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Politics & The Polis

The Empire of Man vs. the City of God


Our word "politics" is derived from the Greek word polis. Sometimes this word is translated "city-state." But it means more than just "Los Angeles" or "New York City." The Polis was part of an ideology. We could even speak of the Polis as a religion. When we speak of "the polis," we speak of the Humanistic faith that man's institutions—specifically the State, with its philosopher-kings (Harvard-trained bureaucrats), its "smart-bombs" and its manipulation of the economy—can bring social salvation.

Greek political experience . . . was summed up in the polis, the city-state . . . which both Plato and Aristotle assumed to be the highest expression of the the common good, that is, the embodiment of a moral value. In modern language the polis can only be described as both a "State" and a "Church." The whole destiny of man was involved in the State. We are apt to forget this, when in present-day speech we use a Greek word, "Politics," to indicate merely the science and art of government.
Alexander Passerin d'Entrèves, The Notion of the State, Oxford Univ. Press, 1967

When the word "politics" was coined, what did it mean? Why did the originators of the word "politics" refer back to the Greco-Roman polis? What does "politics" mean today? Can a Christian support "politics?"

Vine & Fig Tree is Micah's vision of a world-wide non-political Theocracy; a "Christocracy" in which social salvation is created not by the polis and its elite social managers, but by the Holy Spirit working through the priests and kings of Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is the Faithful Witness, and the First Begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 1:5-6, 5:10

Recommended Reading:


Politics by Aristotle

Questioning Politics

Book I

I

Reductio ad Absurdum

  The opening paragraph of Aristotle's classic work shows itself to be without moral standards. Consider this parallel, or "reductio ad absurdum."
EVERY STATE is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good. EVERY MAFIA is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the Mafia or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.

II

How do we distinguish between the ethical legitimacy of the State and the ethical legitimacy of a Mafia? Does not the Mafia aim at some "good?"

Aristotle then attempts an argument based on "nature":

Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says, We agree with Aristotle on the primacy of the Family. See our 95 Theses Against Politics.

First house and wife and an ox for the plough,

for the ox is the poor man's slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas 'companions of the cupboard,' and by Epimenides the Cretan, 'companions of the manger.' But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.' And this is the reason why Hellenic states were originally governed by kings; because the Hellenes were under royal rule before they came together, as the barbarians still are. Every family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the family the kingly form of government prevailed because they were of the same blood. As Homer says:
When several families unite, why is not the first society to be formed "the church?" Who says it has to be "the State?"

Each one gives law to his children and to his wives.

When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
"If the family is natural, so is the State."
This is Aristotle's claim
"If the family is natural, so is the Mafia"
-- why is this not an equally valid statement?
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the
Man is by nature a familial animal. Man is not any more forced by nature to create a State than he is to create a Mafia.

Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one,

whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.
There is a valid point here, however, and that is that "no man is an island." That phrase is a thoroughly Christian one, not a sappy humanistic Hallmark card. It comes from John Donne (1572-1631), from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII. Read it here. Politicians have throughout history expropriated the Christian metaphor of "the body." This is the best metaphor for the Free Market. But as Donne notes, direction for the body comes from the Head, Christ, through His Holy Spirit, not through politicians. The Division of Labor, operating freely under "The Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is what produces prosperity and civilization, not "the State."
Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.
"and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state."

In our day Feminists and homosexuals assert that the natural family is "oppressive," not good or just. On what basis would Aristotle argue against them? On what basis can we reject the claim that the association of living beings who share some sense of justice may take the form of a Mafia?

Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society
"The proof that the Mafia is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing;"

"He who first founded the Mafia was the greatest of benefactors"

 

 

 

In fact, The State causes more crime and injustice than any Mafia, and more than all individuals combined.


