Church & State

Worldview. A word that somehow seems to understate its own purpose. A word that often gets tossed around in clichéd nuance.

crown-of-thornsI believe in a world in which mankind is inherently bent toward sin, a bent that cannot be revoked from anything within him. Because I believe that God is ultimately sovereign and that His very nature is perfectly righteous, any departure from that perfect righteousness on our part renders us bound for judgment. The only means of reconcile is a perfect sacrifice. I believe that God as perfectly good and perfectly just must fulfill both qualities, and does so in Christ Jesus, who was fully God and fully man. He met the just standard for our departure from God’s perfection, allowing us therefore to be, in legal terms, acquitted, upon reception of His offer of this grace.

And I believe in a view of History that understands God’s hand to be at work throughout. I won’t dare to enter the debate many Bible scholars have had on the issue of free will and God’s sovereignty; this is not the place for that. But because many will argue that it necessarily precedes any discussion of nearly any topic, I will comment only that I believe God is both sovereign, and has somehow delegated free will to man, nevertheless. I cannot perfectly understand this paradox, but I must accept it. For what other reason would God give Adam and Eve the option to do wrong in the garden, if but to allow them to choose to do right?

And on this premise, I believe that God has a strategy in history, and “energizes all things according to His will” (in Ephesians 1:11; the Greek word Paul uses here is energio, literally rendered energizes). But I also believe that there is an active enemy of God: Satan, or the devil, who also strategizes in history. And I have no doubt about the ultimate victor. Victory lies in the One who is ultimately sovereign. The culmination of history to the believer is quite clear.

And therein lies a premise of my worldview: the lens through which I view the world and history.

At first glance, this particular worldview may not be glaringly apparent in much of what I have so far discussed. It is not void altogether, and neither will it remain void. I could not, in good conscience, depart from what I believe for merely what might be considered utilitarian ends: the goals that bring the most usefulness, or happiness. I don’t advocate for a society rooted in liberty because my ultimate goal is that people be happy. The implications of eternity are far more severe.

And certainly, some have made the point that it was not in free societies, but in those where Christianity was and is restricted, that it has grown the greatest. The Way, as Christianity was called then, spread like fire throughout an increasingly antagonistic Roman empire. Some evidence suggests that the growth of the church in current China is unmatched.

I concede, and do so readily.

Does that suggest I should argue for a less-free society or even for a society where liberty is quenched?

That is the easier of the questions I face, as it will be less asked than this objection: To advocate liberty to the full extent you have so far suggested will leave the nation without its vital moral underpinnings.

Let me return the apparent dilemma: Has the power of the state been able to truly anchor any morality in our nation? Can legislated morality transform a person’s heart?

I would suggest several key points that I will leave with you.

First, the power of the state cannot dictate the morality of the people it rules. There will beold-bible-with-swordthumbnail
several common objections raised to this. One will argue that I am flat-out wrong in some cases. Certainly, the state can limit certain activities on threat of punishment, but many such activities continue unhampered nevertheless.

A second and perhaps more difficult objection to answer will be that by advocating the repeal of laws that ban what Christians consider immoral is advocacy for those activities. That is simply not true, but before I argue my case on this one, allow me to present my other points.

Second, if the state manages to limit certain activities that it considers to be immoral, then it has also gathered to itself the power to alter its decisions. The common objection here will be that this is precisely why we need to get Christians to the polls: to vote in people who will legislate on behalf of our beliefs?

But let me ask you: what happens when the government begins to use the power given it by the electorate to make decisions that some among that electorate approve of, and then begin making decisions antagonistic to that end. For example, Christians have applauded the government’s decisions to define marriage as between a man and women. But if we have conceded to the state the power to make this definition, then we have also conceded the power for it to define marriage as whatever it likes. And despite the protest that more Christians just need to vote, this isn’t having any particular long-term impact. And this leads me to my third, perhaps more potent point.

kings-landing-churchthumbnailThird and finally, by assuming that the political process is an important means of maintaining a nation based on Christian moral ethic, it undermines the influence that the church should have. Where the church sees politics as a means of what should be done through love, truth and evangelism, it tends to surrender its passion for proclaiming what it believes to be true.

