Someone emailed us a while ago asking what the difference was between Matt’s classical liberalism and my libertarianism, where did we part company and why did we define ourselves this way. We never answered because we have never really tried to pin it down before, we knew there we differed on some things and we knew that those difference put us in these particular camps but putting it into words was something we didn’t get to until now.
We definitely differ; see our respective scores on The World’s Smallest Political Quiz, mouseover to see whose is who’s.
So I am clearly in the libertarian camp (I am not in the Libertarian camp as in capital L or “Objectivist” (Randian)). Does that mean I can be both Christian and libertarian? Well not if my approach to the role of the state is to simply hold the single absolute principle “that nobody should initiate force against another.” However, yes if the outworking of what I do hold puts me closest to the libertarian perspective than any other position.
I find the non-initiation of force principle to have no basis in divine or natural law. However, something close to is definitely there and I believe that it is the closest secular position to the correct application of Christianity to the role of state for the following reasons.
Scripture teaches that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being. This prohibition on killing can plausibly be extended to a prohibition against violence and force in general. This is the heart of traditional Christian positions on war, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. The idea is that the state can use retributive force against guilty people but it can never threaten the life, liberty and property of an innocent person unless they engage in unjustified aggression against another. In both situations there are important limits further still, for example, retributive force can only be used by a lawful authority after a impartial trial has found the person guilty the force must be proportionate to the offence and cruel and degrading punishments are illicit. Similarly, with defensive force. It can be used only when it is necessary to stop the aggression and again the force used must be proportionate to the perceived threat.
A government that limited its use of force to these functions and only taxed its citizens to ensure that these functions were carried out would be severely limited and would look like no current government anywhere, yet this is the Biblical picture and you can see that it does look a lot like the libertarian non-initiation of force principle (and nothing like the strawman-caricature that Rand paints in her books).
The key passage on the role of the state is Romans 13:1-7:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been stablished by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
This passage spells out the reasons why we are required to obey the government and why we are required to pay taxes. Paul states that governments act as God’s agent, that is on his behalf, to perform a specific function, namely, to punish wrong-doing. Paul emphatically states that the state does not bear the sword, have the power to use force, for nothing but to act as an agent of retributive punishment. It is because it is an agent of God in carrying out this function that it can legitimately demand obedience and financial support. Nothing in this passage provides any basis for claiming that a government that did other things apart from these basic functions and used force to back it up would be acting as God’s agent (in fact the opposite is suggested in 1 Samuel 8:10-22 – any government that taxes its people more than 10% and undertakes functions outside its legitimate mandate is corrupt). If a government steps outside this mandate then it is acting unjustly. The passage states that the government is God’s servant, it is under God and therefore subject to the same laws as its people. In Revelation, written in the latter part as opposed to the earlier part of Nero’s reign, the same ruler is no longer described at God’s servant but as Satan incarnate because he sought to be God, he stepped outside the mandate of legitimate government.
In summation, if you are a Christian you should either be a libertarian or a classical liberal. You might end up as a conservative if you throw some pragmatism in but if you end up as a centrist or left wing you have failed to understand Scripture, you are placing government in the role of God.
One of the biggest problems New Zealand faces is the same the world over and was the same at the time of Samuel; the people want a government in the place of God, they want the government to provide welfare, health, education, families commissions, art, television (well maybe not that one at the time of Samuel but you get the picture). It feels and seems easier if we don’t have to take our responsibility to love our neighbour personally.
Biblically speaking, the state’s role essentially boils down to law, order, justice and defence. Do we then get to forget about all the rest? No.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This means that looking out for others is our responsibility but, contrary to the picture Rand paints, this is strictly qualified. We do not have an obligation to give to everyone who has their hand out. If their own choices and refusal to help themselves has led them to the dire situation they find themselves in then unless they are prepared to get off their buts and help themselves and learn from their mistakes we owe them no charity. If people refuse to help themselves then we are justified in not helping them. The scriptures are full of examples, if people refuse to work then they don’t get to eat (2 Thess 3:10), you left the corners of your crops un-gathered so the poor could come and work and feed themselves – you did not hand them the fruit of your day’s labour while they sunned themselves all day, they had to work for it (Deut 24:19-22), families had to take responsibility for their own, the needy only receive private assistance if they could not work and had no family who would provide for them and were not idle people (1 Tim 5), etc.
