Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mr. Muehlenberg on the State: Its origin, powers, and form of government

Mr. Muehlenberg begins by asking several questions about the State, and then writes in his second paragraph that

But there are some basic biblical principles that can be drawn upon here as we seek to address these concerns. The first and most basic principle is that God in fact created the institution of the state. It was his idea of restraining sinful humans in a fallen world.

Mr. Muehlenberg is quite right to say that God created the institution of the State--which (creation) can be known not just from the relevant Scriptural passages but also from unaided reason--but he is wrong to say that God created the State in order to restrain sinful humans in the Fallen world, which would imply that, had the Fall not occured, there would have been no States. As St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, teaches, with accompanying proofs, in Chapter 7 of his magnificent De Laicis, or, The Treatise on Civil Government,

even if servile subjection began after the sin of Adam, nevertheless there would have been political government even while man was in the state of innocence.

Mr. Muehlenberg invokes Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 and says that "[t]hese passages tell us that the state is from God to maintain justice and punish evil", which is true, but the State is not only for the maintenance of justice and punishment of evil; indeed, those passages speak respectively of (the prince as) "God's minister to you, for good" (source) and of "governors as sent by [the king] for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of the good" (source). The State's purpose is the common good, not merely "a modicum of peace, order and justice, and the protection of basic human rights"/"a degree of order, justice and civility in a fallen world", as one might infer from Mr. Muehlenberg's post. To be fair, Mr. Muehlenberg notes in his conclusion that "[i]n this very brief and sketchy outline [he] ha[s] only scratched the surface of what is a rather complex discussion", but the common good is such an elementary thing to mention in any discussion of the basic theory of the State that I do not think that this is a good enough excuse.

And when Mr. Muehlenberg writes that

In a fallen world all we can hope for is a modicum of peace, order and justice, and the protection of basic human rights. We certainly should not expect secular utopian ideologies to be of any use.

he is proposing a false dilemma. It is not as though there is a binary choice between a nightwatchman State on the one hand and a Nazi/Communist-type state on the other; between the two extremes of the Social Reign of Pilate and the Social Reign of Barabbas there is the Social Reign of Christ.

Reginaldvs Cantvar

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