So, I was in church this morning. It is Sunday, after all. The sermon was an exposition of Judges chapter 18. My pastor has been on a lengthy series in Judges, and I'd guess he has another half-dozen Sundays to go in that book. As I listened to what he said, a couple of side thoughts came to me.
In recent years, I've been doing some extensive rethinking about the fundamental basis and justification -- or lack of justification -- of what I'll call the state. By "the state," I mean political government in any form, at any level. Obviously, this covers a lot of ground, and one state is very unlike another; but I'm thinking of a couple of fundamental things that they all have in common: a claim of moral authority from some source or other, and a related claim to a rightful monopoly on the use of force.
Statelessness (or anarchy) is a recurring theme in the book of Judges. Chapter 18 starts out like this: In those days there was no king in Israel ... , which is repeated at the beginning of chapter 19 as well. Verse 17:6 says, more familiarly, In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. To which might have been appended, I'd guess, the words "at best" -- I suppose it's likely that a lot of people were doing things that they knew weren't right, but were, perhaps, pleasurable or advantageous.
Back to chapter 18: after stating the kingless condition of the Hebrews, the chapter tells of the deeds of Micah, a thief (from his own mother!) and an idolator, who starts his own private little pagan religion and uses some of his ill-gotten wealth to hire a Levite as his pet priest. Eventually, some of his fellow Israelites from the tribe of Dan make the Levite a better offer, steal Micah's idols, and go set up shop somewhere else. The misdeeds described in the chapter are primarily ecclesiastical in nature, and that was the thrust of my pastor's sermon this morning.
But it got me to pondering. On the whole, the book of Judges is not especially cheerful reading for the anarchist. The Israelites are free of the state, and their behavior is quite beastly, for the most part; Judges presents a lurid catalog of brutality and wrongdoing, of theft and murder. But the Israelites did not remain stateless. Just two books over in the Bible (1 Samuel chapter 8), they demand a king, so that they can be just like the other nations of the earth, and God explicitly tells them what a terrible idea that is. They insist on acquiring a king, and the rest is history ... and, as usual, God is correct.
So, what's the answer? No state: bad. State: bad. What's the third choice? Or is there a third choice?
It seems to me that no one ever makes a really airtight argument for any political system -- for any "-ism." The anarchist seems to rely on the implicit assumption that everyone is rational, or at least that the reasonable people are more powerful than the wicked. The statist (meaning everyone who's either a Democrat or a Republican) implicitly assumes that the holders of the levers of state power are enlightened and well-motivated ... a notion not encouraged by history. The economic protectionist seems to think that Daddy Washington is un-bribable, and knows best for everyone; the free-trader has a similarly high view of Wal-mart's board of directors.
Where's our political salvation?
A Christian might say that man is corrupt and fallen, and that no system of man's devising is ever going to "work right." And he might recall the words of his master, who said (in John 16:33):
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.