Guest Post: What is Christian Politics? (Part I)

nod - into the land of nod

Cain leads his followers into the Land of Nod

The following is Part I of the essay “What is Christian Politics?” by Tsoncho Tsonchev, currently a graduate student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where he is writing a doctoral thesis on Nicolas Berdyaev. Mr. Tsonchev hails from Bulgaria, but has been living in Canada for a bit more than a decade.

For to see your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Gen. 33:10)

Christianity is political, but does not have a “political program.” It is revolutionary, but does not call for a change of political regimes. Christian politics is not the secular politics, the politics of power competition and fight for rights and privileges. It is “unconventional” by the standards of contemporary political theory and practice. The Christian understanding of politics is neither paradoxical nor perplexing, yet many fail to admit the adequacy of its concepts and prescriptions, many would argue that to be political means to have a political program, and to be revolutionary means to strive for a change of the political order and power. These are the arguments of those that have no clear sense of the nature of politics and that have no knowledge of the nature of Christianity as the most political and revolutionary teaching in human history.

Jesus advised, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) What is the meaning of these words? The secular mind would quickly interpret them as a command for obedience to State and Church, as an example of the Christian social and political conservatism. This command, many have argued, asks the people to have a slavish, apolitical behavior; it legitimizes the autocracy of kings and priests. We find this interpretation in the works of great political minds like Mill, Nietzsche, and Marx, but this does not mean that we should accept it uncritically. Because, as it has been said, if Christianity is the most political and revolutionary teaching in history, then, it cannot ask for slavish obedience nor it can legitimize a regime, temporal or spiritual, that is against the freedom of personal conscience.

So, what is the meaning of Jesus’ advice, according to the Christian interpretation? First of all, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” means that man should respect authority. What is authority? Authority is the power that serves the common good. As power serving the common good, the authority should respect man. The authority has the same obligation as the man (or people) under authority. It should “render unto Man (or people) the things that are man’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” As authorities, both God and Caesar, who is a man, are servants of man.[1] The authority has no other goal but to promote justice. Authority is authority only as an act of justice. Authority without justice is autocracy—the rule, the will, and the individual good of autos kratos (self-power). Autocracy is not authority because it does not care for the common good. It is a despotic self-containment and self-sufficiency. Justice, as Aristotle says, is always about the “other,” it always includes more than one person. It is about common good. Justice is possible only in society, under authority, not under autocracy. Justice, in authority, has no other goal but to promote the equity in human society. And equity has no other goal but to defend the dignity of each person in society.

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Gustave Le Bon on the Professoriate

le bon, gustave

Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931)

In the following extract from his Psychology of Socialism (1899), Gustav Le Bon discusses the appeal of socialism for the intelligentsia; the discussion includes Le Bon’s amusingly unsparing characterization of the professoriate — a class of people comprised, in his coinages, by demi-savants and doctrinaires, which he rightly despises.  Here, then, from Chapter IV, “The Disciples of Socialism and Their Mental State” –

It is because the half-science of the demi-savant obscures the instinctive intuitions, that its intervention in social affairs is so often harmful.
Social failures, misunderstood geniuses, lawyers without clients, writers without readers, doctors without patients, professors ill-paid, graduates without employment, clerks whose employers disdain them for their insufficiency, puffed-up university instructors — these are the natural adepts of Socialism. In reality they care very little for doctrines. Their dream is to create by violent means a society in which they will be the masters. Their cry of equality does not prevent them from having an intense scorn of the rabble who have not, as they have, learned out of books. They believe themselves greatly the superiors of the working man, and are really greatly his inferiors in their lack of practical sense and their exaggerated egotism. If they became masters their despotism would be no less than that of Marat, Saint-Just, or Robespierre, those excellent types of the unappreciated demi-savant. The hope of tyrannising in one’s turn, when one has always been ignored, humiliated, thrust into the shade, must have created many disciples of Socialism…

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On a Greased Rail to Amalekite Rule