Recent thought on the Polis


The Political Writings of St. Augustine,
Edited, with an Introduction,

by
Henry Paolucci

Including and Interpretative Analysis
by Dino Bigongiari

Regnery Publishing, Inc.
Washington, D.C.
[p.vii]

p.vii
In all these works, St. Augustine’s concern is clearly practical rather than theoretical. Technically precise descriptions of governmental institutions and detailed comparisons of constitutional forms are conspicuously absent from his pages. Yet it by no means follows that we must, as Pierre de Labriolle recently suggested,[5] deny him a political theory in the traditional sense of the term. On the contrary, if the reduction of empirical multiplicity to conceptual unity is the goal of theoretic science, St. Augustine’s account of the political regime of the world—which is what he means by the term civitas terrena—must be considered a masterpiece of political theory. His primary object, as a Christian bishop and apologist, was no doubt to determine the will and ultimately the conduct of his readers. But he had first to inform the intellect. And to the accomplishment of that distinctly theoretical task he brought a mastery of philosophical discourse and [p.ix] a depth of psychological insight unsurpassed in the Western World.

5. La Cité de Dieu, text latin et traduction française, avec un introduction et des notes par Pierre de Labriolle, Paris, 1957, Vol. I, pp. xi-xv.

p.xviii
Nations, St. Augustine asserts, may boast of having Christian Political rule, but in fact their Christianity, like their much-vaunted justice, can be at best only nominal, only a handsomely-colored semblance. Since Christians cannot, in good faith, constitute a kingdom or polis of their own in this world, they cannot, in good faith, claim to have a politics of their own. The only politics possible on earth is that of coercive power used to restrain coercive power, which has always characterized the civitas terrena.
All men are obligated to conform to the standards of God's Law. If those standards prohibit Christians (those who acknowledge the binding validity of God's Law) from forming a Mafia or a Polis, they do not prohibit Christians from acting as prophets, denouncing the injustice of non-Christians (those who renounce the authority of God's Law, and autonomously create their own).

The Roots of American Order
by Russell Kirk

THIRD EDITION
REGNERY GATEWAY
Washington, DC
[p.XVII]

Chapter III: Glory and Ruin—The Greek World

The One Betraying Flaw of the Hellenes

p.51In philosophy, in warfare, in the early sciences, in poetry, in grace of manners, in rhetoric, in high cunning, the people who called themselves the Hellenes excelled all civilized folk who had preceded them in time; in certain things, they have not been equalled in achievement, all these centuries since the Greek polis, the city-state, lost its freedom. Yet the ancient Greeks failed in this: they never learned how to live together in peace and justice.
Can Aristotle and secular political science ever show us how to live together in peace and justice?

p.52"To one small people, covering in its original seat no more than a hand’s-breadth of territory, it was given to create the principle of Progress, of movement onwards and not backwards or downwards, of destruction tending to construction," Sir Henry Maine wrote in 1876. "That people was the Greek. Except the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin. A ferment spreading from that source has vitalized all the great progressive races of mankind, penetrating from one to another, and producing results according with its hidden and latent genius, and results of course often greater than any exhibited in Greece itself."