If the church believes that gay marriage is wrong, it should proclaim that boldly on the foundation of the Gospel. If the church believes that prostitution is wrong, it should be stepping up to provide for those who see the sale of their own bodies as their best (and often only) means of income. For those who enjoy the practice (which I believe is deplorable), no government regulation will stop them. The statistics bear that out.

You see, if liberty is preserved and the non-aggression principle upheld, the church would have no alternative but to influence change through its right to proclaim boldly what it believes to be true.

Let me turn this in to a plea for my Christian readers. If you don’t like the trends of society, then be bold in your witness of truth. Don’t surrender your assertiveness by relieving your conscience by voting for the candidate who claims to be a Christian. In a society built on the liberty I have suggested, it is your right to speak and say whatever you like, just as it is the right of every other to scorn you for it (without aggression).

Do not surrender to politics what the church is called to be.

And by church, I do not mean the organizations created by the leaders of local churches; I mean the members of the church: the people who otherwise go to work, get home, watch TV and go to bed. You see, the church has a profound calling in culture, but it cannot coerce anyone to its ends. It can only win through truth and love built on the Gospel of Christ.

Government does not change culture. Government cannot establish moral standards and transform the hearts of those who abide under their rule. At its extreme, an attempt to do so has resulted in nothing less than the Inquisitions of Rome and Spain and the Spanish colonies. Even if the apparatus were in place to ensure nothing of immoral activity was permitted through the most invasive violations of privacy, the most it could do is create a nation of hypocrites who hated both the church and the state.

And our government, because of its quasi-republican nature, is more prone to following the trends of culture than a dictatorship would be (you already know I don’t advocate for a dictatorship). And culture has, by and large, demanded that we walk a fine line of political correctness that readily bashes free speech that argues against things like gay marriage, while demanding we advocate for these things. And slowly but surely, law is following suit.

(There is a lot more than can be said about this and its many facets that could emerge in debate. I will touch on them from time to time, but let me for now direct you to the Libertarian Christian Institute, where you can continue to explore their content and their primary video explaining that position, which you can view by clicking here.)

I will say it once more: do not surrender to politics what the church is called to be. Do not be a church that seeks to coerce, but one that transforms through loving word and deed, not shrinking back from truth by stopping by the polling station. (I know I will have readers who immediately think I am suggesting you don’t vote, or that you don’t care which leaders are Christian or not. I’ll have a post refuting this in time, so for now, know that this is not the case.)

That is why I advocate for liberty, but I also advocate that Christians take advantage of that liberty, to be a transforming influence around them, as the early church was in Rome (while there was yet liberty, and even more so when the persecution truly began in earnest). It was after Constantine mandated Christianity as the religion of the state that the politics began to rot much of the church.

Principle & Pragmatism

I know I have laden much of what I have written so far with the philosophical. I do not intend for the entirety of this blog to continue in that way.

Nevertheless, to merely argue for or against something on pragmatic grounds without principled underpinnings is, to me, sorely lacking.

There are two approaches that can be taken in many arguments:is-it-right

  • What works? This is the pragmatic argument. Often times, this will be called the utilitarian argument, whereby something is judged by its usefulness or effectiveness.
  • What is right? This is the principled or ethical argument.

But what happens if the answer to one is misaligned with the answer to the other?

I may say that the government shouldn’t take people’s stuff (aka, tax) on the grounds of principle, but you may argue that it is necessary in order for the government to provide even the most basic functions. I might have won the argument on principle, but it will be a tough sell to many, who would think I am ridiculous because of how impractical it would be to have no tax revenue going to the government.

At its extreme, people who are ultimately utilitarian in their views see anything that produces their desired results as justified in its own right. In simpler terms, the ends justify the means. Principle is built on usefulness, regardless of how subjective that end is.

Quite frankly, there is no end to the terrible implications this might garner. Even the libertarian who says they are for the cause of liberty on the grounds that everyone would be better off, but that the basic principles I have laid out are far too impractical, has embraced relativism. If utility (usefulness) lays the ground for principle, then Hitler was justified in his treatment of the Jews and other unwanted groups within Germany.

No, principle cannot follow usefulness. Without principle, all you get is relativism. Principle is what anchors any argument and position.

