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My political philosophy, Volume 1

It was back in October that I was given a blog homework assignment about my political beliefs and how my faith has impacted them. It is a topic I have been interested in writing about, but it is such a broad topic that often I did not know how to best tackle it. Some discussions have happened recently among friends and I finally decided to just jump into it and do my best.

I do not support the initiation of force to achieve political or social goals.

That is about as simple a groundwork as I can lay for my political philosophy. While succinct, there are nuances to it that are commonly overlooked or misunderstood. It's known as the non-aggression principle and Wikipedia elaborates:


It holds that “aggression,” which is defined as the initiation of physical force, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property, is inherently illegitimate. The principle does not preclude defense against aggression.

This is easy to understand in simple, one-to-one, real world interactions. If Jim has an apple and John wants an apple, it is wrong for John to punch Jim and take the apple. It is also wrong for John to threaten to punch Jim unless he gives him the apple; and it is wrong for John to deceive Jim and take the apple while he is not looking. In an instance like this, the majority of people will agree with the principle. It is something we learned from a young age.

In order to consistently apply this principle, it should not change when there are more than two people. John's actions would still be wrong if he got 2 people or 1000 people to go along with him.

My faith has impacted my political beliefs, quite simply, by containing this principle as part of its core. I believe Jesus epitomized the non-aggression principle. His example calls followers to peacefully (e.g. non-aggression) spread the gospel - to use persuasion, not coercion.

Continuing with my political philosophy, it is important to understand that governments rely on force and the threat of force in order to enforce laws.

When we see a speed limit sign, most of us will make sure we are close to that limit. Why? Because we understand if a police officer catches us speeding, there are escalating penalties: there is a fine with the ticket, then there are more fines, then there is suspension of the license, then there is arrest for driving with a suspended license, and finally there is risk of bodily harm for resisting or fleeing the arrest. These penalties act as coercion and work well enough that most people will be very careful to avoid speeding in the first place, much less do anything to escalate the penalties beyond the first fine. Without these penalties – the threat of force – who would care about the speed limit? It would just be a speed suggestion.

Similarly, with income taxes, we know there are escalating penalties if we fail to file or pay: fines, interest charges, bank account seizure, liens against property, arrest, and the risk of bodily harm for resisting or fleeing arrest. Again, these act as coercion and work well enough that most people will file their taxes. Without the threat of force that we know lies implicitly behind each law, there would not be reason for people to obey them.

If it is understood that governments rely on force and the threat of force in order to enforce laws, then the next logical question should be: is it legitimate in the case of government? I have come to the conclusion that it is not, because government is just a grouping of people, and as I mentioned before, the principle should be consistently applied.

If John formed an organization that coerced Jim to give it his apples, it would be illegitimate. Even if this organization had support from a majority of the population, it would still be illegitimate. Should it change anything if John called this organization “government”?

Your thoughts and questions are welcomed. I know, from experience, that these ideas can bring up questions that head in a variety of directions. I would prefer the discussion stay roughly within the concepts of this post; others I may wait to address in future posts.

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Responses

Allison

Allison

So are you saying that there shouldn't be laws, because there shouldn't be any enforcement for them? Which actually just would mean...

Are you against consequences for wrongdoings?

I don't know if this is what you're getting at, but as for the speed limit idea, look at how insanely people drive WITH them. Imagine how it would be without them. It'd be chaos, and I'd be scared to drive, because people would be zipping in and out on me at 90 mph.

I don't know. Relating this to other laws, as well... I'm glad we have a lot of them, and I'm glad someone is out there trying to enforce them.


Tim

Tim

It sounds like you're talking about anarchy. Not the total chaos that most people think of when they think of anarchy, but a political and social system sometimes called “libertarian socialism”, which I think you would readily identify with. (Wikipedia has a good short article on this under “Anarchy”. See also “libertarian socialism”.)

