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Saturday, July 09, 2016

Anarchy and Violence

I used to like democracy. As forms of government go, I liked it a lot.

Not to say I’m all that emotionally invested in any particular way of running the show. As an adult Christian, I now recognize the built-in limitations of all human institutions. But for most people, unless the system in which we grew up was transparently horrendous, it tended to define our political horizons. I was no exception.

Mind you, as a lifetime reader of the Old Testament, a monarchy sounded like it might be cool — always assuming you had exactly the right sort of monarch. But the books of Kings suggest such a hope is a bit of a long shot: Israel’s 19 kings were a total moral washout, while Judah went a mere 8.5 for 20 in the “good king” department.

Not a great track record.

Blowing Things Up

But monarchies have not been in vogue for what seems like forever, communism is an epic fail and the relatively recent European socialist/democratic hybrids are starting to show the sorts of foundational cracks that seriously threaten long-term viability. Democracy is the only political option that has yet to be comprehensively invalidated by the facts on the ground. Technically at least, the U.S. is a representative democracy in the form of a constitutional republic (rather than directly democratic like, say, Switzerland), but it’s close enough to a pure democracy that its current problems ought to lead even the hardiest believer in self-government to start asking some penetrating questions.

That’s even before Stefan Molyneux came along and blew the whole idea of democracy to smithereens.

To be fair, he IS an anarchist, and blowing things up is what anarchists do. If that sounds dramatic, Molyneux is a theorist, not a thug. He’s soft-spoken, eloquent and amiable, deplores violence and prefers persuasion. His “anarchy” is not your bog-standard Guy Fawkes dynamite-the-parliament routine, but rather a political ideal built around the absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual. Sorry, there will be no burning down the system to save it on Molyneux’s watch.

The Freedom of Now

Molyneux’s book Everyday Anarchy: The Freedom of Now is a quick and intriguing read. If it fails to persuade me that anarchy is the way to go, it does a spectacular job of demolishing the last tattered vestiges of democracy’s feeble pretensions to intellectual coherence.

Molyneux painstakingly undresses democracy’s theoretical shortcomings, going a long way to explaining its current real-world deficiencies. The book strikes me as a useful intellectual emetic for those Christians (and there are more than a few of us) who have inadvertently ingested the myth that their country’s politics and their personal faith are parallel rails on a track headed in the right direction.

Not so much.

The Shortcomings of Anarcho-Libertarianism

Still, as I mentioned, Mr. Molyneux has failed to sell me on anarchy, even the kinder, gentler sort of libertarian social realignment he favors. While the notion that you and I can be trusted to run our own affairs certainly may seem plausible to those who have lived their whole lives in the peaceful affluence of Western suburbia, I remain unconvinced that you could effectively sell such a political arrangement to the impoverished or to religious ideologues, even if it would very likely benefit them in the longer term.

As a utopian atheist convinced that enlightened self-interest is an adequate motivator to social cooperation, Molyneux is unlikely to find any of my quibbles with his ideas convincing. I point them out merely for the benefit of my fellow believers who live in democracies where, theoretically at least, any of us (by voting or advocacy) can influence the system of which we are subjects. Anarchy of Molyneux’s sort has a certain appeal in our age of individualism, but I note that it has several major difficulties:

The Social Contract Problem

One of Molyneux’s major issues with democracy is its implicit social contract. He rejects the idea that just because we happen to be born in a particular geographic location, we “owe” the government our allegiance, time, energy and money for the rest of our lives, or as long as we stay in the country in which we have been born:
“Children cannot enter into contracts — and adults cannot have contracts imposed upon them against their will. Thus being born in a particular location does not create any contract, since it takes a lunatic or a Catholic to believe that obligations accrue to a newborn squalling baby.”
While this sounds like a perfectly sensible objection, it is in fact a very modern, individualist notion that fails to take into account that we are each the product of choices made by those who came before us, like it or not. If forced to take issue with Molyneux on some basis other than lunacy or Catholicism, I’d have to point out that in scripture the making of decisions that significantly impact future generations is occasionally unilateral and usually to the ultimate benefit of those affected, even if they do not currently experience those benefits.

