The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Further Reflections on Anarchy

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Over the last four weeks, I’ve offered a series of critiques on anarcho-capitalism. I believe anarchy is an unworkable concept because it is self-refuting; in practice it cannot operate within its premises consistently. I’ve attempted to show that it assumes conformity to an unproven principle and that it cannot deliver its promise of better, more effective justice. In this last installment I’d like to make a few more observations.

1) Christian anarchists deny the nature of God’s courtroom.

In the opening chapters of the Bible, God sets up angels at the gate of the garden to prevent sinful man from eating from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24). The use of force is specifically described: God drove man out of the garden and if man tried to enter he would be killed. Adam was to be the guard of the garden but he failed. The angels were sent to do what Adam didn’t. This is relevant to our topic because it shows that God gives judicial authority to humanity. Later on in Scripture, the elders at the gate of each city were the judges with authority to punish and execute (Deut. 22:13-21, 25:5-10).  This creates a parallel between earthly rulers and heavenly rulers. To deny it is to ignore how the Bible is written.

God makes humanity stewards of creation to rule and reign. Jesus is the Gardener, he makes us gardeners. Jesus is the Shepherd, he makes us shepherds. Jesus is the Judge, he makes us judges. As images of God, this is the foundational way we mirror his sovereignty. The institution of civil government is set up by God to reflect his courtroom, his government.

2) If anarchy is true, then Ron Paul is an evil crook.

It is odd that many self-professed anarchists support politicians like Ron Paul. Some falsely claim that Paul is a closeted anarcho-capitalist based on his advocacy of “self-government.” But if all civil governments are criminal institutions, then all politicians must be criminals themselves. Consider the following syllogism:

1. All tax-funded services are inherently immoral.
2. Political offices are tax-funded.
3. Therefore, Ron Paul’s political office was inherently immoral.

An anarchist should actually have disdain for Paul because his salary was funded through taxation. If all government is immoral force, then Paul is just as guilty as the rest. You have to view Ron Paul as an evil statist. A lesser evil, to be sure, but an evil statist nonetheless. He wasn’t trying to abolish the government. Paul thinks we should obey the Constitution; he participates in elections and the voting process; he wanted to send a tax-funded military into Afghanistan to catch Osama bin Laden; he even wanted to be president. All of these things are anathema to anarcho-capitalism. If Paul is an anarchist he is the most inconsistent anarchist alive.

When an anarchist lends any type of support to a minarchist like Paul, he is promoting the continuation of what he thinks is evil. He is furthering the violation of the non-aggression principle. He is praising Paul for his service yet condemning the legitimacy of his service at the same time. This is an internal flaw that lurks within anarchy. Thankfully, biblical minarchists can consistently admire Paul and those like him who work within the system to achieve progress. Paul is a man of integrity because he sought to uphold the proper role of government. I invite my anarchist readers to do the same.

3) Even under the premise of anarchy, not all taxation has to be involuntary.

Imagine if John and Jim and their wives settled on a private island to start their own stateless community. After so long the island needs maintenance (landscaping, pest control, etc.) They pick John to be the exclusive maintenance man and they agree to pay him a certain amount from a collective maintenance fund. Pooling money together to pay for a common service may not be the wisest decision, but it is a free decision. No coercion has been committed, therefore it is a legitimate option.

Now imagine that a shipwrecked crew ends up on the shore of the island. They say, “Wow, we really love what you’ve done with the island! We’d love to live here with you.” The original four tell them that if they want to live on the island they must abide by the rules, including giving to the maintenance fund. All agree and all are happy. No one has been coerced. As the community grows, more needs become evident and they set up various funds to provide labor and materials. They even appoint someone to collect the contributions from the families.

This anarchist society has practically formed its own IRS. But everyone has consented; Rothbard can’t complain. The complaints start a generation or two in the future when someone says, “Hey, I didn’t choose this! How dare my parents and grandparents place me in this situation. It’s my natural right to be free!” The irony, of course, is that he could not make this complaint without his parents first placing him in his situation of natural freedom. By no choice of his own, he is a sovereign individual who must make his own choices. Yeah, right. The futility of such thinking should be abundantly evident.