Where I tend to disagree is with the idea that people are inherently good, and that they really do want to voluntarily form these communities based on mutual interest and so forth. I believe that our fallen sinful nature guarantees a certain amount of selfishness, and God himself established a system of laws with consequences for Israel. I don't think Jesus really spoke on civil law, except to say that it was there for a reason and we are to obey the spirit of that law more than the letter of the law (cf. the Sermon on the Mount).

Now how should we put together a set of laws, and what sort of enforcement should we use? I would certainly agree that we have lots of issues with government today. But I think what we need is a better set of checks-and-balances to dissuade those in power from abusing it with force.

ps - This is kind of a stretch for me. I've been somewhat ignoring politics for the past 7 or 8 years, because I don't know how I “should” feel about these things. But your post was intelligent and well-written, and I respect you, so I thought I'd take a stab.


@Allison:
This post is intended to be solely about the two concepts bolded - about the means - and agnostic about the ends. For example, it's not a commentary about whether speed limits are “right” or “wrong.”

I'm not saying there shouldn't be laws, but neither am I saying there should be laws. That's one of those “variety of directions” questions I will probably reserve for later.

“Wrongdoings” is broad and I cannot answer that question strictly yes or no, so I will rephrase it slightly and say: Yes, I believe there can be legitimate consequences for aggression. The non-aggression principle does not preclude defense against aggression.

@Tim:
Yes, it is much like anarchy or anarcho-capitalism, which I'm quite familiar with. I avoided labels in this discussion because they typically just muddy the waters with preconceived notions and whatnot. I have my labels, and no problems with using them, just wanted to keep it simple. :]

You raise good and interesting points, which I think about a lot. I agree on human selfishness, though it brings up the issue of how much that actually helps a voluntary interaction society, as well as reasons to strongly limit the power of people over others. Again, topics I will probably address more later.

Thanks for the comment. It's been a journey for me, over the last 8 years (coincidentally). While the principle is “simple”, it's not always easy to apply consistently.


Justin Anthony Knapp

Justin Anthony Knapp

Gregor,

I was directed here from Tim, who is a mutual friend of ours. He knew that I have a similar disposition to you and that I have a background in politics and philosophy.

In short, I basically agree with everything you wrote, so I don't know how much I have to add to the discussion directly related to this post, but I suppose questions that should be addressed by this line of thought include: when, if ever, is force legitimate? What is the association between force and manipulation? When is it legitimate to segregate someone from society (e.g. jail) or impose society's will on another?

One question that does directly tie to the premise of this post is: what does this have to do with spirituality or religious convictions? Ostensibly, that's the point of this post, but I'm interested in seeing how you got from being a Christian (which I assume you are and were for several years) to being a sort of anarchist. That association is not very clear from what you have written thus far.

Again, this may all be fodder for subsequent posts, or simply too off-topic for your time and interest. At the risk of being pedantic, if you want to read some like-minded folk, you can check out http://jesusradicals.org/ They are a group of radical Christians - anarchists, vegans, pacifists, agrarians, etc. - and they say similar things to what you've said here.

I'll continue to follow updates to this line of thought.

-JAK


IndyChristian

IndyChristian

gRegor... I love seeing young people getting their thoughts around these sorts of things. Wish you well figuring it all out — keep asking/looking/thinking... and especially reading (the Bible). There are great answers God has for us all.

In the meantime though... “Gimme yer lunch money Or else!” “Same goes for your sister, too.”


Thanks for commenting, Justin.

I have been a Christian most of my life, and still am. Basically, the more I thought about and questioned politics/government policies, the more I realized they weren't in line with my worldview.

Or perhaps it's just that my worldview became more clear, so that things I previously thought were necessary and just - are no longer. I was raised in a Republican home and in the “us vs them” of politics; it wasn't until later that I began to question that system. Upon learning of the NAP and really thinking it through, I found it to be far more consistent with Christ. I don't see Him initiating force to achieve a desirable political/social order or guiding us to do so.


Kraz-in-a-can

Kraz-in-a-can

I was reading the responses and mine seemed to fall right into view with what Tim stated.

I do think it very noble to view mankind in a positive light. I (personally) just find it very difficult. The freedoms that one person takes for granted can (and are progressively moving towards this) interfere with the freedoms that others choose to take.

