Government vs. The State

This entry is part 1 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

John Cobin, author of the great books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy, has graciously agreed to let me post his public policy course essays on LCC, and this is the first of the series.

Albert Jay Nock (1870-1947), although relatively obscure today, was one of the foremost journalists and political philosophers of his day. He founded what would become The Freeman (see www.fee.org for details) in the early 1920s—one of the strongest and most consistent pieces of advocacy journalism for liberty and free markets available. Jeffrey A. Tucker praises Nock’s sophistication and genius in his tribute: Albert Jay Nock, Forgotten Man of the Right (2002). “The phrase Man of Letters is thrown around casually these days, but A.J. Nock was the real thing. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he was homeschooled from the earliest age in Greek and Latin, unbelievably well read in every field, a natural aristocrat in the best sense of that term. He combined an old-world cultural sense (he despised popular culture) and a political anarchism which saw the State as the enemy of everything that is civilized, beautiful, and true. And he applied this principle consistently in opposition to welfare, government-managed economies, consolidation, and, above all else, war.”

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Is the State Run by Satan?

This entry is part 2 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the great books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

Is the state run by Satan? What do we know about the nature of the state? According to the Bible, the state’s power comes from Satan through the “spirits of demons”. In Revelation 13:1-4,1 “a beast rising up out of the sea” with “a blasphemous name” on his heads emerges to rule civil society. This ruler is empowered by “the dragon”, also “called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9, cf. 20:2), who gives him “his power, his throne, and great authority”. At the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, Domitian was likely Caesar, noted for the band of gold he wore on his head containing the blasphemous inscription “Dominus et Deus” (i.e., “Lord and God”).2 Satan empowered this ruler “beast”, as he does all the “kings of the earth”.

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The State is Not Benevolent

This entry is part 3 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

The state has been a vile nuisance for civilized men, and the Bible gives us no reason to believe its evil nature can be changed. The psalmist recognized that states legislate evil policies when he wrote: “Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You?” (Psalm 94:20). Historically, the state usually reigns by iniquity, stimulating and fomenting evil schemes. And, in the end, God will destroy the evil and “twisted” state, the beast from the sea (akin to the one mentioned in Revelation 13:1). As He says in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent; and He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.” Indeed, the Bible teaches that hell (Tophet) was “prepared” for the king (Isaiah 30:33), and designates the lake of fire as the ultimate end of earthly kings who defy God (Revelation 19:20).

With conviction, the Bible indicates that the state is always created according to God’s permissive will: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). By God’s wisdom, “kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Proverbs 8:15). Indeed, “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:34-37). Thus, even the most vicious and evil rulers are subject to God’s decree, even though their lust for greed and power fosters conscription, taxation, power brokering, and oppression—just as Samuel prophesied (1 Samuel 8:11-18).1

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Public Policy Theology in Historical Context

This entry is part 4 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

“Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17) is Peter’s terse apostolic admonition to first-century Christians, “pilgrims of the dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), whom Nero had exiled to Asia Minor from Rome. The admonition includes the specific objects and extent of their acquiescence: “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man…to the king as supreme, or to governors…” (1 Peter 2:13-14a). In the same vein, the Apostle Paul wrote in more general terms to the Christians at Rome and Gortys (the capital of the province of Crete), using the language “rulers and authorities” (Titus 3:1, cf. Romans 13:1-3). Paul surely had in mind the imperial Caesar Nero, as well as various lesser authorities who ruled Rome’s provinces, such as Herod, Felix, and Agrippa.

Historians refer to the phase of the ancient Roman state in apostolic times as the Principate. The Emperor was Caesar and, as such, held autocratic dominion. Although high-handed rule dominated, a number of decentralized forms and conventions still existed—leftovers from the oligarchic self-government of the Roman Republic (which effectively ended in 27BC). Thus, wealthy Plutarchs were called upon by the Emperor to handle various administrative functions in each province of the Empire (totaling 50 million inhabitants). It is important to realize that the Apostles were writing to Christians who lived under an autocratic, brutal state, rather than the famous Roman Republic that had ended some 80 years earlier. Sure, the memory of the old Republic likely filled the imagination of many citizens, but it was no longer a reality. (In the same way that some Romans might have mused about their glorious Republic of old, so some modern American patriots fondly muse about the liberty-loving American republic before 1861.)

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The Evil Nature of the State

This entry is part 5 of 42 in the series Christian Theology of Public Policy Course

This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course essays by John Cobin, author of the great books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.

The evil nature of the state is clearly manifested by the carnage of totalitarian and communist regimes during the twentieth century. Professor Rudolph Rummel has demonstrated in his book Death By Government that, in the twentieth century alone, states around the world were responsible for the killings of an estimated 350 million of their own civilian, non-combatant populations. This figure does not count the more than one billion slain by state-sanctioned abortion worldwide, or the 40 million military personnel slain through state-sponsored aggression, during the same period. The state has been the most lethal institution in human history. And history illustrates the fact that twentieth century states have been the most evil of all time in terms of (1) loss of life and property and (2) the persecution of the church.

Clearly, the state has been more lethal than any infectious disease, plague, or religious inquisition in the history of mankind. In a July 1997 interview with Ideas on Liberty, Rummel stated: “Concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth. During the twentieth century, 14 regimes murdered over a million people” each. “So much for the notion of state benevolence. Powerful states can be like gangs, stealing, raping, torturing, and killing on a whim.”

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