duties but also to preserve and maintain a libertarian social order promoting low time preference.

Statism’s Worst Enemy: Christianity

“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” John‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭KJV‬‬.

If ever statism had a mortal enemy, it would be Christianity. No other system of thought, no other movement has competed with the authority of the state like Christianity. History is replete, and literature is replete, with examples of this struggle between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man.

As Christ told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world and separated himself from those who would make him an earthly king, so too Christians have competing interests between obedience to Christ and the state. As Christ refused to bow to Satan being tempted in the wilderness for the kingdoms of this world, so too Christians refuse to worship the state in place of God. Christ confounded the people, still confounding today with his statement to render unto Cesear what is Ceasar’s and to God what is God’s albeit not defining specifically what belongs to Caesar and giving Christians reason to question state ownership of property. Therefore, Christianity, specifically the words of Christ, presents a conflict of competing realms of the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of man that does damage to the state.

Jean Jacques Rousseau famously made the claim in The Social Contract that true Christianity is useless in fostering the spirit of patriotism and social solidarity necessary for a flourishing state. Rousseau had observed in the history of Western Civilization the division Christianity had caused in the political realm. It is a hard point to argue against as we can see the political divide in empire caused by Christianity separating state allegiances of eastern Rome and western Constantinople, the political division caused by the Reformation for example, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and the Separatist Pilgrims searching for religious freedom in the New World. Christianity has been the root of political divide and an impediment to the flourishing of the state as Rousseau claimed.

Skepticism of the state can also be seen in the writings of the early church Fathers. Augustine famously wrote in City of God, IV, 4: “Without justice what are kingdoms but great bands of robbers? And what is a band of robbers but such a kingdom in miniature? It is a band of men under the rule of a leader, bound together by a pact of friendship, and their booty is divided among them by an agreed rule. Such a blot on society, if it grows, assumes for itself the proud name of kingdom.” Augustine’s contrast of the two kingdoms of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man being a major theme of the Bible is clearly presented and forms a basis for questioning state authority especially that which is unjust and not conducive to peace in City of God.

Therefore, libertarians and all proponents of limited government should therefore give a gracious nod to Christianity and the words of Christ for such limitations to state power and trust.

A Biblical Case For Ending the Fed

“Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭25:13-16‬ ‭KJV.

The U.S. monetary system with the Federal Reserve, its fiat currency, and its fractional reserve banking is a monetary system of unjust weights and measures which is contrary to Scripture.

The aforementioned verses support biblically the use of just weights and measures in society. For, if unjust weights and measures are used in transactions, fraud has taken place.  For example, if someone was trading an ounce of gold for a tool but the merchant selling the tool weighed the ounce of gold with a balance that was gauged to measure an ounce of gold at .9 ounces, the merchant would be defrauding the buyer by .1 ounces since he would be really selling the tool for 1.1 ounces.

How does fractional reserve banking promote unjust weights and balances with respect to currency? Fractional reserve banking is a banking system which allows a bank to loan money to customers on the basis of a certain percentage of reserves which are other customers’ demand deposit accounts. For example if a bank had a policy of loaning out money based on fractional reserves of 20% and the bank had $100,000 in demand deposits, then the bank could loan out $500,000 ($100,000 being 20% of $500,000). $100,000 of the loaned money would be backed by $100,000 of demand deposits but $400,000 would not be backed by deposits. The $400,000 is new money (fiduciary media) created by the fractional reserve bank. If just one bank committed such risky behavior then the market could keep such risk in check. If customers who were loaned money by the fractional reserve bank deposited $150,000 in another bank, once this bank demands a transfer of money from the fractional reserve bank, such bank being insolvent, goes out of business. So too, if the demand deposit customers of the fractional reserve bank demand all of their deposits from the fractional reserve bank, then the bank being insolvent has to close its doors.

A central banking system such as the Federal Reserve, operates as a lender of last resort, whereby a fractional reserve banking system can be continuously bailed out by the central bank in the event of bank runs or demands from banks of other countries not participating in the fractional reserve system. Furthermore, a central bank such as the Federal Reserve can manipulate currency by lowering interest rates and by purchasing assets.

The Federal Reserve sets monetary policy by manipulating interest rates which in recent years has been most always to lower interest rates. Lower interest rates in a pure free market give an indication to capitalists that saving and investment is robust enough to enter into long-term projects which require prolonged capital expenditures. Capitalists will take loans at low rates, investing in these projects with capital or producer goods which otherwise would not take place. These capital projects are malinvestments and distort the market and particularly capital markets with an artificial boom. This boom is followed by a bust in markets and especially the particular capital markets invested in due to the artificial low interest rates. The pure market interest rate is merely based on time preference of present goods compared to future goods. The Federal Reserve distorts the perceived measure of time preference. In this way, the Federal Reserve promotes unjust weights and measures with the interest rate.

The Federal Reserve also promotes unjust weights and measures with asset purchasing. Whether it is treasury bills or other assets, through asset purchasing, the Federal Reserve injects new money into the banking system. Once the Federal Reserve buys an asset, the seller takes the new money given from the Fed out of thin air and puts it into their bank increasing the money supply. It might initially appear superficially a good thing to increase the money supply by fiduciary media or Fed asset purchasing; however, increasing the money supply decreases the purchasing power of money. Therefore, it takes more money to buy the goods than it once used to take. The people that benefit from the increased money supply which is an unjust weight and measure are the people who first have access to the new money whether it be the federal government in Fed asset purchasing, big banks through lower interest rates from the Fed, or crony corporations connected to centralized government. The ones that lose with respect to increased money supply are the poor or those on fixed income like the elderly who see everyday prices increase.

The ultimate unjust weight however is fiat currency. Fiat currency such as the US dollar is currency legally and exclusively ordered for use as a means of exchange by the state and not backed by any commodity. As it is not backed by a commodity, fiat currency is subject to unlimited debasement by the aforementioned means of fractional reserve banking, central bank asset purchasing, and central bank interest rate manipulation. If currency is backed by the gold standard, natural limits are present which restrict currency manipulation or unjust weights and measures. If currency is backed by gold, once money certificates backed by gold are presented to a bank, then such bank will demand payment of the gold. If a bank in one region tries to increase the money supply by some of the aforementioned unjust means, this will cause its gold to flow out of its vault to the banks of a region with a just measure of currency set by market supply and demand. Such currency manipulating banks in the first region will be forced to halt the currency manipulation or else be stripped of all its wealth.

