Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two Systems of Political Authority

My theory of political authority breaks down essentially this way:

1. There are only two possible sources of political legitimacy: the Mandate of Heaven or the Will of Man, divine right Monarchy or Democracy.

2. There are therefore only two kinds of authority: the King exists as an icon of divine lordship, while the Dictator embodies the people's interests.

3. Corresponding to these alternate authorities, government exists either to administer divine justice on earth or to actualize human freedom.

4. Corresponding to these alternate purposes are two kinds of social order: sacral or secular society.

5. Within the sacral society there will always be factions that either 1) attempt to maintain the king's subservience to divine law (Traditionalists), or, 2) attempt to free the king from his obligation to divine law (Autocrats), or, 3) attempt to free the people from their obligation to the king in the name of divine law (Radicals).

6. Within the secular society there will always be factions that either 1) push toward the maximum amount of freedom possible (Progressivism), or, 2) pull back toward control for fear of moral or political anarchy (Conservativism). It should be noted that both progresives and conservatives are radicals in the sense of point 5 above.

7. Within secular societies, progressives will always determine the social problematic, while conservatives will always be the reactionary faction. Moral and political anarchy are inevitable in this system, and greater and greater control will be necessary to maintain order. Totalitarianism is the natural offspring of democratic practice.

8. Therefore, there appears to be a difference in tendency between Monarchy and Democracy. Monarchy can retain a principled stable position between autocracy and radicalism, while Democracy must always move toward totalitarianism in the name of freedom. In the end, the Dictator becomes absolutely free while the people become absolutely enslaved.

In a fallen world, Monarchy may not be able to guarantee a traditional stability, but Democracy guarantees anarchy and the totalitarianism it engenders.


Jack said...

Logic is a useful tool for investigating truth, but it requires solid data at the beginning of the process to avoid coming to spurious conclusions. In general, when people try to reason discursively from first principles to explain complex real-world issues, they fail not because of a lack of logic but of imagination. Let me see if I can illustrate that by answering point by point:

1. Suppose God granted Man the authority to rule the world in the capacity of vice-gerant as he seems to have done in Gen 1:28, 9:6, Ex 19:6 and elsewhere. Which category would that fall into, or would it be a third possibility?

2. Historically, there are alternatives to either Monarchy or Democracy: Tribalism, Oligarchy, Aristocracy, and, particularly relevant, Republicanism. Each of these partakes of some of the qualities of the two you name without being wholly subsumed under either category.

Further, as I have mentioned before, a king as an icon runs the danger of becoming an idol while a democracy or republic has the capacity for being directly responsible to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Call Monarchy/Democracy the horizontal axis, there is still the vertical axis of Faithfulness/Idolatry. This is a possibility you fail to take into account in your later points. So, even admitting your division into two broad classes, there are actually four types here, not two.

3. We confess in the prayer book that service to God is perfect freedom, so this is a false dichotomy. All government must find a proper balance between freedom and order and between justice and mercy.

4. The distinction you make is a valuable one and it corresponds to the vertical axis I mentioned in point #2. However, these two types of society do not "correspond" to the two sources of authority you posit above. Historically, the word secular has been applied to the rule of kings as, for instance, the secularization of the monastaries under Henry VIII. I argued in our previuos debate that Israel under the Judges was a sacral republic.

5. Since I deny the correspondence you assert in #4, I cannot allow that this is a description of "sacral society". But, for the purpose of argument, I will pretend that you said "monarchy", in which case I admit your general point with the proviso that you haven't yet established the "obligation to the king". You talked above about iconic representation and in this point about the duty of the king to serve God and his people, but nowhere do you establish that divine law commands the people to have a king.

6. So there is no correspondence in republics to "traditionalists"? What of Solon or Cicero both of whom advocated a principled republicanism? What of Tocqueville or George Washington or, in our own century, Russell Kirk or William F. Buckley? These people would all qualify for your definition of traditionalist as maintaining the authority of divine law.

7. You are right in noting that certain "conservatives" are reactive to the progressive agenda rather than exhibiting a principled positive theory of justice. If you want to call that group "conservative" and my group "traditionalists" I don't mind, but be aware that most people will not maintain that distinction. My point is that you cannot beat both groups with the same stick, as you are trying to do here.

I don't know much about what is or is not "inevitable" but you have failed to show that a principled republic is an impossibility.

8. The "therefore" is unwarranted since there are other possibilities that you fail to consider so your logic is inconclusive. Also, as a historical note, all monarchies have either degenerated into despotisms or have (like Sweden and England) adopted the trappings of republics. So on both logical and historical grounds, your argument does not compel assent.

Anonymous said...

"Democracy is that form of government in which the people get what they deserve. And they get it hard."

--H.L. Menken

Andrew Matthews said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your worthy challenge to the UO Knight, Jack. I'm working on a response.

Andrew Matthews said...

I don't care much for Mencken, Mr. Death, but you've provided one of my favorite quotations of all time. Thank you!