Saturday, December 18

More Thoughts on Christian Government

In some recent posts, Mr Pierce and I have been going back and forth on the relationship between rights and responsibilities (here, here, here, and here).

I have come to the realization that right and responsibility are dual concepts. What I mean by duality in this context, is an analogy to the mathematical term of the same name. In mathematics two "things" are dual if a transformation carries one to another. For a simple example, in the study of polyhedra, one transformation which can be performed on a polyhedra is the "exchange" of edges and vertices. For example, a cube has 6 faces and 8 vertices. A octohedra has 8 faces and 6 vertices. These two solids are dual, that is under this transformation converting faces to vertices (and vice versa), each transforms into the other. Just for completeness for all of the 5 Platonic solids, that is the tetrahedra, cube, octohedra, icosahedra, and dodecahedra, we find that the cube and octohedra are dual, the icosahedra and dodecahedra are dual and the tetrahedra is self-dual. It transforms into itself having 4 faces and 4 vertices.

I am making the claim, that right and responsibilities have a duality transformation in that if you a granted a right (or given a responsibility) that confers a corresponding responsibility (or right) on you. In general, given a responsibility for something, your must also have the rights required to shoulder that burden. For example, given the right of liberty, I have the responsibility to watch for (and resist) encroachment of my liberties. I cede some of my liberties to the community, and it gains the responsibility to protect them. As a property of this transformation I note, that it seems a more restrictive right corresponds to a less restrictive responsibility. For example, a (larger) responsibility to raise my children rightly, yields less rights or freedoms in how they may be raised. While the less restrictive responsibility of just giving my children three square meals and clothing, yields more rights in how I can raise those kids.

For us modern men, Hobbes initiated the concept of social contract (although Wikipedia indicates that Cicero posited such theory much earlier). In his theory, we cede rights to our government in turn for that government assuming protection of us. In my formulation, we are ceding both right and its paired responsibility to the community which in turn takes up those rights and responsibility upon itself.

What does this mean for Christian government? Well, God has given us many responsibilities, for family, community, and world (patriarchy, love of neighbor, and stewardship). With these responsibilities we have rights, God given and/or unalienable. It may be that many of these responsibilities should naturally be ceded to the government or community. This does not give us as individuals however an "out" with respect to our relationship with God. That is to say, we as Christian still have the duty to see that those responsibilities which we ceded to the community are not shirked. This is yet another reason that the "in but not of the world" tendencies in the Church should be resisted.

Update: In a comment, Mr Pierce raises an interesting point, which I want to clarify. He asks:
There's a further issue that I don't think you've answered. Do you think the reason we have rights is because of other peoples' responsibilities to us? Do you think the reason we have responsibilities is because other people have rights? If you say yes to both, then you haven't explained either. That's circular explanation.
Since I claim that rights can be mapped into responsibilities, (and vice versa) it makes sense to simplify the conversation by talking about only one of them. Thus to restate the question, do I think I have responsibilities because of other peoples responsibilities toward me? Or where is the origin of my responsiblity.

Here's how I see the origin of responsiblity. One man alone, has no responsibilities (or has a right to do anything). Think of him as a Rousseau's noble savage (a lone savage) or Adam or something similar. We enter into social contract with other people (family and community) assuming responsiblities for others and ceding parts of those assumed familial reponsibilities to the community.