From the above brief analysis, it is therefore laughable to hear a justification for fiat currency, a central bank system, or even a fractional reserve banking system as the only means to have a stable monetary system. As shown above, it is this very system which causes instability in the economy and debases the currency. It is an unbiblical system as it promotes unjust weights and measures of currency which defrauds the people using the currency.

Children’s Rights in a Libertarian Society

One area of libertarian political theory that is seemingly underdeveloped is that of children’s rights.  It is the aim of this blog post to answer questions and clarify issues that typically arise with respect to children’s rights in a libertarian society.

First, it must be said that children like adults have a right of self-ownership and can also have property rights.  The Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) applies to children the same as adults.  Therefore, it is criminal behavior to initiate aggression against a child’s person or property.

One question that frequently arises with respect to children involves parental duty to children.  In a libertarian society, nobody has positive rights as the rights of self-ownership and property are negative rights meaning people are obligated not to act in certain ways in relation to others instead of being obligated to act in certain ways in relation to others.  So does this mean parents have no obligation to care for their children?  By no means.

Although nobody has a positive right to demand anything form another person, the actions of people toward others can create certain duties with respect to others.  For example, if I own an airplane and take someone for a ride, then I cannot exercise my property right to remove that person mid-flight since I have placed that person in a vulnerable, dependent state by my actions.  Similarly, parents, in their act of conceiving children, have placed such children in vulnerable, dependent states by their being born in this world.  Parents have a fiduciary duty to preserve the child’s rights of self-ownership and property until which time the child is able to assert and protect their own rights.  Another recent analogy that was very good with respect to children is that of parents as sea captains and children has passengers on a ship.  See this post for the analogy.

In the parents role as fiduciary or trustee over the rights of their children, the parents have an obligation to protect the child’s rights of self-ownership in the best interests of the child.  The parents, pursuant to their own rights of liberty, would have significant liberty in raising their children with respect to care and discipline.  However, in a libertarian society, child abuse and neglect is a violation of the NAP.  (I have previously addressed a lawful role of corporal punishment in a libertarian society.  See this post.  However, corporal punishment would not be mandated as this would be within the realm of the parents right to liberty in rearing their children.)

How would child abuse be prosecuted in a libertarian society?  It is evident in a civilized society that consumer demand would exist to protect the rights of children and capitalists would meet this demand in potentially a variety of ways which are unpredictable.  However, one can theorize how child abuse can be dealt with in libertarian communities operating under private law and defense.  I have written a post about private law and defense wherein I discuss a role for private security/defense insurance companies which can assist in protecting the rights and prosecuting violations of their clients.  These insurance companies could also have a role in protecting the rights of children with respect to abuse and neglect, providing representation upon any evidence presented of abuse.  Also, private organizations might play a role in representing children whose might not be protected by these insurance companies to petition private courts for redress against abuse or neglect.  Another possibility is that each libertarian covenant community provides procedures for prosecuting violations of children’s rights.  Furthermore, the child, once able to assert their rights, would be able to bring suit against any parent or guardian who violated their rights.

How long would parents be obligated to care for children?  As trustees or fiduciaries, parents would be obligated to guard and preserve the rights of their children upon either transferring their responsibility to another party or upon a child being emancipated from the parent’s trust.  Parents could legally transfer their responsibilities to other guardians to ensure the protection and preservation of their children’s rights.  As long as there exists demand for guardians of children, capitalists in the free market will provide these adoption services.  History is replete with private organizations, charities, and religious organizations that have provided such services without need of the state.

In a libertarian community, the age of emancipation or age of majority for children could potentially vary from child to child and a maximum age could potentially be set by each community.  Such an age could also be set by contract with the private defense/security insurance companies.  The maturity level and ability to assert or protect one’s own rights obviously vary from person to person.  Children could petition private courts for emancipation from any parental or guardian fiduciary or trustee obligation.  Parents or guardians could voluntarily emancipate children who are capable of asserting their rights.  Such an age could also determine the age of consent with respect to legally binding contracts and other arrangements such as marriage.

How could exploitation of children such as child pornography be dealt with in a libertarian community?  Exploitation of children is a violation of a child’s right of self-ownership.  A child cannot lawfully consent to such activity because being a legal child is to still be under the fiduciary obligation of a parent or guardian.  Such circumstances could be a crime by a parent or guardian failing to meet their fiduciary obligations in which such parent or guardian could be prosecuted by the child or families private security/defense insurance company or other private organization that represents children when their rights are violated.  Such circumstance could also be by a party not a parent or guardian without the breach of any parental obligation.  In such circumstances, the parent, the insurance company, or other organization can prosecute such exploiter of children in private court.

As a Christian, I believe from Scripture that life begins at conception.  Therefore, any initial aggression against a zygote, a fetus, or any unborn baby would be a criminal act.  Abortion is a crime equivalent to murder.  It is plausible that libertarian covenant communities could differ as to when life begins or when rights apply to children pursuant to moral agency.  However, suffice it to say that I would choose a community wherein abortion is murder.

As you can see, a libertarian society would provide for protection of children’s rights.  Such protection would likely vary somewhat among libertarian communities.  The main benefit of such a society for children is the absence of the state’s violations of the rights of children and parents.  Encroachment into child rearing, education, discipline, and the like would be absent.  Families would no longer be broken up due to parents being charged and imprisoned with victimless crimes.  It is error to imagine a libertarian utopia wherein children are free from all harm.  However, one can imagine that less intrusion by the state into families would improve the lives of families and that of children as well.

Private Law and Defense

A difficult issue for libertarians who are logically committed to the non-aggression principle (NAP) and the Austrian School of Economics is the concept of a private law and private defense society.  It is my aim in this blog post to give a concise explanation of how such a libertarian society could operate and be administered.