I confess difficulty in seeing how Adam’s sin came to be part of my nature. All the same, every child who finds himself imitating Adam’s rebellion in his own small way demonstrates that he possesses both Adam’s genes and Adam’s problem relating to God. But it is only by first having been “in Adam” that we can come to be “in Christ”, and thus the subject of far greater and more eternal blessings than Adam ever contemplated.

Moreover, God himself holds people accountable for covenants they had no part in originating. Moses speaks to the children of the rebellious generation of Israelites that died in the wilderness and explicitly holds them and all future generations accountable to a decision made by their fathers:
“Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.”
As an independent modern I may not accept the fact that decisions made before I was born are binding on me. As a Christian, I must.

The Violence Problem

Molyneux deplores violence, and who can blame him? Violence is no fun at all for those subjected to it. He is immensely bothered by the fact that in a democracy, I have obligations that, should I fail to observe them, will ultimately result in the use of force against me:
“Anarchism is fundamentally predicated on the basic reality that violence is not required to organize society.”
Leaving aside the problem that this is a very personal take on anarchism that Fawkesian anarchists would reject out of hand, the more pressing issue for the Christian inclined to buy into such rosy idealism is that God himself does not reject violence, which leaves poor Mr. Molyneux in the unfortunate position of believing himself more moral than the God who made him.

While I could spend paragraphs apologizing for God and explaining that he’s not really anywhere near as violent as he’s cracked up to be, the necessity of occasional violence in a fallen world is never more clearly illustrated than in the fact that a God whose Son is his delight would give him over to be murdered by his enemies. As much as Molyneux abhors violence, it seems there are things that are worse, like the permanent estrangement from God of his earthly creation. Again, I can’t claim to perfectly explain it, but I acknowledge that a greater mind than my own is quite explicit that he intends to “kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” the lawless one who opposes him.

Violence may be a regrettable necessity, but it is far from the greatest evil in a fallen world, which is where even Molyneux ends up when he concedes:
“Violence in the form of self-defense is acceptable, of course.”
Well, yes. For starters. The problem with Molyneux’s thinking is that non-violence is not in and of itself a value. Justice, truth, faith and love are things worth living and dying for. Violence and non-violence are mere methodologies.

The People Problem

In the end, though, where the Christian and Mr. Molyneux part ways is in our view of humanity. Molyneux does a fantastic job pointing out the evils of government, both logically and historically. Where democracy is concerned, he does this very effectively indeed.

But the notion that individuals can be trusted where governments have shown themselves untrustworthy is naive at best. The Christian view, as set out by the apostle Paul, is that governmental authority ...
“… is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
With all its obvious failures, the apostle saw governmental authority as serving God’s purposes, however clumsily and even inadvertently, even though history tells us it was the very same political system that eventually put Paul to death.

Contrast this with Molyneux’s anarchical society:
“Anarchists recognize the power of implicit and voluntary social contract, and the power of both positive incentives such as pay and career success, as well as negative incentives such as social disapproval, economic exclusion and outright ostracism.”
Stefan Molyneux, from the very little I know of him, seems to be a fellow of immense goodwill and concern for the society in which he lives. If all six-plus billion of us were like him, it’s faintly possible his anarchist’s paradise could fly, however briefly. But this is manifestly not the world in which we live. The powers that be are ordained of God because man in his fallen state is the reprobate of Romans 1. He is:
“… full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
While the track record of existing methods of government admittedly leaves a great deal to be desired, I leave the reader to judge whether we can confidently look to social disapproval, economic exclusion and ostracism as mechanisms by which we will save the weak among us from the faithless, heartless and ruthless.

As he looks around him, Molyneux, who prides himself on his ability to unflinchingly address the human condition as it is, must on some level realize this as well.

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