(Quotes from SOBRAN’S, December 2002, pages 3–6)
by Tom Sobran:
Entire essay found at: www.sobran.com/reluctant.html
Commentary by: Thomas Lee Abshier, ND
Thomas This argument assumes that the state will inevitably, unavoidably, necessarily, logically, mechanistically, absolutely, positively, certainly, and always eventually step outside of those limits prescribed by a Constitution (even the most righteous Constitution), and that no one can oppose, stop, or prevent that inevitable and certain outcome.
The author has ascribed to the state/government a nature that is so powerful and persistent in its action that it will overpower any and all forces that oppose it –eventually. He has made a statement of certainty and inevitability with regards to the evolution of the state into totalitarianism.
Note, he did not say that the state tends in this direction, which is a thesis I could agree with. Instead, he has chosen to make a statement of the necessary outcome, which is an extremely unlikely conclusion when a system is composed of a near-infinite number of forces and an even greater infinity of possible outcomes.
Such an assumption about the certainty of the outcome of a feared evolution is to assume the proof of one’s thesis, without confronting all the possible forces that could oppose that progression. To prove this absolute/certain thesis he would need to have universal knowledge of all possible sequences of government-societal dynamic, and then show an absolute consistency of result. His thought experiment would necessarily demonstrate in all interactions between government and the underlying society that no coalition of forces, no state of mind of the society, would produce any result other than a manifested overbearing, big brother, nanny state, socialistic, tyranny-like state.
To disprove the universal thesis, only one exception need be imagined and agreed upon that its outcome was logical and realistic. Universal truths cannot be proven. (I cannot prove there is or is not a God, that anything is universally good or evil, I can only make statements of faith and probability.) The author has engaged in a logical fallacy. He cannot use a limited set of series of experiments (historical examples), composed of extremely complex systems, and then come to a cause-effect conclusion with that limited data set. In short, he has used his final thesis that he is trying to prove as an inevitable outcome. He has engaged in a self-referential, self-validating, argument akin to saying, “My thesis must be true because it is inevitable.”
At best, any argument will have a limited associated set of experimental evidence. Thus, every conclusion about everything has a degree of uncertainty associated with it, and we must fill in that gap of uncertainty with faith. Such is the nature of every political, religious, scientific, psychological, or social theory. Throughout his essay, the author presents numerous examples of governments progressing from benign to oppressive. He then generalizes from these examples and declares that government must progress to oppression, ignoring its own charter, and eventually follow the path toward oppression.
In the case of the author, he has a faith/belief about the nature of government and a corresponding faith/belief about the weakness of character and lack of effectiveness of individuals and groups in opposing the slide toward governmental power expansion. I agree that such a power-creep is common, ordinary, normal, but I do not have a belief in the necessary/absolute impotence of men to embrace truth and act in righteousness, en masse, to oppose the incremental moves of government toward power.
Again, the author uses a limited set of historical examples to argue for the inevitable usurpation of power by the state. To which I reply, this universal negative may be disproven by the following thought experiment: Consider a nation populated with men guided in their relationship with self, other, and God, by deeply mature, Christian-based, moral principles. If the state is populated with men of such caliber, who take oaths, and keep them because of their honor, and the righteousness of the oath, they will serve as the internal governors of the government in restraining its expansion.
Granted, in a nation populated by carnal men, guided by the passions of the flesh, unrestrained by a commitment to Godliness, the state will naturally reflect the nature of the men that give the institution its life. The government is a reflection of the animus of the men that fill its posts of duty. Law/constitution is a guideline, and men will break the bonds and boundaries of law like threads if they are unrestrained by force or conscience. The spirit in/of a man will always (eventually) trump the static and intangible restraints of law. Thus, the impotence of a constitution if it is not given flesh and bone, hands and legs, by men of righteous spirit. Character matters, more than law. Law documents and reminds us of past struggles to determine the boundaries of righteousness. But, a Godly spirit enlivens the boundaries of law such that a man may properly divide good and evil in all circumstances, not just the static tableau of drama for which it was formulated.