First, let me start off by saying that consumer demand for defense of the rights of self ownership and private property and the administration of justice with respect to those rights is a given in any civilization.  In a free market, individuals will rise to meet this consumer demand.  What capitalists/entrepreneurs  create in the free market to meet this demand is unpredictable.  However many scenarios based on the history of the law and defense can be given as examples of how such a system can operate.

In a libertarian society, there must exist a consensus among the arbiters of justice (judges/civil magistrates) that libertarian law (the NAP and the logical inferences therefrom) will be administered.  Therefore, the private judges must pledge to abide by such law.  The judges would be accountable to the consumers (the free market) by the competition of other private judges.  They would also be accountable to any covenant community (a voluntary association of individuals and families agreeing to live in a libertarian community and abide by the NAP) in which they are located.  A libertarian covenant community could rightfully remove any judge administering justice contrary to the principles of the NAP pursuant to their covenant.

In the United States, our public legal system largely developed from English common law.  The common law originally developed in England by local judges administering justice in local communities.  A libertarian private law community would likely take a similar form addressing local issues with inferences from the NAP which might slightly vary between communities.  Similarly in Celtic Ireland, people were governed by tuaths which were voluntary communities wherein Brehon law developed through local judges.  Therefore, in libertarian communities, private local judges or tribunals could decide legal conflicts and administer justice through the presentment of claims regarding violations of the NAP.

Also, in a libertarian community, consumers would demand private defense of their lives and property rights.  We find even in our society markets for home security, private security, and personal weaponry.  Without a public, monopolized police force, capitalist/entrepreneurs would meet the consumer demand of private defense/security potentially numerous ways.

One possible arrangement is by means of private security insurance companies. In the same way we pay for insurance for emergencies with respect to our health, car accidents, home accidents, or the like, so too can insurance companies provide the service of private defense in a libertarian society.  Individuals or families would contract with private security insurance companies paying periodic premiums to guard against external threats to their lives or property and potentially provide legal forums for prosecution and resolution of any breach of their rights.

One argument against a private law/defense society is that such a system could not last as the system would eventually evolve into a monopoly with the best private court/judge/security force rising to the top.  As evidence, one might point to how the English common law was eventually codified by the State, monopolizing such a legal system.  One answer to this argument is that what happened in England and elsewhere, where common law evolved into a public law system, was the result of State fiat.  Another answer to this argument is to look at the competing legal forums that are present in the world today which have not evolved into a one world court or one world government.  Citizens from different nations enter into voluntary transactions regularly wherein conflicts arise.  The injured party must decided which legal system among the two nations to seek remedy.  In the face of such conflict across national boundaries, separate public legal systems have continued.  Likewise, disputes arising between individuals of differing libertarian communities could have such a choice of legal forum.  So too, disputes that arise between neighbors in a libertarian community could have such a choice of legal forum.   A third answer to this argument is that, in a pure libertarian, free-market society, there would be an open market wherein entry of individuals deciding to compete for the administration of justice would not be prevented.  Furthermore, individuals could agree to have disputes decided by the elders of their church or any other third party.  A public legal system/police force is not inevitable and has multiple negative effects as I’ve written about here.

Hopefully, at this point, the possibility of libertarian communities operating with private legal and defense systems has been proven to the satisfaction of the skeptic.  But how specifically would private justice be administered?  A host of questions arise.

How would justice be administered if the Defendant failed to recognize the private court to which he had been summoned by the injured party?  The Defendant’s rights are always protected by the NAP.  Any force leveled against such Defendant by a private judge or private civil magistrate would be subject to counter suit by the Defendant for unjustified aggression.  The Defendant could rightfully choose not to participate in any private court proceeding. The Defendant would have appeal rights to an appellate court of his choosing whereby the lower court can be overturned.  Competing private appellate courts would exist for such scenarios.  What would prevent a never-ending progression of appellate courts?  Such an end point would need to be determined by each covenant community.

Who would enforce the judgment against a Defendant?  Private security/insurance companies providing the service of defense of rights or the private court employees could legally enforce judgments.  As various enforcement mechanisms exist in the legal system today so too would such mechanisms as writ of executions or warrants of arrest exist in the private law system.  The check on such enforcement always being the parties enforcing the judgment being subject themselves to the Non-Aggression Principle and subject to counter suit for any enforcement out of proportion to the crime committed.  The criminal however waives his assertion of rights to the extent he has transgressed against an aggrieved party.

What if a person fails to insure themselves to provide defense of their rights due to ill fortune or poverty?  If such a person’s rights are violated and they aren’t insured, then how do they get justice?  Such a person would have to rely on the private charity of others for protection.  Those individuals who repeatedly fail to insure the defense of their rights would likely find it difficult to transact business with others due to risk.  It is likely such a person would be ostracized from society.  Private charity would be the only option for such people.  It is imaginable that criminals would find it increasingly difficult to provide coverage for themselves with increasing premiums due to their crimes in contracting with private security/defense insurance companies.  It seems that the survival option for these people would be to remove themselves from their present society or rely on the charity of others.

How would private law and defense handle prosecution of serious crimes such as rape and murder?  In a private law and private defense society, victims (or their attorney/representatives or administrators of their estate) would be responsible for prosecuting crimes against their rights either by themselves or by the private security/defense insurance companies with which they contracted.  Such individuals or representatives or insurance companies could initially present claims to private tribunals for an arrest warrant to bring the alleged criminal before the court.  The various private defense/security insurance companies could also agree with each other in regards to the procedures of court appearance and other issues if one of their clients is an alleged criminal.  The tribunal and victims would respect the alleged criminals rights subject to counter suit for false imprisonment or any other violation of rights for the filing of any false allegation.  The alleged criminal would also have the aforementioned appeal rights to challenge any adverse ruling. Otherwise, such a criminal trial in a private court would operate similarly as they do in today’s’ courtrooms. Punishment of crimes would be proportional to the crime committed with the victim having the option to show whatever mercy they wished with respect to the punishment.

