My students and I just reached the part of the semester in political theory where we cover Martin Luther’s On Secular Authority. In that book, he brilliantly addresses the Sermon on the Mount, insisting that Christians must observe it. But how, you might say? If we constantly turn the cheek, evil men will prey upon the whole earth. Not so, it is for this reason that God has ordained the state, says Luther.
I am especially taken with this passage:
[T]he kingdom of the world is nothing else than the servant of God’s wrath upon the wicked, and is a real precursor of hell and everlasting death. It should not be merciful, but strict, severe, and wrathful in the fulfillment of its work and duty. Its tool is not a wreath of roses or a flower of love, but a naked sword; and a sword is a symbol of wrath, severity, and punishment.
As I read it, I can’t help but recall Dirty Harry wondering aloud before a notorious criminal whether he’d fired six times or only five. Or perhaps better yet, I think of Wyatt Earp in the film Tombstone provided with a marshall’s badge and declaring, “Tell ’em I’m coming, and hell’s coming with me!”
Why do we like these movies? It is because we recognize there is something wrong with a state that ignores its primary function which has to do with the restraint and punishment of those who do evil.