The efficacy of a Constitution or law cannot be evaluated based solely upon the behavior of a nation’s people or its governors. The Constitution and law are only paper/digital symbols meant to inform the naive/young/forgetful of the proper and expected customs of the people and their servant-governors. Terms of enforcement are included to move those who resist righteousness into compliance or separation. No law/constitution will ever be effective without the corresponding enrollment of the people’s hearts in its compliance. And, if righteous, it is the duty of the parents to train their children in the ways of accepting and complying with those terms.
On the contrary, if those laws are unrighteous, the youth should question the rationale and propriety of the social customs and institutions. Thus, parenthood should be an institution that teaches reasoned compliance, rather than blind faith. The rationality of the legal, governmental, social, religious, scientific, cultural system should always be open for analysis, refinement, and modification of the codified law/constitution when the thinkers and natural aristocracy rise to a place of rulership.
In such a circumstance, with a government populated by people of law, and spirit-led conscience, the leadership will be dynamic. The terms of a constitutional document and its associated body of law, will guide well the newly initiated participants in government and serve as time-honored boundaries that the culture of government continues to hold in reverence and respect.
If every person elected to government is examined and approved under the light of his fidelity to, and maturity in, Christian character, then the government will have embedded in its bone and flesh the all-important structure or character required for the maintenance of the state as a servant, rather than ruler of the people.
Likewise, when a nation’s adults and elders people are broadly Christian in principle and spirit, and are committed to instilling and disciplining the youth to follow in the ways of Godly righteousness, then the populace will perpetuate its heritage, and will elect representatives worthy and capable of properly representing the masses in the debates on issues of righteous governance.
It is good to have good/right rules that the community follows as a group in coordinating their activities. A community which does not allow trespassing behavior on its fellow citizens will be a better place to live. But, in general, the need for government, law, rules, standards, and policies which are enacted and enforced by government will diminish toward a minimum when the laws of right relationship are written on men’s hearts.
When people are not internally governed to comply with the absolute standards of right behavior, people will call on the state to protect their space from violation. But, in most crimes against person and property, the individual who can properly judge goodness can handle the violation by individual confrontation. Those who resist and rebel can be confronted by a group of mature men to reason with the violator. If confession and repentance are still not forthcoming then a larger group may be effective in bringing the violator to an admission of his error of character and action. If that is ineffective, then, trial under the authority of the legal system is appropriate.
The issues of “victimless-crimes” is actually an extension of this issue. Since, if men violate God’s laws of sexuality, or abuse of the brain by mind-altering drugs, then it will only be a matter of time before their sin proliferates in the society. When men embrace sin, they teach or tolerate the same in their children. The spiritual pathogen of rebellion, wrong thinking, flesh-pleasing, ego-centrism spreads easily from parent to child. The next generation embraces carnal, pagan, rebellious, and erroneous-unGodly beliefs about life, behavior, authority, and relationship.
Men modify their worldview, their life-paradigm, to justify their moral choices. Thus, children taught to embrace unGodly sexuality and mind-altering drug use will accept other erroneous worldviews. They rebel against Godly limits, and a declare themselves as wise and sincerely believe they know the right ways of life. Men live in bubbles of reality, each seeing his ideas and visions as right, fair, wise, and good according to God’s plan and way. But in fact, men are limited by their own feelings and perceptions, and cannot properly discern the right limits of behavior, especially when they embrace unGodliness in one area of their lives to the extent that they deny the truth and righteousness of God’s way.
The contagion and destruction continue through the vector of ill-behaved children. They promote and legislate their Godless rebellion, just as did their fathers, and duplicate their character in their children. They act in disobedience of Godly laws and promote their own wrong standards of “righteous behavior”. The society crumbles into fragments as the lawless violation of others. These rebels eventually populate the schools, positions of industry and government leadership, and impose their own self-validated theory of life upon the world, as though it were freedom/liberty, but in the end, the goodness of man reveals itself as the suppressive tyranny of the self-anointed ruling class.
In our current day, we still have a remnant of men who still bow the knee to the God of heaven. Many try to follow the ways of God, but being human, each man fails, even though he is willing to submit to the ways of Godliness. Thus, while it would be wonderful to simply point to a segment of the population who called themselves Christian and say, these are the wise ones who should rule. But, realistically, we live in a fog of confusion and deception. The center point of truth for the society is thus best determined by men who are at least looking for truth and want to live in righteousness, even though they cannot do it well.
