What is Government Good For?

With political chaos rampant, it seems a good time to reflect on why government exists in the first place. More specifically, what answers do we as Christians have to give in this uncertain moment? In this short take from a 1919 essay, Eberhard Arnold addresses these questions.

A Christian church as such is not called to abolish the existing state order; the power of the state and its juridical order are instruments of God, needed to hold murder and hatred, lying and deceit, injustice and impurity at bay. But determined Christians cannot be undiscriminating in their dealings with the state. Their consciences will rise up against any government that acts as executioner in the employ of the rich, just as they will protest the rapacious egoism of the proletariat. And in the conflict between individual and collective will, between individuality and communality, Christians must take the side of the social spirit of fellowship and community.

Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel held the task of the state to be that of realizing justice and virtue. But one thing they did not see: that force and violence must ultimately fail. And the state lives exclusively in the sphere of force. Socialism, with its rigorous organization of the masses and strictly applied discipline, is simply another form of totalitarian militarism. Marxism, too, has to compensate for the absence of the Spirit by applying coercive measures. Therefore the dedicated church can have nothing to do with these powers of the state.

The church represents one thing alone: the all-sustaining power of love. It is the church’s task to exert its influence on the political life for the sake of social justice and peace, for the sake of encompassing love. But to master the murderous spirit of mammon, the church must call on spiritual forces far greater than the ideals of economic politics. It has the one and only hope by which to achieve unity and freedom among human beings: the one spirit who is the Spirit of God.

Read more on this subject from Eberhard Arnold in God’s Revolution (Walden, NY: Plough, 2021). A transcript of the original, "Jesus and the Future State," can be read in our digital archive.

Article edited for length and clarity.