So let’s come at this from another angle. We are talking about whether goverments can steal, and once that seemingly obvious point is settled, at what point their taking becomes pillage. And the brief answer is that it become indefensible when they can’t defend what they are doing from the Word of God.
In City of God, Augustine tells the story of a pirate who was captured and brought before Alexander the Great, and boldly asked why he was called a pirate for doing with one ship to other ships what Alexander with great armies to other nations. We lose track of what happened to the witty pirate after that, but his question is manifestly a reasonable one.
“What would it be called if we did that?” is a reasonable way to begin the discussion. If the directors the Ponzi-scheme Social Security program were in the private sector, they would all be down the hall from Bernie Madoff. This is not a radical anarchist question either. There are times when the magistrate can answer the question — e.g. “you can’t take personal vengeance on your enemies because God has given the sword of vengeance to us.”
Someone might object that I intruded the Scriptures into the equation, making it impossible for us to determine what is right and wrong for the magistrate to do apart from God’s Word to us. And that would be correct. We are sinners. We need Christ. We need Christ individually, and we need Christ collectively. We need Christ preached in our pulpits and offered on our communion tables, we need Christ remembered and honored around our family dinner tables, and we need Christ in the public square.
What is the American problem? What is the American dilemma?
“If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44: 20-21).
We have forgotten the name of our God, and that is why we don’t even know what stealing is anymore.
There are three basic governments that God has established among men. The overweening state wants one government, overseeing atomistic individuals. Those individuals are all dumped into a statist sack, which has the structural integrity of a bean bag chair. Each individual can be isolated — easily — by the state if he becomes obstreperous. This is why the behavior of solitary tax protester types is so easy for the civil totalizers to deal with. It is the atom against the collective.
A biblical civilization rests upon Burke’s little platoons, which in turn spin out of the three governments mentioned above. God created the family, God created civil order, and God created the church. When Paul says that no authority exists except what God has established, he did not say that all the authority was located in one spot, or that all of it had been invested in one man, parked on one throne. God has more than one deacon.
The family is His Ministry of Health, Education, and Welfare. The civil order is His Ministry of Justice. The church is His Ministry of Grace and Truth. That’s the basic set-up. Dislocations begin to manifest themselves when any one of these established governments get above themselves and try to usurp functions that God assigned to the others. The church did this in the middle ages, the family has done it in times of tribal wars and feuds, and the state is doing it now.
When authority is decentralized, and located in small, interlocking entities (families, churches, townships, nations, volunary societies, etc.), then the strength of that society is molecular. This can happen in a healthy way only when Christ is the point of integration, when Christ is acknowledged as the one in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:17). When a secular state tries to hold us all together, the necessary results will be brittle, authoritarian, and oppressive. These men refuse to rule in the name of Jesus, and this is why they do not know what justice is. This is why they do not have even the most basic grasp of the differences between meum and tuum.