In conclusion, it is important to note that in a free society any voluntary transaction or voluntary association would be governed by libertarian contract law, the title-transfer theory of contracts.  As the right of self ownership is non-transferable, people have the right to individually secede from any association.  Covenant communities also have a right to remove those who fail to adhere to the covenant agreement of libertarian law.  Also, contracts in most cases could provide the choice of private legal forum for remedy of any breach of the agreement or violation of rights.

Therefore, a case for a private law and defense libertarian community can be made and can be imagined.  We do not fancy a utopian libertarian society without crime.  Certainly, the main aggressor of our time is the state but even in a libertarian community individuals will commit crimes and such criminals will rightfully under the NAP be responded to with force and justice.

For more information I would recommend reading material such as Robert Murphy’s Chaos Theory; Murray Rothbard’s For A New Liberty Ch. 12; Ethics of Liberty Ch. 13 and 19; and Power and Market Ch. 1; Hans Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed; and Christopher Chase Rachels’ A Spontaneous Order.  These materials provide invaluable information and/or analysis of what a private law and private defense society would look like and most of the analysis aforementioned has been developed by reading this and other material.

Passing Through the Eye of a Needle

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“And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭19:16-26‬ ‭KJV‬‬).

Occasionally, you might run across Matthew 19:16-26 as justification for socialism.  The argument may run something like this:  1) Jesus makes a distinction between rich and poor wherein he is negative toward the rich, even saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then for such a rich person to be saved, and wherein he is positive towards the poor, telling the rich young ruler to give away all of what he has to the poor. 2) Socialism is the only political and/or economic theory wherein money is taken from the rich and given to the poor such as Jesus commanded.  3) Therefore, socialism follows the teachings of Jesus as opposed capitalism which does not.

This argument fails for a number of reasons.  It conflates the Kingdom of God with the Kingdom of man, ascribing to Jesus teaching that he does not teach.  It also misunderstands the economic and political foundations and ramifications of socialism, and in turn fails to appreciate the virtue of capitalism.

First, it is highly important to understand the context of these verses and what they actually tell us.  Jesus is teaching the rich young ruler and His disciples about how to inherit eternal life, or in other words how to enter the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is not commenting or teaching on political or economic theory which applies to the Kingdom of man.  Jesus is talking about salvation and specifically the salvation of the rich young ruler.

A recurrent theme in the Bible is a theme of two Kingdoms.  We see this theme expressed in a number of ways.  This theme is expressed best in Augustine’s masterpiece City of God.  The Kingdom of God represents the universal church.  The Kingdom of man represents hegemony of man.   Augustine in The City of God writes: “Of these two first parents of the human race, then, Cain was the first-born, and he belonged to the city of men; after him was born Abel, who belonged to the city of God. For as in the individual the truth of the apostle’s statement is discerned, that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual,” 1 Corinthians 15:46 Whence it comes to pass that each man, being derived from a condemned stock, is first of all born of Adam evil and carnal, and becomes good and spiritual only afterwards, when he is grafted into Christ by regeneration: so was it in the human race as a whole. When these two cities began to run their course by a series of deaths and births, the citizen of this world was the first-born, and after him the stranger in this world, the citizen of the city of God, predestined by grace, elected by grace, by grace a stranger below, and by grace a citizen above. By grace—for so far as regards himself he is sprung from the same mass, all of which is condemned in its origin; but God, like a potter (for this comparison is introduced by the apostle judiciously, and not without thought), of the same lump made one vessel to honor, another to dishonor. Romans 9:21 But first the vessel to dishonor was made, and after it another to honor. For in each individual, as I have already said, there is first of all that which is reprobate, that from which we must begin, but in which we need not necessarily remain; afterwards is that which is well-approved, to which we may by advancing attain, and in which, when we have reached it we may abide. Not, indeed, that every wicked man shall be good, but that no one will be good who was not first of all wicked; but the sooner any one becomes a good man, the more speedily does he receive this title, and abolish the old name in the new. Accordingly, it is recorded of Cain that he built a city, Genesis 4:17 but Abel, being a sojourner, built none. For the city of the saints is above, although here below it begets citizens, in whom it sojourns till the time of its reign arrives, when it shall gather together all in the day of the resurrection; and then shall the promised kingdom be given to them, in which they shall reign with their Prince, the King of the ages, time without end.” Book XV, Chapter 1.

The Kingdom of God is a spiritual  kingdom wherein admittance is by God and involves questions of eternal life and salvation.  The Kingdom of man involves the earthly kingdoms started by Cain building the first city and involves questions of economic and political theory.  Clearly, the rich young ruler is asking questions in regard to and Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God and not the economic and political theory of the Kingdom of man.

What do we learn about salvation and entering the Kingdom of God?  We learn from the teachings of Jesus that following the law does not give us eternal life.  We learn that salvation is only possible through God alone.  The rich young ruler was specifically lacking in one area of the law, the first commandment.  He placed his wealth above that of God.  However, we all lack rich or poor in following the law as all have sinned and fallen short.  However, what is impossible for us is possible with God.

Furthermore, Jesus’ command to give what you have to the poor is not an implied endorsement of socialism.  Socialism is the economic system wherein the means of production are owned publicly.  A socialist system is not a private property system.  To the extent property is owned privately in a socialistic system, such property is subject to be taken by the force of the state to meet what the state deems to be the public need.  As Rothbard so correctly states in Man, Economy, and State p. 958 “When government ownership or control extends to the entire productive system, then the economic system is called socialism. Socialism, in short, is the violent abolition of the market, the compulsory monopolization of the entire productive sphere by the State. There are two and only two ways that any economy can be organized. One is by freedom and voluntary choice—the way of the market. The other is by force and dictation—the way of the State. To those ignorant of economics, it may seem that the way of the market is only anarchic confusion and chaos, while the way of the State constitutes genuine organization and “central planning.” On the contrary, we have seen in this book [Man, Economy, and State – TS] what an amazing and flexible mechanism the market is for satisfying the wants of all individuals. State operation or intervention is, on the other hand, far less efficient and creates many disruptive and cumulative problems of its own. Moreover, a socialist State, deprived of the real market and its determination of prices for producers’ goods, cannot calculate and can therefore run a productive system only in chaotic fashion. The economics of socialism—a whole branch of economics of its own—can only be touched upon here; suffice it to say that Mises’ demonstration of the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism has never been successfully refuted.”

