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What is statism?


Statism occupies one end of a political spectrum, where the opposite is anarchy. The more a political philosophy rejects centralized power, the closer it is to anarchism. Approaches that prefer greater government control are more statist. Statism holds that control of economic or social concerns should be in the hands of government. Extreme forms of statism are difficult to square with a biblical view; Scripture acknowledges value in government without seeing it as the ultimate solution to any problem.

The Bible clearly rejects the extreme of anarchy; Scripture notes the benefits of law and order and the necessity of certain levels of government oversight (Romans 13:1–7; Genesis 2:16–17; 1 Timothy 2:2). Where the Bible speaks against aggressive statism is just as important, but less direct. The Word offers warnings about investing too much power in human authority (1 Samuel 8:10–19; Proverbs 29:2) and teaches that government is never more than a fraction of the answer to any given problem (John 18:6; Acts 5:29).

Political terms like statism overlap with other ideas while not being identical to them. Two common examples are nationalism and socialism. These share qualities with statism but also include distinct differences. Support for strong government control without excessive devotion to a particular nation is statist yet not nationalist. Extreme loyalty to a country, while rejecting aggressive control by the government is nationalist but not statist. Of course, a person can also be both: fanatically devoted to a nation and investing total authority in its government.

The same is true of socialism. This term implies a communal control of production resources. A person who believes government should heavily regulate or control those resources is promoting a form of statism, in practice. At the same time, advocates for community-controlled resources independent of government control would be “socialist,” but not “statist.” Socialism is more difficult to distinguish from statism than nationalism is, but socialism and statism are not precisely the same thing.

Certain political terms appear more often as criticisms than as voluntary labels. Statism is frequently used as a critique, implying inappropriate control in the hands of government. Few embrace the term to describe their own philosophy. In a similar way, anarchy is usually applied as an insult, though there are some who voluntarily accept that they are anarchists. As opposite poles of a spectrum, neither statism nor anarchy is fully compatible with a biblical approach. In the broad range between those two extremes is ample room for civil discussion (Romans 14:1).

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This page last updated: February 24, 2022