By David Tulis
The promise of Christianity is that if men submit to the counsels of a loving God they and their kingdoms will be blessed. Christianity subdues passions, governs human action, seeks equity and justice, allows for capital creation and free markets. Being future oriented, it tends to make people more productive than consumptive, more savers than borrowers, more ingenious than they might otherwise be as they think for the profit of the other.
The gospel message affects the heart of individual men first, and as its claims spread, it affects institutions and nations.
Among its chief blessings is the idea of self-government. We use the term government almost exclusively to refer to what is today commercial government — the U.S., our home state, county or city government. From municipality and city hall to the Pentagon, government is administration, policing, welfare doles and warmaking. But self-government is the basis of all civil government — the basis of family, enterprise and social order.
“The institutions of our society and society itself take on the morality of its people,” Robin Smith notes in an essay in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “— companies run by those of true integrity reflect honorable practices; organizations founded on core values animate those through habits of employees; government leaders anchored in authentic virtues serve from a platform of credibility and trust. Conversely, our institutions and society suffer if led by and founded upon those who need rules, regulations and vigilant oversight due to the absence of a core of morality. *** America doesn’t need more laws. We need people who are internally governed by a core that reflects goodness, decency, truth and morality” (Italics are mine).
The appeal of centralization
Culture is religion externalized, as R.J. Rushdoony has pointed out. In the same conception, government reflects the people it governs. A worse civil authority reflects a worse people, a better a more godly people.
The children of Israel have rejected God and are demanding a king of Samuel the prophet. In a record that helps establish Christianity’s promise of limited government, low taxes and the free market, Samuel warns God’s people away from the object of their quest. In having rejected God, they effectively reject their republican form of government under national judges and tribal government. Samuel is old, his sons as judges are not honest men, they complain. “Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. *** Give us a king to judge us” (see 1 Samuel, chapter 8).
When Samuel demurs, God explains to him that the people have not rejected the prophet, they have rejected God. They are fed up with God’s more or less direct form of government, one premised on tribal leadership, elections within the 12 tribes all within a covenant with God. “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me[.] *** [T]hey have forsaken Me and served other gods — so they are doing to you also.” God commands that Samuel “solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
Taxes, requisitions, wars
The king will centralize the Israelites into a kingdom whereas previously they had been a confederation. He will reorganize relationships within tribes, and among them. He will demand the use of people for his own purposes, even daughters. A monarch with executive authority above and beyond the patriarch of any tribe will amass people and property to himself.
He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work [aka, corvée]. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day. 1 Samuel 8:11-18
Samuel’s warning that the king will impose draconion taxes of 10 percent suggests that under a free government for a free people, the rate of taxation is well below. The effective tax rates in Western welfare nations in 2014 is about 35 percent. President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed 100 percent tax on all incomes above $25,000. U.S. individual marginal tax rates from 1944 through 1963 hovered at 90 percent through 1963. A 10 percent levy threatened under the coming of an Israelite king would today be called tax relief.
God grants the wish of the Israelites to be like other nations and have a central monarch. Saul, David and Solomon reign in increasing opulence and splendor until Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, following bad advice of his courtiers, increases taxes and causes a revolt that splits the children of Israel into two kingdoms.
Are we deserving of liberty, local economy?
Mrs. Smith points out that the civil authority acts on a moral plane like that of the people. If they are greedy and licentious, so is it. If they are careless of God’s law, the state will disregard constitutional restraints. If the people are all “consumers,” which body will have the greatest level of debt but the national government? If Americans are nothing for the rule of law or the binding nature of contract, who is to expect Washington to be scrupulous of legal restraints upon its power? Her quote of Shakespeare is to the point: “Lawless are they that make their wills their law.”
The burdens the Pharaohs put upon Israelites after the time of Joseph were probably a form of tax or tribute, upon which perhaps were stacked penalties for non- or late payment. No better way to oppress an unpopular class than through crippling taxes, one historian says of the Israelites. In demanding from Samuel a potentate, God’s people forget their sojourn under the chief executive of the Nile.
The lack of a free market in Chattanooga and Hamilton County is not at root about politics, law or so-called pubic policy, Mrs. Smith suggests. The dominance of the use of state force for myriad purposes is our due. We get that for which we ask. We have yielded faith to the caretaker and insurance state. She rightly points to an ultimately private condition, what she calls “that defilement [that] comes from within.” It is the gap in the vibrancy of our Christian convictions, our slackness within what God imposes as a system of thought, practice and life. We are undeserving, she says, of the constitutional republic as originally conceived, one that respects individual compacting states and, implicitly, local economy and individuals in it.
It is impossible for you or me to repent of the nation’s sins, its wars, its oppressions, its debasement of the medium of exchange, its abuses of the preborn and marriage. We should repent for our own sins personally and see the national disaster as an aggregate of the sins of an entire people.
We should hope that on the other side of the crisis we will have been so ruined that our descendants will not fall, as have we, into rejecting God and demanding a king.
Sources: Robin Smith, “Let’s Get America out of the Ditch,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dec. 1, 2014
Carolyn Webber and Aaron Wildavsky, A History of Taxation and Expenditure in the Western World (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1986), 734pp. See pp 560-562
Charles Adams, For Good and Evil[;] The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization (Lanham, Md., Madison Books, 1993), 530pp. See “The Age of Terror-Taxation—and the Indomitable Tax Rebels of Ancient Israel,” pp 27-48