War with the People

Government legitimacy has long been a major question floating in my mind, as it was, it seems, for Augustine. Pointedly, Josh Strodtbeck raises the question of two armed powers claiming rule of the same territory:

Among Lutherans, the ‘two kingdoms’ philosophy is often interpreted to mean that Christians are conscience-bound to submit to whatever government happens to wield power over them at the moment. This raises a lot of interesting questions, since states arise primarily through conquest. What do you do, for example, when two different armed gangs claim power over the same territory? After all, today’s organized crime syndicate or rebel faction is tomorrow’s government if they manage to defeat their rivals. So if a Christian is living in, say, the north of Mexico, is he obligated to obey the laws of La Familia, or those of Mexico City?

In the Chinese context, this is a matter of interpreting the Mandate of Heaven (天命) doctrine. This doctrine either breaks down here because it degenerates into an ultimately unworkable might-makes-right idea (whom to support if there are rival claimants?), or demands further theoretical development. But why even deal with this political doctrine? Because Romans says the ruler who bears the sword is ‘for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil’.

Is it lawful for Christians to effect régime changes by force when the state, by outrageous tyranny, makes war upon the people? Is the Christian councillor of state permitted, or even obligated, to serve the defenceless by toppling a tyrant? Josh quotes John Locke, who says:

Whenever legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from further obedience.

He further explains that when the government makes war on a people, it has abdicated its role as their government. So perhaps the Roundheads were justified in executing Charles I, you know?


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