16 February 2013

Restorationism and Political Ideology

(Part 8 of the series on Restorationism)
On a philosophical level and contrary to common perceptions, Socialism is not about the state. Many forms of Socialism are not opposed to property and/or market economics. Socialism can of course be wedded to the state and even in this form, where the means of production are controlled by the state, it can contain many Capitalist elements. It can have functioning markets and private enterprise but these endeavours are conducted within a collectivist framework, with National interests put first, and promoting non-individualist goals.

But at that point many would argue it’s not Socialism at all, but a rabid form of Statism or Nationalism that seeks to bring all things in subjugation to the political machine, to capture and harness all social energies for the state project. If that state is militaristic, expansionist and racist...well, then you obviously have some problems. All of these systems can overlap, hence the confusion.
Every political and economic system is fraught with the potential for abuse and danger. Any system has to possess rigid checks and balances.
Socialists would be the first to tell you the system is about democracy and hindering the ability of institutions whether it be the state, military, or the corporate world to gain power over the interests of the people. In that sense it puts the interests of the group over the interests of the individual.
Americans have usually failed to grasp this because in our culture the government is largely viewed as 'the enemy'... the stern parent that we try to find ways to deceive, cheat, and hide from. Government is viewed as an alien force within the land. I even find people who work for the government possessing this mindset. They apply this view to almost every aspect of government...with the exception of the particular department they work in. Surveys demonstrate the same pattern among the electorate. The public detests the congress, often with the exception of their particular representatives. They're alright...it's everybody else.
In Europe, especially Northern Europe, you'll find less of a culture that seeks to cheat or outwit the government. If you ask them why, they'll respond, "We're the government. When we cheat, we're only cheating ourselves."
Both views represent certain healthy impulses. For me, I certainly would probably lean toward the American view. I am sceptical and wary of power, and yet I also see significant problems when our individualism is taken to such an extreme that it literally creates a dysfunctional or broken society.
 In our country many have confused democratic rights and prerogatives with individual rights and desires. They are not the same. One is self-serving, the other views individual liberty as both a right and a responsibility.[i]
I know the Bible speaks of government as a 'minister' for good. And every Dominionist will point this out to you when they wish to promote their form of government. But of course it can also become a Beast, and likewise every Christian Rightist will point out the dangers of government. I agree, but I also extend the criticism to their forms. Despite their protests I label government as something of a necessary evil.
But the key word is necessary. The problem isn't with government per se. The problem is with scope and scale. I think many political and economic systems will work but it depends on context and extent. For example the Israeli Kibbutzim are communistic farming enterprises and they work rather well. Why? They're voluntary and they're small. It's one thing to live in a communistic polity of fifty people on five hundred acres, and something far different when you live in a country of fifty million, spanning thousands of square miles.
This is where all these systems break down. And I also believe in a dynamic principle that undoes every single paradigm. The model might work for a few weeks or a few years and then everything changes again.
Or to put it differently, it might seem to work. Usually when the wisdom of hindsight is applied, a different analysis can be made.
I don't have faith in a market or in the ability of central planners to maintain stability. I do in a community of a few thousand but not in a society of millions. I hope to elaborate on these things later, but for the moment I wish to return to why so many Christians of the non-Sacralist stripe have (when given their preference) leaned toward what we might call Socialistic policy. And the reasons for this, the thinking and impulses behind it further exacerbate the already wide gulf between them and the Sacralists they necessarily must interact with....a gulf so wide as to seriously hinder the ability to share in fellowship.
Government is a 'servant' in the sense that it serves God's plan of Common Grace and Divine Restraint. Government, the threat of violence[ii] is a Means employed by God to maintain this present temporary order. Government is about stability and order. If you're being orderly and doing good things, most of the time you won't have any trouble. The government by its very nature doesn't want to destabilize society by incarcerating thousands and destroying potential revenue.[iii]
Government is not a minister or servant in the sense that it is somehow part of or contributing to the Kingdom of God. The interview with Pilate, the coin to be rendered to Caesar and many other New Testament passages indicate this.[iv]
Historically Socialism was concerned with representing the interests of the people over and against either adherence to a rigid law, or an individualism that disregards the collective interest. Enshrining law and checking pure democratic impulses are one of the hallmarks of historical Republicanism and also represent some of the impulses found within American Conservatism.
Democratic Socialism tends to be more fluid, more willing to discard historical legal forms in order to address the public and practical needs of the present.
