The 5 Smooth Stones of Theocratic Libertarianism

Things in our public life together are gummed up enough that I believe we can openly call for radical reform. Whether we do or not, I think we are going to get the same treatment. We might as well respond with something that might actually help. Whatever the case, we will not be able to trim or pirouette our way out of this mess. As an insightful sailor on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor might have said, as the third wave of Japanese bombers flew over, "The time for nuance is passed." A few posts ago I mentioned the five smooth stones of theocratic libertarianism. This was in the context of an illustration using David and Goliath, and as with David, I think most of our problems would probably  be addressed in principle with just the first one. At any rate, here are the basic features of theocratic libertarianism. Here are my five smooth stones. 1. Jesus is Lord. I have been arguing for years now that what is required is a return to Christendom, but in a form that I call mere Christendom. If you like, you can call it mere fundamentalism. A free civilization is necessarily larger than any of the Christian denominations within it, but at the same time a free civilization will … [Read more...]

Bard Still Has an Arrow Left

As I watch the evening news, night after night it appears to me that our nation is being ruled by men who are hellbent on destroying us before they leave office. Either we are dealing with malevolence of a high order or incompetence of a higher order, and quite possibly both. Now I say this knowing that if they are successful in their vision, there will be no injustice done. We deserve everything that is happening to us, good and hard. But, that said, let me tell you why I am optimistic. At the end of the book of Esther, the Jews were enabled by the grace of God to defend themselves, and they wound up killing 75,000 of their enemies (Est. 9:16). Just prior to that, their enemies had been hoping to use the decree of Haman to wipe out the Jews, but at the last minute the tables were turned (Est. 9:1). There was a goodish bit of court politics going on, combined with a little of "no, wait, not that." “The posts went out, being hastened by the king’s commandment, and the decree was given in Shushan the palace. And the king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed” (Est. 3:15). Perplexed, sort of like me, scrolling through the Drudge Report. I am … [Read more...]

The Biggest Donut Hole of All

Radical Muslims are quite energetic in their blasphemies. They want their blasphemies to come across as blasphemies. Like a toddler in the middle of an epic meltdown, they know what they want and they know how to get it. Secularists are quite tepid in their blasphemies. I mean, cartoons? But immediately I must correct myself. Secularists are not tepid at all in protecting their precious liberal state when they perceive a threat to it from Christians. They know how to play hard ball, but it needs to be against an entity they consider to be truly dangerous to the liberal order. This means that they must be fierce with the Christians. Christians who think we ought not to spend more money than we don't have are enemies of all mankind, while Muslims who blow themselves up in public places are "activists" who perhaps went a tad overboard in their zeal for the religion of peace. The problem is that many Christians have taken their cue on how to respond to the secularists by imitating how the secularists are responding to the radical Muslims. This is not just simple imitation; unfortunately Christians have taken a goodish bit of secular thinking on board. They still believe, alas, … [Read more...]

Something to Use, Something to Risk

I have written critically in the past about James Davison Hunter's approach to not really changing the world. In the last analysis, his tag phrase "faithful presence" ought to be a means to victory, not a goal in itself. If we make it a goal, it is as though the coach settles for getting his team to just show up for the games, and the end result of that approach is what theologians used to call a "losing season." But my purpose here is not to dig through those old bones. One of the points that Hunter made very well, and which I appreciated very much, concerned the role of elite institutions in accomplishing whatever transformation might occur. Quite properly he leans against the idea that reformation is necessarily a grass roots "proletariat" sort of thing. I actually think that the necessity of this kind of grass roots reformation is a bit of propaganda from the other team that we have bought into, and which has been greatly debilitating. In Rodney Stark's book, The Rise of Christianity, he has a powerful chapter that demonstrates the explosive growth of Christianity was actually centered in the middle and upper classes of Roman society. The idea that Christianity grew so … [Read more...]

Withershins

Taxes This Year

C.S. Lewis observes somewhere that there are two different motivations for spreading the political power as thinly as possible. The first is the motive of the sunny democrat, one who believes that man is the repository of wisdom, and that before we do anything of a civic nature, we ought to check in with as many of those wisdom nodes out there as we can. The second motivation is driven by a Christian view of man, in which the radical nature of sin is acknowledged, and we confess ourselves unwilling to deposit too much power in any one individual or institution. And why? Because Lord Acton knew his onions, and aptly said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This adage does not apply to God, obviously, who is untempted and uncorrupted by His omnipotence. It does apply,  however, to all those little creatures who are still affected by the aboriginal temptation, which is "to be as God." The former view is trying share the power with all those out there who are worthy of it, and the latter view is trying to keep the power from accumulating in any one place. The former view is pagan, and the latter is Christian. In this latter view, given the nature of the … [Read more...]