p.53Liberal historians and literary men of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries idealized the Greek civilization that they knew through its literary remains and the broken fragments of its architecture and sculpture. Greece in general, and Athens in particular, those writers praised somewhat extravagantly as the birthplace of freedom, the sanctuary of the good and the beautiful, the source of rationality, the home of sweetness [p.54] and light. This enthusiasm was neither wholly unjustified nor altogether sound. Most leaders of the French Revolution indulged an indiscriminate admiration for classical Greece and Rome. But the leaders of the American Revolution, and of the early years of the American Republic, seasoned their classical tastes with several grains of salt.
p.58If the Greek religion was not so gentle and sunlit as nineteenth-century writers often fancied it to have been, neither was the Greek civil social order tranquil: Apollo struggled with Dionysius. At Akragas, the city’s first hideous tyrant, Phalaris, is said to have roasted his enemies in a furnace [p.59] of brass shaped like a bull. Throughout its independence, Akragas alternated between despotism and anarchy —and so it was with most other Greek cities. Out of Akragas’ population of more than two hundred thousand people, at the height of this polis, the large majority were slaves, many from Africa. (Among Greek political thinkers, only Plato was able to hint at a commonwealth not supported by slavery—and then only in the dream-realm of his early Republic.) In most cities, the common expectation of the able-bodied average citizen (despite the Greeks being a remarkably healthy race) was that he might die by violence while still fairly young. Even in luxurious Akragas, these Greek lovers of beauty were hardy men, accustomed to spear and sword; doubtless they would have been astonished at the idyllic description of their existence which secure scholars would sketch centuries later.
p.59 Neither those wonderful representations of the Olympians in human form, in every city’s civic temples, nor the cults of darkness, mystery, and domestic hopes, closer to many Greeks hearts, could give to the Greeks such a principle of personal and public order as Jehovah had given to Israel. The Olympian and the chthonian deities came to blows repeatedly, quite as every Greek polis stood ready for war against barbarians and against other Greek cities of similar origins and institutions, should advantage seem to lie in aggression. Within every city, class hostilities, political feuds, and private ambitions rent the fabric of civil social order every few years. The democracies were no less violent than were the tyrannies and the oligarchies. To the Greeks, "freedom" meant primarily the independence of their own city-state, not personal liberty in any high degree. Their passionate attachment to the immediate place of their birth was at once their strength and their undoing; while the picturesqueness of their religion did not provide them with a coherent moral order. [p.60]
p.89Just when the sovereignty of the Greek polis was evaporating, Aristotle produced a closely-reasoned theory of order in the polis. For him, the Greek city-state was superior to any other form of social organization; yet that reality was expiring as he lectured. Even rudimentary morality must disintegrate, Aristotle believed, if the city-state should collapse—and in the classical world he was vindicated grimly by the event.
p.93Plato and Aristotle, nevertheless, would cross oceans in times to come. The leading men of America’s formative years would find Aristotle’s concept of the polity, in particular, still valuable to them. True, much of Aristotle’s treatise was of historical interest chiefly. Far from being a land of city-states, the new United States had scarcely more than a half-dozen towns that could be called cities by anyone; neither the New England township nor the Virginian county government much resembled the polis. America had no aristocracy of birth, strictly speaking: not one English nobleman had settled permanently in the colonies, and no peerages had been bestowed upon colonials. Slavery—of a kind harsher than the Greek—America had, indeed; but in its early decades, America had no very large urban element like the rabble of [p.94] the Greek cities or the Roman proletarians. The tendency of America was toward swift expansion and "a more perfect union," not toward the local devotion of the polis.
The decentralized social vision of Micah -- Vine & Fig Tree -- dominated early American history.
p.94Yet in another sense, repeatedly pointed out by Alexis de Tocqueville, America was held together by a religious bond stronger than any the Greeks or the Romans had known: by a Christian faith that worked upon individual and family, rather than through a state cult. The failure of the Greeks to find an enduring popular religious sanction for the order of their civilization had been a main cause of the collapse of the world of the polis. The power of Christian teaching over [p.95] private conscience made possible the American democratic society, vastly greater in extent and population than Old Greece. Hellenic thought, Platonic and Aristotelian, contributed to that American religious morality through the strong threads of Greek vision and reason which are woven into Christian doctrine.
Christian morality held America together.
p.209A contemporary of William of Ockham, in the first half of the fourteenth century, was Marsilius of Padua, a Schoolman more radical than the English Nominalist. Marsilius, at the University of Paris, argued that the Church must be subordinated to the State: even though divine law is superior to human law, it is the State that must decide the interpretation of divine law. Thus Marsilius carried Aristotle’s politics—the [p.210] politics of the polis, the autonomous city-state—farther than did Aquinas. In effect, the principles of Marsilius reduced papal authority and made conceivable the governing of churches by kings and princes—which would come to pass, in some countries, during the Reformation.

Commentary Magazine,
The American Jewish Committee
April 1995

Books in Review

A New Covenant?
DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL.
BY JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN.
Basic Books. 153 pp. $20.00.