The rich young ruler in Matthew 19 is presupposed to privately own the wealth Jesus commands to give to the poor.  Jesus makes no statement that such property is at all communal or public.  Neither does Jesus command that the rich young ruler’s property be taken by force to be given to the poor.  After all, Jesus, being a perfect man, lived by all the commandments, including Thou shalt not steal.  In no sense can Jesus’ teaching here be about socialism.  It is rather about the salvation of the rich young ruler.

In the Kingdom of God, the believers’ life is not his own as it was bought with a price.  So too what the believer possesses is not his own as all belongs to God and the believer but a steward.  However, in the Kingdom of man, with respect to man’s relation to man, we have a right of  self ownership and the right to property that we homestead, mix with our labor, or acquire through voluntary transaction.  It violates God’s moral law to initiate aggression against a man’s body (Thou shalt not kill) or a man’s possessions (Thou shalt not steal).

Clearly, socialism by taking the property of others by force violates the law of God. However, does capitalism allow for the giving of possessions to the poor or can it explain anything in relation to Jesus and the rich young ruler? Capitalism is the economic system wherein the means of production are privately owned. Transactions are all voluntary and determined by the subjective value of the actors.  One actor values a good owned by another more so than what he is willing to give for such good and vice versa.  Both people profit in a voluntary transaction.  Profit is not only monetary but psychic.  For the believer, seeing property ultimately owned by God, there is a great potential for psychic profit by giving possessions to the poor.  Therefore, capitalism provides a proper economic analysis of the believer giving their possessions to the poor voluntarily without violating God’s law by the use of force.  The rich young ruler failed to see the psychic profit of giving all he had to the poor.  He subjectively valued his wealth greater than that of eternal life.  His decision to turn away from Jesus shows the subjective value the rich young ruler had of the Kingdom of God.  It was less than that of his wealth thus he turned away from Jesus.

Thankfully, Christ came to save us from ourselves, giving His life as a ransom for many.  He values those who believe enough to pass us through the eye of the needle unto eternal life.

 

An examination of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan by Austin Murray

All of human culture is affected by experience. Whether a person wants to admit it or not, everyone is molded by their cultural environments and their personal experiences. Many people learn valuable lessons from their personal experiences. However, it is intellectually dangerous to make universal truth claims based on individual perspective. In his book Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes makes this error. Hobbes uses literary prose and rhetoric, influenced by personal experience and faulty presuppositions, to make universal truth claims in Leviathan, which cannot be substantiated.

Thomas Hobbes was an English Philosopher and writer who lived in the 17th century. Hobbes was born in an era of political turmoil. According to Dr. J.P. Sommerville, Hobbes’ mother was frightened into premature labor after she heard about the impending attack from the Spanish Armada. Hobbes graduated from Oxford in 1608. After his graduation, Hobbes became a tutor for the Cavendish household where he spent most of his lifetime. Hobbes witnessed the English Civil War’s destructive consequences to English infrastructure, mores and societal norms. Dr. Sommerville notes that many in England, including Hobbes, had “little taste for the growth in power of the clergy”. In fact, the English Civil War had birthed “an explosion of religious and political radicalism” that repulsed most of the middle class. (Sommerville: Context)

Disdain and distrust for the religiously-fueled, political zealotry in 17th century England caused many of the intellectual and societal elites to focus on the ideas of “education, science, reason, Erastianism and political order.” (Sommerville: Context) As Katherine Eisaman Maus and Barbara Lewalski note, “the English Civil War and its aftermath raised fundamental questions about the nature and legitimacy of state power. In 1651 Thomas Hobbes attempted to answer those questions in his ambitious masterwork of political philosophy, Leviathan.” (724) As stated earlier, societal and intellectual elites had become enamored with science and reason while also moving away from traditional religious institutions. Hobbes, having been influenced by these social elites, “grounded his political vision upon a comprehensive philosophy of nature and knowledge. Hobbes held that everything in the universe is composed only of matter; spirit does not exist.” (Maus, and Lewalski 724) This change in philosophy was reflected in literature. For example, according to James Reeves, “wit and good sense were indeed the distinguishing marks of the literature of this period…the age was opposed to idealism, enthusiasm, and extravagance.” (107) The literature was influenced by the prevailing philosophy of the day; philosophy was derived from “the self-regarding materialism of Hobbes”. (Reeves 107)

In addition to being a philosophical materialist, Hobbes, among other writers in the 17th century, pioneered the literary style known as discursive prose. James Reeves writes that, “Hobbes…perfected a [discursive] prose which made it unnecessary, and even anachronistic, to use verse for narrative, philosophical and moralistic subjects. (122-123)

Discursive prose became one of the most influential and popular literary techniques. As Cleanth Brooks, John Thibaut Purser, and Robert Penn Warren write in their book, An Approach to Literature:

Our most common form of writing is what may be called discursive prose – the form of logical discourse. Inasmuch as our age prides itself on its recognition of the sanctity of ‘fact’ and its respect for common sense, it is only to be expected that non-fictional prose should ordinarily be thought of as that form of writing that has to do with the presentation of facts and the handling of facts in relation to ideas. (431)

Examples of Hobbes’ prosaic use are abundant in Leviathan. For example, in chapter thirteen Hobbes writes “there is always war of everyone against everyone. Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war.” (Hobbes 728)

Here the presentation of facts that necessitates a conclusion. Hobbes’ argument can be summed up this way: Firstly, that man’s nature is to combat other men, and, without a common power, fighting will continue. Secondly, fighting continues. Therefore, men need a common power. Throughout Leviathan, Hobbes uses discursive prose as a formula for prescriptive measures used to resolve the problems of the descriptive ‘facts’ that he has presented.

Hobbes observed warfare and violence in his homeland and inferred that conflict and violence were the natural state of man. He then used this inference to declare that the only way to keep men from killing each other continuously was to subject them to a strong central authority in the form of an authoritarian government. Hobbes considers this government to be a collective body, which he calls an artificial man. Hobbes writes:

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as in his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition that there be no property, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every mans that he can get; and for so long as he can keep it. And this much for the ill condition, which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consistently then, partly in passions partly in his reasons. (Hobbes 729)

This is the foundational presupposition of Hobbes’ argument. Without an authoritarian society there is no right or wrong, there is no is or ought, there is only death and exploitation.