The Problem of Tiffany Sugartoes

Scripture refers to that kind of ruler who frames "mischief with a law" (Ps. 94:20). Those who do this kind of thing are men who sit on thrones of iniquity, and God refuses His fellowship with any such thrones. There are many ways to frame mischief with a law. Everyone grants that one example would be when a despot pillages all the poor peasants in order to fund his Belshazzarian kegger tomorrow night. That would be one example. That would be the big E on the eye chart. But are there other examples of thieving mischief? While some established thieves are debauched, others are a bit more clever. If Suleiman the Magnificent takes 20K from me in order to beef up the personnel department of his seraglio, then that is both tacky and theft. But if Obama the Magnificent takes 20K from me in order to provide loan guarantees to Goldman Sachs, and they use it to provide a holiday bonus for a rising junior executive, who uses it on a weekend blowout in the Hamptons with a girl named Tiffany Sugartoes, then this is just as tacky, and just as much theft, but we can say that they cover their tracks better these days. So let's spend a bit of time distinguishing sins from crimes. When … [Read more...]

Property and Love for the Poor

Perfectly Legal

I have written a great deal on how the framework provided by biblical ethics honors and preserves the institution of private property. The argument is not complex. Just as "thou shalt not commit adultery" presupposes and honors the institution of marriage, so also "thou shalt not steal" presupposes and honors the institution of private property. The private property that is honored is that which comes to a man through the ordinary processes. “Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Cor. 9:10). God is the one who gives us the power to get wealth (Dt. 8:18), and it comes up to us from the ground. It does not float down upon us from the state. We learn the principle when learning to love the haves -- but it applies even more to the have nots. When a people are being liberated from covetousness, envy, and the larceny resident in every socialist scheme, they need to learn to mortify this sin in the presence of a neighbor who has manicured lawns, a red convertible, and a beautiful wife (Ex. 20:17). Learning what love means in … [Read more...]

With All Your Protections in a Binder on His Desk

After my Due Process post, I received a letter from a friend -- a tax attorney -- who agreed with my central point about the modern tyrannical state, but who did want to defend the IRS on the point I was making about due process. "Although I agree with you that the modern administrative state is overreaching and Tyrannical, I believe it is untrue to characterize IRS assessment and collection processes as being 'without due process.'” As he defines his terms, I quite agree with him. And as I am defining mine, he (I think) would agree with me. By due process, I did not mean orderly process, or defined process, or published beforehand process. I agree with my friend that all that and more occurs during the processes of tax assessment and collection. Bureaucrats are nothing if not rule-guided creatures. But before expanding further on what I mean by due process, I need to lurch off into this side paragraph for a moment to explain what I am doing. On this point, I am simply tracking and agreeing with Philip Hamburger's foundational arguments in his Is Administrative Law Unlawful? This also addresses the objections of those who believe that I have inexplicably set myself up as an … [Read more...]

Due Process, or Do the Process?

Now it is a funny New Yorker cartoon, but Charles the First actually tried it.

Some, like myself, believe that coercion without warrant from Scripture is a very bad thing. For others this category of coercion is largely invisible. It just appears to be part of the way things are. In this installment, I want to explain how unlawful coercion is a very real characteristic of our governmental system, and also explain why it is so destructive. This is important for us to grasp because the "powers that be," to use Tyndale's phrase, are entrusted by God with the lawful power of coercion. They do not bear the sword for nothing (Rom. 13:4). At the same time, these authorities, who may lawfully coerce, can also cross over a particular line and become abusive and tyrannical. If we don't know where that line is, or how to police it, then we are naifs, babes in the woods, tyros, despot-fodder. I have been working off the phrase in the Declaration that says that men have certain inalienable rights, including "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This was a more elegant and poetic way of saying "life, liberty, and property" -- a phrase that comes up in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. No one may "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without … [Read more...]

Stuff Inviolate

I have been arguing that property rights are human rights. I have been insisting that it is not possible to love your neighbor without respecting his stuff. I have been saying that the commandment thou shalt not steal presupposes the institution of private property in just the same way that the prohibition of adultery presupposes marriage. And in the same way, I cannot honor the command not to covet my neighbor's wife if I cannot come up with a definition of "wife." But there has been some surprising pushback on this simple idea, so let us dig a little deeper. So what do I mean by property? Within the boundaries of the law of God, property entails the authority to retain or dispose of material goods without the permission of another. If you are renting something, or leasing it, you do not have the right to dispose of it in the same way you would if you owned it. When you rent a car, you are answerable to someone else for the use. When you own a car, you can paint the passenger door turquoise if you wish. This means that all property is ultimately God's. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and the earth is the Lord's and all that it contains (Ex. 9:29; Dt. … [Read more...]

Sure. Let’s Call It a Contribution.