Okay, before you abandon me to what you think might be continued philosophical wanderings, let me tell you: this blog will largely be rooted in showing how the ideas of liberty provide for greater blessings and benefits than a sacrifice of their fundamental principles.

Do we really need government to tax income? Or even products we buy? (Surely, now you must think I am mad! Stick around to see!)

Do we really need a Federal Reserve to try and steer the economy in the way they want it to go? Should the government really be in control of money and/or fiat currency at all?

Do we even need the government to build our roads? (“And now he’s totally lost it.” Just wait. Admit it: you’re intrigued.)

Much of this blog will be dedicated to these and related topics. What are the practical–the pragmatic–implications of liberty? Can the fruit of principle truly bring blessing? To what extent?

Though it probably goes without saying, this blog is not making me any money. Perhaps one day, I might be able to find supporters for it, but if I truly wanted it to be a source of income, I’d be better off writing the stuff of the gossip magazines, and discussing how Brad and Angelina are breaking up. A little speculation of what our glamour stars are up to may get me a larger fan base.

I write because I truly believe I must be accountable to teach what is truth. Recall what I wrote in my first post: it is my passion to continue learning that I may better teach, and to continue teaching that I may continue to learn. I, too, am learning and attempting to channel that learning into a source for others. I would challenge you to stick with me as we move on beyond the foundations.

I will stay true to principle. There is no other anchor, and it all must be rooted there. But beyond that, I will seek to bring light to politics, economics, finances and history in clear and pragmatic ways. Thank you for joining me, and I would challenge you once more to stay.


The Politics of Liberty: The Principled Argument


(Copyright Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)

Kindergarten. That’s where we learned the basics of libertarianism. Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.

It’s a basic ethical principle that most readers will readily nod in agreement. We want our children to live by that basic standard. Treat others as you would want to be treated. That’s the stuff of elementary.

Libertarianism, notwithstanding the agenda of the party’s eccentric activists, is a political philosophy based on that very idea. The distinction is that the libertarian will advocate that the state should not treat anyone in a way that we would not want our neighbor to treat us. Or our child to treat another in school.

If it is wrong for me to take my neighbor’s money, then it is equally wrong for me to utilize—yes, we’re coming back around—a monopoly on force to take their money and give it to me instead, or anyone else, for that matter. The government should not aggress—initiate force—against any otherwise peaceful person. And don’t get this confused The threat of force sufficiently qualifies as aggression. Nobody would consider a 200-lb bully taking the toy truck of the much smaller peer to be okay simply because the smaller boy does not defend himself and therefore avoids a losing battle.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not of the mindset of Irwin Schiff, who died in prison for refusing to pay his taxes. It is much like the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit on the quiet road on the edge of town. I may not always like the speed limit, but I will follow it as a matter first of integrity and respect (both of which I find a fundamental part of what I believe to be a transcendent standard of morality), and second because I do not want to be out the hefty chunk of cash that I will otherwise be if caught going faster.

But maintaining my integrity on matters such as paying taxes and acquiescing to the state’s regulations, I can still advocate for the basic principles of liberty and argue that they ought to apply to the apparatus of the state. What gives officials who have a monopoly on force—and for most of us, merely the threat of force—a right to do what the average person cannot do to his neighbor?

And yes, I am aware of the abundance of arguments that are raised in opposition. “We must all pay our fair share for the protections and benefits they afford us,” is the most common raised. To sort every nuance of that out in this post would require a book (which is one reason I have a blog), so let me introduce a couple of key ideas to keep in mind, the second following from the first.

First, if you agree to the basic principles of liberty that I have stated in the previous few posts, then the burden of proof falls on you to show me why the state has a right to violate it, if indeed you think it does. Many will argue that the state is given exemption due to the legitimacy that it gains by our republican system. Let’s see if that holds up.

John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker and social contract theorist. Also a key theorist of natural rights to "life, liberty and property."

John Locke, an Enlightenment thinker and social contract theorist. Also a key theorist of natural rights to “life, liberty and property.”

