The prior post in this series may be found here.
In Chapter 10, Kuyper considers the issue of governmental legitimacy. The question of legitimacy is of great importance in the matter of government. If a government is legitimate, then the population willing submits to the government and the government rightfully enacts and enforces law.
Most people never consider the basis for legitimacy; rather, we all just know that a government is legitimate or not. For example, in a monarchy, everyone knows that the child of the sovereign is the next sovereign. In a democracy, everyone knows that the winner of a popularity contest may enact law. In both cases, everyone knows that some random crank who declares himself sovereign – even with an elaborate ceremony – is just a crank and not a king.
Conversely, if everyone in a nation were to suddenly know that the leadership was illegitimate, the government would then be nothing other than bandits and tyrants.
How then does legitimacy come to be?
Kuyper considers and rejects three theories of legitimacy. First there the right of a conqueror. At the beginning, a conqueror’s power maintains as long as he is able to maintain sufficient military might to quell any opposition. However, after some time, the duration of rule itself becomes the legitimatizing basis of rule. The trouble here is moral: we don’t forgive a murderer because he murdered to rob and then was able to hold off anyone who attempted to prosecute him for his murder and robbery. Indeed, such a man would be considered peculiarly evil.
A second theory is the “social contract” model: whereby initially free people contract to form a government which has legitimate power based upon the concession of others. A primary trouble here is that such a claim is based upon a fiction: no such universal contractual decision has ever been undertaken by previously unruled individuals.
A third theory looks to spontaneous ordering: such spontaneous development theories appear more factual than the other theories: but this theory too appears as morally questionable. Kuyper raises two objections: (1) The theory cannot distinguish between a morally good and a morally bad order: cruelty and deceit or heroism and virtue could each lead to an actual government of some sort.
(2) Kuyper explains that such a theory is pantheistic: Rather than government be a determined act of God; authority would be something inherent in all that is. Thus, might would be right, because it is.
Having rejected these alternatives, Kuyper explains that what government does itself must be the result of a gracious act of God: not a peculiar saving grace, such as shown to the elect; but, a “common grace” to order the world in such a manner as to limit the effective scope of sin.
Thus, there is the effectuation of a government and the providential placement of a leader in position. Kuyper then explains the basis of legitimacy: if the leader and the populace both accede that God has created the structure, the structure is and all “are accountable to God for the things they know they have done for or against that authority.” Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Stephen J. Grabill, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas, vol. 1, Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute, 2015), 95–96.
How then is this authority known? It can only come from God, because humans by nature have authority over nothing. The authority granted in Genesis 1 is granted by God: it is not inherent in the creature. God had the authority to grant or forbid the Adam to eat of trees in the Garden – and the authority over all other actions of Adam.
Not having even the least of authority, we certain have no authority by nature over one-another. Kuyper concedes that some sort of pre-Flood governmental authority must have arisen; but such authority would have existed without divine sanction.