When evaluating Hobbes’ Leviathan, the reader must use different lenses. Viewing Leviathan through the lens of literary criticism, it is evident that it is a literary classic. Hobbes demonstrates a masterful use of prose. He presents facts, raises objections, draws conclusions and prescribes solutions with fluency and expertise. Unfortunately, despite all of Leviathan’s literary merits, it fails as a political and philosophical treatise. This is due to the data that Hobbes chooses to present as “fact”. At best, much of the data is contested. At worst, it is foundationally flawed.

The central thesis of Hobbes’ work is that without society, men will kill and exploit each other constantly. Hobbes views pre-societal man as a brutal savage. Hobbes’ natural man is nothing more than a ravenous animal, walking upright with opposable thumbs. To Hobbes, opposable thumbs make man a more efficient killer and little more. The problem with this thesis is that it is unsubstantiated. How can Hobbes possibly know what prehistoric man was like? The answer is that he cannot. Hobbes observes man in society and witnesses violence, and he therefore concludes that without society there would be no metric to declare that this violence is bad. Furthermore, in the English Civil War, Hobbes witnesses collective violence within society and concludes that a stronger central authority within society is the solution. However, this prescription is dependent on the above thesis. In his book The Great Fiction: Property, Economy, Society, and the Politics of Decline, Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe points out that there is an entirely different narrative of human nature. Dr. Hoppe writes:

The “modern humans” led a nomadic hunter-gatherer life-style. Societies were composed of small bands of people (10–30), which occasionally met and formed a common genetic pool of about 150 and may be up to 500 people (a size which geneticists have found to be necessary in order to avoid dysgenic effects. The division of labor was limited, with the main partition being that between women—acting mostly as gatherers—and men—acting mostly as hunters. While private property of tools and implements was known and recognized, the nomadic lifestyle only allowed for little possessions and hence made hunter-gatherer societies comparatively egalitarian. Nonetheless, life initially appears to have been good for our forebears. Only a few hours of regular work allowed for a comfortable life, with good (high protein) nourishment and plenty of leisure time. Indeed, fossil findings (skeletons and teeth) seem to indicate that our hunter-gatherer forebears enjoyed a life expectancy of well above 30 years, which was only reached again in the course of the nineteenth century. Contra Hobbes, their life was anything but nasty, brutish, and short. (Hoppe: A short history)

As stated earlier, the savage, murderous and exploitative lives of pre-societal man is the lynchpin of Hobbes argument. However, Hoppe contends that the life of the “savage” was comparatively egalitarian, and that pre-societal men recognized private property. Was there violence? Yes. However, affirming that violence exists and knowing why that violence occurred are not the same thing. Dr. Benjamin Wiker takes his critique of Leviathan a step further, calling Hobbes’ state of nature completely mythical. Dr. Wiker argues that “Neither Hobbes nor anyone else living in the 17th century could have had a clue about what human origins were really like. Archeology wasn’t even in infancy.” (34) Dr. Wiker also argues that in Hobbes’ state of nature, humanity would have self-destructed long before humankind could establish civilization. (34) He asks, “How could families ever have begun and grown into tribes if men were little more than blood-thirsty killers and wandering rapists, and women became cannibals soon after they became mothers?” (Wiker 35) The arguments by Dr. Hoppe and Dr. Wiker make it clear that Hobbes’ natural man is not a priori. However, even if the reader accepts Hobbes’ natural man prima facie, there is still a severe inductive problem with Hobbes’ conclusion.

Hobbes’ concludes that because humanity in its natural state is destructive and violent, humanity must come together and collectively form an artificial human. (Stone 2) Hobbes’ artificial human is known in political theory as a collective voice. The problem with Hobbes’ artificial man is this: if a collective voice exists at all, the collective voice would need to closely mirror the individual voices. But how can Hobbes’ natural human who as individuals, act as violent brutes, come together to form a collective voice? Asked another way, how can violent individuals make up a peaceful collective? Peter Stone writes:

If collective persons exist, then they must somehow be similar to natural persons. For Hobbes, the critical property shared by all persons was rational agency. A person is a being that (normally) decides how to act on the basis of reasons. And so if collective persons exist, one must be able to attribute to them actions of this sort. And they must be rational actions, at least in the typical case; if one believes that an agent normally acts in ways contrary to the reasons available to her, one must question whether those reasons really are available to the agent—or, indeed, whether the agent is really an agent at all. (3)

Hobbes has already argued that natural man’s agent is “force and fraud” (Hobbes 729)

Once examined, the logical fallacy of Leviathan is easily demonstrated. There are only two logical options for Hobbes’ worldview. Either, pre-societal individuals who use agents of force and fraud come together to form a collective body who then, forced to remain consistent with their nature, use force and fraud on a larger scale. Or, Hobbes’ natural man is mythical and does not represent the true nature of humanity. Either the reader is left wondering how through collective action, magnifying the violent nature of individual man can be considered an improvement. Or, Hobbes’ natural man is false, in which case the reader must reject his conclusions and his prescription. Said another way, either Hobbes’ premise is true and his prescription just enhances the problem, or his premise is flawed and therefore, his prescription is equally flawed. Either way, logic dictates that his arguments must be rejected.

Hobbes, like all of humanity, was influenced by his culture and environment. He was an observer of political strife and violence who used the data available to him to draw conclusions about humanity and nature. He was an innovative writer who used reason and observation to write in new and inventive ways. As a literary work, Hobbes’ Leviathan is a classic. However, as has been demonstrated in this paper his philosophical system and truth claims do not stand up to scrutiny and must be rejected. Hobbes’ was an influential and inventive writer, unfortunately, at least in the case of Leviathan, he was a poor philosopher.