Civil governments are not usually formed through coercive means. They begin with voluntary individuals deciding on the role and form of government they wish to have. If a citizen decides to leave because of tyranny or some other reason, they should have the freedom to do so. In my analogy, if any of the shipwrecked crew fail to hold up their end of the bargain, the island owners could legitimately exile them. But disliking the situation you’ve inherited doesn’t negate the voluntary nature of its origin. It doesn’t mean that the system is inherently aggressive, it just means that you aren’t God.

begin from part one

Adam McIntosh lives with his wife and daughter in Southern Illinois where he is fulfilling a pastoral internship at a local church. You may write to him here.

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21 thoughts on “Further Reflections on Anarchy

  1. Steve Orr on said:

    Well it’s pretty easy to erect an atheist-anarchist-Rothbardian strawman and tear it down with Christian teaching. But there’s another implied strawman behind the scenes here- the connotation that “anarchy” must entail lawlessness and chaos. The etymological root of anarchy merely means, “without ruler.” From the context of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there is no ruler like unto Him. He is our all in all, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the One and only. We are “without ruler” of equal authority and we await His return when the kingdoms of men will become His kingdom. So I guess it’s matter of emphasis- Do you want to focus on the ultimate ruling authority from Heaven or do you want to become entangled with the poor substitutes of the worldly rulers next door?

    I believe “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola has a lot to say about the corruption of Christianity by worldly systems of men. It is well researched and provides a wealth of references and footnotes.

    There are some recent articles on Forerunner that relate:

    The Forerunner DVD entitled, “Freedom – The Model of Christian Liberty” is produced by members of Ligonier Ministries so there’s a connection.

    As for me, I’m more of a Libertarian perhaps bordering on minarchism.

    • Steve, where have I created a strawman against the anarchy position? I’ve tried to represent it accurately, please let me know where you think I have misrepresented it. I have not intended to imply that anarchy leads to chaos. My point is simply that the premises of anarchy are inconsistent with itself and societal reality. I do believe you are setting up a false dichotomy between heavenly rule and earthly rule. Yes, Christ is the ultimate. But as the ultimate ruler, he has set up legitimate rulers on earth that are to be subject to his word.

  2. Mark Horne on said:

    “Civil governments are not usually formed through coercive means.” Seriously? I’d need to see some historical review to show me why you think this is an accurate assertion.

    • Well, I didn’t have anything in mind from recent history. Any regime changes in our current situation are typically by the dictates of the UN or other interventionist policies. OT Israel itself and even the history of America are great examples of non-coercive formation. The Israelites were already a community, coming to Moses for civil guidance before Jethro directed him to set up a decentralized system. The American pilgrims and the early settlements were escaping coercion, not setting up a coercive order themselves. If you have any resources showing how all or most governments are formed through coercion I’d be glad to see them. In which case, perhaps I should have said, “…are not always formed through coercion” instead of “usually.”

      • Mark Horne on said:

        Adam, I think I see the Patriarchal period as a time when we might see a non-coercive government formation. Basically, government is a growth around rich people. They hired guards and it grows from there in their communities. But I was thinking that was rare.

        Also, even though I mentioned it, it is strictly speaking irrelevant. A non-coercive state would still be coercive to present subjects and thus fail Rothbardian standards. Furthermore, from a Christian point of view, the duty to submit to authorities is not affected by their history as conquerors.

        But I was surprised you think that changes have been non-coercive. The history of the colonial colonies were full of revolts and resistances and regime changes. The colonists preferred their own governments to Britain’s overlordship, eventually, but that was a constrained choice. The US Constitution was a bloodless coup but I don’t know why it would count as non-coercive.

        One problem here is the word “state.” Some “anarchists”–I’m thinking mainly af Albert Jay Nock–have distinguished between government and “the state.”

      • I would agree with Mr. Nock. I consider myself an anarchist to the extent I want to abolish the state, but a minarchist to the extent that I think submitting (this is a voluntary act) to authority, in addition to being something we are commanded to do (but not FORCED to do), is actually quite beneficial. It keeps us accountable for one thing.

        I believe in government. Self-government, voluntary government, government by consent. Some anarchists want to abolish all forms of hierarchy. Most anarcho-capitalists do not.

        “But as the ultimate ruler, he has set up legitimate rulers on earth that are to be subject to his word.”