Reviewed by
ADAM WOLFSON*

Commentary Magazine, April 1995, p.70
JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Ethics at the University of Chicago, is a self-described "feminist political theorist" and the author of several academic works on how Plato, Machiavelli, Hegel, and the like illuminate the condition of modern women. The mere fact that she is willing to take seriously the thought of these dead white males, and even to entertain an occasional conservative argument, has provoked other feminists to deny that she is one of them, and even to label her (the horror!) a classical liberal.
p.72 Yet here, in this one little example, we already see that Elshtain does not really understand the patient whose ills she is diagnosing. For American democracy, by design, bears little resemblance to Periclean Athens. That form of democracy, noble as it may sound, did not allow for an autonomous civil society or a private realm; to the contrary, Pericles insists that in "loving" their city, Athenians should regard their personal attachments including the love between family members—as purely instrumental and subservient to the ends of the polis. This has very little to do with American democracy, and contrary to what Elshtain seems to think, a dose of it would only succeed in further corroding our already frayed social fabric.

Commentary Magazine, June 1995

Letters from Readers

Personal & Political

TO THE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY:

p.13 Whatever Mr. Wolfson may have been doing in the 1960’s, I was primarily engaged in raising babies and going to school. Self-absorption was never an option. I missed out on that one. And, since Mr. Wolfson suggests a passing familiarity with my oeuvre, he surely recollects my lament in Women and War that there was all too much war-likeness in the antiwar movement. But, above all, it is an act of massive bad faith (or egregious misreading) for him to saddle me with a position I have spent my entire adult life criticizing, whether propounded by giants in the canon of Western political thought or contemporary feminists, namely, the view that family relations are "purely instrumental" and are to be made "subservient to the ends of the polis"—or to a movement of any kind. This goes entirely against the grain of my published work—which runs to thousands of pages by now—and, I should add, my life and the way I live it. I would refer the interested reader to the discussion of the chastening of patriotism in Women and War and the sketch of an "ethical polity" in Public Man, Private Woman or, for that matter, the argument against pitiless revolutionaries in Democracy on Trial.

JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN
Nashville, Tennessee

p.14ADAM WOLFSON writes:
p.14Mrs. Elshtain complains that I have saddled her with the view that family relations are to be made subservient to the ends of the polis, a view she claims she has spent her entire life criticizing. I wrote nothing of the kind. In fact, I praised her for "unrelentingly" criticizing the radical wing of the feminist movement, which tends to hold views hostile to the traditional family. What I did observe was that, in her search for solutions to the breakdown of civil society, she turns for the most part not to sources within the liberal tradition (of which, in many of her works, she is quite critical) but, oddly, to Pericles (no great defender of the bourgeois family). Further, she calls for a "new social covenant" and asks that "government¼find a way to respond to people’s deepest concerns." She does not seem to realize that this sort of mindset, which became prevalent in the 1960’s, is itself partly responsible for the decline of liberal-democratic civil society.

Claude Lanzmann and the IDF
Hillel Halkin*

Commentary Magazine, June 1995, p.51

Tsahal deals with none of these issues, nor with the broader question of whether, in a contemporary democracy, a citizens’ army is a desideratum or even a possibility. This is regrettable. It is largely because of its army and the role it has played in national life that Israel has come closer to the ancient ideal of the polis, the community of equal and mutually responsible freemen entrusted with defending one another’s rights and lives, than any other modern state. Here, rather than as an answer to the Holocaust, which it can be conceived of being only poetically, lies the true remarkableness of the IDF. [p.52]

Crisis,
A Journal of Lay Catholic Opinion,
The Morley Institute

Vol. 14, No. 6, June 1996

Books, Arts & Culture

Trusting Tradition
Francis Canavan*

Crisis Magazine, June 1996, p.48

In Good Company: The Church as Polis
Stanley Hauerwas
University of Notre Dame Press, 1996
296 pages, $30

