Bill Peacock (a fellow Christian) sent me some concerns about my Mises Academy online class on anarcho-capitalism. With permission, I reproduce portions of his email below and offer my reactions. Note that I am offering this post partly as a way just of airing “alternative views” that are well-reasoned; I am not trying to answer every last concern Bill raises below.
I’ve noticed that you are teaching the class on anarcho-capitalism for Mises Academy. I am very interested in what you have to say about this issue as a Christian.
One thing that a lot of Austrian analysis lacks is a Christian/Biblical perspective. Of course, there is much about how the world works that can be clearly understood without a Biblical perspective, as demonstrated by Mises and Rothbard. However, the knowledge of God’s creation of and dominion over the world can lead to even a fuller understanding of the truth about how this world and its people work. As I’ll explain below, I don’t think the anarcho-capitalist perspective fares well when viewed through a Biblical lens.
God gave us government. As Abraham Kuyper stated, “We have gratefully to receive from the hand of God the institution of the state with its magistrates as a means of preservation.” There is something necessary about this provision of government. And not just in our fallen nature as a means of preservation. Man, in both our original and fallen nature, needs to be under authority.
OK, the main thing I am going to say in response to Bill, is that he is here mixing together three terms that should be distinct: government, State, and authority. Bill seems to be using them interchangeably, but I don’t think we should do so.
I definitely agree that a Christian must be “under authority”–obviously the Christian pledges obedience to Christ (though the Christian will admit he fails in that pledge, probably daily). Regular readers may remember that this is why I stopped volunteering the word “anarchist” to describe myself, since I serve King Jesus.
Even atheist libertarians should realize, however, that people need to be “under authority” and to live under a “government” in a certain sense of those terms. By this I mean simply that everybody is biased and cannot be trusted with arbitrary power. Everybody should be subject to the law; that’s a necessary precondition for there to be a “rule of law.”
Yet to say these truths about “human nature” is not to imply the need for a State. In my view, not just Austrian economics and libertarian political philosophy, but just a plain study of Biblical and secular history, show that the State as an institution does a terrible job of implementing the rule of law. Right now there are a few dozen people (mostly in Washington DC) who are using flying robots to blow up people who are thwarting their plans for subjugation of large parts of the globe with a standing army. Say what you will about the anarcho-capitalist society I describe in this lecture, but I don’t think it would have such an outcome. Contrary to the objections of critics, a private legal system would not let the rich and powerful buy their way out of guilty verdicts, just as referees tend to be pretty fair in professional sports, and don’t systematically throw the game to the team with the most money.
Of course, we have the church, under whose authority all Christians stand. But the Biblical model goes farther than the church, and provides government as the institution under whose authority all men stand. It is not clear to me that the “populist” nature of anarcho-capitalism fills this need.
Here I would need Bill to be a little clearer on what he means by “government.” As Bill himself will go on to say below, it seems the Bible pretty clearly opposes what looks like modern forms of government, and recommends something that is a heck of a lot closer to private judges than to the modern nation-State.
So I’d say government is necessary. But I’d also say that government is good, not some necessary evil. God only gives good gifts to His people. So government, as a gift from God, can’t be inherently evil—necessarily or otherwise.
Now, I acknowledge that not all forms of government, or practices by the people in government, qualify for this necessary and good Biblical imprimatur. So what does a good and necessary God-given government look like?
It may not be the form of government we see in 1 Samuel 8 when the people go to Samuel and demand a king. We know that when Samuel went to God with this, God told him that the people already had a King in Him, and that by making this demand, there people had “rejected me from being king over them.” God then told the people, through Samuel, that “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. … He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”
This hardly sounds like the good and necessary gift from God for which we are seeking. And one might well compare this form of government to executive-style government we have today, be it one headed by a military dictator, king, president, or prime minister. Therefore, it might be that we need to restructure the type of government we have today to reach the Biblical model. But what does it look like?
Well, the people of Israel did have a good, God-given government before Saul was made king. It was a government led by judges, of which Moses was the first and Samuel (or his sons) was the last. Sometimes the judges were elected (Jephthah – Judges 11:6). They were always a deliverer, pointing to back to Moses but also forward to Christ. They were a military leader (Othniel – Judges 3:10). And a civil/criminal magistrate (Deborah – Judges 4:4-5). And I think one could also argue that there was a legislative/lawgiving role of the judges, even though God was truly the chief lawgiver.