Some forms of Socialism can indeed be Utopian. All political doctrines possess this danger. However, there are many forms of Libertarian or Anarchic Socialism. While this may sound oxymoronic, it is not the case. These schools of thought place an emphasis on creating an equitable society, not necessarily a society that eradicates the differences between rich and poor but one willing to allow the poor to live with a certain dignity and humanity and probably a society that will not functionally allow the rich to reach levels of ostentatious abundance.
How then is it Libertarian or Anarchic? This is in terms of personal liberties. The state doesn't try to regulate the personal conduct of its citizens or control what they do with their personal property as long as it doesn't affect others. The police state is weakened and people are allowed to express themselves in terms of religion, speech, and to a certain extent conduct. This is the antithesis of what most on the Christian Right would wish for. Contrary to the verbal praise for the 1st Amendment, they don't believe in personal liberty at all. They want to be involved in virtually every aspect of your life and behaviour, even as candidate Rick Santorum said...in your bedroom.
Thus all Sacralists are violently opposed to these forms of Anarchism and Libertarianism. Both emphasize the individual's freedom versus a moral ideal to be imposed on society.
Anarchism is another term greatly misunderstood. Punk Rockers might wish for social chaos and breakdown, but Anarchists have historically believed it is the state itself which promotes strife and social inequity, it is the state which promotes discord through the use of violence in order to enforce the law, the will of the few over the will of the many. For some it indeed can boil down to a form of anti-authoritarianism. For others it means the rights of the individual and a social context that does not use state-violence to force conformity to a state ideal. Society is voluntary. Pure Anarchism is incompatible with a Christian doctrine of sin and depravity. Anarcho-Socialism is not Christian by any means, but it can create a society in which Christians can function.[v]
But isn't Anarchism tied in with violence, assassinations and bomb throwing? In some cases, yes. With all of these ideologies comes not just the ideology itself but a separate or companion theory or ideology of Revolution. How do you bring your system into practice? Some revolutionaries believed in an evolutionary progression through various economic and political models. Some (like Gandhi) believed in peaceful revolution. Others believed violence was necessary to rid the world of the Ancien Regime, the Old Orders....violence to bring about peace. Don't confuse revolutionary theory with socio-political doctrine. They don't always go together.
For example while many would scoff at the differentiation between Marxism and Leninism, there are key differences. One of them, and an important one, is that Lenin believed the Communist society could only come about through violent revolution. Marx never taught that. He taught conscious workers would gain political control and essentially vote in Communism. So while Lenin held to many of the same ideas as Marx, he also cobbled together a theory of revolution that Marx would have found antithetical to his narrative of history and ultimately contrary to his own system.
The freedom spoken of by American Conservatives, especially of this Sacralist variety is a freedom limited to those in complete ideological allegiance with the social order and this liberty has boundaries that are at best fluid. Sometimes freedom is very absolute when it comes to something like gun rights, but other times these rights can evaporate in the face of crisis and the need for security. It is freedom within parameters established by historical ideals, a ruling class, and expediency.
Christian varieties of American political conservatism heavily influenced by Absolute Idealism have sought to re-shape the political order to bring all of society in line with their quest for a Monism...a coherent, consistent, singly focused society. While the first variety of American Conservatism is not overly democratic, this Christian version is actually pretty hostile to individuals controlling the legislative compass of society....and thus it must be questioned that if this movement is opposed to democracy, whether it can rightly be called conservative at all? Are they conservative because they express patriotism? Are they patriots when actually they would seek to undo what previous generations have done?
Some err in believing true democracy is somehow Christian. It is not. It simply may be as Churchill put it, the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. He was also correct to point out that one of the strongest arguments against democracy was to spend five minutes talking to the average voter.
Democracy isn't Christian but it helps break centralized power. Socialism is usually associated with centralized power and again it can be, but Socialism in a strongly democratic context (like in France or Britain) can blunt power, create stability, and promote freedom. Or to put it another way, in the United States the people tend to fear the government. In a true Democracy, the government is afraid of the people. We can be thankful for that, but the implications of it are going to limit our involvement. It's something that must be thought on.
In the end each and every example cited will also break down. Every country has its history and social problems as well. I will simply say many Europeans find American Democracy to be something of a sham and find our society to be very unjust and lacking in the realm of freedom.
Do I want a 'strong' America or France? No, that's not my concern in the least. I want the peace of Babylon and in the United States our broken system is pushing our society toward instability and I think ultimately violence. Rather than promote peace the Christian political wing is fomenting this.

