The Theology of Statism

by Hogeye Bill

May 19, 2007

Most people like to think that their opinions and beliefs are based on facts and solid reasoning. But in one area many people make an exception - they consider it quite proper to believe and act without such a rational empirical basis when it comes to religion. For beliefs about a deity, faith is generally claimed to be superior to reason, at least by "believers." Here we will examine another area in which some people put faith above reason: politics. Most people today hold beliefs and opinions about government (the state) which are faith-based, and quite analogous to religious dogma.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a freethinker is "one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority." While this is the general definition of "freethinking," some would restrict it to opinions about religion only. We use the more general definition here, unless otherwise stated, and take freethinking to refer to all opinions and beliefs, from beliefs about fairies and leprechauns, to homeopathy and creationism and alien abduction and religion.


Historically, freethinking has been critical of both God and State. A 19th century French slogan "No Gods, No Masters" expressed the sentiment that man's mind should not be subordinated to any authority, supernatural or natural. Even earlier, seminal freethinker Denis Diderot wrote, "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." Similarly, other notable freethinkers opposed both church and state power, such as Voltaire ("ecrasez l'infame") and Tom Paine (who wrote against both "kingcraft" and "priestcraft.") Traditionally, freethinkers had a clear libertarian streak.

Conversely, most classical anarchist luminaries railed against theism. Michael Bakunin turned Voltaire's famous aphorism around, writing, "If God really existed, he would have to be abolished." Johann Most, a famous German anarchist, wrote a virulent pamphlet called "The God Plague." Emma Goldman denounced "Religion, the dominion of the human mind ... and Government, the dominion of human conduct." Many periodicals in 19th century America combined denial of state authority (philosophical anarchism) and the denial of religious authority. Freethinkers (in the narrow sense) and anarchists were allied - both were freethinkers in the broad sense.

Logically, it is easy to see why. If one rejects all "tyranny over the mind of man," as Jefferson put it, it follows that one rejects both supernatural and secular authority. If one is to make up ones own mind, and do so with rationality, then both secular and religious dogma must be questioned.

Today, it seems that most self-labeled freethinkers have more or less limited their rejection of authority to religious issues, and allowed dogma concerning the state to thrive. And yet, given the parallel between many secular and religious beliefs, one would think that modern freethinkers would easily see through common statist claims and superstitions. Here is a short list of dogma shared by theism and statism.

The liberal statist dogma of "forced consent" - that people consent to the state whether they agree or not - is loosely analogous to the theist teleological argument for the existence of God. Just as theists claim that order in the universe implies a designer, statists claim that living one's life in a spacial area implies consent to obey. Logically, of course, neither follows.

Since freethinkers reject all authority, both spiritual and temporal, one could almost say this: Freethinking applied to god(s) and religion implies atheism, while freethinking applied to rulers and the state implies anarchism. But while this may be true for most people, it is possible for someone to be a freethinking theist or a freethinking archist. A freethinker may, applying all his rationality, think that argument X for obedience to God holds, or argument Y for obedience to State holds. Thus, there are four possibilities.

Authority God
Accept Reject
statist believers;
many/most people;
religious right
statist freethinkers
(narrow definition);
pro-state atheists
& agnostics
religious anarchists
e.g. antinomianists, followers of Tolstoy, Gandhi
(broad definition);
atheist anarchists
(most anarchists)

To summarize: The logic of rational empiricism - freethinking in the general sense - would seem to lead to atheism and anarchism if taken to their logical conclusion. As Voltairine de Cleyre put it, "Anarchy ... is the only logical outcome of freethought - the ripened fruit of which freethinking is the potent seed." Thus, it is rather surprising that most people who consider themselves "freethinkers" today are quite statist, rather than libertarian or anarchist. There is apparently some mental compartmentalizing going on; these modern "freethinkers" are able to rationally question religious dogma, but are unable or unwilling to question analogous statist dogma. Basically, they have replaced the irrational belief in gods, so dangerous in earlier eras, with an irrational belief in states. From a theist's perspective, statism puts the state in god's place - the modern form of idolatry is statolatry.

Hogeye Bill is a chess master, songwriter, and freelance anarchist. He is author of the popular Anarcho-capitalist FAQ and an online history of anarchist thought entitled Against Authority. He currently resides in Ozarkia (northern Arkansas in statist-speak) unless he is on the lam again.