        So, as to the straw man, you paint the position as one that rejects all (earthly) rulers (this is easy enough to do given that “anarkhos” means “no rulers”), when all it really does is reject oppression, particularly in the form of involuntary government. So the rulers, though they rule while people willingly submit, can be legitimately restrained or overthrown (or in a market setting, unsubscribed to).

        If this can be done legitimately then the restrained or overthrown ruler in question has no recourse to violence. And if he has no recourse to violence and acts according to this fact, he is not oppressive. And if he is not oppressive, the type of ruler he is categorically is not the type that anarchism (which is motivated purely by the desire to eliminate oppression, not rulers, per say) is opposed to on principle.

        A ruler defined as an arbitrary decision maker that can not be resisted is what is meant by “arkhos”, not a ruler defined as someone everyone in a given setting has decided would be more able to make good decisions.

  3. Mark Horne on said:

    #2 only applies if anarchists are impatient revolutionists who condemn all people who, no matter how helpful, aren’t ideologically perfect. I don’t see why that has to be the case.

    • The issue in this case isn’t perfection or imperfection. Anarchists think all government at any level is inherently immoral. If they participate in any way, they are participating in evil. It would be akin to a Christian supporting an abortionist who wants to reform the abortion industry. You’re lending support to someone who is trying to improve the sin, not abolish it. If I shouldn’t vote because it lends approval to the evil regime, then how can I lend approval to one of its members?

  4. Mark Horne on said:

    But if I were raided by pirates who were impossible to defeat but who let me have a voice in who got to be pirate captain, I might try to influence who became the chief villain without endorsing or supporting piracy. Lots of anarchists vote. I’m pretty sure Rothbard did.

    • Mark, I personally agree with your scenario as a Christian minarchist and I don’t doubt that many anarchists vote. But my question is if that is a practical option for a consistent anarchist. In my experience, anarchists tell me that the “lesser evil is still evil” and that to participate in the system within your control is to be apart of the problem. Maybe Rothbard didn’t go that far himself, but it’s hard to see how it could be any other way. If I choose to be a politician I am committing aggression against other individuals by passing laws and living off the fruit of their labor. By voting, I would be placing a politician in power who would commit aggression against individuals. To reconcile this at any level, the anarchist has to adopt a fascist mindset that the end justifies the means – a position that I think most anarchists would agree is not compatible with the NAP.

      …the libertarian goal, the victory of liberty, justifies the speediest possible means towards reaching the goal, but those means cannot be such as to contradict, and thereby undercut, the goal itself. We have already seen that gradualism-in-theory is such a contradictory means. Another contradictory means would be to commit aggression (e.g., murder or theft) against persons or just property in order to reach the libertarian goal of nonaggression. But this too would be a self-defeating and impermissible means to pursue. For the employment of such aggression would directly violate the goal of nonaggression itself.”

      – Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty, ch. 30

  5. A lot of anarchists like to bag on Ron Paul. But they ignore two things: One, the first person to describe himself as a anarchist was a politician (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), and two, the job, and thus is aggressive nature, is there, and more likely do be of harm were not someone like Ron Paul occupying it. It is not as though Ron Paul not taking the job would eliminate the evils inherent to the job (living off the taxpayer, etc.), so a better measure of the man is whether he is attempting to grow the state or to shrink it. It is not enough to say that he is aggressing because if it wasn’t him up there doing so less it would be someone else up there doing so more. I am not saying that individuals are not responsible for the actions they take as part of their jobs, but just that it is better to have someone at least moving in the right direction as a placeholder. And if immediate-ist anarchists want to truly be consistent, they would have to condemn every person who gets mail, pays taxes, doesn’t go on a hunger strike when thrown into prison, drives on roads, eats food, wears clothes, drives cars, and consumes products that were or have components that were either subsidized or in some other way facilitated by the state, etc., of being rabid statists.

    • Henry, I don’t condemn an anarchist for driving on roads, benefiting from subsidies, etc. because we really have no option but to do so. We can’t stop living no matter how oppressive government may become. The specific issue I’m addressing in point #2 of my article is the willful participation within the system. I’m not forced to vote, I’m not forced to run for office. But if I do either of those things willingly, even with some aspiration of shrinking the government, I’m committing acts of aggression against other individuals by my free choice. To reconcile this at any level, the anarchist has to adopt a fascist mindset that the end justifies the means – a position that I think most anarchists would agree is not compatible with the NAP.

