Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Response to the Jack of Clubs: Political Order and Christian Faithfulness, Part 2

Russ, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

Getting back to your original point about solid data being necessary at the beginning of our investigations into truth, I wanted to list a few of the facts I’ve been working with:

· Christian monarchy is an old and venerable tradition, dating from Constantine, and was intrinsic to the first Christendom.

· Social order was preserved in Christian monarchical societies past the Reformation period.

· The modern era, notable for its egalitarian ethos, is simultaneously characterized by iconoclasm, antisacerdotalism, and the decline of religious faith and practice.

· Democracy, civil rights, and free markets have as yet failed to produce a devout citizenry that elects righteous leaders, frames laws to codify divine law, or produce an economy that cultivates the earth for God’s glory.

· Furthermore, there seems to be spiritual, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic decline in each succeeding generation (in both the ruling and working classes).

· Social order has declined to such a degree that less than half of our countrymen recognize the sanctity of human life (created in God’s Image), the fixed nature of human sexuality, the natural order of marriage, or even the existence of good and evil. All these things were taken for granted for nearly two-thousand years in Christian monarchical societies.

· This social disorder is historically linked to the Enlightenment ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and the Romantic ideal of individual autonomy which are in turn developments of radical Protestant Gnosticism (the rejection of fixed natural order and structure).

Now, back to the meat of your comment:

1. (cont’d.)

Just a quick remark here. I prefer vice-regency to the term vice-gerancy for obvious reasons. Such highlights the biblical idea that man was created to not only “manage” creation as God’s steward, but also to eventually inherit dominion over all created things as God’s king crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8:4-8).

2. (cont’d.)

a) I do not grant that Authority (the lawful structure of command and obedience) is infinitely malleable; it has a certain form. It was originally granted in the form of Adam’s fatherly headship. And we neglect or subvert this form at great peril.

Tribes, being essentially extended families, have familial authority structures. Ideally, familial heads should exercise their covenant headship and swear fealty to a prominent familial head on behalf of their constituent families.

Aristocracies and oligarchies are basically democratic confederacies of powerful men. I say this because they are arrangements of compromise that fail to realize unified, coherent rule.

Republics attempt to balance the Rule of the Many with the Rule of the One. Such may provide a stable government for a temporary period, as in our United States, but ultimate policy commitments will be made either by presidents (for example, Lincoln and FDR) or judges (a Supreme Court majority) overstepping their constitutional authority and imposing their wills at opportune moments.

A nation must be impelled by the lucidity of One or the confusion of Many. Just as God is not ultimately one and three in an oppositional sense (the Son and Spirit submit to the Father’s will), so unified society has a basic identity and purpose articulated and interpreted by a ruling head. This ruling head being both biologically and spiritually dependent on his predecessors is under natural obligation to honor and preserve the heritage bequeathed to him. There is no more fitting figure for such a role than the Son-Father-King.

[Note: I'm prepending the formula "Father-King" with "Son" here to highlight the related facts that Adam was the original Son of God, that every human father is the son of his father, and that all the baptized are sons of God in Christ, who is the eternal Son of God.]

b) I agree, Russ, that kings can and have been unfaithful. But I do not thereby concede there are four (or more) categories of rulers. Authority is a kind of law; indeed it is the fundamental law. A change in office implies a change in law (cf. Heb. 7:12) God is not worshipped because he commanded it; he is worshipped because he’s God. The force of any law issued is derived from the status of the lawgiver.

Certainly, only one Man can be wholly identified with God, so only the commands of Christ Jesus are perfectly just and wise. Yet, the attempt to divide the form and content of authority is a terrible mistake. Lesser kings who administer Christ’s authority on earth must be respectfully obeyed until their actions wholly subvert the reason for their being.

To reiterate, there are only two categories of rulers: those who govern by imitating the form and manner of God’s rule and those who govern in the form and manner of their own devising, of which there can be infinite variation (oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc.).

Well, Russ, I’m going to have to break off for now. I look forward to any thoughts you have on what I've presented thus far.

4 comments:

Jack said...

I appreciate your response to my call for an argument based on facts, but these facts that you adduce are more of the high-level generalizations which I was objecting to in the first place. Some of them are not even true but, of those that have merit as generalizations, there are enough counter-examples in the details that I do not find them very persuasive. I would much rather discuss the biblical grounds of your thinking, which I think would be much more profitable both for our discussion and for your readers, but here are my responses to this post:

"Christian monarchy is an old and venerable tradition, dating from Constantine, and was intrinsic to the first Christendom."

