The United States has its Uncle Sam and England its John Bull. These personifications of government are innocent enough as long as they are merely affectionate symbols. But matters take a serious turn when a republic is regarded, consciously or unconsciously, as a person. At this point, affection turns into a dangerous sentimentalism threatening the character of the government it personifies.

When a government is a person, the government may be a king, a benevolent dictator, or a malevolent tyrant, but never a republic or democracy. A democratic government has only one legitimate mode of existence: under law; it is thus an instrument for the administration of the law. In contrast, a personal government is not under law; the person is himself the law.

This impersonal character of democratic government is so much of its essence that whenever a republic or democracy is personalized, it ceases to be democratic.

A democracy can be personalized and lose its democratic character by individual seizure of power. The same thing occurs—and with the same consequences—when a government feels that it must comply with the personal Christian ethics of the New Testament in formulating government policy.

When it is urged that the U.S. government ought to be a welfare state because it thereby implements the Christian Love Command, it is erroneously assumed that the U.S. government is a person, and that its ethical obligation as a person is to love its neighbor.

What in a time of emergency a government ought to do for its citizens and for the peoples of the world is a matter for which no blanket rule can be laid down. The ethical requirement will always have to be determined within the context of such emergency. Recognition of this is, however, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.