When a group which knows the truth engages in democratic action, the voting booth becomes the point of decision in choosing men of character. We should, therefore, elect men who are aware of the dangers of the State and educated to resist the inevitable usurpations of power. The people can oppose the creep of government by their willingness to associate, and by their sheer mass, noncompliance, and ongoing willingness to resist by acts of civil disobedience every unrighteous law. This will be the force that opposes the slow but inevitable rise of power of the State.
In other words, it will not be possible to maintain a Constitutional Republic as a government “of the people” unless the people are educated in the ways of righteousness, both public and private, and participate in its maintenance.
Sobran: What if the Federal Government grossly violated the Constitution? Could states withdraw from the Union? Lincoln said no. The Union was “indissoluble” unless all the states agreed to dissolve it. As a practical matter, the Civil War settled that. The United States, plural, were really a single enormous state, as witness the new habit of speaking of “it” rather than “them.” So the people are bound to obey the government even when the rulers betray their oath to uphold the Constitution. The door to escape is barred. Lincoln in effect claimed that it is not our rights but the state that is “unalienable.” And he made it stick by force of arms. No transgression of the Constitution can impair the Union’s inherited legitimacy. Once established on specific and limited terms, the U.S. Government is forever, even if it refuses to abide by those terms.
Thomas: This argument is simply more of the same, a substantiation of the argument that the state will overtake personal rights. The conclusion will then be, to get rid of such a beast, and establish anarchy instead, where there is no state. I will read on to see if I am correct.
Sobran: As Hoppe argues, this is the flaw in thinking the state can be controlled by a constitution. Once granted, state power naturally becomes absolute. Obedience is a one-way street. Notionally, “We the People” create a government and specify the powers it is allowed to exercise over us; our rulers swear before God that they will respect the limits we impose on them; but when they trample down those limits, our duty to obey them remains. Yet even after the Civil War, certain scruples survived for a while. Americans still agreed in principle that the Federal Government could acquire new powers only by constitutional amendment. Hence the postwar amendments included the words “Congress shall have power to” enact such and such legislation.
Thomas: Not true. The rights that God gave man are inalienable. The statement to the otherwise, based on the fact that the state acted as though states rights are obsolete is only an example of how power corrupts. The government is a useful tool, but in the hands of a fool, child, or idiot, the tool will turn and harm the unskilled craftsman. The arguments used here are shallow, simply noting that in the past men have been abused by government, and have not had the wisdom or fortitude to exercise the ongoing revolution that is required to maintain our Freedom (as Jefferson declared about the tree of liberty needing to be watered with the blood of patriots).
Sobran: But by the time of the New Deal, such scruples were all but defunct. Franklin Roosevelt and his Supreme Court interpreted the Commerce Clause so broadly as to authorize virtually any Federal claim, and the Tenth Amendment so narrowly as to deprive it of any inhibiting force. Today these heresies are so firmly entrenched that Congress rarely even asks itself whether a proposed law is authorized or forbidden by the Constitution.
Thomas: This is the method by which tyrants have used faux principles/the color of Constitutional law as legal tools to fool the naïve public into accepting their tyranny as legitimate. Again, only the wise man, the man of discrimination, the man who recognizes that in fact, this is a nation based upon rights given to men, and a government that serves them in the pursuit of life, liberty, property, and happiness. The idea that the State is the primary entity that should be protected and given supreme rights and care is the typical stock and trade satanic lie. This lie is seen in all its forms in all human relationships, and of course, it will be executed by those in the top tier of authority. Sobran: In short, the U.S. Constitution is a dead letter. It was mortally wounded in 1865. The corpse can’t be revived. This remained hard for me to admit, and even now it pains me to say it.
