Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Monarchy, Democratic Government & Democratic Ideology: A Russian Orthodox Perspective

"The monarchy is not an anachronism, nor the daydream of nostalgic aristocrats. In recent times one has seen the monarchy as a serious guarantee for democratic government - which should never be confused with democratic ideology. They are two quite different concepts. Democratic government allows the people to constitute a certain determining factor in government and even, at times, directly or indirectly, to choose the leader of the nation. Democratic ideology, on the other hand, insists that the authority to govern belongs to the people. That is an abominable heresy, for all power and authority to govern belongs to God. Even when a leader is elected (legally) his authority to govern, once elected, comes from God. As God shares with the human parent His own power to create pro-creating, the head of a State shares in or collaborates in God's power to govern. That is why the monarch is monarch "by the grace of God". It is for this reason that the Christian Orthodox obey and honour the legitimate authority, in so far as that authority does not order anything in contradiction to moral law."

I have found this and many other provocative ideas at Kitezhgrad , a journal dedicated to the restoration of Holy Russia.


Jack said...

This is a very useful distinction. However, it may be useful to point out that one can meaningfully say "authority belongs to the people" without committing the absolutist heresy mentioned above. As is often the case, it depends on who is doing the talking.

If one presumes a generally converted nation, the people govern "by the Grace of God" just as a monarch would, so it is not inherently problematic to understand their "authority" in a subsidiary sense. It is only when one claims that there is no authority but the people that one gets into problems. Likewise, it is only when the people are out of communion with God that the medieval vox populi vox dei ceases to be true.

Incidentally, note that Samuel was instructed by God to "listen to the voice of the people", even when they desired something so irreverent as ... a king! (1 Sam 8:7)

Andrew Matthews said...
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Andrew Matthews said...

Hi Jack, thanks for interacting with me on this issue. It seems that one's commitment to democracy or monarchy as the preferred form of national government is almost presuppositional in the way one approaches political questions. For most people this debate ended a long time ago. While we're just going to disagree on whether kingship is a necessary component of good government or not, I would submit a couple of points in response.

First, I recognize the need for multiple authorities in society: Kings, regional & local officials, public assemblies of "the people," and perhaps others (e.g., Bishops). The doctrine that authority comes from God and is given to the people alone (which they then endow upon public figures or withdraw at whim) is a kind of absolutism. On this theory, God is the primary authority, the people secondary, all others tertiary. This doctrine does not commit the blatant heresy of denying the divine source of authority, but it effectively concentrates earthly authority in one power: the body of eligible voters.

Second, the mode taken from the vote of even a regenerate populace can never be equated with principled judgment simply by virtue of being the largest representation of redeemed "opinion" in a given area. This criticism applies especially to the workings of legislative assemblies. To rely on this method for formulating public policy will inevitably yield unwise and inconsistent results. The problem is exasperated when the average citizen thinks these results represent the majority view of all people currently voting, possibly being reinforced in holding a false notion (thinking it a pious opinion because so many godly people hold it).

Third, desire for a king is not per se irreverent. An efficient executive is needed & I will be arguing that a king is best suited fo fulfill this function. Theocratic judges and prophets may have been all that was needed to guide the people on an ad hoc basis in a simpler age, but in developed societies the institution of monarchy has not been improved on(in my judgment!). Finally, we live at a different point in redemptive history than the Israelites of Samuel's day. A King reigns from above, and not only he, but his saints with him.

Jack said...

Well, my presuppositions were originally closer to yours, and I am certain open to persuasion, but I admit my opinions are pretty well entrenched.

What you say about concentrating authority in the electorate is valid, but that is not a necessary result of democracy. The solution, in my opinion, is irrelevent to the question of democracy vs monarchy and is more a question of how limited the ultimate authority is. Since we both agree that limited government is necessary, it is really not a point of dispute.

The US system is designed with the type of conern in your second point in mind. I do think the current state of the US is tending toward a concentration of power at the Federal and specifically in the executive, which I find problematic, but I also think such problems are more self-correcting (given enough time and people willing to point it out) than they would be in a monarchy.

As to your third point, it may not be irreverent per se but I think it is a sign of, at least, theological confusiion. In the OT, the people were intended to be a royal priesthood and in the NT we are called "kings and priests" (Rev 1:6 & 5:10). I don't see how the simplicity of the age of judges is relevant. Certainly a larger society requires a more complex government aparatus, but that has little to say about who is in charge of it. Democratic societies can have perfectly servicable executive branches, and our current system is more than adequate. A little too much more than adequate, in my opinion, as noted above.