Gut the Political Community
P. Andrew Sandlin
some disgust, I recently asked one of my teenage sons (a member
of the Libertarian Party!) in disgust, "Couldn't we get something
on the TV news channels (both network and cable) besides politics?"
Virtually every news talk show is committed to political news or
discussion. Watching these channels, one would get the distinct
expression that the only news in the United States is political
news: the latest claptrap from President Clinton, the latest campaign
missteps by George W. Bush or Al Gore, Senate hearings on everything
from Microsoft to mudslides, the White House's relations with the
Kremlin and Beijing, and on and on. This seems to validate the mantra,
"Politics isn't everything, but everything is political." But isn't
there some non-political event or trend that is newsworthy? Some
dramatic business success? Some exciting family story? Some church
or otherwise religious revival or reformation? Even some scientific
discovery or invention that will increase the comfort or life expectancy
of mankind? Can't we get away from politics for a while? In modern
culture, the answer is basically, "No." There is a simple reason
Ubiquitous Political Community
society is dominated by what Robert Nisbet called "the political
community." Nisbet, a profoundly insightful conservative-libertarian
sociologist, argued that man is an inherently social creature and,
therefore, lives his life in communities (in simple terms, no man
is an island). In his extensive work, The Social Philosophers, he
outlined and enumerated the principal communities into which human
societies have historically arranged themselves: the war community,
the kinship community, the religious community, the political community,
the revolutionary community, the ecological community and the pluralist
community. He pointed out that in the Western world for the past
three hundred years, the political community has been the dominant
community of society.
is the political community? It is a society centered in and dominated
by the state. Indeed, in some people's minds, to use the term "society"
is simply to utter a synonym for the "state." Before modern times,
this was far from true. While ancient Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece,
and Rome were predominately political communities, the ancient Hebrew
commonwealth, as well as republican Rome, were a mixture of the
kinship and the religious community. Society was not anchored in
and governed by the state, but by families (extended families, not
what we would today call "nuclear" families), related to strong
religious groups. The role of the state, what there was of it, was
negligible. Families usually dealt with almost all social problems,
even crime. Later, in the Byzantine Empire, the church was subservient
to the state; but in the medieval world of the West, the church
became quite strong and eventually served as a check on the power
of the European states. There were abuses on both sides, but the
religious community kept the political community in check.
is a crucial task, because of all the human communities, the state
is the only community that is inherently coercive. The bottom-line
meaning is that the state can kill you if it doesn't like what you
do. This is not true of the other two leading human communities
- the kinship community (family) and the religious community (church).
This is not to say that these communities cannot overstep their
bounds; it is only to recognize that neither the family nor the
church possesses the authority to kill you if it doesn't like what
you do. Each is a government, but it is a non-coercive government.
This is why many lovers of human liberty have enthusiastically supported
strong families and strong churches, even if they themselves were
not family people or churchmen.
Nisbet's kinship and religious community, we can add another non-coercive
community - the economic community, particularly the free-market
community. This community has emerged in the Western world since
the Protestant Reformation, and the early classical liberals championed
it. Why? For one thing, because it countered the power of a coercive
state. The fact is, political tyranny is incompatible with a genuinely
free-market society. Again, why? Not simply because such an economy
produces wealth, though it surely does, but because it vests the
vast majority of society's members with maximum decision making
over their lives and property. It defranchises the monopolistic
decision making of a few paternalistic elites in the political community
and places extensive power in the hands of the multitude of society's
individuals. This is what Ludwig von Mises calls "human action."
It is the antithesis of socialism and other coercive redistributivism.
Mark this fact well: socialism is not fundamentally the altruistic
redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, but the coercive
redistribution of power from individuals to the state.
bears on one of the supreme ironies of the federal government's
economic coercion - for instance, its war against Microsoft. It
was galling not only that statist attorneys claimed that Microsoft
was a monopoly (since good economists know that an economic monopoly
is virtually impossible in a free-enterprise system), but that in
the United States, the federal government is the biggest monopoly
of all. If we are to have a monopoly, by all means, let it be a
non-coercive Microsoft monopoly rather than a coercive, Hell-bent,
tyrannical monopoly of the federal government.
to the Political Community
of liberty must work even more assiduously to support non-coercive
communities like the kinship, religious, and economic communities.
Because the state is a community of coercion, it must be diluted,
emasculated, and chained. Strong families, churches, and businesses
tend to do this. When left unhindered, they tend to assume most
of the legitimate responsibilities in human society: nurture, education,
bread winning, communication, health, transportation, wealth creation,
and so forth. Just remember: in principle, what these communities
do, the state doesn't get to do. And what the state does, these
communities don't get to do. Why should we want the family, church,
business, and other non-political communities to assume these responsibilities?
Because these other communities are voluntary and non-coercive.
You can (when of age) walk away from a family. You can walk away
from a church. You can walk away from a job. But in today's Western
world, try walking away from the state. Because these communities
are voluntary, and non-coercive, they always do a better job of
fulfilling their responsibilities in human society than the state
does. These communities (collectively called "the private sector")
invariably do a better job in educating a society's young, mending
its ill, transporting its goods, feeding its hungry, and policing
its morality than the coercive arm of the state could ever do.
Individualism Is Not the Answer
must be aware of an atomistic individualism, which sets the naked
individual as the only bulwark against a tyrannical state. The atomistic
individual is no match for such tyranny. Communities like the family,
church, and business are, however, such bulwarks against tyranny.
A few atomistic libertarians imply the traditional family is cumbersome
and repressive. This is false. It is a strong, non-coercive institution
that binds a society together. A multitude of strong families counters
a strong, coercive civil government. Some secular libertarians attack
the church; but a virile, fortified, united (orthodox!) church is
a great check on the state. From time to time, a vocal sect of paleoconservatives
attacks "big business," countering that what we really need is small,
family businesses. We surely do need more small, family businesses;
but we need big businesses too. "Big Business," like "Big Family"
and "Big Church," is a great check on "Big Brother."
main objective of lovers of liberty should be the drastic reduction
of the political community and the dynamic growth of the kinship,
religious, and economic communities. There will always be communities
of some kind. We should work to assure that the vast majority of
those communities are voluntary and non-coercive.
P. Andrew Sandlin 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.