With House Speaker Pelosi publicly opining on the immorality of a fortified border, it may be timely to review a traditional doctrine of the Church to which she belongs.  Aquinas begins his discussion of just relations with foreigners by observing that these are “twofold” (Suma Theologica Q. 105, Art. 3.).  They may be peaceful or they may be hostile, and to deal peacefully with hostile foreigners is just as wrong as to receive peaceful foreigners with hostility. Continue reading

Meditations & Divagations on Two Sonnets

bocklin (1827 - 1901) sacred grove (1886)

The Sacred Grove (1886) by Arnold Boecklin (1827 – 1901)

Of the French Symbolist School of poetry, Nicolas Berdyaev writes in his Crisis of Art (1917) that its contributors not only acutely sensed the profound spiritual crisis that had shaken and shattered Western culture since the Eighteenth Century at least, but attempted a new, redemptive synthesis that would function as the equivalent of “the sacral art of the ancient world and of the Medieval world.”  (The translation is that of Father S. Janos.)  The Symbolist poets, as Berdyaev plausibly describes their aspiration, “wanted to lead art out of the crisis through a return to the organic artistic era”; they sensed that the arts “are a product of differentiation” of an historical type, and that they “derived from a temple and cultic origin… developed from an organic unity” and “were subordinated to a religious center.”  The Symbolists, Berdyaev asserts, were the last Western artists to strive for pure beauty before the schools of aschemiolatry, in a spasm of “empty freedom,” began their program of bespattering the cosmos with mud and offal.  Berdyaev even ascribes to the Symbolists a theurgic propensity.  In The Meaning of the Creative Act (1916), he defines theurgic art as “creating another world, another being, another life,” even to the extent of “creating beauty as essence, as being.”  (The translator identifies himself only as “D. A. L.”)   For the Russian, theurgy in art consists in a revelation of “the religious-ontological, the religious meaning of being.”  Theurgy, as “free creation,” seeks to imitate, under the limitations of mortality and temporality, the original creative act of the World Maker, not so as to challenge, but only so as to imitate, the God whose image man bears.  The Symbolists in this way make themselves followers of such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Johann Sebastian Bach, artists who attributed their creativity hence also their creations not to themselves but, as faithful Monothreeists, to the Three-in-One.

Berdyaev’s observations in The Creative Act and The Crisis are themselves strongly indebted to the poetry and prose of the Symbolists, not least to the musings of Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé, but also to the works of Richard Wagner and Alexander Scriabin.  Like their Kiev-born inheritor, the Symbolists were mainly reactionary – as the cases of Baudelaire and Wagner well illustrate.  Again like Berdyaev, the Symbolists combined in their creative work and in the explanations thereof their keen sense of transcendence, their anthropological clarity, and their profound vision of cultural decline.  Such men were somewhat paradoxically modern in asserting new genres in their respective artistic domains while at the same time both rejecting modernity per se and advocating for the virtues of the West’s pre-modern phases, sometimes in the Middle Ages and sometimes in antiquity.  The Symbolists also tended to valorize Christianity.  In Mallarmé’s Coup de dès or Roll of the Dice (1897), for example, whose bewildering anti-verses seem in their typographic dispersion to represent the chaos of false freedom, Christ appears as “Le Maître,” “The Master,” who is also the early Nineteenth Century Right-Catholic critic of the French Revolution, Joseph de Maistre.  Baudelaire (1821 – 1867), whom Mallarmé took as his model, explicitly identified himself as the successor of the same Maistre.  In these essential gestures, Symbolism links itself to the larger reactionary critique of “progress” and “revolution” that first becomes explicit in Edmund Burke and in the very same Maistre.  The Symbolists must then exert considerable allure on the reactionary, anti-modern consciousness of the early Twenty-First Century – one hopes.

