To Push Out A Tyrant You Need Space
by Mark Horne
I’ve written a few posts about the rule of law and related issues. I supposed I could write a few more if I had the time. In my mind I am going in a certain directions with these posts. I’ll go ahead and get to the point in this post:
Revolution is a really stupid idea.
Perhaps I’ve left out some steps in the argument. Let me try to make it obvious.
I’ve argued (or at least claimed, hopefully with some degree of credibility) that the rule of law is a social custom. It involves a set of rules that is enmeshed in a society so that “everybody” knows them. It is analogous to a language, with a similar role for teachers and the liability to degradation—but with a similar imperviousness to planning committees. It exists apart from the government or the state. It can be found in societies that had no state (i.e. Medieval Iceland, both in its pagan and Christian forms) and in societies with a well-developed state.
The State, however, can and sometimes does (I’m going to leave libertarianism in the corner somewhat by not insisting that this must always happen) undermine the common law of a society. It can do this for different motives and in different ways, some intentional and some not. It can derail the natural way laws develop through courts and judges and precedents by establishing a committee to “make” new laws every year. Then the other branches of government, vying for power with the legislature, can establish their own “delegated” legislatures or dictatorships (the EPA, FDA, etc).
The State can also be vulnerable to, or innately foster, ideologies that promote lawlessness in society in order to enhance its own importance as the source of all law in society. One way to do this is to replace an ethic of despising stereotypes and prejudice with an alleged ideal of “multi-culturalism.” If a “society” truly contains wholly different cultures, then it has within it multiple laws. This means really none of society’s laws count except those the State decides to recognize.
Once you’ve reached a point, the last thing you want to do is remove the state from the picture.
I hear people ask, “If the Founding Fathers were right to revolt against the British Empire, don’t we have reason to do so?”
That is a really irrelevant question. Don’t ask what reasons the American colonists had. Ask about their opportunities. They had a common government, a common religion, and a common ethic. They had both literal and cultural space to clear and defend. They also had another major world power that took their side (France!). Even then they barely pulled it off. And frankly, the legacy of that action is ambiguous.
Putting aside the massive question of geographical territory and home governments for that territory, consider merely cultural space. Is it realistic to expect our society to function without its present regime astride it? I don’t see how. We have no common ethic. We are a divided people held together as much by bureaucracies and commissars as we are by commonly held ways of interacting.
So it is no accident that, when you read Proverbs, Solomon will tell you that you liberate yourself my mastering yourself, working hard, and saving for the future. And someone wiser than Solomon will tell you that the world revolution, which has already occurred, will be recognized by your work in convincing people and training people to follow the laws of Jesus (Yes, that’s what Matthew 28.18-20 says; look it up).
It seems like there is no time. But it is not for us to decide the times. The fact remains there is no shortcut. There is no path to a free society without the work of spreading a culture, a social order, of freedom in the present situation. Any other kind of attempt to resist tyranny will only encourage tyranny.
Where do you start? You begin with yourself. Paul tells us this is how it must be in Romans when he spells out how grace and glory will spread through human history (Romans 5.12ff) and then tells the Romans this massive historical shift begins with them bringing it to the members of their own bodies (Romans 6). As I’ve written elsewhere, your mission field includes your mouth, hands, and feet. The Great Commission applies as much to learning to hold your tongue, or reading the Bible to your children, as it does to supporting the export of Bibles to China.
It is in that process, that a society, with a rule of law, can grow and develop. As much as we blame the current form of the state for obstructing it, it may be that God won’t release us from its hold unless we show him there is something to be freed to flourish. You need a common space that is real, before you can think about pushing a tyrant out of it.
I know I’ve spoken here and elsewhere in ways that might view “the state” as an inherently anti-social institution. I will remind readers that in the heritage of American “anarchism,” some thinkers distinguished between “the state” and “government.” In my case, I don’t think that “the state” is necessarily the same as the civil magistrate. I also am quite sure that the modern territorial nation state is a rather recent contrivance which caught hold of men’s minds as the key to human liberation and flourishing. That utopian vision, I believe, was delusional.