Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Minarchist, Anarchist or other? Part II (Draft)

In part one, I looked at why the "congregational" model of government as practiced by many christian and jewish congregations is neither minarchist, anarchist, or statist, and why this model has been successful for several millenia. Unlike "human government," this model is non-coercive. Let's look at the various points in more detail:
* Voluntary in nature – adults (those who are able to believe and act on their own) volunteering to participate, and remain in association with each other. Generally, since Pentecost, or in the case of Judaism, since AD70 (the Fall of Jerusalem), there has been no legitimate force used in any church or synogogue. God Himself does not command or execute any sort of immediate punishment on those who fail to act as He has commanded - judgment and punishment is reserved for Judgment Day. If a person fails to voluntarily abide by the norms of the community (congregation), the closest thing to coercion allowed is a withdrawal of fellowship (see below) - arguably only a confirmation of something the person themselves has done by refusing to cooperate. Even for those who are supported (financially, physically) so that they can work more on behalf of the congregation do so voluntarily, and cannot be constrained by any action of the congregation to be forced to work. Most important, there is no legitimate force or "automatic" enrollment in this body - the Bible teaches that even though circumcision (for Jews) is done to an infant to mark them as one of the community, they cannot truly participate in the community until they are old enough to decide for themselves (the ritual of bar mitzvah, as I understand it). In christian communities, although some would practice infant baptism, it is clear in the New Testament that belief is essential - which is exactly why those groups that practice infant baptism (not found in the Bible, by the way) have some sort of confirmation of that faith later in life. You are not automatically under the control of some "government" merely by accident of birth or residence or ancestry.

* Organized – as a body, functions are given out and accepted voluntarily, but they are specific in nature, not open-ended nor amorphous. Virtually all human governments are characterized by very vague limits on power and function of offices, agencies etc. This is either "de jure" (such as the British "constitution" which is vague or nonexistant) or "de facto" (such as the American constitution which is very specific but ignored in practice). (Tribal governments and that of most kingdoms are even more loosy-goosy: whatever the market will bear.) In contrast, both rabbinical tradition and the New Testament identify the various organizational elements clearly, and the duties are specific (even if often ignored).

* Leadership is local, collective, limited in power, voluntary, and must meet certain agreed-upon qualifications. This is perhaps the most critical, and apparently the most difficult part of the congregational model. There is no "one-man rule" and there is no wide area of "control:" the elders or directors or shepherds are always plural and responsible for the "flock" in which they themselves are. There are no provinces, colonies, or empires. The other elements have been discussed already, except for the qualifications. Most human government deals with essentially unimportant "qualifications" - age, place of birth, heredity, percentage of votes, etc. The congregational model identifies those personal traits which make for effective and trustworthy leaders: honesty, reputation, fidelity, etc. And they are expected to uphold a certain standard of conduct at least as strict as those they are leading are to follow.

* Power is limited, especially the power of punishment – anything more than withdrawing from the offender (refusing to allow the offender to continue to associate and benefit from the organization) does not exist. As discussed above, there is really only one punishment found in the congregational model. All other power is similarly limited: there is no corporal punishment to force someone to follow the leaders, no loss of freedom to avenge some wrong action. And as pointed out, no one can be forced to join or remain. This is stated again in the next aspect: No use of aggressive force – the members cannot be forced to do anything; persuasion is the only way of obtaining cooperation and participation.

* Justice in resolution of conflicts and righting of wrongs done is by consent – and limited to restitution, not punishment. This is one of the major areas in which "human government" has usurped the responsibilities of the historical congregational governments around the world, to the detriment of society and people individually. Justice, real justice, hinges on this: what was done which was wrong is made right, as much as possible. Failure to do so is "punished" only by those actions necessary to separate the unrepenting offender from other potential victims - not so much to punish them (that is God's sphere) but to protect the community from further harm. This is similar, perhaps, to the modern concept of "restorative justice" and to the ancient practice of "outlawing."

* The scale and scope is limited to a relatively small number of participants in a fairly small geographic area – from a few families and individuals to perhaps several thousand. There is, therefore, competition between the organizations for members, and mobility between organizations without requiring physical relocation. Obviously the limited power of the leaders and of the congregational government dictates this, but this is also important from the point of view of individual liberty: competition in this, as in all other parts of social life, is generally good (although it can get carried away) - for it provides freedom of choice. With a congregational government essentially operating by concensus, it is essential that people are able to move from one to another, or even to organize their own congregation free and independent from any other. Therefore, by necessity, the groups tend to be somewhat small, and thus limited in power - and less likely to be able to effectively become aggressors and build "empires."

However well this model might work, we do have to remember that humans seldom function ideally, and even this limited organization will (and has) become corrupt and stopped following the model. This happened in ancient Israel, when the people demanded a king, "like the nations around us." It happened in Reformation Geneva, and in Pilgrim Massachusetts, and we can see examples in many churches and synogogues today and in very recent history. But the very nature of the model reduces the impacts of such departures, as we shall discuss in the next installment.

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