I was reading today about Thoreau's treatise "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," where he suggested using civil disobedience in order to protest unjust laws, and that if anyone is a truly honest person they will withdraw their support from any government whose laws and practices are promoting something that is against their conscience. So far so good--I agree completely with Mr. Henry David.
But he also talks about his opinion that the best government is the one that governs the least, or that doesn't govern at all. So I was pondering this idea--would we really need government in an ideal world? Or do we just utilize it because it's better than the alternative, an anarchy of individuals who won't live nicely together unless they have some accountability?
I find it interesting--perhaps even ironic--that Quakers, who attempt to have as minimal of a church government as possible, are perhaps one of the most politically active denominations in our country. We have our own fairly well known and respected lobbying group for perhaps one of the smallest American denominations, Friends Committee on National Legislation. We have the American Friends Service Committee which involves itself in worldwide issues relating to how governments are treating people and working on issues that directly affect our government, like conscientious objection. Probably a majority of Quakers...I suppose I'll get into trouble with this one...are democrats or independents or of a party other than republican. Why is this? I think it's because we want the government to continue or begin giving support to those who need it, in the form of social services and schools, etc. We want a government that supports its people in just and equitable ways. (Disclaimer: this is not to say that the republican standpoint could never support people in just and equitable ways, but that the way it is being used currently does not lend itself to such things, in my own humble opinion.)
So it seems that Quakers have kind of a love-hate relationship with government. We don't want it in our religious communities, but we like it in our civil situation.
This brings me back to the question, is government necessary? Perhaps Quakers are trying to live out the ideal world in our communities of faith, where government is not necessary because we're all equal and we all try to live in ways that are loving toward each other. Even so, we have some level of government just to stay organized, although power is shared somewhat more equally than it is in the civil government, and hopefully everyone truly has a voice to say where they think God is directing in Quaker business process.
I guess we "give in" to realism when we support our civil government, because we know that people can't be trusted to live together peacefully and fairly without laws to encourage them to do so, and punishment for crimes. We also realize that some people are given from birth situations in which to live that are unfair, and so we want our government to do something to compensate for that. These are good things, I think, although it would probably be better if people could get their act together and just live together in peace and help each other out when they need it on their own without coercion. But that probably won't happen anytime soon, so I guess having governments is our best option.
One other thing that stood out to me about Thoreau's ideas was that he says that in a government that imprisons people unjustly, the only place where a just person should be is in prison, because otherwise s/he is supporting the ways of that government by living in its society and not protesting. Obviously it is probably possible to live in a society and protest and perhaps not be thrown in jail, but still, this is quite a statement! What are we all doing sitting comfortably at home, when we live under a government that very obviously imprisons people unjustly?