One of the most fundamental testimonies of Friends is that of simplicity. We try to live in ways that are devoid of complexity. Whether it’s in the personal, professional, or social realm, Friends strive towards minimalism, buoyed by the belief that a life lived simply is a life lived truthfully. So why do so many Friends support an ever-expanding government? While the majority of us do indeed advocate for a limited American presence overseas, there seems to be little or no appetite amongst most Friends to limit the power of the state here at home. Why the inconsistency? Furthermore, why do Friends seek simplicity in their own lives but not in society as a whole?
Most Friends seem convinced that the apparatus of the state is the best tool capable of creating a society consistent with Quaker values. They believe the state is a necessary means in achieving equality, peace, community, and stewardship in our society. Sadly, it appears that many Friends doubt the ability of the human race to willingly and voluntarily work towards fostering these values. How can we preach to the world that there is that of God in everyone and simultaneously show such little faith in one another? Why do we believe it necessary to use the power of the state to force our neighbors into compliance? Have we so little confidence in the ways of persuasion, and in the transformative power of witness, ministry, and the inward Light that we must rely on the threat of force on the part of the state to change the world? And if so, exactly what kind of world will we create that requires the application of such an aggressive power structure?
One famous critic of minarchism, German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, claimed it was a ridiculous, utopian idea that was not only impractical, but also impossible. Lassalle originally coined the term “night-watchman state” in an attempt to mock and ridicule minarchism. But, much like the way Friends adopted the derogatory term “Quakers” for themselves, minarchists have embraced the insulting idiom “night-watchmen state.” In his 1927 book, Liberalism, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises stated that it is, “difficult to see why the night-watchman state should be any more ridiculous or worse than the state that concerns itself with the preparation of sauerkraut, with the manufacture of trouser buttons, or with the publication of newspapers.” He’s got a point.
At the core of minarchism is the cause of liberty. A state that expands beyond the protection of inalienable rights, by its very nature, violates the liberty of its people. God’s second gift to humankind, after life, was free will. Granted, free will (the mere ability to make choices) and liberty (the freedom to make choices) are not entirely similar. Liberty, in a Christian sense, could also be considered being free from the burden of sin. But in any case, honoring the freedom of individuals to make choices is to honor God’s second gift. There is one exception to the rule, however. Under a minarchy, the state would have the power to punish any individual or group that violated the life, liberty, or property of another. This is the single charge of the minarchy and I believe it is necessary in order to preserve the natural rights of all.
As friends, we ought to have faith: not in governments, but in one another. If we truly believe that there is that of God in everyone, then we should trust in each other’s capacity for kindness, compassion, and love. Trusting in one another means not employing the power of the state to force, coerce, or intimidate our neighbors into doing what we feel is right. We should honor the gifts from God to humankind, the gifts of life, liberty, and property. We should strive to live into the testimony of simplicity, not only in regard to our personal lives, but our political endeavors and power structures also. In a minarchist society, we as Friends can live our values more completely and with more integrity. When it comes to the state, it should be built as a simple house: one with a strong foundation, impermeable roof, and four solid walls to protect us from those who would seek to do us harm.
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