has been to expand and reinforce the role of the state. Rather than national repentance, renewed evangelistic efforts, and a reining in of the state in its overseas interventionism, our response has been to grant the state even greater access to our personal affairs, and to renew the international crusade for democracy. Actions by individuals, families, and churches seem limited to demonstrating support for the civil government. In the U.S., some churches even feel compelled to install the flag of the federal government in a prominent place in the sanctuary (actually a longstanding practice with some congregations).
The international campaign for democracy has become the statist's version of a missionary crusade. Yet changing the political form of government without limiting its activities will not solve the fundamental problem. Whether a democracy or a dictatorship, any government can overstep its Biblical limits and destroy liberty.
Many in the United States have equated democracy and freedom. This is, as economist Thomas Sowell has noted, a confusion of the process with its hoped-for results. I am sorry to say that some Christians have thought of "democratizing" a nation as an intermediate step on the way to "Christianizing" it (if they think in terms of "Christianizing" a nation at all). Very often, democracy will result in a loss of liberty, as well as a reduction in Christian influence. The framers saw the political and moral disaster of the French Revolution, and shunned democracy in favor of a republic.
Democracy ultimately leads to statism because it replaces a Biblical framework for civil authority with the framework that man chooses. Without the limits on the civil government that the Bible outlines, people seek to use the state for personal gain. As the state becomes the agent for wealth transfers between different groups within the population, the state grows more and more powerful. Soon, no individual is safe unless he is a member of an organized group that can offer the state an important block of votes. Eventually, simple expropriation turns into imprisonment or murder, and the voting process is corrupted so that the state need not bother satisfying voters. As R.J. Rushdoony explained in Politics of Guilt and Pity, any freedom that may exist in a democracy is temporary:
The freedom of the individual in a democracy is only a transitional freedom, existing briefly as the source of law moves from God to the state. It is impossible for the individual to maintain his liberty very long in a democracy, because power is delegated to the state, to the general will of the democratic mass as it expresses itself in the state. A fundamental axiom of political life is this, that power allies itself with power. A power group is not interested in charity; it is not in existence to subsidize weak and struggling groups who need but cannot give help. Unless firmly restrained, power always grasps for more power, and hence it allies itself with other powers, and a struggle for power between cooperating yet competing power groups follows. Thus, as a democracy develops the powers of the state, and the powers of big business, big finance, big labor, criminal syndicates, big pressure groups, powerful minority groups, all now unchecked by the higher law of God, these powers all prosper at the expense of the individual.
As Rushdoony goes on to say, the power grab extends past the borders of the individual state or region. Multinational unions are created in a search for more power. "This leads," he writes, "either to irresponsible warfare as a result of meddling in foreign affairs, or to irresponsible alliances."
Christians must stand against the aggrandizement of the state, wherever it appears. This means protesting not only where Christians are prevented from assembling for worship, or where a Christian family's educational choices are limited by the state, but at any point at which the state has overstepped its bounds. Our evangelism must challenge the idolatry of statism as it would any pagan image-worship.
- Timothy D. Terrell
Timothy Terrell is associate professor of economics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is assistant editor of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and is an Associated Scholar with the Mises Institute.