Given this, I have less than a month to decide who I will vote for. The choices below (in the order they appear on the Decision 08 website) are not great because none of them fit the criteria above.
Resident’s Action Movement
The Bill and Ben Party
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis
Democrats for Social Credit
Direct Democracy Party
New World Order
New Zealand Pacific Party
The Family Party
The Kiwi Party
The Republic of New Zealand
Matt and I want to be really careful to not endorse a political party so we are still debating each other as to whether we will publicly state who we vote for but we agree we can take this next step, the first cull, namely getting rid of the no-way, no-how parties and assessing the pro’s and con’s of the remaining possibilities. Our intention is to more thoroughly look at and read up on these parties, their philosophy, their people and their policies. The revised list, and this goes for both of us (at this stage, last election we each voted differently), is this (again the order is the order as above):
New Zealand Pacific Party
The Family Party
The Kiwi Party
Libertarianz and ACT would be the closest to my political position but the points I part ways with them are fairly major. Both parties philosophically adhere to the non-initiation of force but both throw their well reasoned, consistent thinking out the window on the topic of abortion (and a few other issues).
Rodney Hide spoke at the recent Forum on the Family outlining clear and sensible policies all sharply reasoned, setting aside emotion, appealing to doing what is right, promoting a consistent
theme of personal responsibility as opposed to state dependency and then when asked for his position on abortion outlined a mushy, soft and sentimental pile of rubbish. Gone was his consistent personal responsibility – non-initiation of force reasoning, suddenly his reasoning skills dropped to that of Sue Bradford’s as he spoke of it being a conscience issue (it is not – abortion is either killing, therefore the initiation of force, 100% homicide or it is not killing and is on par with tonsillectomy’s and there is zero problem with it). Rodney, citing his emotions, said he didn’t want to impose his beliefs onto women (but apparently he can when it is restricting women from, say, theft). [Here are some secular reasons on why libertarians should be pro-life]
Rodney, ACT and the Libz on this subject are inconsistent. I am not. I have a problem with voting for a party that 1. endorses or is agnostic on homicide (and has no reasoned position that can withstand defeaters justifying their stance) and 2. that is that inconsistent.
Further, the Libz and to a lesser degree ACT, are riddled with pathological secularists who have a closed, caricatured view of Christianity – extremely closed minded which makes supporting them difficult as many within their ranks refuse to see the similarities and work together. Also the Libz are prone to massive in-house fighting amongst the factions which seriously kneecaps them at times.
The Maori Party make our list because they get it right on a number of issues, less often than ACT and the Libz, but best demonstrated by their policy on the seabed and foreshore where they are a seemingly lone voice speaking against the Labour government’s worst attack on the right to due process in recent times otherwise known as the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 (all Christians should be horrified at the passage of this law). Further we respect Tariana’s daring to cross to Helengrad and the fact that they are, by and large, a party that stands on principles not on popularism and even though many of their principles are too left/statist you have to respect that and you definitely want more politicians like that in parliament.
National. National is not Labour. If their policies reflected their stated principles I might say more.
The Christian Parties. First of all, so what if there are three of them? How many secular parties are there? Christians need to get over this. How many denominations of Christianity are there? Demanding that the three merge before you will support them is as ridiculous as refusing to attend church unless every denomination merges. We still somehow manage to be one body despite our differences. As with denomination and church choice, if you want to go there, look at the options and pick the one that best reflects which is right.
- NZ Pacific. Putting aside the accusations against Taito, remember due process, Taito was part of Labour which makes him left/statist. However, like Tariana he earns brownie points for sticking it to Helengrad and he is a Christian so he makes the cut.
- The Family Party. Putting aside the Destiny factor, they must be judged on their merits and not a knee-jerk reaction, there have been serious allegations made that they do not adhere to the theological position of separation of church and state, if this is true then they are no go, but again they are a Christian party so we will look at them.
- The Kiwi Party. Probably the holds the number one spot of the three at this stage but this is the party that has candidates who stood with Labour and were responsible for inflicting the families commission on us and worse they seem to have not learned from their mistakes and are advocating government sponsored marriage promotion. That said their intention is good but like all the other Christian parties they are too statist and fail to understand that only when we get the state out of the lives of good law abiding citizens and when the state stops usurping the role of God can the church really flourish.
