Can a Christian be an anarchist? What exactly is an anarchist? I would certainly argue that a Christian is not an anarchist, if by ‘anarchist’, one means this:
Being that to most people today, the above is exactly what they think of when they hear of an anarchist, what exactly then is a Christian anarchist? The popular anarchist slogan “No Gods, No Masters” certainly doesn’t apply to me. Neither does their Leftist socialist view on economics. And anarchists themselves are quick to condemn property, capital, Christianity, and the Church as all authoritarian tyrannies. The term ‘anarchism’ means “without rulers,” which, if applied universally, is a phrase no Christian would support, as we all, at the very least, believe in submitting ourselves to the sovereignty of God.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect word, term, or phrase that describes a counter-revolutionary, Rightist form of ‘anarchism.’ Murray Rothbard, who was not a Christian but nonetheless had excellent views on the State and economics, had difficulty labeling what exactly this philosophy is. He jokingly coined ‘nonarchist’ to distinguish himself both from Statists and anarchists; later, he coined the term ‘anarcho-capitalist’ in another attempt to label this philosophy. Ernst Jünger, an anti-Nazi conservative counter-revolutionary from Germany, developed the term ‘anarch’ in his attempt to create a synthesis between Max Stirner’s individualist anarchism and a Rightist view on authority. Jünger’s own views on militarism and nationalism, however, as well as his revival today among White Nationalists, is enough cause to distance oneself from his views, despite some of the positive aspects to his philosophy.
Of course, there is a branch of philosophy simply labeled ‘Christian anarchism’ that includes such individuals as Leo Tolstoy, Ammon Hennacy, and Dorothy Day. But more often than not, followers of this philosophy also embraced pacifism, vegetarianism, and socialism. Individuals are free to adopt any lifestyle they choose, of course, but to blend an opposition to State and War with ardent pacifism, vegetarianism, or socialism is to further compound and muddle the central issue. In addition, most in this tradition advocated democratic egalitarianism, and opposed all hierarchies and authorities, including within the Church.
So, I disassociate myself from Leftist socialist anarchists, atheist anarchists, terrorists, violent rebellious adolescents, anti-authority egalitarians, ‘chaos’ and ‘disorder’, and even with traditional Christian pacifist anarchists. What’s left? Well, I am firmly opposed to the modern idea of the compulsory bureaucratized Nation-States which came into existence around the 16th Century; however, I am not opposed to natural authority, law, hierarchy, religion, or of general governance. This is a philosophic opposition to the modern State in particular and, again, has no real appropriate term for its identification; anarchism only approximates it. Even the term that this blog got its name from, ‘anarcho-monarchism’, is an imperfect one. Thus, I’ll just resign to calling myself a “conservative Christian anarchist,” as Henry Adams called himself.
What are the tenants of this ideology? Briefly, we advocate the rights of private property and of liberty. From these two principles springs forth all others – non-aggression, free markets, free trade, and the understanding of variety and diversity in life. We believe in the sovereignty of the individual, but not in an atomistic, libertine sense; rather, we complement the liberty of the individual with the necessity of society. We believe that one can be enslaved to Self as well as to any other man, and thus believe that liberty should be tempered by prudence, faith, charity, reason, patience, love, morality, and other such virtues. The ‘liberty’ of a Marquis de Sade or an Aleister Crowley is a false liberty, a mirage, a bondage.
What is the Biblical foundation for this perspective on anarchism? First, just look at God’s plan for man in the Garden. God created two persons, neither of which needed a State to protect or provide for them. God wanted Himself alone to be the Sovereign over Adam and Eve. He planted a garden for them, thus teaching them the value of work, and then gave dominion of the entire earth over to them. He then set the man over the woman (not male chauvinism nor male domination, but rather a proper view of complementarianism), establishing proper order, responsibility, and hierarchy, and blessed them to reproduce and establish a family. Thus, in the first few chapters in Genesis, we see God establish liberty (Adam and Eve had free reign over the entire earth), diversity (male and female), authority (individuals under God, as well as patriarchalism), family, work, private property, and the virtue of restraint (eat not of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). What we do not see is any call for democratic egalitarianism, a centralized power structure of government (ie, a State), nor any call to war. In fact, the first Biblical character that is noted for war is Nimrod (Genesis 10:8,9), a reviled figure in Biblical history. It is believed by many theologians that Nimrod was also the builder of the Tower of Babel. Regardless of who the builder was, Babel is an example of strong centralization. God had commanded man, once expelled from the Garden, to disperse throughout the earth. Instead, man had colluded and centralized together. This centralization was condemned.