Many Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries adhered to a somewhat abstract argument called social contract theory. Their held that everyone is duty bound to the state because, by involving themselves in society, they are submitting to a “social contract.” In this contract, they implicitly agree to do this submission, or at least, to the submission of society as a whole under whatever form of government they considered legitimate.¹ There are significant holes in this theory, most of which I do not have time to debate here, but the most significant is worth noting: why? Because I happened to be born into society, I have implicitly agreed to its terms of governance? Note that the monarchs and parliaments of the era loved this theory: it helped to justify their authoritarianism.

I know that many of my Christian readers will argue that governments are established by God, and that in itself gives the state its right to exemption from the basic principles of liberty. Romans 13:1-7 is a common place to refer to. A more holistic study of Scripture gives a more of a complex view, which again, after the fashion of relatively short posts, will not fit here. For now, I will offer one prime example. When Israel asked Samuel for a king, God’s warning was clear: the king will violate the liberties you have enjoyed by taxing you and forcing your children into labor and military service. The Lord viewed this rejection of His sovereignty with anger (Samuel 8:1-18).

Back to my previous point, social contract theory breaks down because it simply justifies the use of force by nature of people being united in society. Hardly a satisfying argument against the principles of liberty. (Incidentally, the greatest test of this argument is the state’s response to anyone choosing to not adhere to their rules. If social contract is binding by voluntarism, then ought it also allow someone to opt out? It’s almost a silly argument, further exposing the flaws of social contract theory.)

But still,” come the rebuttals, “our system of governmental approval is better. We may not like the laws, but we agree to them because we believe in the legitimacy of our lawmakers. We have elections, after all.”

Certainly, I could get into the myriad of regulations designed and enforced by the un-elected bureaucrats alone. But I don’t even need to do that. We may follow the laws because we believe in the legitimacy of those that pass them; not a poor argument, to be sure. But are elections that appoint the person that 51% of voters choose (or in some cases, even less, when a plurality alone is needed) enough on its face to justify allowing the state the exception to the basic principles of liberty?pillars-of-law-and-order2

And if you argue yes to that question, then we get to our second point that I will leave you with. If legitimacy alone, whether by elections, inheritance, or a belief in the divine right of kings (that kings have a right to rule because they are appointed by God, commonly held during the early Enlightenment period, as well as its modified rendition in dictators like Hitler) is enough to give a state the right to violate the basic principles of liberty, then a state naturally has no limits that it must follow, no measure of authoritarianism it cannot pursue. If given the exception, what ethical principles can bind it?

“But we have a Constitution!”

Yes, yes, indeed we do. So the Constitution is supposed to allow the government to violate these principles only minimally, and then bind them, as Jefferson hoped it would, beyond that? If the Constitution validates the legitimacy of the government by limiting our exposure to abuses, then it must still be judged on the merits of that canon. How well has it worked?

Is the Constitution our standard of liberty? Now, once again, don’t get me wrong; in context, the Constitution was one of the greatest protectors of liberties the world had yet seen to that point. I would happily argue that we return to a strict adherence to the Constitution from an originalist standpoint; it would be far better than what we have now. But was it a paradigm of upholding these principles? Not entirely, and while many of the Framers were fundamentally dedicated to the preservation of liberty, there were a great many other questions surrounding the creation of the document. The Constitution was a creation of men and politics as much as it was of principle (or, probably, even more so). (In the coming months, I will begin a series on the creation of the Constitution and understanding it from an originalist perspective.)

I apologize for a somewhat longer post. Still, I find it important to understand that if you agree with the principles of liberty for the average person—that you don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff–or do not aggress against an otherwise peaceful person—and then also disagree that the state is bound by the same principles, then the burden of proof falls on you to justify the exception. And if justify you think you can, then an even more challenging burden of proof falls to justify why it is exempt in some cases and not in others.

I say, let’s return to elementary.

“But enough of principle,” you might say. “What you implicate is a total void of any government. Surely, if we went that far, chaos would erupt.” Certainly, theory is a rather useless argument on its own, and needs to go hand-in-hand with its cousin, pragmatism, right? I’ll tackle that one next time.

¹Yes, I am aware of my oversimplification of this theory. Still, I think the essence and implications of it are not lost in my explanation.


On What Basis Liberty? Part 3: Non-Aggression

non-aggression-222And all this brings us naturally to our final post on the two basic principles of libertarianism: the non-aggression principle.

