I was re-thinking this thread, and I decided on the real question I want to propose. It is not so much about vigilanteism (commonly called), but the real question of what is the state and where does its objective moral power come from.
We all know there ought to be some kind of state (most of us anyway), and any kind of society (polity, democracy, monarchy, theocracy etc) needs people to follow laws.
Why should we follow laws though? Is it because we fear “violent death” (Hobbes) or because the law helps us to be good (Plato). Perhaps a combination of the two, the proportion of which vary depending on the personal motivations of each person?
Then we could ask, what makes a law a law, and not the simple imposition of some upon many? Does a law have to conform to an objective, transcendent good in order to be a true law, or can anything be a law as long as the power and will exists to make it so? In other words- does might make right, or do only good laws deserve the status of being regarded as laws?
Vigilantism comes into play in regards to two situations, firstly, unjust laws, and secondly, laws that are not enforced.
In the first case, consider where a law is unjust- for example the laws of the USSR in Poland during the Soviet Era in regard to the suppression of Polish culture and the seminaries.
Two options seem to come from this:
a) The government exists by God’s providence, therefore you have to obey it. This seems to be what St. Paul is saying in Romans. Disobeying the government in itself is a sin. Even if it says not to worship God. Might makes right, but all comes from providence.
This seems plainly ridiculous. Possible in theory in Mohammedanism with its emphasis on God’s total transcendence and inscrutable will, but not Catholic Christianity. However, this seems to be the main argument which American Christians make in regards to this American government. Either they are not thinking or making a case of special pleading (and usually try to pretend that our founders were working from Christian ideals).
b) Government has no special authority in itself. Laws have to conform to objective moral standards in order to be called true laws.
If this is true then, it is like the thin edge of a wedge. Is the government then, really any kind of moral power in itself? Hastrman says that you should not break the law unless you would rather have the whole system dissapear “the state’s authority is licit when it is not so bad as to make not having it preferable” (Hastrman). Seems like a reasonable way of coming up with something workable in practice, but what about in terms of theology?
The question really comes down not to whether or not the government can imprison/kill you, but whether defying its law (legitimate or not) is a sin.
In God’s eyes then, what makes the state so special so that going against its authority is a sin?
Until I get a good answer, I will have to maintain that the state is simply a tool to get a job done without any moral power in itself, and therefore, its authority only extends as so far as it does good.