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.