Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism?
an·ar·chy (nr-k): Rules without rulers; the doctrine of abolishing all compulsory, tax-funded government. Crime would be dealt with through the free market as private agencies offer judicial services based on consumer preferences.
min·ar·chy (mnr-k): Minimal rule; the belief that civil government rightfully exists to protect individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract, and fraud. Law enforcement, courts and military are valid government services.
stat·ism (sttzm): The practice or doctrine of giving a centralized government control over economic planning and policy, usually including the acceptance of welfarism and militarism.
If you adhere to a minarchist view of civil government, a statist has probably accused you of being an anarchist at least once in your life. This accusation is totally unfounded but it still happens. For example, let’s say you submit an argument against wealth redistribution, the income tax, the drug war, or militarism. Instead of your opponent offering an intelligent response, they jump to the conclusion that you oppose all government and want it all shut down. This is a straw-man fallacy used with the intent of smearing your reputation. This has happened to me in private discussions and you’ll probably see this happen in the news media against limited government politicians. Statists have a hard time defending their views with morality or constitutional law so they try to refute minarchy by attaching an illegitimate stigma to it.
Likewise, if you defend the institution of civil government at any level whatsoever, anarchists often classify you as a mindless, do-whatever-the-government-tells-you-to-do statist. Lest any readers think I am exaggerating, anarchist blogger Per Bylund writes:
From a point of view of principle, statists are all the same. As a principled anarchist, I cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with a minarchist against government. In fact, I refuse – because I know that when push comes to shove, the minarchist is like any other statist. He will not hesitate to pull the trigger on anyone with a principled opposition to government.”
In my observation, both statists and anarchists fail to address the issues raised by limited government proponents and instead make accusations from both extremes. We are anarchists to the statists and statists to the anarchists. There is no room for balance or a middle ground. Each one has their respective philosophies for believing what they do and each one has many Christian advocates. But what is the biblical view of government? Does the Bible promote anarchy, minarchy, or statism?
I believe God reveals to us a minarchist view of government. This doesn’t mean any one form of government is absolute (monarchy, constitutional republic, etc.) At God’s direction, Israel had different forms of government throughout their history. But no matter what form of government was in place it’s proper function was to execute justice against criminals. God gives judicial authority to humanity after the flood in Genesis 9:6:
Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man.”
Here we see the death penalty enacted for murderers. They take away innocent life, therefore their life will be taken away. Romans 13 reiterates that civil rulers function under God’s authority to “punish evildoers.” Contrary to statism, the Bible never gives them the authority to control the economy, provide welfare, or to start prohibitions against raw milk. Justice is the focus. And contrary to anarchism, God wants justice to be dispensed according to his standards, not by competing agencies that rule from their own subjective opinions.
Additionally, localization is a principle of biblical government. Moses is instructed to elect judges to rule over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (Exodus 18). Israel was decentralized into twelve tribes and each city had their own elders who were responsible for making judicial pronouncements (Numbers 33:54, 34:13-29; Deuteronomy 16:18, 21:1-4, 22:18-19). This was God’s preference even during the time of the kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 2nd Chronicles 19:4-11). He judged the citizens of Babel for isolating themselves into one body politic (Genesis 11:1-9); he destroyed Abimelek for elevating himself above the elders of Shechem (Judges 9); and he judged King David for wanting to centralize the Israelite militia (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21:1-17, 22:7-8, 27:24, 28:2-3). Since men like to abuse the authority God gives them, decentralization is a safeguard against tyranny.
Statism and anarchy are unbiblical positions. Yet, God provides us with a middle ground. This is consistent with his exhortation to live sober, temperate lives (1 Corinthians 9:25; Galatians 5:22-23). He doesn’t want us to be thrown about from one extreme to the next. As we explore the views of anarchy in the weeks to come, it is my hope to show that justice can only be achieved by a government that is limited by the Word of God.