[This article is excerpted from An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, vol. 1, Economic Thought Before Adam Smith.]
Communist Zealots: the Anabaptists
Sometimes Martin Luther must have felt that he had loosed the whirlwind, even opened the gates of Hell. Shortly after Luther launched the Reformation, various Anabaptist sects appeared and spread throughout Germany. The Anabaptists believed in predestination of the elect, but they also believed, in contrast to Luther, that they knew infallibly who the elect were: i.e., themselves. The sign of that election was in an emotional, mystical conversion process, that of being “born again,” baptized in the Holy Spirit. Such baptism must be adult and not among infants; more to the point, it meant that only the elect are to be sect members who obey the multifarious rules and creeds of the Church. The idea of the sect, in contrast to Catholicism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism, was not comprehensive Church membership in the society. The sect was to be distinctly separate, for the elect only.
Given that creed, there were two ways that Anabaptism could and did go. Most Anabaptists, like the Mennonites or Amish, became virtual anarchists. They tried to separate themselves as much as possible from a necessarily sinful state and society, and engaged in nonviolent resistance to the state’s decrees.
The other route, taken by another wing of Anabaptists, was to try to seize power in the state and to shape up the majority by extreme coercion: in short, ultratheocracy. As Monsignor Knox incisively points out, even when Calvin established a theocracy in Geneva, it had to pale beside one which might be established by a prophet enjoying continuous, new,…