*** This statement is false. True, the Constitution has not been interpreted faithfully for many years, with each generation taking another bite out of its structure of limits. But, the fact of its poor application does not mean that it is dead. The original principles are as valid as the days they were penned. Men of wisdom and learning examined many different political structures, as well as the principles of the Bible. The concepts of limits, checks and balances, divisions, and ultimate power in the people is a structure that puts government as a servant, rather than as master. This is the essence of Godly government – a structure of government that captures both law and grace. Ultimately for such a document to have real effectiveness in producing both limits and liberty, it must capture the heart of God – since that is the nature of God’s desire for us to manifest in our personal and public lives. Thus, for a document to be effective and timeless, it must capture the spirit of Truth in these matters. For a Constitutional document to be truly workable, it must be actually divinely inspired (must reflect the divine mind and way). Mere words and rules cannot govern a people, a nation, or the human spirit; the words must reflect an underlying truth about the fundamental nature of life. It must take into account that man is not just good; he is also evil in his intents, desires, and heart. Thus, an effective Constitution must balance the Satanic with the Angelic, since both principles are real and operate in/on the mind of man. Man must battle the spiritual forces in his life, and in each generation. Freedom cannot be assumed because the Constitutional provisions promise them. Every man must participate in maintaining the liberty that life promises, but freedom is not free, it only comes from pushing against the forces that seek to limit our full expression of appropriate movement within the boundaries of life.
Sobran: Other things have helped change my mind. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii calculates that in the twentieth century alone, states murdered about 162,000,000 million of their own subjects. This figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of foreigners they killed in war. How, then, can we speak of states “protecting” their people? No amount of private crime could have claimed such a toll. As for warfare, Paul Fussell’s book Wartime portrays battle with such horrifying vividness that, although this wasn’t its intention, I came to doubt whether any war could be justified. * This is an error of analogy, arguing that the specific is the same as the general because the specific is within the category of the general. Governments have been involved in the slaughter of millions, the US has a government, the US has not engaged in the wanton slaughter of millions to subjugate them to tyranny, other governments have. The wars the US has fought are wars to liberate, and in the cases where there have been atrocities, it has been isolated to individual and brief periods. This argument/example does not give proof about the US government. The 162,000,000 people murdered were murdered by socialistic/communistic/totalitarian states. The people killed by the US in wars has been in reaction to tyranny, usurpation of land, or threats of the same. The author is attempting to use this argument of general implying properties of the specific to show that all government is evil, and lumps the atrocities of patently dictatorial regimes with the deaths inevitably caused in the response to righteous reactions to tyranny. Not an effective argument.
Sobran: My fellow Christians have argued that the state’s authority is divinely given. They cite Christ’s injunction “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and St. Paul’s words “The powers that be are ordained of God.” But Christ didn’t say which things — if any — belong to Caesar; his ambiguous words are far from a command to give Caesar whatever he claims. And it’s notable that Christ never told his disciples either to establish a state or to engage in politics. They were to preach the Gospel and, if rejected, to move on. He seems never to have imagined the state as something they could or should enlist on their side.
Thomas: This is a simplification and proof-texting of the Bible’s entire stand about government, based upon a single statement that Jesus made in response to men who were trying to find anything they use to accuse him of sedition, and hence justify his death at the hands of the state.
Jesus is the incarnation of the God of the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament examines the evolution of man’s relationship with government. The Hebrew governmental system evolved from being simply Moses as a single monarchical figure, who realized he couldn’t do all the functions required of him, so he divided up the duties among groups of 10,100, 1000, and had leaders over each that executed judgment. Only the most difficult problems were brought to Moses. Later, a system of judges was established as the head of state. Then the people asked for a King. But, God warned them against doing that, telling the people that He was sufficient as their ruler. God warned them that kings will tax and subjugate you, but the people wanted a king because all the other pagan nations had a king – they wanted one too. So, God gave them a king, and he started out good but turned bad. There was an alternation of good and bad kings over many generations. The bad kings turned the people to the worship of idols and away from the worship of the one True God –then the people suffered. When the kings were good and worshiped the one True God, the people were happy and prospered. The people had short memories and turned back to idols on the next generation. The pull of idolatry and false gods appears very strong, and along with it comes really bad things for a society.
Jesus did not come to establish a political kingdom on earth. People wanted to make him a King, but he refused. He noted that he would return again, and with power. In other words, ultimately it will be a governmental system, with God/Jesus as the King, ruling the earth. The Lord’s prayer includes the phrase, “on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, a righteous kingdom, where God is on the throne, and we all obey the divine laws and prosper. The Bible cannot be used as a reference to prove that there was no discussion of government. In fact, the Founders, when their writings were examined, were found to have used the Bible more than any other reference as to how to organize this new nation.