In Exodus, we read of the tyranny of Egypt and of God leading His people out of bondage. Once the Children of Israel had arrived in Canaan, they established no centralized form of government for over 300 years. There was, of course, the Law that had been given at Mt. Sinai, but this is a far cry from establishing some centralized State (see here). There’s also the usual charges of genocide and war levied against the Israelites when they entered into Canaan (see here). Ignoring the Law and the Conquest for the moment, let’s look again at the form of centralized government the Hebrews created after the Exodus – that is, none. The time of Judges was a polycentric legal period. Authority was shared between a multiplicity of sovereigns – individuals, property owners, fathers, priests, prophets, and judges. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, Judges 21:25). But freedom can be frightening to people. The masses were soon petitioning for a king. Gideon refused their requests. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you” (Judges 8:22-23). God had never intended man to be ruled by a centralized State. We were to be guided by Him, and to submit voluntarily to established authorities within different spheres of society. Later, the Israelites again tried to establish a king to rule over them, and Samuel accurately described the harsh conditions that living under a centralized government would bring (1 Samuel 8:5-18).
What about Jesus? He was certainly an anarchist, in the sense that the term is used on this blog (see here and here)(St. Paul was one as well). He told His disciples that “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you” (Luke 22:25). While Christ’s primary purpose was not simply to overthrow secular centralized government (indeed, people deserted Him precisely because that was not His purpose), He was still a Man that owed no allegiance to any State.
Looking through history, we see Christians both opposing the State and justifying every atrocity committed by one. St. Augustine compared the Roman Emperor to a pirate that stole from the entirety of the Empire, and scathed states that lacked justice. St. Thomas Aquinas, building upon the theology of Augustine, formulated the doctrine of Just War, to limit aggressive and preemptive warfare. In contrast, Martin Luther and John Calvin, heroes of the Reformation, were defenders of tyranny. Luther wrote, “Even if the magistrate is wicked and unjust there should be no excuse for rioting or rebellion. For not everybody has the right to punish wickedness; only the secular authorities in the possession of the sword.” And, “It is better that the tyrants be a hundred times unjust to the people than that the people inflict one injustice on the tyrants. If there must be injustice it is to be preferred that we suffer from the authorities than that the magistrate suffer from the subjects.” This isn’t a defense of natural authority or monarchy here, this is an attack on the rights and liberties of individuals with an endorsement of the most unjust tyrannies imaginable. Calvin, likewise, was a defender of tyranny and a petty tyrant himself. His democratic-totalitarian rule over Geneva is fairly well known.
John Wesley, while not considered an anarchist, was also no friend of the State. He opposed the slave trade and imperialism, and advocated massive prison reform. The early Pentecostals opposed taxation and war. Then there is, of course, the Quakers, Amish, and other sects that approximate anarchist philosophy.
So, what does all this mean? Should Christians abstain from politics? I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with being involved in politics, but I disagree enormously with how the Moral Majority / Religious Right participate in politics. Sin is rampant in our culture, and to too many believers in America, the solution to that sin is the State. We need more legislation and more laws, and only then will our culture be saved from sin. This is folly. Jesus never once advocated a law being passed by a central government to prohibit sin. God’s desire is to write His Laws upon our hearts and minds (Hebrews 10:16), not upon the United States Code. Christians are called to reform this world through the Message of the Gospel, not through a telephone call to the United States Capitol.
If a Christian were not to embrace this philosophical anarchism, he at least should become skeptical of the State, in its entirety. We should be skeptical of any claim by the State to intervene more into our lives, whether domestically or internationally. We should seek constant restraint upon the State, breaking up its centralized power whenever possible. We should support localized sovereignty, Church authority, traditional family autonomy, peace, liberty, virtue, and order. We should oppose sin and seek to ignite revival everywhere. As Christians, we say that we have the Answer to life’s problems, difficulties, and tragedies. It’s time we start acting like we have that Answer – and His name is Jesus, not State.