So at a bare minimum a good, necessary government is one with a legitimate civil and criminal justice function—I’d include the policing/military role here. And probably also a government with a legitimate legislative function. Though it might not have an executive function such as led to the corruption of the kings.
This is not to say the government without an executive was perfect:
“When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.”
But of course the government was imperfect because the people were imperfect. The marketplace suffers from the same problem, and would continue to do so if relied upon as the organizing principle of society in the form of anarcho-capitalism.
The biblical model of government did have the power of life or death over its citizens, as would the structure arranged under anarcho-capitalism.
That leaves us with the question about whether this government had the power to tax. I have heard some Mises anarcho-capitalists say that the power to tax is one of the two functions that defines government. I am not sure I agree with that. It seems perhaps a convenient definition by which to classify anarcho-capitalist institutions with the power of life and death over people as non-governmental institutions.
It’s really difficult for modern libertarians to talk about the situation facing the ancient Israelites. After all, they all fled Egypt and were literally wandering around the desert, following this guy Moses who apparently was in direct communication with an omnipotent Being who was daily providing them nourishment and would send plagues throughout their ranks if they angered Him too much. So it’s quite difficult to talk about property rights and consent in this framework.
To give an example of what I mean: Nowadays, if someone says, “Hey I am going to work on Sunday because I am an atheist and want to earn some money,” and then I kill him, clearly I have violated property rights. But when the children of Israel killed a guy for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, it’s not as clear cut. For one thing, he knew what the rules were, and I have heard Christians argue that by continuing to follow the group around, everybody had implicitly endorsed them. (Also, it appears at times that the whole community does endorse the covenants with God; it’s just that they are weak and backslide.) And in any event, God literally ordered that outcome, according to the story. Since–if we are taking the Bible as the frame of reference–God created everything, then He owns everything and can do what He wants. As I’ve argued a few times on this blog, no matter how you die, there is a sense in which “God kills you.” So it’s not murder if God has people throw rocks at you, but “natural causes” if you die because your liver breaks down at age 90.
Anyway, it is not clear to me whether this God-given form of government had the power to tax, or whether the judges and the people in war and the administration of justice covered the costs out of their own pockets. So perhaps this God-given government could tax, perhaps it could not. But in any case, I would call it a government with a leader in authority. And would in fact call it good and necessary since God gave it to us. At least until time comes to an end and we live with God as our King and Light in the new heavens and earth.
We see this need for authority in all aspects of society. The family, the church, work, even civic organizations. In large part, as we saw with the judges, the authority role is there to point us to the true authority in our lives, Jesus Christ. Of course, non-Christians wouldn’t see this need. But that doesn’t mean it is not real and isn’t needed. And it certainly is what is called for from a Biblical perspective. So if it is there in all other aspects of our lives, then it should also exist in the most fundamental way in which we organize our society.
I don’t see anarcho-capitalism filling this necessary and good role of authority/leadership. Perhaps it might, and it is really just a different way for people to “elect” their leaders, and a way for people who don’t like “government” to provide a form of government that they can call something else. But it seems to me from what I know of it that anarcho-capitalism is missing this necessary role of leadership and authority that a biblical model of government would encompass.
I don’t know if you’ll address any of this in your class. But this is my interest, and so I wonder what your take on this will be.
In conclusion, let me reiterate that some of this is just a terminological dispute. Clearly there are many self-described anarcho-capitalists who are big proponents of the church, the family, civic associations, etc. If I oppose a monopoly on the issuance of judicial rulings and provision of military defense, it’s not because I think these things are useless. Just like, if I want the State to get out of education, it’s not because I am opposed to literacy.
Now in fairness to Bill, there is something of a selection bias going on here. I think in practice a lot of people are attracted to atheism and anarcho-capitalism because by their very personalities they oppose authority in general. They are the type of people who don’t like anybody telling them what to do, whether it’s Obama, the pope, or some invisible guy in the sky. So it’s definitely true that in practice, the “anarcho-capitalist movement” may not recognize that humans need authority in the properly defined sense. I just disagree with Bill that the State is a necessary institution for providing it–or maybe actually we are in agreement, and are just using different definitions.