Sobran: At first sight, St. Paul seems to be more positive in affirming the authority of the state. But he himself, like the other martyrs, died for defying the state, and we honor him for it; to which we may add that he was on one occasion a jailbreaker as well. Evidently, the passage in Romans has been misread. It was probably written during the reign of Nero, not the most edifying of rulers; but then Paul also counseled slaves to obey their masters, and nobody construes this as an endorsement of slavery. He may have meant that the state and slavery were here for the foreseeable future and that Christians must abide them for the sake of peace. Never does he say that either is here forever.
Thomas: Paul did not engage in a jailbreak. He prayed and sang in his cell with his fellow disciples, and God sent an earthquake, and the doors were opened, and rather than leave, he stayed because the guards would have been executed for allowing the prisoners to escape. Paul was not defying the state. He was accused by the State of crimes, and he appealed his case to Caesar. He engaged in the principles of legal argument and due process rather than force regarding his case. In the process of being transported, he was shipwrecked. He defied the state in their unrighteous injunction to stop preaching the gospel, the good news, of Christ, his birth, death, and resurrection and forgiveness of sin. His appeal was to Caesar as a Roman citizen by virtue of his birth.
Sobran: St. Augustine took a dim view of the state, as a punishment for sin. He said that a state without justice is nothing but a gang of robbers writ large while leaving doubt that any state could ever be otherwise. St. Thomas Aquinas took a more benign view, arguing that the state would be necessary even if man had never fallen from grace; but he agreed with Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all, a doctrine that would severely diminish any known state.
Thomas: What St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas thought is interesting, but hardly proof of what God’s intent was for man regarding his relationship to the state. That really is the question, “What does God intend for man with regard to his group life? Does God intend man to be subject to a governmental layer? In the statement by Jesus, He did not say to oppose government or disregard it. Government is just one of the institutions of life, it is not the only, or even most important, it has a function, and it should not be the primary nor the least important of the stations/institutions/elements of life and relationship.
Yes, this is an important principle, that we not obey any law that opposes righteousness. And yes, this is a check in the power of the state. To obey the state under all conditions, when the state demands unGodly action, would be to put the State as God, but a false god, one whose worship will cause the destruction of the people and nation. We must be prepared to suffer for righteousness. That is what Jesus did. He spoke the truth, and the forces of hell opposed Him. He stated that the same would be required of those that followed Him.
Sobran: The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force. But force is subhuman; in words I quote incessantly, Simone Weil defined it as “that which turns a person into a thing — either corpse or slave.” It may sometimes be a necessary evil, in self-defense or defense of the innocent, but nobody can have by right what the state claims: an exclusive privilege of using it.
Thomas: This is just a restatement of the previous arguments. Force is not evil, nor is it good, it is simply a fact of life, a tool that must be used in the manipulation/movement of the pieces of life. The tool of force can be used for righteousness or ill. The State has no right to a monopoly of force. Such is the desire and plan and method of the forces of Hell, to subjugate all men. Liberty is the antithesis/enemy of the kingdom of darkness. Of course, men in positions of power will be seduced to use and apply more power, simply because there is a rush, a boost, a flesh passion reward that comes from engaging and using it. Power/control is not evil; again, it is merely one of the expressions of life, and it must be sanctified, used properly.
Sobran: It’s entirely possible that states — organized force — will always rule this world, and that we will have at best a choice among evils. And some states are worse than others in important ways: anyone in his right mind would prefer living in the United States to life under a Stalin. But to say a thing is inevitable, or less onerous than something else, is not to say it is good. For most people, anarchy is a disturbing word, suggesting chaos, violence, antinomianism — things they hope the state can control or prevent. The term state, despite its bloody history, doesn’t disturb them. Yet it’s the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can’t assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what legitimacy means. Anarchists obviously need a more seductive label. “But what would you replace the state with?” The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be “replaced.” Christians, and especially Americans, have long been misled about all this by their good fortune. Since the conversion of Rome, most Western rulers have been more or less inhibited by Christian morality (though, often enough, not so’s you’d notice), and even warfare became somewhat civilized for centuries; and this has bred the assumption that the state isn’t necessarily an evil at all. But as that morality loses its cultural grip, as it is rapidly doing, this confusion will dissipate. More and more we can expect the state to show its nature nakedly. For me, this is anything but a happy conclusion. I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put away childish things.