This book is eminently worth reading, although the reader may find in it much to disagree with. I could devote this whole review to arguing with Professor Hauerwas on such topics as pacifism, vegetarianism, speciesism, and sexism. But that would be to overlook so much in the book that deserves to be pondered.
Stanley Hauerwas is a Methodist lay theologian now teaching in the Divinity School of Duke University, after fourteen years at Notre Dame. In Good Company is a collection of essays and articles, all published in this decade with the exception of one, which dates from 1983. Four of them were jointly written with other authors, both Protestant and Catholic, and all of them originally appeared in the mixed company of journals and books put out by Catholic, Protestant, interdenominational, and secular publishers.
There is more than a trace in Hauerwas’s writing of the Protestant tendency to oppose revelation to reason and grace to nature. Yet he also speaks with a Catholic accent. He regrets that Methodism, having "had the potential to be that form of evangelical Catholicism that maintained . . . continuity with the great confessions of the church" now is dying because most Methodists "do not want to believe anything or engage in any practices that might offend and thus exclude anyone." Many American Catholics, he recognizes, are going down the same road. But Hauerwas holds that there is indeed a true faith and "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" (which he does not simply identify with the Roman Catholic Church), and that the Eucharist, "which is the body and blood of Christ," is the unifying bond of the Body of Christ, the Church.
The dominant thesis of In Good Company is that worship is central to Christian life. Persons become believers and learn to live as Christians by joining in worship, from which they acquire practices and habits of virtue that shape them and their thinking. In short, through worship they become part of a living tradition. On this point, Hauerwas quotes with approval Pius XI: "People are instructed in the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectively by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any pronouncements of the teaching of the Church." "Worship" is an escape from the Christian life.

How do we learn the habits of virtue—patience, hard-work, respect—and put to death the practices of the old man—covetousness, lust, hatred—while sitting in a pew looking at the back of someone's neck?

What contributed more to America's greatness: The New England Primer or "pure worship."

The Church, for Hauerwas, is "a (body) polity," whose politics is our salvation. It is far more than John Locke’s voluntary association of like-minded people who fit easily into the liberal nation-state. "I am not trying to save the liberal project," he says. "I am trying to save the church from the liberal project." On the last page of the book he explains: "Christians are called first and foremost not to resolve the tension between church and state, but to acknowledge the kingship of Christ in their lives, which means leaving church-state relations profoundly unresolved, until the day when He comes again in glory." Christ's salvation includes those areas of life which have been called "politics," but this no more legitimizes politics than it legitimizes the Mafia. Salvation is anti-political.

The "separation of church and state" is a myth. It represents the separation of life from the Kingship of Christ.

It is impossible to acknowledge the Kingship of Christ if He does not become King until His "second coming."

Catholics made a mistake, he thinks, when they came to the American pluralistic society and believed they could talk to it in terms of a natural law accessible to human reason and therefore to all men. The Catholic understanding of natural law assumes a universe created by a personal God, and Catholic morality assumes the redemption of fallen man by the Second Person of the trinitarian God. It is the truth, the whole Christian truth, that sets us free, not what we can hope to get everyone to agree upon.
But should we settle for a politics which is based on a lesser standard? The autonomous secular polis claims to be out of Christ's jurisdiction. Shall we allow this challenge to go "profoundly unresolved?"
Hauerwas greatly admires Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, but it might be pointed out to him that when that same Pope addressed the UN in the fall of 1995, he presented to them a version of the same encyclical with the Christian doctrine left out. Evidently the pope assumed that there are elements of morality to which all men can respond, however minimally, in the light of our common human nature.
Hauerwas insists, however, that we do not first recognize abstract principles of natural law and then apply them to actual societies and cultures. We learn our moral principles from living societies and their traditions, which include their practices as much and more than their doctrines. The weakness of mere traditionalism, of course, is that it leaves us with no norm above tradition by which to distinguish true and good traditions from false and bad ones. Hauerwas seems to be aware of this since he thinks he has found "a good tradition," or rather, that it has found him; in another place he speaks of a "truth-finding tradition."
Whatever the deficiency of his position may be, it has this valuable truth to offer—that the tradition, practices, and worship of the living Body of Christ have carried our culture and our morals. Without them we drift into a sterile liberal secularism.[p.49]

First Things,
The Institute on Religion and Public Life
October 1995, No. 56

Villages and Virtues
Mary Ann Glendon
The Villagers: Changed Values, Altered Lives, the Closing of the Urban-Rural Gap.
By Richard Critchfield.
Anchor. 497 pp. $27.50.