The political structure of Constantine's Rome was inherited from the reorganization of the empire under Diocletian. Despite his persecution of the church, Diocletian was by all accounts an able ruler and it is no surprise that Constantine continued his policies rather than trying to invent a new order from scratch. But all this proves is that pagans sometimes have good ideas, not that their ideas are better than those which flow from a Christian perspective.

Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of Rome. That was not done until the time of Theodosius in 380 (Incidentally, Theodosius was not himself a monarch at the time but a co-augustus with Gratian. He did not become sole ruler until 392.) What Constantine did was establish tolerance for Christianity as one religion among many in a pluralist state. Whatever influence Christianity may have had over Constantine as a man, it cannot rightly be attributed to his form of government.

Even under the earlier emperors, however, the Roman state retained many of the attributes of its former status as a republic. But when Constantine made his triumphal entry into Rome, he promised to restore the ancient privileges of the Senate. Does this prove anything? Not really. But it does show that political history is much too complex to be easily summarized. Most political actors are not terribly principled so deriving principals from historical facts is fraught with peril.

The later feudal period of Christendom is equally a response to pragmatic necessity. I view the political theories of the middle ages more as a justification of an already existing system rather than a serious pursuit of the best form of government. The feudal system was a valid, perhaps even necessary, response to the collapse of the Roman Empire and it provided needed order and protection from external barbarian threats. But this only illustrates my original contention that monarchy is a temporary solution to social disorder whether produced by internal lack of virtue or by an external threat. The latter is often, at least in biblical terms, a punishment for the former but even if there are historical cases where it is not, that does not establish monarchy as a summum bonum but only as a bonum, which I have never denied.

"Social order was preserved in Christian monarchical societies past the Reformation period."

True, but this only establishes the essential conservatism of the better reformers. Having established a restoration of biblical ideals in the ecclesiastical sphere, it would be a hard thing to demand that they also be required to restore biblical political structures. One revolution at a time, please! If God's demand for national repentance were interpreted to mean that it must always be immediate, total and absolute, who could be saved? Fortunately, it is often enough to set our feet on the right path and trust God to lead future generations into a more complete compliance. This is even true of the conquest of Canaan, of which Moses writes: "The LORD your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them." (Dt 7:22-24)

It may be that there will come a day when reform will be more immediate and it will no longer be line upon line, precept upon precept, but I think that day has not yet come and the better reformers seem to agree.

"The modern era, notable for its egalitarian ethos, is simultaneously characterized by iconoclasm, antisacerdotalism, and the decline of religious faith and practice."

I agree with parts of this, but I think you are confusing correlation with causation. Also, egalitarianism is not the same as democracy.

First, let's make a distinction between egalitarianism and equality. The bible and the early church both speak positively about equality and it is one of the chief distinguishing characteristics of Christianity from all other religions. Paul makes clear that there are no external distinctions among Christians "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal 3:28) Likewise James, "If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:3-4)

This principle was characteristic of the early church as well: "Some one will say, Are there not among you some poor, and others rich; some servants, and others masters? Is there not some difference between individuals? There is none; nor is there any other cause why we mutually bestow upon each other the name of brethren, except that we believe ourselves to be equal. For since we measure all human things not by the body, but by the spirit, although the condition of bodies is different, yet we have no servants, but we both regard and speak of them as brothers in spirit, in religion as fellow-servants." (Lactantius, Divine Institutes Book V - Justice: ch xvi - Of The Duties Of The Just Man, And The Equity Of Christians)

All of these authors admit (explicitly or implicitly) that there ought to be distinctions among men based on their virtues, but this is where equality differs from egalitarianism. The latter is the demand that all distinctions be eradicated even at the expense of justice. This is indeed a destructive principle but my thesis is that it derives from an anti-Christian hatred of God not a love of equality as such. Thus the Enlightenment can be rightly judged as promoting both egalitarianism and loss of faith, but I submit that the latter produces the former, not vice versa.

Furthermore, it is not clear that democracy must be egalitarian. We must make a distinction between democracy as a method of selecting governors and Democracy as a quasi-religious principle which must be obeyed in all aspects of government. It is the latter that you object to, but I only promote the former (though I do frequently capitalize the word). If the ideal of government requires that only men of virtue be selected, I maintain that democracy (rightly limited and qualified) is the more biblical method and has at least as good a track record as monarchy. But more on this shortly.

"Democracy, civil rights, and free markets have as yet failed to produce a devout citizenry that elects righteous leaders ..."