Works Cited
Brooks, Cleanth, John Thibaut Purser, and Robert Penn Warren. An Approach to Literature. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1964. 431. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2013. 728. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2013. 729. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2013. 729. Print.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. “A Short History of Man: Progress and Decline.” Mises Institute. Web. 04 Apr. 2016. <https://mises.org/library/short- history-man-progress-and-decline/html/p/522>.

Maus, Katharine Eisaman., and Lewalski Barbara, eds. Thomas Hobbes. The Norton Anthology English Literature, 9th Ed. 2013. 724. Print.

Maus, Katharine Eisaman., and Lewalski Barbara, eds. Thomas Hobbes. The Norton Anthology English Literature, 9th Ed. 2013. 724. Print.

Reeves, James. A Short History of English Poetry 1340-1940. London: Heinemann, 1970. 107. Print.

Reeves, James. A Short History of English Poetry 1340-1940. London: Heinemann, 1970. 107. Print.

Reeves, James. A Short History of English Poetry 1340-1940. London: Heinemann, 1970. 122-123. Print.

Sommerville, J. P. “Thomas Hobbes.” Thomas Hobbes. Web. 03 Apr. 2016. <https://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/367/367-091.htm>.

Sommerville, J. P. “Thomas Hobbes.” Thomas Hobbes. Web. 03 Apr. 2016. <https://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/367/367-091.htm>.

Stone, Peter. “Hobbes’ Problem.” The Good Society 24.1 (2015): 2. Web.

Stone, Peter. “Hobbes’ Problem.” The Good Society 24.1 (2015): 3. Web.

Wiker, Benjamin. 10 Books That Screwed up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2008. 34. Print.

Wiker, Benjamin. 10 Books That Screwed up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2008. 34. Print.

Wiker, Benjamin. 10 Books That Screwed up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2008. 35. Print.

Render Unto Caesar?

Matthew 22:15-22 (KJV) “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.”

If a Christian libertarian finds himself in an argument with another Christian over the issue of taxation, surely at some point the famous words of Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s” will be anxiously used.  This verse is quickly pulled out as a potential trump card to conclude that Jesus gave his full support and sanction for state taxation.  However, it is my contention that this interaction with Jesus and the Pharisee’s disciple is misapplied to the issue of the legitimacy of taxation as Jesus was pointing the Pharisee’s disciple to a greater application of allegiance and devotion.

It is apparent from the text of Scripture that the purpose of the Pharisee’s disciple’s question was to trap Jesus and to trick Him into answering a question that would find dissatisfaction either among the government or in the least, among the crowd.  The Pharisees were looking for a way to have Jesus arrested and how better than to have Him openly sanction civil disobedience.  It is further apparent from the text that Jesus saw through their deceit.  In light of this trickery, we can readily admit that the question posed to Jesus was in regards to the legitimacy and lawfulness of taxation.  The question must be raised whether or not Jesus answered this question to give legitimacy to state taxation.  My thesis is that Jesus did not answer the Pharisee’s disciple’s question to give legitimacy to taxation but used the question for God’s glory.

One interesting observation is that Jesus asks the Pharisee’s disciple a question in response, saying “Why tempt ye me?”  This question makes us ask, how is Jesus being tempted?  Is Jesus being tempted to show allegiance to a pagan?  Is Jesus being tempted to foment revolt?  How is Jesus’ tempted?  It might be best to answer this question on the dialogue which follows.

With the trick question asked “ Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?,” Jesus provides another interesting question back to the Pharisee’s disciple.  He demands to see the coin and asks “Whose is this image and superscription?” for Caesar’s image was on the coin.  The original trick question being one of lawfulness under the law of God, one is reminded that the first three commandments are as follows: from Deut. 5:7-9 (KJV) “Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”  Was Jesus being tempted by the Pharisee’s disciple to serve a graven image, Caesar claiming to be worshiped?  That interpretation seems within the realm of possibility.

However, the point of Caesar’s image on the coin is that such a stamped image on a coin is an indication that Caesar owns the coin or in any way that the coin with the stamped image of Caesar belongs to Caesar.  Thus Jesus’ reply “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”  is a statement giving a validation for the private property rights of Caesar even if such rights are in the form of a privately-owned government.  What is Caesar’s?  If the coin is his, as his image is on it, then give it to him.

In any event, the point of this interaction is not that we should render unto Caesar.  To focus on that partial exchange without including the conclusion is to miss the point of the full gospel message of the encounter.  For Jesus further expounds, “and unto God, the things that are God’s.”  The question remains, what is God’s?  For Haggai 2:8 (KJV) states that “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.”  So, there is an apparent conflict with what may be Caesar’s and what is God’s.  However, I believe the application is on a completely different level.  I do not believe Jesus was wanting us to answer “who owns what?” from this exchange.  The emphasis was on the image of the coin.  Where is God’s image?

The question of God’s image places this exchange in the category of an argumentum a fortiori which Jesus used frequently in His sermons.  Argumentum a fortiori is an argument based on stronger reason. It is when an argument is proposed where the more probable of possibilities are affirmed and a conclusion is arrived at. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater.  Such an argument is used by Jesus in the following places to name a few: Matthew 6:26-28 (KJV) “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:” and also Luke 11:11-13 “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?”

So the exchange brings forth a message that if we are to give to Caesar that which is stamped with Caesar’s image, how much so are we to give to God that which is stamped with God’s image.  And what is stamped with God’s image but the soul of the believer, for man was made in the image of God.  Genesis 1:27.  Furthermore, the believer is being made into the image of Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18.  Therefore, er are to render unto God our very soul.  We are to render unto God our mind to be renewed and not to be conformed to the world.  Romans 12:2.  The point of this passage is not the validation of taxation.  The point of the passage is rendering ourselves unto God for His glory.  Furthermore, Christ is the image of God. Colossions 1:15.  We are to give Him our allegiance as King of kings and Lord of lords.  The Pharisee’s disciple instead of tricking Jesus with a question of taxation should have recognized Jesus Christ as Messiah, as the image of God.  As the image of Caesar, representing the City of man, was quick to be recognized on a coin, the disciple was completely lost when confronted with the image of God, Jesus Christ.  Let us not make the same mistake here.