[i] What is astonishing is that in the United States millions of people are coerced either through fallacious moral argument or rank propaganda to vote against their own interests. The United States is almost unique in this fact and it says a great deal about our culture. Their actions are not altruistic. Large segments of the public are literally unable to  grasp that they're often voting for politicians and policies that are against them... but think they're supporting not only what is right but people and ideas which will benefit them.
You find the poor voting for policies which hurt them and aid the wealthy. You find some in wealthier sections of society who do to pro-market commitments voting to protect say the insurance industry which in fact places strangling restrictions on many industries and in turn frustrating the very people who support them. Many of the lower classes vote for militarist candidates and yet they disproportionately suffer from America’s Imperial wars.
[ii] I feel the need to keep revisiting this because the concept seems difficult for some to grasp. Law is about force. Even a parking ticket contains a threat of violence. It is issued by a person wearing uniform and bearing a badge of the state. Not paying it is no big deal, but if you let it go long enough, if you get enough of them, at some point…eventually, the state will act. And when they issue you a larger fine or seek to impound your car there’s also a threat. Just try and stop them, I mean physically stop them. No matter what the law, at some point your non-compliance ends up with a uniformed man in standing in front of you wielding a gun. That’s what government is. It’s viewed as legitimate because socially we’ve all contracted and agreed that we allow this mechanism to wield the violence for the greater good. When parallel law enforcement mechanisms arise (vigilante groups, Brown shirts etc…) then it’s a sure sign the government is losing its grip on power.
Even seemingly innocuous laws contain a threat of violence and it must be asked as to whether or not it is right for a Christian to work for an organization that is in the business of violence. Some hide behind the notion of ‘office’ while others would say it’s a realm best left to the fallen world. Not being a holy institution, government is just a necessary evil, a tool in the arsenal of Providence. It serves its purpose, often in an ugly fashion, but no more than that.
[iii] This was true even in the hyper-Sacral Middle Ages. The Church would discover a nest of ‘heretics’ and pushed for persecution, but often the local or regional lord was reticent. Persecution was bad for society and bad for business. And often the heretics were good, quiet and productive, solid law abiding folk. The magistrate was usually more inclined to leave them be.
One of the primary means of overturning this during the Counter-Reformation was through the means of education. The Jesuits in particular were zealous to become the private tutors to the nobility. If they could inculcate their ideas in the heads of young princelings, those students when they became adult counts and kings would be loyal allies. In some parts of Europe this was very successful but ultimately both the Protestant and Roman projects began to give way to the Enlightenment who in the end largely defeated both of them.
[iv] And yes I would limit this inquiry largely to the New Testament. Covenanted Israel has no political analogy after AD70. The parallels with the Old Testament are ones which would place us as exiles in the Wilderness or Babylon or as those living in the days of Noah.
[v] Sacralist theorists will say that unbridled autonomy will lead to the breakdown of basic social structures like the family and the society will implode. They're right but that doesn't mean the solution is to call on the state (essentially the threat of violence) in order to affect change. The Gospel is our weapon not the sword. The Gospel can heal broken lives, the Sword cannot change the heart. They (the Sacralists) usually wish for some kind of combination, the Gospel and the State (Sword) working together. I will again argue that this produces a Sacralized Beast, an Antichrist state in the end.
Undoubtedly we're viewing the breakdown of American society. Put no confidence in princes nor for help on man depend. All these social orders including the United States will ultimately fail an end up on the ash heap of history. In the grand scheme and scope of history, the United States was another copycat Roman Empire and will likewise fail. Life, and certainly the Kingdom of God go on. This order has run its course, men will come up with new (flawed) ideas and it will all happen again. The crisis comes when the Sacralist has put so much energy and hope into one of these flawed and faulty political constructs.

1 comment:

Protoprotestant said...

Thank you to those who have offered support these past weeks.

I apologize for my absence. I'm involved in a commercial remodeling project. It's been very time consuming and I've been working under a loose deadline. This has translated into longer hours and often coming home and spending some time on the computer researching various issues as everything must be in compliance with the UCC (Uniform Construction Code).

This means lots of emails with the code officials, architects and researching products and issues that arise. It's been exhausting.

Hopefully this more intense period will be coming to an end soon. The project will continue for another year or so, but once I have these offices (and essentially the first floor) up and running the urgency will be removed.

Besides that I've had some setbacks with sickness and computer trouble. But despite all this, I'm actually doing quite well.

I just miss writing. During the day I've been able to keep up on my 'listening' to international news, lectures, and theological material. It's been a profitable couple of months in that regard just not something I've been able to translate into writing.

God willing this will someday change. I've had to throw myself into something I don't particularly enjoy but I am thankful to have the work. There are many right now who do not.