Contrary to broad generalizations, not all theocrats are created equal. For example, there is the vast, left-wing political theocracy. Those whose religious views (usually secular humanism) spur radical environmentalism, feminism, and racism operate politically in terms of their religion. They want the state to enforce their theocratic views in the form of laws seizing property (federal land grabs) and discriminating against sexes and races (quotas). We libertarian theocrats vigorously oppose this theft, sexism and racism.
Then there are their counterparts on the Right — right-wing, and often Christian, political theocrats. As I pointed out in an earlier Razormouth column, Attorney General John Ashcroft, a fervent Pentecostal, is also a theocrat, affirming “the Crown Rights of Jesus Christ” (as he should!). In the words of Newsweek, he is “a hero to law-and-order conservatives . . . son and grandson of fundamentalist Christian preachers.” However, in the present war climate, he has lobbied for vastly expanded state powers (domestic, not only foreign) and elicited the ire of liberty-loving Christians.
Both Ashcroft and we advocate theocracy, godly rule; but we surely don’t agree on the way to achieve it. We libertarian theocrats want less state interference and protection and more godliness and safety. We don’t think that the state, in the vast majority of cases, does as good a job at protecting citizens as the family and church and other “private” institutions.
Other examples of political theocracy include many Christians’ (understandable) support for a Human Life Amendment to crush the scourge of abortion. We libertarian theocrats oppose abortion as vehemently as the Christian political theocrats, and we define it as murder that must be criminalized. But we don’t want to put additional power in the hands of an already bloated federal government, as such a Constitutional amendment would. We want less murder, and a smaller state.
Then there’s economic protectionism, a linchpin of a lot of political theocrats’ economic views. They advocate national socialism in the name of “keeping American jobs at home.” They advocate tariffs and duties that deprive American citizens of the liberty to buy from whom they will and American companies from hiring whom they will. They believe that protectionism is a holy cause to “keep America great.” We libertarian theocrats too want to “keep America great”; but protectionism is a mighty bad way to do it. We believe that a holy economic cause is getting the Feds out of the economy and allowing individuals and families and businesses to contract freely and peacefully with whom they will. You don’t advance Christian theocracy by curbing political liberty, as national socialism surely does.
Like’s Gandalf’s caveat about the “precious” ring in J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy, power corrupts, even — perhaps especially — when it’s wielded with virtuous intentions.
Christian political theocrats have been duped by the left-wing paradigm. In the last century, political liberalism was convinced that social change is impossible apart from state coercion. This is why whenever there’s a school shooting, a rise in homelessness, or a health-care predicament, the first things liberals say is, “What can we get Washington to do about this?” The idea that there could be non-political answers to these problems doesn’t enter the minds of most on the Left.
Now when many Christians, whose only prominent exposure to social action is from the Left, encounter socially malignant sins like atheism, homosexuality, racism and pornography, their first impulse, like the liberals’, is to respond, “What can we get Washington to do about this?” The idea that there could be non-political answers to these evils doesn’t enter the minds of many on the Christian Right. They join secularist liberals in seeing politics as the principal means of social change.
It’s easy to see theocracy in political terms, and why it could be attractive, because theocracy certainly is a rule and governance, and we in the modern world are accustomed to understanding rule and governance as almost exclusively political functions. But when your eyes are opened to the power of God to change individuals, and the godly authority of the family and church (and other private institutions and associations) to govern their external actions, you’ll be less inclined to trust politics for such theocratic purposes.
You’ll want greater theocracy and, therefore, less state interference. You’ll repudiate political theocracy on the Left and the Right.
Liberty for Unbelievers
Of course, not all people in the world are — or ever will be — Christians. Does libertarian theocracy deprive them of political liberty? All to the contrary, it guarantees that liberty. Secular views of “political rights” suspend them on flimsy theories (legal positivism, the greatest good for the greatest number, whatever works, etc.). But libertarian theocrats agree with Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are rights granted by God. We believe that the state may not deprive them. In other words, atheists are politically safer in a Christian society than an atheistic society (like Cuba or North Korea!). We believe their beliefs and practices (like Christians’), if peaceful and law-abiding, should be politically protected. Political persecution for religion (or irreligion) is an anathema to libertarian theocracy.
Libertarian Theocracy and American Political Institutions
The role of the state in a Christian society is essentially to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the trio of rights spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. The United States Constitution itself, as John Eidsmoe demonstrates, was shaped by a Christian ethos. In fact, libertarian theocrats are firm proponents of the free institutions of American democracy: divided, representative government; wide suffrage; checks and balances; and Constitutional guarantees like due process and a bill of rights. In this environment, Christians can preach the gospel, propagate God’s law in the church and wider society, and live peaceably with unbelievers, jealously guarding political (and not just religious) liberty for all — not just Christians. We must advance Christ’s kingdom, and that necessitates political liberty. Every area of life must be Christianized, including the state — and this means a minuscule state!
Precisely because we believe so fervently in theocracy, we must largely dismantle and greatly decentralize politics.