I guess looking a little closer at your first example might offer a better perspective of what I mean.

If it weren't for the “coercive elements” there would be little keeping John from punching Jim (short of Jim fighting bacK) to take the apple. Assuming that John would never attempt to take the apple assumes a good deal about John's character. Which is probably the point I'm trying to make.

A view where there is a very small government and/or people are allowed to police/govern themselves assumes a lot about the character of the individual and people in general. It seems that a system like that might “devolve” into a series of groups/communities/etc that find themselves believing in one particular philosophy versus another and removing opposing philosophies in the process.

This may also lead to different groups with a feeling of superiority over other groups. I guess that a truly democratic culture involves a heterogeneous population bound by a certain set of rules (which can change over time) but also with a means to enforce these rules.

Maybe I've jumped to a conclusion that normal reasoning doesn't lead to. I'll definitely state that I don't always hold the highest regard for my fellow human beings. I guess I've been too negatively affected by the A-hole Factor. (Simply put the A-hole Factor assumes that regardless of the situation someone is always going to be an A-hole and mess it up.)

Gregor thanks for thinking through this. It's always enjoyable to hear someone's well thought out philosophy. Like the Proverb (or ... um... other passage in the Bible) states, “as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another.” Without putting your thoughts out there it would be difficult to fashion my own and vice-versa.

p.s. - When you coming to visit G. Eye's gotsa no?


Melanie Reed

Melanie Reed

Your essay started out with an incredibly insightful dilemma scenario. Well illustrated. By that illustration you set out the problem that human government sets out to answer - the aggression of one against another so that justice is done and fairness defined and maintained while also maintaining freedom. In our attempt to answer the problem of how to govern ourselves we are presented with the misleading evidence of a “1000 minor truths”. This is what usually opens us all up to disagreement and debate, with each one trying to make their point and others choosing sides. Often this winds up in total and hostile disagreement or a “peaceful” agree to disagree situation. In the end, neither of those positions winds up really satisfying anyone. Why? Because neither of them embraces the fullness of truth. Full truth contains paradoxes: two truths of equal strength that simultaneously stand together with one another while complimenting one another in their contrasting natures. Only Jesus embodies this view of truth. He is not one or the other of two minor truths in his character and nature. For instance, he is called “The Prince of Peace” but he also stated that he came to cause division (Matt: 10:34) “Do not think I came to bring peace...” That is a paradox. Why? Because the way Jesus is going to bring peace, has brought peace to the hearts of many, will cause division in relationships. People will be opened up as to their assumptions about Him, about others, about themselves. We will be drawn to the light which will expose our sinful nature and humble us in front of others. This is what causes conflict, not only in the soul, but, when fear of exposure rules the sinful nature, it causes conflict with others, even to the point of aggression, of brutal force, in order to protect the ego. The way of peace then is not made in a “peaceful” manner because of our fallen nature. Even internally, we struggle, a “war” is waged daily with ourselves as the aggressors against our own soul by force. Until we conquer ourselves by “spiritual force” ( recall that Paul metaphorically “beat his body” and led it about like a slave so that the sinful nature would not triumph) there will never be the kind of peace your essay espouses. That's the paradox. So while we live on this earth in a fallen condition with millions of others in the same condition that worsens daily, there will be a need as Paul writes to Titus, to: “Continue reminding them to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers”.... Why? It qualifies what the purpose of that willing subjection is to accomplish: “...to be ready for every good work.” (Titus 3:1) Will these human governements always act in our best interest? No. They will not because they are as fundamentally corrupt as we. So what is our appeal then? Our appeal is based on the primary purpose for which these human “authorities” exist in this age: to draw us closer to God as our only King and Savior. While Governments serve to provide some justice in our age when they do good, they also serve to drive us to God when they do bad. And your blog, Gregor, proves that point only too well: we cannot adequately or fairly or mercifully govern ourselves. Only God is the ultimate judge, law-giver, and merciful Father. He wants us to come to our own conclusion that we need Him and we cannot do these things for ourselves.



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