Tuesday, April 5, 2016

God, Man, and Democracy

Why does democracy fare so poorly as a political system?  Because it is not in accord with reality.  Mankind, democracy says to us, is a mere collection of completely separate, self-enclosed individuals who have no inner, ontological connection with one another.  There is little thought of the common good, only self-interest.

But the truth of the nature of mankind is the opposite.  Like the Holy Trinity, in Whose image and likeness man has been made, we are many persons/hypostases sharing one human nature.  Like the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, each man reaches the fulness of personhood only by emptying himself, by becoming the servant of all.  ‘The other’ is not my enemy, a competitor for scarce resources, a business or political rival, or any other such thing as Darwin, Locke, Hobbes, and other Enlightenment thinkers teach us.  He is my salvation; he is my doorway into the Kingdom of Heaven.

St Macarius the Great of Egypt said this as clearly as anyone could:

‘There is no other way to be saved but through our neighbour; according as He enjoined, Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven’ (Fifty Spiritual Homilies of St Macarius the Egyptian, Homily XXXVII, Forgotten Books, 2012, p. 251).

Democracy, we may say then, is a sin against love.  But love is the reason there is a creation at all, which came into being because of the overflowing of the love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.  So perfect is Their love that They wanted others outside Themselves to share in the joys of knowing it, so They created the angels and man and all the cosmos.  Love undergirds and upholds the created world (Archimandrite Vasileios, The Saint: Archetype of Orthodoxy, 2nd ed., Dr Elizabeth Theokritoff, trans., Montréal, Québec: Alexander Press, 1999, p. 8). 

So when man acts contrary to love, as he does in modern Western democracies, where the basis of man’s existence is said to be mistrust and fear of those around him; when each and all see themselves as totally closed-off, mutually repelling, atomistic individuals in competition with one another rather than as persons who were made to embrace all the creation within themselves; when they do this, they move away from love, which called all things into being and which holds all things together, and towards non-existence (see, e.g., http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/freeman/to_tell_the_truth).  The resulting chaos and trouble should not be a surprise to any of them.  But it is.  And, sadly, their answer in many cases is ‘Give us more democracy!’

Christ’s one and only Incarnation also shows the oneness of man’s nature.  If it were not so, our Lord would have had to undergo the whole redemptive process – incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension – for each individual, rather than once for the whole of mankind.

Because of its underlying teaching about man, pluralistic/secular democratic political life necessarily stirs up vices:  anger, slander, revenge, pride, greed, lust for power, unnecessary talk.  In short, constant agitation and disquiet.  There is no stillness.  And where there is no stillness, there is no pure prayer.  And where there is no pure prayer, there is no real union with God.  And where there is no real union with God, as said above, all things fall apart.

Political life in a Christian kingdom on the other hand gives birth to virtues:  Obedience, humility, self-sacrifice, love, calmness, quietness, harmony.  Here, life in the Holy Trinity can be known; here, the goal of God being all in all can begin to be approached.

Democracy is not consistent with the fulness of personhood we are called to achieve but with the emptiness and shriveled smallness of individualism.  Democracy reduces man to the level of an impersonal mathematical variable, an empty cipher to be manipulated in a political consultant’s election calculus:

‘ . . . unlike the individual, the person is not a quantitative category, in the sense that he or she can be numbered on an arithmetical basis and so form part of an impersonal total.  The person is a qualitative category, one that derives from the possession of certain inner qualities.  Thus the person has nothing to do with numbers and transcends and even abolishes arithmetical categories.  . . . A relationship between persons consequently cannot be established through any outward bond or constitution.  It can be established only through mutual recognition that each possesses and embodies the same inner qualities, an identical inner reality [i.e., all must recognize that ‘The person . . . is the ‘image of God’, a spiritual value . . . .’ something which at the very least is implicitly denied by the behavior of political opponents who speak to one another and treat one another as though they were less than human--W.G.]’ (Philip Sherrard, Church, Papacy and Schism: A Theological Enquiry, Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, 2009, p. 26).

In a kingdom, however, man is seen differently, not as an abstraction but as a concrete, personal being who has real, deep connections with other people:

‘ . . . in a traditional monarchy the relationship between king and subject is that of a middle-aged father and his mature son, not that of a young father and an infant’ (Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, Front Royal, Va.: Christendom Press, 1993, p. 138).