Incidentally, I’ve already explained this in the previous two posts. This post will merely offer a tidy conclusion and clarification.

If people have a right to themselves—a right to life and property—then it naturally falls that nobody has a right to take these away from them. See? I’ve already made this argument. You could look at it in reverse, as well. If nobody is given a right to deprive someone of their life or property, then this forms the basis of property rights. This is a rather unnecessary, in my opinion, chicken or egg argument. Either way carries the same circular implications.

This is what is called the “non-aggression principle”: nobody has a right to arbitrarily aggress against another person, that is to say, initiate aggression (defined as force or the threat of force) against an otherwise peaceful person. I cannot take my neighbor’s truck, or lawnmower, or life. I cannot force him to mow my lawn. I cannot randomly knuckle-punch him just because I am angry.

(Note that there is a qualifier: you should not initiate force against an otherwise peaceful person. To claim that liberty never allows for aggression is inaccurate. There are allowances for self-defense, as well as the defense of the victims of aggression. This is only logical.)

And this is exactly why libertarianism is rooted in ethics. The non-aggression principle is an ethical principle.

Matt Kibbe puts it in the simplest terms: “Don’t hurt other people and don’t take their stuff.”

It’s the basics of elementary school. It’s what we all learned as kids. It doesn’t go away as adults. At least, it shouldn’t.

On What Basis Liberty? Part 2: Property Rights


After my previous meandering into a brief discussion of inalienable rights from a Christian perspective, I ended the previous post with the claim that libertarianism is based on two basic principles: 1) property rights and 2) the non-aggression principle.

In this post, I will discuss the first: property rights.

To reiterate something I said in the previous post: libertarianism is a political philosophy.

Now to throw an apparent contradiction into the discussion: libertarianism is both amoral and, at the same time, based in ethics, paradoxically.

Libertarianism is amoral in the sense that it does not argue for or against any particular set of moral principles. Anyone’s moral principles will be necessarily derived from a standard (or lack thereof) outside of the libertarian principles. As I made clear in my post, “Ethics on the Continuum,” my standard of ethics is rooted in the Bible.

At the same time, libertarianism is based entirely on ethics. I’ll leave you hanging a little bit with this one, but tie it all nicely together by the end of the next post.

Fundamentally, libertarianism is based in and on property rights, starting with self-ownership. For my Christian readers, regardless of where you fall in relation to the discussion in the previous post, people have a right to their own body. Again, to make sure I close the gap against the expected counter-argument, I believe this strictly in relation to other humans, not in relation to an all-powerful God. We might more readily call this a right to life. Nobody else has a right to harm or kill me. Nobody has a right to make me a slave, or force me into labor. That is what we mean by self-ownership.

And that is the basis of property rights.

All other property rights are an extension of self-ownership. What I make with my body is an extension of me, and accordingly, my property. And if I choose to sell what I make (or service I offer) to an employer by mutual consent, then the profit for that product or service becomes my property.

And the argument can proceed from there. If I am given something as a gift, it becomes my property. If I purchase something by mutual agreement or consent with income or a product that I have fairly earned, it becomes my property. I do not have a right to take anyone else’s property, and nobody else has a right to take my property.

It’s really that simple.

And the natural extension of this is the non-aggression principle. See you for the next post!

On What Basis Liberty? Part 1

declaration-of-independenceFor those of my readers who are originally from or live in the United States, we understand the rich rhetoric that praises a heritage of liberty, from the extravagance of 4th of July celebrations to an anthem that climaxes with “over the land of the free, and the home of the brave” at every major sport’s event.

Attempts to inspire patriotism aside, what I will talk about here and in the next few posts are the foundations and basics of the ideas of libertarianism.

True enough, libertarianism has been presented as a range opposite authoritarianism, and this holds. Still, libertarianism is a political philosophy that is based on principle. Many readers will be familiar with these ideas, which I acknowledge with an attempt to assuage possible insult. This and the next two posts are largely for those who may not have otherwise heard these ideas.

The evangelical Christian (of whom I am one) will frequently claim the language of the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable rights, that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They will reference that these rights, foundationally, come from the fact that we are created in the imago dei—image of God.