So I have distinguished the payment of taxes that are owed, and the payment of taxes that is rendered out of a principled prudence. In the former instance, paying taxes is a matter of conscience and in the latter it is a matter of intelligence. When I give my wallet to the mugger, I am not granting him authority over my wallet, and still less am I giving him authority over any future wallets that I might come to possess. I am simply doing a cost benefit analysis, and his gun trumps my five dollars. Now some want to argue that all taxes whatever are illegitimate. While this makes life simple on the conscience front, making every decision of whether to pay taxes or not a prudential one, the simplicity is, ironically, too easy. A good example of such an approach to the argument can be found here. While Joel and I would agree on a great deal on this general subject, we do differ at this particular point. It is an important point, so let me deal with it briefly. In my argument for this position, I cited Romans 13, which tells us to pay taxes to those to whom taxes are due, and Joel reads this as simply as entirely circumstantial and prudential, telling us to pay taxes to whom … [Read more...]

What Jefferson Wrote

Some might want to think it a shame that in my summary of my position on property, I channeled Jefferson, that noted infidel and skeptic. This is what I wrote: "We are created by God, and it is self-evident that we were endowed by that Creator with certain rights that are inalienable, and that among these rights are the right to life, liberty, and property." For my part, I think the Jefferson hat tip is a shame also, but for different reasons. I think it is shame that a noted infidel and skeptic had a far more biblical understanding of these issues than do many contemporary Christians. That really is a shame. I summarized there what Jefferson wrote, but did not go into why he wrote it. He wrote those wonderful words because he was at the tail end of a long history of Christian intellectual development. Some of the players in that development had their own problematic issues -- I'm looking at you, John Locke -- but there really was real progress in understanding civil liberty, political rights, property rights, and so on. To point to certain phrases and dismiss the thought because the expressions of Locke or Jefferson can be found in them is to make an exceedingly superficial … [Read more...]

A Clean Conscience and a Well-Oiled Shield

Democracy in Action: "We heard that Murphy still has some money left!"

As I have been noting periodically in this series on liberty, taxation, and theft, I am not issuing a call to action, but rather a call for understanding and recognition. Clearly this is not because action is irrelevant, but rather because rash and precipitous action is usually destructive. Think, and then do. At some point, action will be necessary, and when that day comes, Christians need to have consciences that are prepared for the necessary action. If you are going to run a marathon, you don't get ready for it by running around the block the day before. Now by "prepared consciences" I don't mean callused consciences. All Christians should have sensitive consciences, but they should not have consciences that are universally sensitive. When the conscience is universally sensitive, that tenderized one is a prime candidate for the guilt manipulators, who are quite prepared to tell us anything. You are waiting for your wife, who ran into the mall for a couple things, and you keep the car running so you can have the air conditioner going. Well, it is because of YOU that glaciers are falling into the ocean, and polar bears are keeling over in heaps. And if you want the hotel to … [Read more...]

What Became of the Witty Pirate Then

And I trust you brought your 1099s?

Because taxes can be a form of theft, and because taxes need not be theft at all, a reasonable question to ask is how we can tell the difference. The baseline, the starting point, is that property belongs to the individual. He is the one that Thou shalt not steal applies to. He is the one with the house, the vineyard, the lawn mower, the wallet, the smart phone, and so on. Whenever the Bible talks about property, it always talks about it two categories. The first is God's absolute ownership of all things (Dt. 10:14), and the second is the relative ownership that you and your neighbor enjoy (Dt. 8:18). When we talk about the state possessing things, this possession is derivative. The state extracts value from the taxpayer, the appointed steward of God's wealth, and this extraction can also be divided into two categories. This value can be extracted lawfully, or the state can play the role of the thief. So how are we to tell the difference? We know that taxation can be done right because the Bible talks about paying taxes to the one to whom it is due (Rom. 13:7). These are taxes that we owe, and are not to be considered theft at all. We should no more chafe at paying our … [Read more...]

Liberty As Durable Goods

Audit Accident

In a recent post I claimed that property rights were human rights. A question naturally arose as to whether I was responding to this essay by Brad Littlejohn, which, as it happened, I was not. The impetus for my post came out of a biography of Samuel Adams that I am currently enjoying. Be that as it may, I see that I need to point out a few more foundation stones for my imposing and grandiose claim. Where do I get off saying that property rights are human rights. Unlike Brad's piece, my thinking does not depend on the detailed history of the legal reasoning debates over this most controverted issue. This is because, after you strip away the big words I sometimes use -- words like delicatessen -- I am, at the end of the day, just a Bible thumper. So how do I get off saying that property rights are human rights? I am required to love all men because all men bear the image of God, and it is not possible to love a man without simultaneously respecting his stuff. “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this … [Read more...]