There are several problems here and I am running out of time, but let’s first get one thing straight: it isn't democracy that produces a devout citizenry but a devout citizenry that can be trusted with the tools of democracy. Expecting a system of government to correct spiritual problems is exactly the sort of Enlightenment Liberalism that you rightly criticize elsewhere.

Second, it is not clear that monarchial eras were particularly more virtuous than the modern one. It is a common error of conservatives to look at earlier eras as a sort of golden age which didn't have the troubles we do. That is true in the sense that they were different troubles, but trouble has been the common lament of mankind since the beginning. Examples would be too numerous but for one illustration consider that the word byzantine has come to mean devious and deceitful due in large part to the character of the supposedly Christian monarchs of that era. I am toying with the notion that Islam has been foisted on the world largely as a punishment for the unfaithful behavior of the medieval Christians, just as Nebuchadnezzar was foisted on Judah (Jer 27:6-8).

Third, democracy as a principle of government has only been recovered fairly recently after a long period of monarchy, and it is perhaps too soon to pass judgment on its history. I not with approval that you say "as yet", which suggests that there may yet be time for them to produce all of the things you require in the latter half of your sentence. I think there are no guarantees, but I am not ready to give up hope at this point.

"Furthermore, there seems to be spiritual, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic decline in each succeeding generation ..."

I disagree. These things fluctuate. We may be in a low period but there have been low periods in the past. And I have already said that I attribute this more to a lack of faith than to an increase of equality.

With regard to aesthetics, you need to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Have the tastes of the lower classes declined from what they were in medieval times or were they always about as low as they are now?

And intellectually, you can't deny that literacy is much greater than it has ever been. It may be that the content has diminished but that is a function of many factors. The intellectual achievements of previous generations are still available to the elite if they want them and have become available in a limited way to their inferiors. On balance I would call this a net gain.

Your remaining two bullet points are more detailed reiterations of what you have already said. I applaud your focus on details here, but the principles you adduce to explain them are just as over-generalized as your other points. In sum, there are other explanations for these bad effects than the one you adduce. I am not persuaded, and I think you may be in danger of casting aspersions on a perfectly legitimate and biblical form of government simply because you are committed to another one, one I might add with somewhat less to recommend it from the biblical text. I realize that I have only gotten through half of your post, but I am out of time. I hope to discuss some of your other points in a future comment, but I confess that all of this theoretical work interests me less than the actual biblical points I have already made and to which you have yet to respond.

Let me conclude by responding to one final point that I think encapsulates our disagreement:
"To reiterate, there are only two categories of rulers: those who govern by imitating the form and manner of God’s rule and those who govern in the form and manner of their own devising, of which there can be infinite variation (oligarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc.)."

I do not see any command in scripture to imitate the form of God's rule nor any place where such an imitation is recommended. We are not God's peers that we should imitate him, any more than we should imitate him by creating or destroying life or by laying down laws of sexual morality, except where we have been given explicit authority to do so.

I do see commands to obey God because he is king. I have given numerous scriptural quotes demonstrating that a Christian monarchy should consist of Christ as king and all Christians as his subjects. I have furthermore suggested that the existence of monarchy in the bible always comes about as a punishment for the people's inability to adhere to God's law. As with all of God's punishments, there is an element of grace for those who submit in repentance, so it is certainly possible to have a godly monarchy but the ideal is self-government. This is the royal inheritance that all men have from Adam, which we lost in the fall and which has been restored to us in the "royal priesthood" of the church.

Andrew Matthews said...

A very fine response, Russ, which I'll attend to fully over the next couple of days.

A question though: at the close of your comment you say "the existence of monarchy in the bible always comes about as a punishment for the people's inability to adhere to God's law." Do you have other instances in mind besides 1 Sam. 8?

Jack said...

1 Sam 8 is a clear example, but I actually came to this conclusion from reading the book of Judges. Jdg 8:22-23 is instructive as is the entire parable of Jathom (9:7-20). Hosea also makes a similar case beginning in ch 10 and culminating in ch 13. Hos 13:10-11 not only refers to 1 Sam 8, but also encompasses the whole of Israel's monarchy: "So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away."

I look at the whole history of 1 & 2 Kings as exemplifying this, although I don't know if I could come up with a set of proof-texts. But note that a) bad kings led Israel (and later Judah) into idolatry but b) righteous kings (such as Jehu, Hezekiah and Josiah) could not redeem them but only saved themselves. This is somewhat broader than your specific question, but I think the pattern is relevant.