As a bit of a necessary discussion for my Christian readers, let me present an argument within a Christian worldview. I enjoy posing this question to my students in class: do we really have inalienable rights? In the Christian context, this question is often split along two lines of argument. First is that mentioned above: that because people are made in the image of God, the affirmative is correct. The opposite is that because we are bent toward sin and inevitably sinful, we have forfeited all rights. An interesting debate, to be sure! But not one that requires a full dissertation here. Why?

Let me make my case on this issue quickly before going on: If you believe the first of these arguments, then you are in alignment with the remainder of my arguments in this and the next post already. If you are of the second argument, then may I propose that by concluding that people are not endowed with inalienable rights in no way allows for the inherent right of some to dominate others. To claim this is to adhere to a logical fallacy. In other words, whether or not people have inherent rights as those created in God’s image, there is no basis on which some can claim arbitrary power over others. I cannot make my neighbors my slaves on the basis that they don’t have rights. To say I have a “right” to do so is entirely incompatible with the original argument that we have don’t have rights in the first place.

Either way you fall with this argument of inalienable rights still logically leads to advocacy of liberty: in the first, you cannot rule over me because I have an inherent right to liberty, and in the second, you cannot rule over me because you have no inherent right to do so.

(Why bother following that tangent? I believe it is a legitimate discussion, and one that some readers may raise as I go on. But regardless, I believe the key importance of the debate is related to the implications it holds for what the proper response to authoritarianism and power is. If my neighbor enslaves me, to what extent am I allowed to defend myself? Or if the government chooses to enslave me? Or merely chooses to tax me?)

That is a different discussion for a different day. For now, I merely wanted to lay to rest that there is a solid argument to be made in favor of liberty either way you fall on the question of inalienable rights. This allows for the clear connection to basic libertarian principles.

And what are these basic principles?

First, property rights.

And second, as a natural extension of the first (or what we might also argue is the basis for the first), what is often called “the non-aggression principle.”

More on those in the next two posts.



To Readers: To What Extent Liberty?

So far, I have dedicated my posts to some fundamental frameworks that I think are particularly important to understand. Certainly, there is much more than can be expanded on in these particular topics, and in time, we most definitely will.

But in this post, I pose one crucial question: to what extent liberty?to-what-extent-liberty22

I understand that I am going to naturally appeal to readers who will generally claim to favor liberty. Who among you would boast, “the more authoritarian our government, the better!”…?

But would you argue, “the more liberty, the better?” Or is there a limit at which point you would stop? Perhaps a different limit in different areas?

For example…

As we’ve already noted, there are different areas in which we could assess this question. “Keep government out of business,” a right-of-center (on the traditional left vs. right continuum) might argue, “but ensure that government bans the use of marijuana for recreational purposes.” A left-of-center opponent might rejoin, “We need regulation to protect the worker from exploit, but how dare we pass legislation banning gay marriage?”

Many of us have heard (and possibly used) phrases like socially conservative and fiscally liberal, or socially liberal and fiscally conservative, or some other variation. To offer some clarity, we refer back to the totalitarianism vs. liberty, or authoritarianism vs. libertarianism continuum. What is meant by the first is that a person believes in an authoritarian government in ethics (introduced in the previous post), so long as it enforces his or her perspectives on what is right and wrong, and that this person believes in a libertarian government in fiscal matters that minimizes taxation, spending and wealth redistribution.

Or for another example, the current candidate for the Libertarian Party, Gary Johnson, claims to be the second combination noted above: socially liberal and fiscally conservative. What he means, we can assume, is that he believes in a government that allows for broad liberty in ethics (he openly advocates for things that the traditional “right” has opposed, like recreational marijuana use), while believing in a government that, liked stated before, minimizes taxation, spending and wealth redistribution. (To note, Gary Johnson’s description of himself is not what libertarianism is. That’s the topic of the next post.)

And in all this, we’re still muddling about in a sort of quagmire of ideas that need so many qualifications simply to clear up the myriad of nuances raised in their suggestion alone.

This post is not meant to be conclusive, but rather, I ask my readers again: to what extent liberty? Should there be greater liberty in some areas while less in others? If so, on what basis? This is what I challenge readers to chew on. And if you like, comment below.

