Quick Thought of the Day: Government – A Coercive Force to Restrain Coercion
As friends and many followers over the years of my radio show Future Quake and my exploits since then (and this blog) have observed, I have been reassessing over this time some fundamental understandings of society, its institutions and the Kingdom of Heaven, beyond the simple, unchallenged maxims of my blessed American Christian upbringing. Never in the journey have I been led to doubt the veracity of the claims of Jesus, the teachings of Him and His Apostles, or the realities and promises they back up with real evidence of a resurrected man, seen by hundreds and testified by them in virtual real-time in widely-circulated written affidavits and oral testimonies for which they paid their lives as guarantees. What I have discovered is that in my enviable and truly wholesome upbringing I and others find ourselves carrying additional concepts in our “buckets” to defend, be they political ideologies, national agendas, or religious constructs and the high-profile leaders and institutions that subsist on them. It is an effort (a life-long one, in fact) to de-couple those additives from the purity of the person of Christ and the teaching of the Kingdom, and I know missteps will be made along the way. I still adhere to my adage that “whatever we do not critique, we worship”, and thus if I am to worship Jesus and what He represents exclusively (thus Him being “beyond critique”, but rather being the standard of critique), then whatever ideas or concepts I entertain in my life, however “good” or “Christian”, must be intentionally and consistently critiqued against what He represents, not for purposes of “judgment” of others, “sitting in the seat of scoffers”, or elevating oneself, but merely as a tangible act of worship of Him, by restricting access to who or what has access to my heart’s and mind’s “throne”.
I concede that most “normal” people do not spend too much of their useful and precious time thinking about the right role of civil government in this era of “grace”, before Christ imposes His dominion over earthly government one day soon. The hijinx we see in politics today (of which this campaign cycle has taken to new depths) makes peoples’ heads hurt, and they throw their hands up in disgust and helplessness, and change the discussion to more constructive subjects. However, in a participatory democracy as ours (which we have argued for generations we would fight for to preserve over other forms), I still feel like we have a duty to assist in improving and help preserving a necessary institution that God intented to restrain evil on the earth until His Son directs it without protest; it also is another (but certainly not only) venue for us to gently be “salt and light”, and to “be our brother’s keeper” and “love our neighbor”. I now see in scripture how God intended human societies and governments, while not coincident with the present “Kingdom of God”, to “hold the fort” until His return while reflecting more universal earth-bound values than Christ’s specific “marching orders” for waging spiritual war in the heavenlies through the Church, such as reflecting the “sum of the Law” – the “Golden Rule” that all peoples know is right.
I have been blessed in many ways by the thoughts and friendship of Robert Heid, as well as many listeners have in his appearances on Future Quake, and the concepts he has presented for which I had been ignorant. One prominent example is the field of libertarian thinking. It has opened my eyes as a Christian to principles that now seem self-evident to me, such as the primacy in society of defending the rights of “free association” (or disassociation), “self-determination” and maybe most importantly, “non-coercion”. In my deliberations in thought and study of God’s Word, I find that these principles are consistent with God’s guidance for secular governments for this age before His return. It is ironic to note that, since I am a premillennialist who perceives that Christ still intends to rule over a physical earth one day for a thousand years prior to the creation of a New Heavens and New Earth, even with Christ’s on-site rule with a “rod of iron”, reigning over the “Seven Mountains” of dominion some Christians seek to control today, those who do not vountarily submit to Him and His ways then will quickly rejoin Satan’s rebellion once he is again made available to them, even after experiencing the blessings of Christ’s earthly rule. It reinforces the notion that the Kingdom of Heaven, which will rule over a New Heavens and New Earth cosmos, must be filled with voluntary, non-coerced willing subjects that take on the non-self-serving aspects of the Kingdom so that it may remain intact eternally. This also explains why in world history when “God’s People” try to enforce the Kingdom of Heaven by coercive force, it has only resulted in bloodshed and corruption, with their dissenting Christian neighbors paying the heaviest price. However, I have also observed the “dark side” of the libertarian community (or those who corrupt it for their purposes), which is typified in the teaching and followers of Ayn Rand. It proposes what is no more than Social Darwinism, a “survival of the fittest” – ironically, much of what is today’s Conservative Movement, with Darwinistic emphases on unbridled, banker-led economics and gunboat diplomacy. Such a community based on “King of the Hill” ethics of selfishness would consume itself eventually. It flirts with anarchism (using government only for the purposes of the elite) and sees no constraining role of government except to keep the “barbarians from the gate”.