In Good Hands: The Life of a Family Farm.
By Charles Fish.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 229 pp. $21.

Critchfield was right, though, to be worried about the condition of the world’s seedbeds of character and competence, even if he was mistaken in locating them exclusively in rural settings. The political, scientific, economic, and social goods that Americans and many others have come to cherish depend, today more than ever, on certain qualities that once were reliably cultivated in the polis (ideally around 5,000 citizens in Plato’s view) and in urban neighborhoods, as well as in villages. It is hard to imagine how a regime favorable to individual liberty, the work ethic, security of transactions, equality, and relief of misery can be sustained without citizens prepared to restrain their own appetites, plan for the future, render community service, provide for themselves and their dependents, and reach out to the needy.
If there is no "separation of church and state," that is, no separation of Christianity and polis, then social values can be inculcated even in the city. But if the whole purpose of the polis is to escape from Christ and institutionalize anti-Christian values, how can we feign surprise when the city is at war with Christian traditions?

A nation based on the small polis of 5,000 rather than a "democracy" of 250 million is bound to better reflect Christian personalist values.


First Things,
January 1996, No. 59

Books

Books In Review

Belonging

Theorizing Citizenship.
Edited by Ronald Beiner.
State University of New York Press. 335 pp. $19.95.
Reviewed by
Gilbert Meilaender

What does it mean to belong to a political community? Is such belonging, which we call citizenship, important? What binds a body of people together in a political community and sustains their bond over time? These questions are both highly theoretical and eminently practical. In recent years we have seen Germany reunified, a European "community" formed, nations of Eastern Europe torn by ancient hostilities, and heated debate in this country (and elsewhere) about the issue of immigration and about affirmative action aimed at making minorities fuller participants in our common life.
For our citizenship is in heaven
Philippians 3:20
Who belongs? Why belong? The first developed attempt in our history to answer these questions came with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome—especially with what theorists term "civic republicanism,"given its chief articulation by Aristotle just as the polis was, in fact, nearing the end of its golden age. Characterizing this articulation as "one of the great Western definitions of what it is to be human," J.G.A. Pocock summarizes it as follows. "What makes the citizen the highest order of being is his capacity to rule, and it follows that rule over one’s equal is possible only where one’s equal rules over one. Therefore the citizen rules and is ruled; citizens join each other in making decisions where each decider respects the authority of the others, and all join in obeying the decisions¼they have made." This activity of ruling and being ruled, the life of politics, is a distinctively public activity. As free participants in politics, citizens shape their own lives and thereby bring their nature to its highest fulfillment.
Exodus 19:6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

1 Peter 2:5-9 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. {9} But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

Revelation 1:6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

Christians, as priests and kings, are called to shape the life of society.


First Things,
May 1996, No. 63

The Public Square
A Continuing Survey of Religion and Public Life
Richard John Neuhaus

Against Christian Politics

Alien Citizens

A very long time ago, when Christians were a persecuted minority of maybe fifty thousand in the great empire of Rome, an anonymous writer explained to a pagan named Diognetus the way it is with this peculiar people. Until Our Lord returns in glory, Christians do well to embrace the second century "Letter to Diognetus" as their vade mecum:

"For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are ‘in the flesh,’ but they do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven."

It is an awkward posture, being an alien citizen. It poses irresolvable problems for both "God and country" and "God or country." Christians critically affirm their responsibility for the politics of the earthly city, knowing all the while that their true polis is the City of God. Loyalty to the earthly city is joined to an allegiance that others who do not share that allegiance cannot help but view as subversive. It is as with Thomas More on the scaffold, "I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first." And, had Henry only known it, Thomas was the king’s better servant because he served God first. Like so many others over the centuries, Henry had a "Christian politics" that demanded a totality of allegiance that no alien citizen could render him.

