Anarchy and Community

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Stephen
W. Carson's cogent essay on Lew Rockwell.com (u201CBiblical
Anarchism
u201D) defined anarchy as absence of rulers. He shows
that the Biblical notion of civil law virtually excludes what we
today know as the state. In the Bible, most civil disputes are settled
privately, with local judges and an appellate system, and a system
of restitution for aggrieved parties. Carson is entirely correct
to note that there is simply no room for the state in such an arrangement.
The law itself becomes the u201Cpolitical ruler,u201D and there is no need
for u201Cpoliticians.u201D

I
wish here simply to supplement Carson's excellent thesis.

Absence
of state coercion is not equivalent to political liberty. Political
liberty is possible only when there is a series of independent social
institutions that check each other's authority. These institutions
are communities. Man cannot live without community (Genesis
2:18). Aside from the Bible itself, perhaps no work has made
that point more effectively than Robert Nisbet's The
Quest for Community
. Nisbet, a communitarian-libertarian,
argues that man is a communitarian being. He is made to live, laugh,
work, play, love, suffer, cry, and die in a community. And he
will always find communities in which to live. Communitarianism
is an inescapable concept.

Now
in the Bible and the Christian faith, that community is manifested
primarily in the family and church, and secondarily in vocation
(u201Cbusinessu201D) and other u201Cprivateu201D spheres. These are the multiple
communities in which men live their lives. Men find their liberty
in participation in various communities, each of which stands as
a sentinel over its own prerogatives and provides a haven for individuals
treated unjustly by other communities. If a husband is dictatorial,
the wife can appeal to the church. If the church is abusive, the
family can appeal to a higher church court or another church body.
If a business is unjust, the individual or family can appeal to
a private court system. In the case of injustice, a Biblically ordered
society almost always offers recourse to another community.

The
problem with the modern state is that it professes to be a community.
For this reason, as Nisbet shrewdly notes, the state is not opposed
to u201Cindividual freedom.u201D Individual freedom, far from being the
effect of emancipation from state power, is, in fact, the precondition
of that power. Tyrannical states do not war against the individual;
they war against those non-coercive, intermediate institutions which
claim the individual's allegiance: the family, the church, the school,
business, and so on. In fact, as Nisbet observes, the only
freedom tyrannical societies permit is individual freedom. They
desire an individual wedded exclusively to the state as an exclusive
community, and offer him a certain limited sphere of u201Cfreedom.u201D
It is not individual freedom that these tyrannies oppose, but competitors
to their authority that they find unacceptable. They do not mind
individual freedom; they only mind competitors to the allegiance
they require of men. They are willing to give men a long leash,
as long as they alone are grasping the other end.

The
modern state is never at war with the individual. The state needs
the individual (and it wants only the individual) for its
sordid, tyrannical purposes. The state is at war with other communities
that vie for man's allegiance — the family, church, business, and
so on. The state wants to wipe out all communitarian competition
so that it can remake man into a pliant agent for state purposes.
Men are u201Cmaterialu201D to the modern state, particularly the secular
humanist state. They exist, in Mikhail Heller's language, to be
u201Ccogs in the wheelu201D of a massive, utopian state enterprise.

In
other words, the state wants a monopoly on community. Libertarians
err if they suppose that the center of the statist program is economic
monopoly – exclusive ownership and distribution of goods and services.
Statist economic monopoly is easy once it is has seized a communitarian
monopoly. When men's lives, hopes and aspirations are severed from
family, church, and vocation, they are an easy prey for the state.
The state will permit great latitude to these individuals, just
as long as they do not create, or divert their allegiance to, other
communities.

The
Bible supports anarchy (as Carson defines it) in the political sphere,
but not in true communities: families, churches, vocations, and
so on. There, men willingly exercise and live under authority.
As rulers, they act as humble servants to (not dictators over) those
for whom they are responsible (Mark 10:42-45). As subjects,
they honor and obey those in authority (Hebrews 13:17).

The
Bible weds anarchy in the political sphere to community in the social
sphere.

June
8, 2001

P.
Andrew Sandlin [send him mail]
is Executive Vice President of the Chalcedon
Foundation
which since 1965 has been dedicated to applying
historic, Biblical Christianity in today's world. He is the author
of Christianity: Bulwark of Liberty and several other works.

P.
Andrew Sandlin Archives

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