The question of the nature and origin of the state is foundational to ethical, political, and economic philosophy. In assessing what the state may and may not legitimately do, one must first determine what the state is. Such discussions form the content of tomes, so it lies beyond the scope of this post to cover the matter in depth; however, it is the author’s hope that it will predict fruitful discussion.
The concept of the state presupposes the concept of authority: the state issues laws, proclamations, standards, etc, and the people comply. Authority comes from somewhere: God, the people, somewhere. The Bible teaches us that all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1), but this does not entail that all authority is exercised justly. The Bible teaches firmly against rebellion (1 Samuel 15:23), but this may not necessarily be an absolute. A more nuanced view may be that rebellion should only ever be for a just cause and only ever as a last resort and always aged according to the “civilised” code of war.
In the light of the above, toleration of unjust conduct by the state must be distinguished from approval of such conduct. Leaving aside practicalities and cowardice, which are inferior concerns, a good man will not rebel against the state over a particular infraction because he will trust in the LORD to act as vindicator and appreciate that there is a scale of iniquities. Where an infraction is of a lessor kind, armed rebellion will be a disproportionate response because of the suffering it will cause as a consequence of anarchy. Smaller forms of protest will be more appropriate in such cases.
Considering now the nature of the state, an analogy that may prove useful in understanding it is the incorporated company. A non-natural legal person can do most things that a natural person can do, but it cannot do them of itself. It is a principal and its aims are carried out by agents. The corporation is created for a particular purposes (its “objects”) and it has a constitution that governs its conduct, what it can and cannot do (memorandum, articles of association, resolutions of the board of directors, shareholders’ resolutions).
Similarly, the state behaves as if it were a person and can do many of the things a natural person can do – but not all. It acts through agents (the executive, the legislature, the judiciary) and it is bound by the decisions of its agents (in a non-lawless society) until such decisions are revoked by a higher power (e.g. a court of first instance’s decision may be reversed by a court of appeal, but until that time, the court of first instance’s decision stands). The state will have some kind of constitution: it may be written, as is the case in the USA, or it may be unwritten, as is the case in the UK. Where decisions are made that contravene the constitution they may be challenged before a body that is competent to the judge the matter (e.g. the Supreme Court in the USA and the High Court in the UK).
In the old days, before the Companies Act 2006, the objects of a company acted to some extent like a straightjacket, confining the company to particular kinds of business. If the directors or shareholders wanted to expand into a business that did not fall within the list of approved objects, it was necessary to formally amend the company’s constitution. Reflecting on this, we might ask whether some of the things that the state does today, which most people take for granted, legitimately fall within its objects. If such things do not, and never could because of some fundamental philosophical principle, then a reforming force should remove such matters from the state’s remit.
This is where issues surrounding free will, consent, tyranny, and purpose come in. The fact that God allows us to autonomously make decisions and feel the consequences of them does not entail that all of those decisions are good. In English law, directors of companies have fiduciary duties towards their companies: they must act in loyalty and good faith towards their companies, seeking its benefit.
Duty to promote the success of the company
(1) A director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would be most likely to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole, and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to—
(a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,
(b) the interests of the company’s employees,
(c) the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others,
(d) the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment,
(e) the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct, and
(f) the need to act fairly as between members of the company.
-Companies Act 2006, s170(1), via http://www.legislation.gov.uk
Similarly, the agents of the state should act in good faith towards the state, which, in a sense, is the people of the nation. In considering policies, they ought to think about the long-term benefits and costs, not only the short term. As a final thought, consider this in application to the question of money supply. If the state increases the money supply, but the demand for money stays the same, the value of the individual monetary unit will decrease. This will be a disbenefit to the people in the long-term. Would it not be better to avoid this altogether?