Jack said...

I took longer than I intended to respond to your newer post so I may not be able to finish this, but I didn't want the second half of this post to go unanswered.

"I prefer vice-regency to the term vice-gerancy for obvious reasons. Such highlights the biblical idea that man was created to not only “manage” creation as God’s steward, but also to eventually inherit dominion over all created things as God’s king crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8:4-8)."

I think "vicegerent" and "regent" are essentially synonyms although the former may have a more administrative connotation. I use it simply because "regent" often suggests someone that governs when the king is absent or incompetent, which is not the note I want to strike. But either one will do for our purposes. "Vice-regent", by the way would be one step below "regent" which I don't think is what you meant is it?

But my intent in raising this issue was simply to point out that if God's authority is truly delegated to man, it is no argument to say that there are two sources of authority. If man's will is in conformity to God's, he will make godly decisions, including decisions regarding the form and character of government. The question is the degree to which we are free to choose those forms or whether we are bound to a prescribed form. I take the position that if God has neither specifically commanded nor forbidden something, we must make choices based on our own wisdom. I assert that that is the case with the monarchy/republic issue.

"Tribes, being essentially extended families, have familial authority structures. Ideally, familial heads should exercise their covenant headship and swear fealty to a prominent familial head on behalf of their constituent families."

I think you overstate the case when you appeal to the narrative of what actually did happen in biblical times to try to prove what ought to happen in all places and times. Again, in the absence of a command, I do not see that we are obligated to follow the example of the patriarchs. The maxim from Hebrews is "consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith". I am not sure how much we need to go into this, but since it has come up before I think it might be a significant point of difference between us. Here are a few biblical points that I would raise in objection to your thesis:

1. At the first point in history where man was called upon to live in society, Adam specifically laid down the principle that "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Gen 2:24). I maintain that this implies that the fatherly rule extends, at most, to the point where the son takes up the responsibility for forming a new family. It may be that single adult males are also free from the duty of obedience, though that would be harder to argue. We are, of course, obligated to honor our fathers and mothers, but honor is not the same as obey. On the other hand, as a point in your favor, it would be foolish to deny that an older man is more likely to have greater wisdom, provided that he had lived a godly life, so there are often going to be times when it is to the advantage of the son to do what his father says. But I deny that this is necessarily an obligation in general.

2. Even if we admit, for the sake of argument, that a father's authority extends to his married children, it does not follow that any man should be able to pass this authority on to one of his sons to rule over the others. It is worth noting that when Joseph related that this would actually take place in his case, it was met with universal rebuke (Gen 37:5-10). The prophecy was fulfilled through the sins of his brothers and through his adoption by a heathen king, but God used these evil influences to save lives (Gen 45:5-7). Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how this could be adduced as a general principle. There may be other passages more in your favor that I am not aware of, but I think it is at least debatable and I have seen nothing to convince me that tribalism is normative.

3. But even if I am wrong on those two points, it remains to be seen how you can defend monarchy based on patriarchy. There was a system of tribalism in place when Israel demanded a king, so it is clear that at least to Samuel, the two systems did not flow into each other. You have said elsewhere that Dt 17 predicts that God would replace the tribal structure with a monarchical one when the time was right. But there is no basis for this in the text, as I have pointed out elsewhere.

4. Finally, since you are willing to admit a gestation of governmental structure -- starting with family, proceeding to tribe and culminating in kingom -- what is your basis for stopping at that point? I think your very argument leaves open the possibility that there is another stage (perhaps several) beyond monarchy. Isn't it at least possible that your ultimate form of government is merely penultimate?

"Aristocracies and oligarchies are basically democratic confederacies of powerful men."

You sound like Thomas Hobbes here, but I think you are mistaken. Aristocracy literally means "rule by the best". This seems to be a more precise description of the system that Moses implemented among the tribes of Israel than the broader "tribalism" that we discussed earlier. It may be either democratic or based on right of inheritance. "Oligarchy" means rule by a few which is more general than "aristocracy" but again does not prescribe the method by which they come to power. In most cases such arrangements are not democratic though they may be. In either case it is not fair to describe them as necessarily "arrangements of compromise that fail to realize unified, coherent rule" without reference to specific cases. Just as some kings may be more effective than others, other forms of government will have greater or lesser success depending on the individuals involved. The Tetrarchy established by Diocletian was very successful for many years and was an effective compromise between the efficiency of a monarch and the delegation of authority necessary for ruling an empire as large as Rome had become.