Where We Are Left

Christians are commanded to love their neighbors, and politics is one way—by no means the most important way—of doing that. In a democracy, everybody is asked to accept a measure of political responsibility, and most do. For some it is their life’s work, as in "vocation." Like everything worth doing, it is worth doing well. And, for those who are called to do it, even when they frequently fail, it is also worth doing poorly. Christians engaged in politics, we may hope, will bring to the task the gifts of personal integrity and devotion to the common good. But that does not make their engagement "Christian politics." It is still just politics. A Christian engineer who builds a really good bridge has not built a "Christian bridge." The merit of the project depends upon qualities pertinent to the "bridgeness" of the thing, although we may believe that those qualities are well served by the Christian conviction and integrity of the builder.
Is politics really a morally legitimate way to love one's neighbor? If Smith is in need, is it morally legitimate for Jones to steal from Brown and hire Clark to help the needy Smith (and allow Clark to pocket 75% of the money taken from Brown)? It's not Jones' money. But it is Jones' responsibility.

Politics combines dereliction of duty with theft.

So where does this leave us with the Sermon on the Mount? Deeply troubled, for sure. It leaves us, against our sinful inclination, attending to a "preferential option" for the poor and the sorrowful, the meek and the persecuted. Attending to them not by politics chiefly but by politics also. That sermon depicts a way of living that Niebuhr variously called an "impossible possibility" and "possible impossibility," with the one never being entirely overcome by the other. Yet the never is not forever, for, above all, it leaves us alien citizens with an insatiable longing for that other polis He told us about, when all those around the throne and the angels numbering myriads of myriads declare with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
The acceptance of the political temptation is always a denial of the Kingship of Christ. Luke 4:6
And then, around the throne of the Lamb, we will have reason to hope that all our efforts, including our political efforts, did not get in the way of, and maybe even anticipated in some small part, that right ordering of all things that is the only politics deserving of the name Christian. Until then, talk about "Christian politics"—whether of the left or of the right or of ideologies as yet unimagined—is but a refusal to wait for the Kingdom. It is the delusion that we Christians are called to be or can be, in our exile from the heavenly polis, something other than the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted—to be, in sum, something other than those whom the Sermon on the Mount calls blessed.
The mandate "to wait for the Kingdom," The postponement of true polis until the "second coming" or until after death, is always a denial of the Kingship of Christ.

Christians are not just meek and hungry. We are not just in exile. We are ambassadors from a conquering Kingdom, which asserts all lawful jurisdiction over the conquered empires. 2 Corinthians 5:20  We are kings and priests, vicegerents under Christ, ruling in His Name. Rev 1:6; 2:27; 5:10; 20:6; Ex 19:6; Isa 61:6; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Psa 149


Science, Politics & Gnosticism
Two Essays by Eric Voeglin

Copyright 1968 by Regnery Gateway, Inc.
Washington, D.C.
Electronic version
Copyright © 1997 by Western Standard Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved. Published with permission
from Regnery Gateway, Inc. [p.v]

Science, Politics and Gnosticism

[p.15]Political science, politike episteme, was founded by Plato and Aristotle.
At stake in the spiritual confusion of the time was whether there could be fashioned an image of the right order of the soul and society—a paradigm, a model, an ideal—that could function for the citizens of the polis as had paraenetic myth for the Homeric heroes. To be sure, fourth-century Athens afforded plenty of opinions about the right manner of living and the right order of society. But was it possible to show that one of the multitude of sceptic, hedonist, utilitarian, power oriented, and partisan doxai was the true one? Or, if none of them could stand up to critical examination, could a new image of order be formed that would not also bear the marks of a nonbinding, subjective opinion (doxa)? The science of political philosophy resulted from the efforts to find an answer to this question.
p.20The frame of reference of political science has changed considerably in the more than two [p.21]thousand years since its founding. The broadening of temporal and spatial horizons has yielded to comparative analysis enormous amounts of material that were unknown in antiquity. And the appearance of Christianity in history, with the resulting tension between reason and revelation, has profoundly affected the difficulties of philosophizing. The Platonic-Aristotelian paradigm of the best polis cannot provide an answer for the great questions of our time—either for the organizational problems of industrial society or for the spiritual problems of the struggle between Christianity and ideology. But the basic situation of political science, which I have briefly outlined here, has, except in one respect, not changed at all. Today, just as two thousand years ago, politike episteme deals with questions that concern everyone and that everyone asks. Though different opinions are current in society today, its subject matter has not changed. Its method is still scientific analysis. And the prerequisite of analysis is still the perception of the order of being unto its origin in transcendent being, in particular, the loving openness of the soul to its transcendent ground of order.  

