Human Rule Weighed in the Balances
Part 1b—Do We Really Need Government?
ANARCHY: the absence of any form of political authority, resulting in a society of individuals without government, who claim total freedom for themselves.
GREEK philosopher Aristotle called all forms of human government inherently unstable and transitional. He claimed, according to one writer, that “the stability of all regimes is corrupted by the corrosive power of time.”
In view of such conditions, it is not surprising that some people have advocated having no government at all, or at least as little government as possible. But advocating ‘no government’ is in reality calling for anarchy, a term taken from a Greek word meaning “having no ruler.”
The word “anarchy” was used in 1840, exactly 150 years ago, by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French political writer. But the philosophy of anarchism was clearly outlined 200 years earlier by Englishman Gerrard Winstanley. As explained in The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “Winstanley laid down what later became basic principles among the anarchists: that power corrupts; that property is incompatible with freedom; that authority and property are between them the begetters of crime; and that only in a society without rulers, where work and its products are shared, can men be free and happy, acting not according to laws imposed from above but according to their consciences.”
But does not experience teach us that every group needs a framework within which to operate? “From earliest times,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “some kind of government has been a vital part of every society.” It explains that “every group of people—from a family to a nation—has rules of conduct to govern the lives of its members.” How else could it accomplish its purposes for the benefit of all its members?
Most people will therefore readily accept the notion that certain institutions have a legitimate right to exercise authority and to make decisions for the common good. With no government to make decisions for the community, every individual would be left to follow the dictates of his own conscience, as Winstanley suggested. Would this promote unity? Or is it not more likely that each individual would tend to pursue his own interests, often to the detriment of the equally legitimate rights of others?
Experiments in anarchy have failed to improve the lot of mankind. Efforts of 20th-century terrorists to destabilize society, to destroy what they perceive to be destroying them, have fared no better.
Simply stated, having ‘no government’ invites chaos. The question is therefore not ‘government or no government?’ but, rather, ‘what kind of government for the best results?’
The Origin of Human Rule
God-rule was the original pattern set for man in the garden of Eden over six thousand years ago. The Creator stressed mankind’s dependency upon him and upon his direction of things in harmony with a principle later expressed in the Bible: “It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Or as a Chinese proverb asserts: “Without the assistance of Heaven man cannot walk an inch.”
The first human pair concluded otherwise. They chose to walk “without the assistance of Heaven” and were subsequently forced to walk their way out of the Paradise that God had given them. Later, as the human family grew, the need for rules of government to ensure peace and order within this arrangement also grew. Once God-rule had been rejected, human rule, of a necessity, moved in to fill the vacuum.—Genesis 3:1-5.
All Alike—Yet Different
From this inauspicious beginning, human governments have taken many forms. Whether they are very simple or extremely complex, all of them have certain similarities. Here are a few:
Governments care for the needs of their subjects. A government that fails to do this loses its legitimacy.
Governments set out a code of conduct, which if not adhered to by their subjects, results in punishment. This code is composed of rules and laws, as well as of traditions developed over the centuries. Citizens for the most part obey the code of conduct either because they discern the benefits derived from doing so, because they feel ‘it is the thing to do,’ because they are subjected to peer pressure, or simply because they will be punished if they do not.
Governments perform legislative, executive, and judicial services by means of some type of organizational setup. Laws are made, justice is administered, and policies are implemented.
Governments maintain strong economic ties to the world of commerce.
Governments also often ally themselves with some form of religion, some more closely than others. They do this to grant their rule a certain legitimacy—‘the blessing of heaven’—that it otherwise would not have.
Of course, governments also differ. Political scientists classify and categorize them in a number of ways. “There is, for example,” writes The New Encyclopædia Britannica, “the classical distinction between governments in terms of the number of rulers—government by one man (monarchy or tyranny), government by the few (aristocracy or oligarchy), and government by the many (democracy).”
Sometimes governments are classified in terms of their key institutions (parliamentarism, cabinet government), according to their basic principles of political authority (traditional, charismatic), according to their economic structure, or in terms of their use or abuse of power. “Although none is comprehensive,” notes this reference work, “each of these principles of analysis has some validity.”
But regardless of how we classify them, the vital thing to remember is that the various forms of human rule—without exception—are now being weighed in the balances. This will have far-reaching consequences for all of us.
[Box on page 6]
Writing of the governmental authorities that rule down to this present time, the apostle Paul wrote: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1, 7) Thus, Christians who follow the Bible’s guidance conscientiously obey all laws of the land in which they live, unless called upon to break God’s laws, which are supreme.
[Picture on page 7]
Government is necessary—even as is traffic control—to prevent chaos