Politics, and Murray Rothbard
by Laurence M. Vance: Thank
You for Your Service?
Francis J. Beckwith’s Politics
for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (IVP Academic, 2010),
175 pgs, paperback, $18.00.
intrigued me about this book. Imagine my disappointment, then, when
both things I expected to find turned out to be missing from the
The first thing
that caught my attention was simply the title. I try to read and
possibly review any books on Christianity and politics that I come
across. (Some recent reviews can be read here,
I am generally not satisfied with what I find.
thing was the mention in the acknowledgments of the name Murray
Rothbard in a list of twenty-four names of "scholars who have
made the most significant contributions to my intellectual development."
The late Murray Rothbard
is, of course, the twentieth century’s greatest proponent of pure,
Alas, the book
doesn’t have much to say about politics; and I see no influence
of Murray Rothbard evident anywhere in the book.
then, with this brief review of a book that proved to be such a
The main reason
is because the book suffers from the same fatal flaws as most everything
else written by Christians on the subject of Christianity and politics
and thus provides me with an opportunity to mention said flaws.
Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, and
Resident Scholar in the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor
University. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University
and is a graduate of the Washington University School of Law. He
is the author or editor of over a dozen books and has been published
in many academic journals "across a wide range of disciplines."
Beckwith is also the editor, with J. P. Moreland, of the series
his book is part of.
for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (hereafter Politics
for Christians) is part of the Christian Worldview Integration
Series, of which there are currently five other titles. The book
contains five well-footnoted chapters, acknowledgments, an introduction,
a conclusion, a list of books and articles called "Recommended
Contemporary Readings," and an index. There is a nineteen-page
"Series Preface" after the table of contents. Earlier
versions of parts of the book were published elsewhere as articles,
but have been revised for inclusion in the book. The book is aimed
in the introduction that the primary purpose of his book "is
to introduce the Christian student to the study of politics."
He adds: "I also hope to provide the Christian student with
an account of politics and government that includes an understanding
and appreciation of liberal democracy that is not hostile to Christian
participation and the shaping of public policy." Beckwith does
not present a particular understanding of politics as correct, but
rather seeks "to introduce the college student to politics
by way of a few issues and questions that should be of concern to
contemporary Christians citizens in liberal democracies."
Chapter 1 is
a very abstract study of politics. From there the subject of politics
gradually dissipates as one moves through the book. Chapter 2 is
a discussion of "liberal democracy" and "how Christians
should look at the study of politics and what insight they can bring
to their communities." The final three chapters concern "issues
over which Christians and non-Christians have wrestled (or ought
to wrestle) and which are important questions in the study of politics":
the separation of church and state, the relationship of the ideals
of liberal democracy to the political participation of the Christian
citizen, and whether liberal democracy requires a theistic worldview
in order to account for the intrinsic dignity and natural rights
of human beings that it seems to require.
focus is on the book’s fatal flaws, Beckwith does make some good
points that are worth mentioning. His chapter on the separation
of church and state is good, but would fit better in a book on Christianity
and the state, not Christianity and politics. He has some sane comments
about Christians voting for non-Christians ("absolutely").
He perceptively points out that Christians who embrace liberal positions
on issues while claiming that their religious traditions provide
them with a framework that requires them to hold these views are
not challenged, but Christians who similarly embrace conservative
positions are. Using the example of John F. Kennedy, Beckwith also
explains how it is a mistake to claim that one’s theology and church
do not influence one’s politics.
But this is
all overshadowed by the book’s fatal flaws.
The first fatal
flaw is the failure to recognize that politics is dirty. It is in
fact the dirtiest business in the world. The title of P. J. O’Rourke’s
of Whores is an apt description of Congress. When Lord Acton
said: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts
absolutely," he didn’t make an exception for American politicians.
And most of all, the character of Michael Corleone in The Godfather
Part III wasn’t just acting when he said: "Politics and crime,
they’re the same thing."
fatal flaw is the insistence that the United States is a democracy.
Beckwith over and over again says that we live in a "liberal
democracy." But anyone who has learned basic English and recited
the Pledge of Allegiance ("and to the republic for which it
stands") knows we don’t live in a democracy. Actually, as explained
Livingston, we are supposed to live in
of states, each of which, in Article IV of the Constitution, is
guaranteed a republican form of government. But a federation of
republics is not itself a republic any more than the federation
of nations in the United Nations, or in the European Union, is
a nation. A federation is a service agency of the political units
that compose it. Whatever else a republic might be, it is not
a service agency of something else. So instead of talking about
"restoring the old Republic," we should talk of restoring
republicanism in a federation of states. artificial corporation,
known as the United States, created by the states for their welfare.
of course, is that we live in a police state that restricts how
many times you can make a withdrawal from your savings account and
locks you in a cage for growing plants.
The third fatal
flaw is the faulty view of the role of government. When Beckwith
talks about issues like polygamy, same-sex marriage, adoption, public
school curricula, government funding of universities, and relief
for the poor, he never even considers that the government should
have nothing to do with any of these things one way or another.
greatest fatal flaw of Beckwith and other Christian writers on Christianity
and politics is their view of the nature of the state. On this Beckwith
should have heeded Rothbard:
in the words of Oppenheimer, is the "organization of the
political means"; it is the systematization of the predatory
process over a given territory. For crime, at best, is sporadic
and uncertain; the parasitism is ephemeral, and the coercive,
parasitic lifeline may be cut off at any time by the resistance
of the victims. The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic
channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain,
secure, and relatively "peaceful" the lifeline of the
parasitic caste in society. Since production must always precede
predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State
has never been created by a "social contract"; it has
always been born in conquest and exploitation. The classic paradigm
was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting
and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the time-span
of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation
more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and
produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting
a steady annual tribute.
like the subject of politics, the influence of Murray Rothbard is
missing from Politics
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
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