So when confronted with “Render unto Caesar..” let us emphasize rendering ourselves unto God for His glory.  And let us not forget that Taxation is theft…

 

 

The State is an Inherent Evil

One belief for many Christians, which forms an incorrect political worldview, is the view that the state is a good gift of God and is thus inherently good.  If the state is inherently good, then to challenge the existence of the state is to challenge the goodness of God.  My thesis of this article is that the state is not inherently good, is not a good gift of God, and is, in actuality, inherently evil.

James Madison in The Federalist Papers famously writes: “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature. If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The Federalist No. 51.  Madison, in defense of the Constitution and the formation of a federal government, makes no appeal to an inherent good of government.  On the contrary, Madison views government as a necessary evil needing to be controlled.  Whether the Constitution provides such control is a question for another time.  However, the father of the Constitution did not deem government inherently good.

Whatever the view of the founders of the U.S. government, the Christian would be well served to look to Scripture to form a basis for the view of earthly government as inherently good or inherently evil.  The Genesis account of Cain and Abel provides a key understanding of the formation of earthly governance in contrast to that of the Kingdom of God.  The explanation of such contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man is best portrayed by Augustine in The City of God.  Augustine in The City of God writes: “Of these two first parents of the human race, then, Cain was the first-born, and he belonged to the city of men; after him was born Abel, who belonged to the city of God. For as in the individual the truth of the apostle’s statement is discerned, that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual,” 1 Corinthians 15:46  Whence it comes to pass that each man, being derived from a condemned stock, is first of all born of Adam evil and carnal, and becomes good and spiritual only afterwards, when he is grafted into Christ by regeneration: so was it in the human race as a whole. When these two cities began to run their course by a series of deaths and births, the citizen of this world was the first-born, and after him the stranger in this world, the citizen of the city of God, predestined by grace, elected by grace, by grace a stranger below, and by grace a citizen above. By grace—for so far as regards himself he is sprung from the same mass, all of which is condemned in its origin; but God, like a potter (for this comparison is introduced by the apostle judiciously, and not without thought), of the same lump made one vessel to honor, another to dishonor. Romans 9:21 But first the vessel to dishonor was made, and after it another to honor. For in each individual, as I have already said, there is first of all that which is reprobate, that from which we must begin, but in which we need not necessarily remain; afterwards is that which is well-approved, to which we may by advancing attain, and in which, when we have reached it we may abide. Not, indeed, that every wicked man shall be good, but that no one will be good who was not first of all wicked; but the sooner any one becomes a good man, the more speedily does he receive this title, and abolish the old name in the new. Accordingly, it is recorded of Cain that he built a city, Genesis 4:17 but Abel, being a sojourner, built none. For the city of the saints is above, although here below it begets citizens, in whom it sojourns till the time of its reign arrives, when it shall gather together all in the day of the resurrection; and then shall the promised kingdom be given to them, in which they shall reign with their Prince, the King of the ages, time without end.” Book XV, Chapter 1.

What can we derive from the fact that Cain built the first earthly city?  Cain had to establish civil governance by building the first city as the governance of this city was not by God, as is the case with the City of God or Kingdom of Heaven.  Civil governance was instituted after the Fall of Man.  Civil governance was not an institution that God created and declared good in the 6-day creation.  Cain, not being a citizen of the City of God, instituted earthly civil governance as a result of his evil nature opposed to the City God and God’s perfect governance.  The facts that civil governance occurred after the Fall of Man, in opposition to God’s governance, and was established by Cain gives clear Scriptural authority to conclude that the earthly state is not inherently good but inherently evil and is an antithesis to the City of God.

Further support of the inherent evil of government is given by the Christian philosopher Gordon Clark.  In A Christian View of Men and Things, Gordon Clark writes the following: “In thus avoiding the disjunction between Aristotle’s natural government and Rousseau’s conventional government, the Christian theory of politics is consistent with its view of human nature as it now actually is. All the non-theistic systems assume that the present condition of man is moral; the Christian system views actual humanity as abnormal.  This answers a question which is occasionally raised in political discussion as to whether the state is a positive good or essentially an evil.  The Christian answer is that the state is not a positive or unconditional good, but rather a necessary evil.  To do justice to the Christian view, one must insist on both adjective and noun.  The state is an evil not only because of the abuse of power by the magistrates, but also because it interferes with freedom and introduces an unnatural superiority among men.”  Man’s total depravity, his sinful nature, his lack of goodness, contributes to the proof that the state is not inherently good, but a necessary evil.

I am completely unaware of any Scripture that explicitly states or from which one can derive the premise that the state is a good gift from God or inherently good.  The most likely verse or group of verses for such a premise must be the oft-cited Romans 13:1-7.  Romans 13:1-7 (KJV) “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”  Now the key phrase in this passage would seem to be “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.”  However, this verse does not say the role of the minister is good, or the minister is good, of civil governance is good.  The verse states that the minister’s role is used by God for good.  The role of minister is a means God uses for our good.  This verse is consistent with that of Romans 8:28 (KJV) “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  Certainly, these same people would not argue that “all things” are God’s good gifts or that “all things” are inherently good.  Clearly, Romans 13 does not provide a basis to claim the state or the institution of civil governance is inherently good but merely portrays a civil magistrate as being a means for God’s good gifts such as justice.

Therefore, the institution of earthly government is not a good gift from God and is not inherently good. Good governance is by God’s moral law alone in the City of God alone.  In the earthly kingdom of man, earthly government was initially institute by Cain as a result of fratricide which in turn was a result of the sinful nature of man from the fall of man. The earthly kingdom was instituted by the fall of man and through sin. Earthly governance is necessary but that does not make it inherently good. This dichotomy further provides part of the understanding of the importance of the separation of church and state. Governance of the church by God’s moral law where Christ is the head is inherently good. Governance by the state is inherently evil. God uses the earthly state as a means to our good. This doesn’t mean the state is good, it means the result is good whether it be justice which is good or peace which is good.

If we agree that God’s peace is a good gift, then it makes sense that civil governance be based on a political ethic of peace.  The Non-Aggression Principle is such a political ethic of peace on which to base necessary earthly governance.  I have written about such a Biblical political ethic here.