Yes, there are plenty of tough questions to answer, to be sure. Questions that need answering. That is a key reason why I began this blog.

And in the next post, I will start to answer those questions with a very simple premise that answers this question: on what basis can we argue for liberty? It’s actually quite simple.

Ethics on the Continuum


(Copyright Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes)

I’m braving the world of ethics! Well, sort of. Now, I’m still laying groundwork here, so we’re not getting into specifics, or even my own position and defense on the question of ethics, but merely continuing with framing these questions up in a way that offers them clarity in a political sense.

(And contrary to any suggestions otherwise raised by the satirical Calvin & Hobbes cartoon above, I highly value ethics!)

To start this post, I need to offer quick clarification. There has been a good deal of debate and discussion in some academic circles as to if there is a difference between ethics and morality, and if so, what it is. I’m not getting into that, though I don’t find those distinctive arguments useless, at all (there are excellent arguments out there that I am inclined to agree with). For my purposes, however, they’ll do just fine being used interchangeably. (Morality is often defined as a standard of right and wrong values, and ethics is often defined as the moral principles that guide an individual or society.) After all, it is not words that matter if the meaning behind them is clarified.

But, to continue…

A couple of posts before this dealt primarily with the liberty v. totalitarianism continuum in light of economics. The state can have more or less control over the resources used in production, the means of production, and the distribution of goods and services, falling anywhere along the range. The last post looked more broadly at the terms authoritarianism and libertarianism and their juxtaposition framed between totalitarianism and libertarianism.

So why bring up ethics? Again, I’m laying groundwork. Many a traditional conservative will happily smile and nod in agreement with any assessment of economics that frames it between liberty and totalitarianism, asserting with confidence that we most certainly must move to the right. And then, if it is suggested that the same move toward liberty is applied in the realm of ethics, let the condemning begin! To suggest this must be to advocate prostitution and drug abuse, they declare.

And likewise, the liberal will boast of their dedication to the allowance of gay marriage and other issues that are often condemned by the conservative right. (See? I do use the terms from time to time, but in their necessarily vague “tends-to” ways.) In fact, this was largely a driving force behind the liberal movement of the 1960s and 70s: “Get the government out of our personal lives!” And yet, all the while, government taxes and distribution safety-net payments are welcomed.

Wait! Do not throw the metaphorical stones at me, just yet! I am no advocate of prostitution or many other issues that are morally or ethically wrong according to the Bible, and I will reconcile that with a position that advocates broadly for liberty! Don’t leave the blog just yet.

I mention all this here to ensure that the ethical viewpoint is not neglected from the paradigm I have offered. To be sure and to be surely redundant, my personal viewpoint on ethics and morality transcends any discussion of liberty and totalitarianism. We are not, in this post, talking of what is right and wrong, but only about what control the state has over determining and laying law for what they consider right and wrong. Many U.S. state (and federal) laws have historically disallowed sodomy and gay marriage (both now struck down by the Supreme Court as of 2005¹ and 2015², respectively). Obviously, that would be further to the left of the continuum than to the right. Many Islamic countries allow for and even put in legal code that a woman who is not loyal to her husband can and/or should be put to death by her husband (without being able to testify, meaning suspicion alone is sufficient). Clearly, that also is more toward the left than the right, as well.

My own personal views on the state’s control over what is considered right and wrong have certainly not been without their own turbulent times, and I will return to that narrative and my own conclusions in time. For fear of having too many long posts in a row, let me leave you with a quick preview of what I have learned: greater allowance for authoritarianism in ethics, even for those actions and beliefs with which I agree, provides for greater allowance for authoritarianism for those actions and beliefs with which I disagree. In simpler terms: If you let the state legislate against something you consider immoral, you have also given it the power, with or without your consent (yes, even in republicanism), to legislate against something you consider right. Any student of history knows that, historically, governments–republican or hereditary or otherwise–do not trend toward less power. Quite the opposite indeed. Seldom is an inch of power gained an inch of power returned of its own accord (or even through republican, electoral means).

Remember, when an entity with a monopoly on force can be used to achieve one’s ends easier than working for it in other ways, especially if that entity is legitimate in the eyes of the people, that path of least resistance becomes the path most taken.

¹Lawrence v. Texas (2005)          ²Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)