In this line of thinking, I have come to the realization that the unique (and necessary) role of government is coercive force. In other words, a society gathers and decides it is in its collective interest to embue those they select (by various means) with the authority and power to force certain arrangements to be made. Many other associations and groups can be formed to pursue other beneficial aims, but governments are uniquely tasked with those that require cocercion. We have all seen in history that those given coercive force, and the means to enforce it, will likely use it for their own ends, against the people, or for one segment of the population against the rest. Therefore, wisdom dictates that it should be given for the bare minimum of essential purposes. It is generally agreed that these essential missions are for the legislators (to codify and legitimize laws for the peaceful and fair operation of society), the courts (to be the final word of when one has broken these laws and harmed others, and the proper course of action and remedy), the corrections community to mete out their findings and restrain (and hopefully rehabilitate) threatening people for extended periods, police to restore peace and provide instant remedy when one’s personal well-being or property is under immediate threat by others (being truly “peace officers” and NOT “law enforcement” – the latter role to be determined by the more knowledgable courts), and soldiers (preferably non-standing armies of citizens) to provide collective defense against other sovereign nations that impinge upon it. One could argue that any other roles in society are not essential to be performed by government, and should be farmed out to others. The other principle our Founding Fathers and others before them wisely observed and then deployed was a “separation of powers”, to make sure one small group did not collect and thus abuse all the power vested in government. When we see the gridlock in Washington and elsewhere in government, we should not be completed incensed; it is fact may be an essential protective “nuisance”, and beware when all the holders of power are on the same page, and in collusion! This competition is often seen as a sign of societal disfunction, but in fact we should promote a healthy opposition amongst all sectors of influence in our society. Not only should our branches of government be resistant and suspicious of each other (with the ability to investigate and hold other branches accountable), but the police, military, Wall Street, press and other institutions should all be highly skeptical of each other, and “hold each other’s feet to the fire” in all cases, and not get too cozy with each other at all. The Press in particular should be combative with all these other institutions, and not fawning over them. When people do need to get together, to help in disasters or real common threats, constructive collusion will withstand these protective measures and attitudes. This is why whistleblowers are heroes and not traitors or villians, and we need lawful yet accountable venues for them to expose institutional evils without he ability to submerge them, or create unintended harm. This also why all the different dissenting Christian denominations and other groups are a type of “blessing”, for they disperse centralized power and influence, which damages Christian communities as much or more than their secular counterparts.
All of this discussion is a preamble to the new question I am now asking: are these roles the limits of “coercive force” that government should be granted? With a full acknowledgement that coercive force is a very dangerous weapon that should be meted out with great caution, in essence its use of coercion, properly used, is to arrest the use of coercion by one citizen or group over others. As the picture at the top of this post suggests, and may be merely a policemen stopping a “bully” from coercing others or causing harm. They restrain those who force their will on others by stealing or threatening them. However, as this world gets more and more complex, are there new forms of coercion becoming available to exploit others that government must arise to arrest, and is Christian thinking keeping up with it? Even back in the Middle Ages, the two existing power centers, the Church and the State, realized that a new power center emerged – the financial sector – through the new banking institutions established by the Knights Templar, and thus took strong coervice action (right or wrong) together as an admission that it must be contrained (while other emerging banking empires arose outside the reach of the Church that often colluded with the other power centers for its own preservation). After the age of the “robber barons” and “Gilded Age”, when America and the West produced all-powerful aristocrats and oligarchs who fought ruthlessly to obtain monopolies on utlities and products Americans considered essential, government stepped in with anti-trust laws to slow down a runaway force that would have exploited the bulk of humanity enslaved in the Industrial Age. Since that time, these powers (having access to the funds that fuel them and provide them political influence) have not accepted their leash, and find new novel ways of entrapping humanity just like an enemy’s bayonet, often in “guilded cages” that the victim does not even recognize – courtesy of the advanced sciences of advertising and public relations, a “psy op” that fashions the minds, values and self-perceptions of the public. Gandhi chose one of the purest ways by refusing to buy the salt they controlled, and rather walked to the sea with his fellow citizens to get it – this approach should be employed more via boycotts, but can it solve all the threats imposed on a vulnerable public? We have not even mentioned coercive acts of others that many see as indirect, such as dumping polluted water across our property or public drinking supplies, or in the collective air we breathe. Remedies to this problem have just started in the last generation, and many Christians still see this problem as non-existent, planning rather to hitch a ride on the Rapture Express and let others sort out the mess. Do Christian need to “grow up” to the world around them and see the real threats to themsevles and their neighbors they are ignoring?
We should not naively expect that government bureaucrats or regulators will be more virtuous than average citizens – we know they can be corrupted, or even just go off on their own “power trip”. However, what types of newer practical “coercion” is society now being exposed to, from being debt slaves in a environment of low wages and predatory interest, collapsing and unhealthy inner cities, a media almost owned entirely by six money-making conglomerates, genetically-modified foods (sometimes without our knowledge) and tainted groundwater, still unrestained air pollution, a government that jails and makes hardened criminals of those who privately use a substance they ban, and a host of other new “controllers”? If the Church will not use its wealth, network of local and national voices and resources, and moral authority to address these “bullies” and coercive guilty parties, then what resource of contraint do we have other than our government?
What are your thoughts on these matters?