Lesser Magistrate Limitations, and the Tyranny of Safety

Bojidar Marinov speaks again, with Political Opportunism Doesn’t Fight Tyranny, It Perpetuates It

I need to offer this caveat, though: The same doctrine would be completely useless outside the US, where local “magistrates” are simply employees of the central government. In the UK, for example, the resistance of local officials to tyranny would be nothing less than rebellion no different than the rebellion of private individuals; a lesser magistrate is simply not a magistrate anymore if he fails to obey the will of his sovereign, the centralized state. Thus, in its pure form, the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate works as a deterrent to tyranny only where tyranny has already been pushed back and thus room for independent action has been legally secured; and in our modern world, this means only a few polities in the world, limited to the US, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and may be South Africa – and these polities trace their liberties back not to bloodless reforms but to violent revolutions which forced the central government to agree to limit its powers.

[Well, not in Canada or Australia’s case… – AP]

For all the other countries in the world, another Biblical solution to tyranny must be sought; or, the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate must be modified to an extent which may nullify its very name. The Bible does give examples of righteous resistance of lesser magistrates, but also gives examples of righteous resistance of private individuals of no government authority whatsoever. We need to be careful to not offer as “the Biblical solution” something that is specifically applicable only to the US today, and ignores the historical context that brought us so far, which most nations in the world are still lacking.

Fair enough. But we all need to start somewhere, and bloody revolutions tend to centralize power (when they fail, and in the very rare occasions when they succeed). Bloodless decentralization then should be the goal.

The words of Mather Byles – a nephew of Cotton Mather – should always be before our eyes before we rush to support a local official who is allegedly putting up resistance to higher authorities:

Which is better – to be ruled by one tyrant three thousands miles away, or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?

Therefore, before we decide that a local magistrate’s resistance is an application of the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate, we need to ask ourselves two questions:

First, is the local magistrate motivated by a Biblical principle, or by the same pagan philosophy of power as the central magistrate? Obviously, if he is motivated by the same pagan philosophy of power, then he is not really a Biblical lesser magistrate, and we shouldn’t support him – or at least, support him only conditionally, but openly reject his philosophy of power.

Second, is the local magistrate really interceding on behalf of the people, or is he simply trying to appropriate for himself the tyrannical power that the greater magistrate wields? Obviously, it would be an abuse of the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate to use it for imposing a greater tyranny on the people.

It may be obvious, but it’s still worth keeping in mind, as we tend to ignore the obvious when it seems to stop us from getting what we want.

OK, time for the massive quote, revealing the clear chain of logic and truth that opens up a whole new view of righteous government:

When we look at the issue of the Biblical view of government, quite a few Christians – and some self-professed theonomists – have justified the actions of the governors with the claim that the Biblical function of civil government is to ensure the safety or security of its citizens. Now, while rhetorically and intuitively this sounds like a nice idea, in reality, it is a false claim. Safety or security are not a Biblical function of government, and are not mentioned as a Biblical function of government. The Biblical function of government is justice, that is, resolution of conflicts and punishment of crime. Safety and security are left to God, and to the families themselves, not to the government.

Why is this difference important? Because from a covenantal – that is, ethical/judicial – perspective, the two functions, justice and safety, have completely different starting points, and involve completely different modes of action. It is true that indirectly, safety is a secondary product of righteous justice. But what is often missed by many Christians is that when safety is made the primary purpose of the state, it destroys justice and establishes tyranny.

In the Bible, civil government is primarily a negative institution; that is, it doesn’t have any function of providing a positive product to the society. For the most part, the state is supposed to be inactive except when a crime is committed, or a dispute arises between private persons which can’t be resolved by private conflict resolution. The power of the state is enormous compared to the power of the other institutions, but it is limited and reactive: for the task of justice requires reaction only to real, already committed crimes.

Contrary to this, the task of safety and security is a proactive task, and it requires preventive justice, a concept that is completely anti-Christian and idolatrous. For the state to be able to provide safety and security, it must have an active government apparatus with executive functions which can read people’s minds and predict who might be prone to commit a crime, in order to be able to exclude them from society before they have committed it. That is, the task of safety and security, when carried out by the state, requires government control over non-criminal individuals. Such control is inevitable, and there is no way to limit it to criminals only; after all, if a person is a known criminal, the crime would have been already committed, so the action needed would be justice, not safety. Only God has the prerogative to see the heart of a man; when the state takes this prerogative to itself, it declares itself divine.

Thus, those who call for the government to provide safety and security – as opposed to the Biblical task of only retributive and restitutional justice – are calling for open judicial idolatry. And since idolatry always brings tyranny, they are calling also for judicial tyranny. From the Jacobin Committee of Public Safety, through the Nazi SD (Security Service) and SiPo (Security Police), Mussolini’s TULPS (Laws for Public Safety), the Communist KGB (Committee for State Security) and Stasi (State Security), to our modern American Homeland Security, Transport Security Administration, and National Security Agency, and to the modern American cops’ “It’s for your safety” when they unlawfully arrest and torture innocent people, “safety” and “security” have been the buzzwords for the government’s terrorizing and spying on its own population in the name of taking care of them. Haven’t we learned anything from history that we want more of the same?

Once the government is given the task to act preemptively to provide safety, there is no logical limit to what it can do to anyone, including its own citizens. If a group of non-criminal foreigners can be controlled and kicked out because they are a “security threat,” what would stop the government from doing the same thing to a group of non-criminal citizens, for instance, gun owners? Such a concept of government would justify the violation of any civil rights we today enjoy, and eventually will destroy all liberty. Haven’t we learned from history?

Christians are commanded to be wise judges. Christians are commanded to learn from God’s judgements in history, as well as His explicit ruling in the Bible, and act accordingly.

In addition, from a Christian and evangelistic point of view, this move by the governors of the most heavily evangelical states casts a shadow on the claims of American evangelicals that they are all for “evangelism and missions.” Granted, spending tax-payers’ money to bring refugees half-way around the world is wicked, and the outrage is justified. (Although, whose fault is it? Isn’t it the fault of evangelical churchian celebrities who for over 100 years limited the Gospel to individual salvation and preached against Christianizing the culture? And isn’t it the fault of their listeners who should have purged the pulpits of those preachers long time ago? Why are we complaining when we have to live with the results of that same preaching we have tolerated for so long?) But the refugees are already here, and it’s not their fault that someone used tax-payers’ money to bring them over. So what’s the logic in sending them away instead of using this opportunity to evangelize them, an opportunity we haven’t had before because of the political and cultural conditions in their native lands? These people are running from Islam; in a way, they already hate Islam; how Christian is it to miss such opportunity for evangelism, and even lobby your politicians to that effect?

The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate was certainly not meant to destroy or harm the testimony of the Gospel.

Yes, Islamic immigration can be used as an evangelical opportunity. American Christians had better get evangelical then, or face the destiny of Europe.

But weak and rotting cultures flee from challenges, instead of facing them.

Political opportunism doesn’t fight tyranny; it perpetuates it.

Therefore, it is a serious mistake to praise their action and to declare it an example of the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate. Righteous political action based on Biblical principles is an obligation for every Christian. But prostituting legitimate Biblical principles to justify political expediency and opportunism will only destroy our own credibility as Christians and will harm the reputation of the Gospel. We need to be more careful in our political and cultural assessments, if we don’t want to destroy our endeavor before we have even started it.

Amen.

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