      …the libertarian goal, the victory of liberty, justifies the speediest possible means towards reaching the goal, but those means cannot be such as to contradict, and thereby undercut, the goal itself. We have already seen that gradualism-in-theory is such a contradictory means. Another contradictory means would be to commit aggression (e.g., murder or theft) against persons or just property in order to reach the libertarian goal of nonaggression. But this too would be a self-defeating and impermissible means to pursue. For the employment of such aggression would directly violate the goal of nonaggression itself.”

      – Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty, ch. 30

      • With respect, Adam,

        I don’t mean to appeal to “authority” by informing you that the author of that quote was somewhat political (and not in regards to the person that you and I agree is a great person, but for such vile persons as George H. W. Bush, though I think when this occurred it was just a matter of slight preference for him over Clinton, just as some Ron Paul supporters had an ever-so-slight preference for Romney but still didn’t vote for him). Perhaps you know that already and feel it is a contradiction. Rather than using the fact that Rothbard did something as proof that that thing is justifiable (after all, nothing Rothbard said or did is or was infallible), I want to look at the possible reasons why this could be. And then see if the answers to the questions one might ask in order to find out would not only mitigate, but make irrelevant, the fact that politics is necessarily violence according to the NAP.

        Question number one: Can’t almost any act of violence, though if initiated it is unjustified aggression, be a defensive act under the right circumstances?

        Answer: One of the earliest persons that could reasonably be described as an anarcho-capitalist, and a primary influence on Rothbard, by the name of Lysander Spooner, considered that voting could be done in such away. I would say that an even more common objection to voting among anarchists is simply that it gives the appearance of consent to be governed (even if you voted for a person that was never going to win, and presumably even if you vote for Mickey Mouse). The only ones that consistently oppose it on the notion that it is inherently aggression are anarchists opposed to all forms of hierarchy (left-anarchists and market anarchists, who are anarcho-capitalists with leftwing proclivities), but since these folks are wrong, according to more right-oriented anarchists, on everything from employers as slave-masters to profits as theft to family as oppression, it is not a stretch to think they might also be wrong on politics. Even Agorists (strategically le-oriented anarcho-capitalists, regardless of their personal preferences) don’t necessarily oppose voting on the grounds that it is the initiation of force (it clearly isn’t for those who are doing it merely in response to other’s aggression), just that it is bad strategy. The purists (much like legalists within Christian circles) always condemn themselves by failing to see how their own rules apply to themselves. If voting is aggression, then anything that even remotely has to do with the state cannot be said to be anything other than aggression without drawing an arbitrary distinction based on no criteria other than that it is “necessary” (which few if any acts of initiated aggression really are, but even they were, this not a moral warrant to commit it) or not so glaringly obvious. I want to go into this again in a moment.

        Question number two: If voting can be defensive, why can’t actively supporting someone, with your own time, with your own money?

        Answer: the only distinction is one of degree, not principle. They are both equally valid or invalid.

        Question number three: So, we can vote defensively, because defense is justifiable, but can a candidate’s actions, if he does get elected (as opposed to just supported as an act of protest), be justifiable? Are his votes defensive votes in the same way that ours were? Did accepting money from the treasury amount to aggression? How about bringing home the bacon to his constituents?

        Answer: The job is with us indefinitely. The job itself is aggression. Putting a person up there, unless that person grows the size and scope of the job adds no more aggression to it. And if the person stays within the bounds, and at times actually does less things than he is legally “entitled” to do as part of his job, where has he aggressed? Sure, he has accepted funds, but if I recall correctly, Ron Paul returned whatever was left of his salary to the treasury and did not participate in the pension program. And if the rest of the money is spent on making a principled stand and attempting to block harmful legislation, where has he aggressed? If the person’s every action is objectively liberating (granted that different people have different conceptions of what liberty is, but there can only really be one truth on this matter), the only people complaining (as in refusing to consent to…liberty?) are themselves in some way thieves, because they are benefitting in some way from whatever part of the state they object to a Ron Paul type of person obstructing or smashing. How is “stealing” from these thieves aggression? If Agorist type anarchists were consistent in their strategy and could grasp this concept which has a distinctly counter-economical feel to it, my guess is that they would support voting under certain circumstances, not oppose it under all circumstances. And what about the supposed redistribution of wealth inherent in bringing home the bacon? Well, if the apportioning is done the way it was intended to be done, this too can be a defensive, though imperfect, measure. One need not actively support taxation and redistribution to at least attempt to channel those funds back in the best way possible. So, if there is a tax on all the folks in Lake Jackson and Victoria, but with great pain the person in question manages to at least bring it back into that community, when all other things being equal it could have gone to some other, far more nefarious, far less useful purpose, it is defensive, even if it does not go so far as to give each individual back every dime they were robbed of.

