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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Origin of Government

"There has come down in the Christian tradition a profound but paradoxical system of teaching on the subject of the origin of government. On the one hand government is regarded as being due to the Fall of Man, a consequence of human sin, while at the same time it is looked upon as being of Divine institution, the creation of Providence. On this view, property, and even slavery at one time, and any form of subordination of man to man were on the one hand necessary evils in given circumstances -- things which would never have been conceivable, and never needed, so long as the human race remained in the Garden of Eden. But at the same time they were regarded as, so to speak, a second-best gift from God, since they implied a certain structure and ordering of society -- they were better at least than the sheer ungovernable anarchy which resulted when human cupidity was left totally unrecognized and uncontrolled. Though government does not cure men of sinfulness anymore than the institution of the idea of property eliminates human selfishness, the evil mitigated by institutions that are the gift of God, and it is brought under regulation by the orderings of society. And so Providence produces a world in which men can live and gradually improve their external conditions, in spite of sin--in other words it does the best that human beings have left possible for it at any time." -- Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History, p. 34

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