State vs Society

I think the first thing I want to talk about is the difference between the state and society. Folks get these two things confused and I think that is a major problem and prevents so much meaningful conversation.

The nature of the state, is very simply, force. You can also call it power, or coercion. That is ALL the state is. Some people will say this view is too simplistic, but I fail to see how. In his article “Anatomy of the State,” Murray Rothbard defines the state as:

‘that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion” (p. 57)’

For any manifestation of the state that I can see in history, this is a true statement. The state has either existed as humans using coercion to enforce the rule of man, or the rule of law. But it is still, simply, force.

I would define society as human beings living in relationship with other humans in a voluntary manner. It is the sphere of life where we exist free from coercion. Where we have freedom of choice and freedom of association. It is the place for voluntary interaction between humans.

This distinction between state and society is incredibly important, because in order to remain free from coercion (which is something that I hope every reasonable person would agree is a good thing), we need to know which activities are the responsibility of the state and which ones are the responsibility of society. I will explain what activities are legitimate for the state in my next post but I want to highlight WHY we need to understand this. The reason is this: power attracts abusers of power. Any cursory examination of history reveals this. We have countless examples of humans using the power of the state to do horrific things to other humans.

This understanding is ESPECIALLY important for Jesus followers because the body of Christ should NEVER use coercion to spread the gospel or advance His kingdom. Jesus Himself explains this:

‘Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.’
Mark 10:42‭-‬43 CEB

Jesus introduced an upside down kingdom where true power is displayed in humility and servanthood. Not once in scripture does Jesus advocate the use of force to his disciples. Even when they were about to arrest Jesus he admonished his disciples:

‘Then Jesus said to him, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.’
Matthew 26:52 CEB

If Jesus calls us to humility and servanthood, why then, are so many people who profess to be Christ followers obsessed with who wields the power of the state? Did Jesus say we should place our trust in the power of human force? No! He said we should trust in Him! I see that huge swaths of people who claim to have trust in Jesus give in to fear to the point where they put their trust more in the power of the state than they put their faith in the power of God. This saddens me. I hope a thoughtful discourse on this will be helpful for all of us.

I want to leave this post with a final thought. When you align yourself with a political tribe, what you are actually saying is “I’m a member of red/blue team because I want to use the power of the state to force people to do A, B, and C, and prevent by force people from doing X, Y and Z.” That’s what you are identifying yourself with. If you are first and foremost a follower of Jesus, do you think this is how He wants you to accomplish His will? I think the Gospels are very clear that He doesn’t. The body of Christ should ONLY operate within the sphere of society. Not that of the state.

Next topic: the purpose of government.

One Reply to “State vs Society”

  1. Good first post! Keep them coming!

    I think there is a legitimate use of power, or force, and that is to defend self or others against criminality. Individuals and societies alike are capable of this kind of appropriate use of force–and alike capable of abusing it. As soon as force is used to aggress against an innocent person, to take what is theirs or to coerce them, the people using that force become criminals themselves, violating the law of love, which is freedom.

    Christ asks for our heart and mind given willingly. Only a willing gift has any real value, because it could just as easily not have been given. It is real.

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