Anarchy and Community

Stephen W. Carson's cogent essay on Lew (u201CBiblical Anarchismu201D) 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).