Minister's Blog

Nonexistent political authority

By Steve Jeffery, 19 Sep 2013

Nonexistent political authority

A friend of mine (HT EWE) recently recommended a book by Michael Huemer entitled, The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.

Huemer is an atheist, and is exploring the grounds upon which a government might seek to justify the imposition of coercive authority upon their citizens.

Unsurprisingly, given his atheist presuppositions, he can find no moral basis whatever for any government to require anyone, anywhere, do to anything.

Here's an extract from the blurb:

Modern states commonly deploy coercion in a wide array of circumstances in which the resort to force would clearly be wrong for any private agent. What entitles the state to behave in this manner? And why should citizens obey its commands? This book examines theories of political authority, from the social contract theory, to theories of democratic authorization, to fairness- and consequence-based theories. Ultimately, no theory of authority succeeds, and thus no government has the kind of authority often ascribed to governments.

The author goes on to discuss how voluntary and competitive institutions could provide the central goods for the sake of which the state is often deemed necessary, including law, protection from private criminals, and national security. An orderly and livable society thus does not require acquiescence in the illusion of political authority.

This stark conclusion highlights what is required of a Christian philosophy of government. A Christian must provide biblical warrant for every kind of action a government takes in relation to its citizens.

It is not sufficient simply to point to texts that instruct Christians to "pay taxes," and to conclude on that basis that all taxes are morally legitimate. For Christians are instructed to obey ungodly authorities, too; this instruction does not render those authorities godly, nor their behaviour legitimate.

To construct an adequate Christian political philosophy, each category of governmental action - from welfare provision to healthcare, from the judiciary to the military, from education to public roads and utilities - requires clear biblical justification. The mere absence of a specific biblical prohibition of a certain governmental action is not sufficient, because even if the action considered in itself is morally legitimate (e.g. the education of children), this does not justify the coercive taxation of citizens in order to fund that action without their explicit consent.

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