 

There is no "tension" between reason and revelation. Rebellion against revelation from God is unreasonable.

 

 

 

 

Blah, blah, blah
p.21Only in one respect has the situation of political science changed. As indicated, there has emerged a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning. This is not a matter of [p.22]resistance to analysis—that existed in antiquity as well. It does not involve those who cling to opinions by reason of tradition or emotion, or those who engage in debate in a naive confidence in the rightness of their opinions and who take the offensive only when analysis unnerves them. Rather, we are confronted here with persons who know that, and why, their opinions cannot stand up under critical analysis and who therefore make the prohibition of the examination of their premises part of their dogma. This position of a conscious, deliberate, and painstakingly elaborated obstruction of ratio constitutes the new phenomenon.  

 


The Biblical Source of Western Sexual Morality
by Peter J. Leithart

Plato had defined justice as the proper division of labor in a polis (among various classes) or in an individual soul (among the various faculties: reason, appetite, and passion), with each part keeping its place and performing its assigned function. Injustice, then, was defined as the strife among the three principles or classes: "a meddlesomeness, and interference, and rising up of a part of the soul against the whole, an assertion of unlawful authority." The proper order of the soul is achieved when reason rules over desire, with passion aligning itself as an ally of reason.[47] The just man, then, possesses an orderly soul, one in which reason is not overcome and enslaved by desire.

Rushdoony provides a Dionysian explanation of Greek pederasty when he suggests that the Greek emphasis on homosexuality was rooted in the same religious impulse as the earlier chaos cults. The city-state, or polis, is the fundamental reality not only in Greek religion, but also in the systematic philosophical reflection of Plato and Aristotle. To maintain the polis was the chief end of man's action and thought, and it was believed that the order of the polis could not be maintained unless dialectically related to chaos. Ritual choas, with sexual overtones if not sexual orgies, was therefore a civic duty. Such was the connection of choas and civic religion in the Greek polis.[63] Moreover, homosexuality served the purposes of mysticism, freeing the contemplative from the limitations and particularity of his sexual identity. Finally, the Greek emphasis on homosexuality was related to the hermaphrodite ideal. As Rushdoony writes, "the truest symbol of perfection was not Zeus as a male god, nor kings...but rather the hermaphrodite."[64] Homosexuality permitted the Greek to fulfill this ideal by acting as both man and woman -- again achieving a vivifying confusion of natural boundaries.

[47] Republic, IV.441-444. A just polis, significantly, is one ruled by an intellectual elite. Whether Plato intended this suggestion to be taken seriously is doubtful, though his intellectual followers throughout the centuries have certainly taken his suggestion at face value.

[63] See Coulanges, The Ancient City. It is noteworthy in this connection that, according to Parker, "The Eleusian cult [of Demeter] was incorporated into the public religion of the Athenian state" (Robert Parker, "Greek Religion," in The Oxford History of the Classical World, p. 269).

[64] R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1971), pp. 69-70. On the hermaphrodite ideal, see Plato, Symposium, 189-193.


The Polis has always been religious.
There has never been a "separation of church and state."
Religion has never been a purely "private" matter.

20th century courts, misinterpreting the Founding Fathers, have created an unprecedented secular Leviathan, which cannot even claim the virtues of goodness and justice which Aristotle imagined for his State.


For more on the Division of Labor, the clearest and most comprehensive defense of the capitalist economic system available is CAPITALISM: A Treatise on Economics by George Reisman. (long file: when downloaded use contrl+n and go to page 179) 


Is Rome the source of American Ideals?

Aristotle said that man is a political animal, but his conception of the community, or polis, was very different from the modern state. He thought the community should be small enough that its members could all know each other. Sound like any state you know?
Joseph Sobran, Anarchism, Reason, and History


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