I’ve been reading, thinking, and meditating about the state of our nation. Having devoted years of study relative to the American culture, I’ve concluded that we as a nation are headed down the same path that other nations/civilizations have already traveled. The political nature of a nation is not in a philosophical vacuum, although many if not most of its citizens believe that a political philosophy is unimportant. If the Athenian philosophers appeared today on CNN or some other highly visible news media, they would plead with the citizens of our nation to re-consider the national political philosophy. The same applies to the Roman Empire. If we believe that our national heritage will produce success as a result of one’s own experience (a national experience based on the experience of its citizens), remembering that the experience comes from a fallible, mutable being that lives uncomfortable with relativity, we are denying the existence of ultimate principles. I see our nation in a crisis, not merely economically or morally, although it is, but ultimately in a philosophical crisis of disbelief in existing reality. There is no concrete certainty on any universal principles that will lead us out of this crisis. Everyone depends on their relative opinion. Unless there is a turn to some objective standard and people quit listening to political leaders who are sophists (convincing liars), the path we travel may lead us to the same end as it did for Athens, Rome, or any number of lesser world powers that are found only in the history books.
I agree with John Calvin “that man is under a twofold government…the kind that resides in the soul or inner man [and] the other which pertains only to the establishment of civil justice and outward morality.” Unfortunately western evangelicalism mixed and mingled the two spheres to the point that biblical doctrine has been lost. The physical and the spiritual have different responsibilities and the telos (final purpose and destination) of the subjects are different. The civil dimension (nation) lives under the authority of natural law and the other (church) lives under the authority of biblical law. However, to use the words of Aquinas they are both God’s eternal law.
The Word of God is very clear on the role of civil government.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Romans 13 1:5)
A term everyone ought to be aware of during the election season is cobelligerent: A state or individual that cooperates with, but is not bound by a formal alliance to another in waging war. For example a Roman Catholic and a Protestant have contrary doctrinal creeds, which is the reason they worship separately. However, a Roman Catholic and a Protestant could stand side-by-side in an abortion protest. If you take this principle to its logical end, government officials do not have to believe a particular religious view to govern according to natural law. The goal for Christians is to have a spiritually mature church and let the providence of God rule over the civil state.
Before I wrote this I re-read Aristotle’s’ Book on Politics. A few comments are from Aristotle’s’ Politics, Book 2:
“The same criticism may be made about the Cretan, which has been already made about the Lacedaemonian elders. Their irresponsibility and life tenure is too great a privilege, and their arbitrary power of acting upon their own judgment, and dispensing with written law, is dangerous.” (Part 10)
Speaking of kings, Aristotle said “Such officers have great power, and therefore, if they are persons of little worth, do a great deal of harm” (Part 11)
“The superiority of their constitution is proved by the fact that the common people remain loyal to the constitution the Carthaginians have never had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under the rule of a tyrant.” (Part 11)
We may learn from these ancient governments.