The Christian parties are really disapointing because all of them have access to the truth and have missed it. Contra Celsum writes on the issue of whether Christians should be in politics at all. He outlines four critical reasons why he believes it inappropriate for Christians to seek political office at the present time. His four reasons are right on the button in terms of my issue with our choice of Christian parties, particularly the part on vacuous minds and points 2.d) and e)., I just am really reluctant to concede his conclusion. Am I really in that much of a minority? How did we fall this far?
1. Whipped parties. In Jerusalem, one of the most important institutions is the believing and confessing heart. In Romans 10: 9,10 we read: “ . . . if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” This means that each individual must be free, as a Christian, to profess and act according to his belief. The institutions of Jerusalem are built on this principle. This is why Luther’s declaration at the Diet of Worms is in accord with the heart of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the
authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
But the modern political convention of whipped parties, where one is bound to vote and act, not according to conscience but to the policy of party [this applies equally to parties controlled by churches], means that Christians in the modern political arena are inevitably forced to approbate and vote for actions, laws, and policies which they
know to be wrong and intrinsically evil.
Of course, opponents would counter by pointing out that this does not preclude a Christian party from participating, provided that such a party stipulate that all votes would be conscience votes. This is true, as far as it goes, but we immediately see that such an approach would be virtually inconsequential within the current functioning of Parliament itself, contributing little to justice and the legislative task. It would therefore be of little use. There are far more urgent and practical things which Jerusalem should be engaged in at the moment.
2. The Prevailing Dominant Ethic of Secular Humanism. We have seen in recent history that parties can only win reasonable support if they ground themselves in the incumbent control-beliefs of our day. Every political party can only build appeal if it agrees with the following controlling creed:
a.) The Living God has no relevance to politics and government.
b.) All government must be secular.
c.) Government is the ultimate power in our society.
d.) Government has a duty to expropriate income from some and extend welfare to others.
e.) Government has a duty to provide for the health, education and well-being of its people.
As long as people generally are held in the thrall of this creed, no Christian or Christian party can make any meaningful contribution. However, when sixty or seventy percent of the society are professing Christians who fear and love the Lord, it will be a very different matter. The creed of secular humanism will be seen for what it is and Christian politics and government will come into its own.
3. The Small Numbers of Believers. Part of wisdom in God’s Kingdom is knowing when something is appropriate, and when it is not. In the end, government and law reflects the heart of the people. When such relatively small numbers are found in Jerusalem, talk of political activities is premature. The priorities before us now are the extension of the Kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel, on the one hand, and the building up a Christians in the faith, on the other. It is only as we act consistently with our God-given duties and responsibilities that we can expect the covenantal blessings of God to fall upon us. As they fall, the cultural power and influence of God’s people in the community will grow as an inevitable result. Eventually, the citadels of unbelief will be surrounded, and the halls of government captured. But we must build an army first—a host of God’s people living, working, serving in the community, doing good to all men, but especially to those of the household of faith.
4. Vacuous Christian Minds. The majority of professing Christians have been taught all their lives in the state’s secular education system. They have been indoctrinated to think as humanists in almost every area of life. Jerusalem’s great and urgent duty is the reformation of Church, Family and School. Until we are able to educate our children in a manner consistent with our faith, we cannot expect that the Christian community will be able to distinguish between the counsels of secular humanism, on the one hand, and faithful Christian principles, on the other.
Until our children are properly taught and educated, we will not produce faithful Christians who think and act Christianly in their professions, whether they be in science, medicine, law, the liberal arts, or whatever. It is only upon such a foundation that true, God-honouring political views can emerge.
If Christians cannot distinguish between the justice of secular humanism and the justice of Jerusalem we are utterly ill-equipped and malformed for roles in politics. If we are not clear according to Scripture on the God-ordained roles and responsibilities of the Church, the Family, the State, the School, the Corporation, how could we distinguish between the policies of God and of Baal in the civic and public sphere? And if we cannot even get our thinking right on these matters, any actual Christian political involvement will end up as an abortion.