Family members do not think of one another as variables in a mathematical problem.

So then, a king will always be present in a society that retains some semblance of sanity.  There can be and often have been other officers and institutions around him (elected assemblies, judges, advisors, and so on).  This is perfectly natural.  In the Orthodox Church herself, one sees such a thing with bishop-appointed priests and elected parish councils governing the local parish together in harmony.  In countries where the Orthodox Faith has been manifested in its fulness, one also sees a like conjunction of God-anointed king over the nation and small local villages governed by democratic ways, with little friction between the two (as in Tsarist Russia or Old England before the Norman Conquest).

What we must beware of is the one-sidedness of democracy.  Jay Dyer writes of one of its kindred, anarchism,

 . . .

Anarchism, like all derivatives of the revolutionary philosophy, is grounded upon the notion of the metaphysical primacy of the many over the one. Whereas most statist philosophies, like that expressed in Plato’s Republic, for example, envision the people as embodying a vast man with the head symbolizing a king, emperor or philosopher-ruler, so in dialectical opposition the anarchist principle imagines some magical metaphysical primacy in the many. Ironically, even number theory itself shows there is no qualitative primacy given to “one” over “many,” as 1 possesses just as much “numberness” as 2, 3, 4, etc. In Orthodox Trinitarian philosophy, the one and the many have always been viewed as balanced, based on the equality of Persons in the Godhead. Thus, in the Church, the bishop is as much a bishop as any other, with no supreme bishop (Rome) to trump the rest. Good philosophy is based on good theology, where there is a balance of the principle of the one and the many. This is reflected in both religious and political life. Anarchism, with no divine authority in revelation or the supernatural, can only offer competing human opinions, leading to progressive disintegration.

Likewise, in Orthodox Imperial praxis, embodied in the symphonia, the State was to act in harmonia with the Church, each in their proper sphere. According to this philosophy, the Emperor was divinely appointed and a real authority, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah that kings and rulers would convert to serve the Messiah. The Messianic Age does not, you’ll note, result in anarchism.

Anarchism is based on the presupposition of non serviam, and in praxis, non serviam results in the obliteration of all metaphysical categories and groupings, including tribe, family, race and gender. Are these metaphysical impositions not also “tyrannies” of the Demiurge that must be transcended, since they limit “liberty?”  Indeed, for the outworking of revolutionary philosophies, including anarchism, one need only look at the political and social discourse of our day, where the need to become post-human (transhumanism) is manifestly the logical outcome of anarchism and her revolutionary cousins. Cheeto-fueled online libertarians’ desire to proclaim non serviam is comical, as they are likely being manipulated by think tanks and intelligence fronts.

Source:  ‘The Folly of Anarchism’, http://souloftheeast.org/2016/03/25/the-folly-of-anarchism/, accessed 27 March 2016

In the disorder of their hearts, the adherents of the democratic project have become like Zeus and the other gods (projections of the heathen Greek passions) in Homer’s The Iliad, glorying in the strife and din and chaos of politics, which has become a kind of bloodless (most of the time) warfare:

 . . . But now for total war,
bearing down on the other gods, disastrous, massive,
their fighting-fury blasting loose from opposing camps—
the powers collided!  A mammoth clash—the wide earth roared
and the arching vault of heaven echoed round with trumpets!
And Zeus heard the chaos, throned on Olympus heights,
and laughed deep in his own great heart, delighted
to see the gods engage in all-out conflict (Book 21, lines 437-44, Penguin Books, trans. Robert Fagles, 1990, p. 532).

But in this, there is some hope.  For the pre-Christian Greek peoples embraced Christianity with a great fervor, and since then have brought forth some of the greatest saints (from St Basil the Great in the 4th hundredyear to St Paisios of Mt Athos in the 20th) and cultural achievements (Byzantine chant, Hagia Sophia, and so on) of the Orthodox Church.  If the Souð and the rest of the Western world are becoming like the Greeks in their pre-Christian behavior, perhaps, with God’s help, we will become like them in their later zeal for union with the Holy Trinity within the Orthodox Church as well.

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