The Reactionary Utopian
                      April 4, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     Not again! Another top Republican "denies any 
wrongdoing," but resigns his post. As the great American 
philosopher Jimmy Hatlo used to say, they'll do it every 

     Why does corruption in government always surprise 
us? Why do we expect anything else from it? Government is 
organized force. It takes our wealth and makes war. And 
we think honest men would do that work?

     Well, honest men have sincerely tried, but look at 
the results and ask yourself whether honesty has any 
inherent tendency to prevail in politics. War, taxation, 
waste, debt, inflation, hatred, hypocrisy, cynicism, 
social disorder. And also -- amazingly enough! -- 

     As I often say, expecting government to produce good 
results is like expecting a tiger to pull a plow. After 
the twentieth century, in which the world's governments 
killed hundreds of millions of their own subjects, 
everyone ought to talk about the state the way Jews talk 
about Hitler. Yet we still have high hopes for this 
beast, because, after all, the mighty tiger is certainly 
strong enough to pull that plow if he wanted to! If only.

     Even most Christians believe in the state, though 
Jesus never urged his followers to take political action. 
A very devout and intelligent Catholic socialist friend 
of mine argues that Jesus legitimized the state when he 
said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, 
and unto God the things that are God's."

     But that's reading an awful lot into a few words. 
Jesus wasn't preaching to his followers at that moment; 
he certainly wasn't preaching statism, let alone the 
authority of pagan emperors who claimed divinity and 
demanded idolatry. No, he was retorting to a trick 
question from his enemies, and he answered with a witty 
tautology. It might have been taken to mean, "Give Caesar 
everything he claims, and also give God his due." But it 
could also mean, "Give Caesar nothing, and God 
everything." Or it might mean something else; Jesus 
didn't specify.

     It was a brilliant ad lib. Jesus' enemies were 
trying to bait him into endorsing either idolatry or 
sedition, and he deftly sidestepped them with a sentence 
the world still remembers. Not exactly a hearty vote of 
confidence in those who wield power, it seems to me.

     Government doesn't get much help from the Gospels. 
Don't resist evil. Don't fret about tomorrow. Trust your 
Father in heaven. The truth will make you free. He who 
takes up the sword will die by the sword. This is not 
advice our own Caesars are apt to take.

     Jesus did exalt the publican, or tax collector, who 
prayed, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." Today's 
publicans, of course, are called "public servants," and 
they deny any wrongdoing. Or they have their lawyers deny 
it for them. Maybe they also let their lawyers handle 
their carefully worded orisons.

     Again, Jesus never used force or the threat of 
force, except, in a way, when he saw his Father's house 
profaned. That was a special case, from which it's hard 
to draw general conclusions, but he was acting on his own 
authority, not acting politically. And he was defying 
those in power, not supporting them.

     In the end, the government murdered him. This fact 
ought to count for something in any discussion of 
temporal power. Maybe capital punishment is still 
justified, even if mistakes are made now and then and the 
Son of God is accidentally victimized. But I'd start with 
that accident.

     Jesus' mercy extends readily to the publican and the 
centurion, but for our time the absence of political 
rhetoric, or political "solutions" to human problems, is 
one of the most striking things about the Gospels. The 
state, taxation, and war are themselves assumed to be 
perennial problems, and there isn't the faintest 
suggestion that "democracy" could relieve them, or turn 
them into blessings.

     Right from the start, Jesus has been a 
disappointment to anyone hoping for salvation through 
politics. Many expected the Messiah to bring political 
and military deliverance -- peace through strength, as it 
were. Instead they got a fiery preacher of peace who 
resisted the political temptation proffered by Satan, the 
very temptation the whole world is still succumbing to.

     "My government is not of this world." I think that's 
a fair paraphrase of his words.


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