        With these question and answers in mind I don’t see how voting, running for office, etc., can always conclusively be said to contradict the goals in question. Undercut? Perhaps, but that is a matter of simply having a misguide strategy, not unjustifiable actions.

        Going back to roads and subsidies. You say the ends do not justify the means. I assume you mean that consistent anarchists must agree with this, and that you yourself find anything other to be, at bottom, fascistic. Well, how then, can you NOT condemn anarchists (accepting their paradigm momentarily, for the sake of argument) for driving on roads and benefiting from subsidies, etc., even if these are necessary to live? If you are going to adopt their arguments momentarily in order to show how inconsistently some abide by them, you can not construct a straw man of those arguments by adding in situational ethics. If it is wrong to steal and benefitting from theft always qualifies as stealing (if it didn’t, which happens to be my own opinion where it can at least be justified as defense, then voting would also be perfectly legitimate), then driving on roads (etc.), no matter how necessary, no matter how unavoidable, is wrong and worthy of condemnation. Even if we, for personal reasons, or out of understanding, or out of a conviction to judge not lest we also be judged, to to forgive, choose not to make a big deal out of it. At the end of the day, even if your family is starving and the only way to feed them is to drive on a road and buy some corn from subsidized farmers, it is the same as if your family was starving and the only way to feed them was to beat up your neighbor and take the corn from him. Perhaps both actions are necessary and thus at some level understandable or forgivable, but they are both wrong under the NAP (again, if they can not be shown to be defensive violence.)

        I suppose this is a lot to think about. Its certainly more than I have ever thought about it. Prior to this discussion I had some conception of it that I felt reassured by, but for the most part had to go with my gut. For example:

        Did Ron Paul seem like a decent and sincere guy? Yes. Did I owe him a debt of gratitude for waking me up to the lies and murder and theft that is the foundation of the state? Yes. Do I have a lot in common with him (one thing I tended to look for in a conservative before opening up to them was whether or not they were a Christian)? Yes.

        Good enough reasons to support him in my book, no matter what schools of thought I am influenced by.

  6. Steve Orr on said:

    Adam, before I forget, thanks for the article and your follow up in the comments.

    Regarding the straw man, the comments from my fellow Montanan henrymoore were quite good. It just seems to me that you picked on a particular comment Rothbard made about abortion, you properly tore it down, and then you summarily dismissed all anarchist philosophy (from Rothbard and many others) without review. Granted, holding you to a complete review in your brief article is completely unfair.

    Regarding… “[Jesus] has set up legitimate rulers on earth that are to be subject to his word.” I still find this somewhat naive in light of the fact that Paul said the world is still ruled by Satan, “the god of THIS age,” 1 Cor 4:4. Don’t the spiritually wicked rulers and authorities in high places (Eph 6) also refer to men in power in the ongoing governments of men? In light of this and the general depravity of unredeemed men, I think it would be better to start with the notion that when Paul says to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13), it is best assumed that they are unworthy of honor (and obedience) until they have shown themselves to be honorable and supportive of the Christian ethic. Rather than assume that Jesus actively “set up” a legitimate ruler, it seems like it would be safer to assume they are a mere continuation of the system ruled by the devil which won’t be completely overthrown until Jesus returns, “when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24) The as yet unfulfilled future when, “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord.” Rev 11:15

    So regarding the article titled, “Jesus Is and Anarchist” found here:

    … I guess what I’m looking for is a thorough theological response.

    Love, Joy, Peace, Righteous Fun…

  7. Steve, you in Montana? If you don’t mind my asking, whereabouts? I’m in Billings.

  8. Pingback: Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism? | The Kuyperian Commentary

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  12. If government is an institution set up by God to reflect his law then how come not all societies have government and societies without government are able to reflect the law of God (like hunter-gatherers and other nomadic groups) while not all societies with government reflect the law of God?

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