Thursday, November 11, 2021

Political Freedom

The pastors talking about tyranny seem to have forgotten that “telling people what to do” is what governments do. Preachers can only give advice and make suggestions. In contrast, the civil government is the one organisation in society that has the authority to use force against people who do not follow its instructions. People who smoke inside a public building can be punished. People who break the speed limit can be fined. The government can tell people when and where they are allowed to fish. It can put limits on the duck shooting season. People who don’t send their children to school can be punished. The government can force people to fight in a war that they don’t support. It can make people pay taxes. It can put limits on the materials and methods that people use to build a house, etc. etc. The nature of a government is that it has a monopoly over the power of coercion.

And this is not new. Governments have always told people what to do. Maori children were told they could not speak their natural language. In 1917, the government told my grandfather that he had do leave his young wife and two infant children behind on an isolated farm and go to fight in France. He had no choice. In 1942, the government told my uncle he must go to Italy to fight int a war. He had no choice about a decision that cost him his life. When I was growing up, young men whose birthday fell on the wrong date were sent to compulsory military training. They had no choice. People are told that they must sell their land to the government so that highways can be built.

Most pastors in New Zealand support democracy (I don’t. See Government of God), but they seem to have forgotten that an election chooses the people who will have the power of government; who will have authority to make people do things. Christians have traditionally been quite happy with that situation because they assume that the people who are forced to do things against their will would mostly be doing things that Christians don’t like.

I note that the churches which are most strident in declaring the government is tyrannical and autocratic are the ones who supported so-called Christian parties that failed to get noticed during the last election. The current Labour government won the election with the greatest majority of any party in the last twenty years (most have been minority governments), so it has the right and the responsibility to govern, including telling people what to do. It has that power of coercion until the next election.

When a crisis occurs, people who have elected a government expect it to solve problems as they arise. Human governments do not have perfect knowledge, so they don’t have perfect solutions for all problems, but the people expect it to do something. Governments that do nothing during a crisis will be punished at the next election, so they usually have a bias towards action.

Some people will not agree with the government’s solutions. Some will not like what the government does to alleviate the crisis. But saying that a government is tyrannical and autocratic because your party was not elected, and you don’t like the policies of the government that was elected is a bit foolish. It is saying that you don’t want the government to do what you elected it to do.

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