The present essay proposes to examine two short Symbolist poems, both sonnets, and both from the early phases of the movement.  These are “Vers dorés” (1846) by Gérard de Nerval (1808 – 1855) and “Correspondences” (1857) by Baudelaire, the latter appearing in the poet’s famous verse-anthology Les Fleurs du Mal or Flowers of Evil.  In its commentary on the two poems, the essay will bring to bear the insights into Symbolism of Berdyaev, certain elements of the anthropologies of Maistre and René Girard, and the Weltanschauung and generalized convictions of the reactionary consciousness of the Twenty-First Century.  The mixture might strike readers as a bit arbitrary or even as vertiginous, but its fundamental coherency should gradually make itself evident.  It is a premise of the reactionary consciousness that art is fundamentally conservative and that in its highest expression it is a species of prophesy or apocalypse, at once illuminating the fallenness of the world and pointing the fallen creature towards transcendence of its condition.

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The Justice of Natural Self-Love

“Whoever writes on strategy and tactics ought not in his theories to neglect the point of view of his own people.”

Colmar von der Goltz quoted in Gabriel Darrieus, War on the Sea (trans. 1908).

If a man invites you to walk a mile in his shoes, there is a very good chance that he intends to run off with your shoes while you are taking that walk.  If he invites you to see things from his point of view, there is very little chance that he intends to return the favor.  And if he invites you to “take one for the team,” you may well suppose that this is because he is gouging all he can from the team, and therefore looks forward to your sacrifice as a means to up his take. Continue reading

Keep Your Cool and Don’t be a Chump

Every child knows the sly maneuver of provoking another child to “lose his cool,” and thereby bring down upon his head the wrath of some severe but spasmodic adult authority. Say you are lined up waiting to board a school bus, and directly in front of you stands a boy you wish to peeve and humiliate.  Some distance away stands a teacher who is mindful of his need to retain the appearance of authority, but who is also somewhat lazy, distracted and bored in its exercise. Your sly plot is to get this teacher to “crack down” on the chump in front of you by triggering a conspicuous reaction—say a loud cry and some flailing punches—with an inconspicuous provocation—say a whispered accusation of addiction to solitary vice. Continue reading

While Speaking On the Record

I have mentioned that I spent a great deal of 2018 building an “on-line” course. This means that I was, in effect, building the robot that will take my job. (Incidentally, “on-line” education was first sold as “distance education,” the pretense being that the automated format would allow some cowboy at a rancho on the banks of the Dirty Devil River to pursue his dream of a college education. Now it is assumed that the automated format is simply a convenience for resident students who like flexible schedules and the pause button). Continue reading

That’s a Generalization… only feminists get to make truth-claims about groups?

Knowledge involves generalizations. The science of amphibians is not about specific frogs, but about frogs in general. A veterinarian, asked to treat a specific frog, would call upon a store of generalizations to help make a diagnosis and to recommend treatments. Even if the vet was very familiar with past episodes of sickness of that particular frog, he would still be generalizing across instances. i.e., in the past, when this frog burps purple bubbles, it has meant that he is reacting to eating a certain kind of fly. The frog is burping purple bubbles, therefore…

It is true that there is nothing logically precise or rigorous about induction. Technically, induction can even be regarded as an error. Just because 100,000 white swans have been observed, it does not mean all swans are white.

On the other hand, since human knowledge is finite, and people are often operating in conditions of uncertainty, it is frequently necessary to make educated guesses based on past experience. Continue reading

Be Not Afraid

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:10-11

There are tough times ahead. Things are likely to get a lot worse before they get any better. Not that famine or plague threaten us, or even incipient war; for the time being, we are still coddled, yes and swaddled too, into a comfortable immobility, by our continued prosperity and remaining might. But for conservatives, for traditionalists and reactionaries in particular, and in general for anyone who holds normal moral convictions, a time of persecution – political, social, economic – appears to have dawned, especially if they happen to be Christian. There is reason to expect that, even in this time of burgeoning prosperity, the sword of the state might descend upon the necks of such as we.

And of course, there are good reasons to worry about global war and pandemic, and so famine. Things could go badly off the rails at any moment. This is always so, to be sure. But our condition along these dimensions seems now particularly delicate. One feels that we are poised at the verge of an abyssal precipice. Continue reading