One worry about formalist schemes such as have interested me is that their necessarily bureaucratic and legalistic formality would flatten political life, eliminating its sacred aspect – which is to say, the fully human aspect, in virtue of which our common life takes its transcendent meaning, and thus earns our allegiance. How is it possible, an orthospherean ought to ask, that any merely formal, bureaucratic scheme ignorant of the sacred character of the Logos, and so of any order deriving from him, including its own, should ever be any real good? Can a society that is not somehow intended to a superordinate consecration – intended, i.e., to be truly and really Good – fail to be essentially wicked? Doesn’t formalism reduce politics to mere business? What man would pledge fealty – would pledge his life in battle – to a business tycoon?
This is indeed a hazard. But it is a hazard common to all political orders, for all of them have formal, bureaucratic and legal aspects that are not themselves fonts of much meaning or signification. They are after all formalizations of the living reality that we love, honor, and serve. We don’t look to the equations for the fire in which alone they operate.
Nevertheless they do operate in all fires. Societies always have formal aspects, that are by their nature abstracted from the hurly burly of life as lived, ordering it without themselves acting in it as agents. Formalizations do not kill the sacred life of the polis, or turn the king into a mere functionary. Men do, when they lose sight of that transcendent Good that imbues formalizations with meaning, and that makes life worth doing in the first place. It is the usurper who ruins the sacred order, not the formalization of that order.
Consider in the limit the Church. Does her canon law gut all her operations – every one of them carried out, one hopes, in conformity thereto – of their religious power? Of course not. The Pope – to take the palmary example – is elected formally, under long established bureaucratic procedures, by a college of electors who were all themselves elected according to formal procedures. Does this debase the nobility and authority of his office? The question answers itself.
There is no reason then why a college of aristocrats, a Senate or a Sanhedrin could not elect a king who then fulfilled all the sacred roles of the High Kings and Priest-Kings of old, to whom they then all pledged their fealty. Would it matter if those aristocrats were selected from among the people they each governed by similar bureaucratic procedures? No; as nor does it vitiate the matter of admission to a chivalric or monastic order that it is conferred by a defined, encoded procedure.
But isn’t there something icky and base to the suggestion that the formalization of social order should be commercial? No; commerce is no more inherently ignoble than war, diplomacy, arts and letters, or science. And no political order has ignored commerce, or can; for, commerce is with language and other ritual activities the medium of social intercourse. Disdaining commerce per se is like hating the body; it is like hating mundane man, who must sweat and work and exchange to live. God himself worked and sweated and traded for love of mundane man. To worship commerce, or the body, is indeed idolatrous. But to do that is to get embodied life backwards. It is a defect, not first in the commercial or physiological order, but in men.
Man can ruin anything. Is commerce ruined, or the Church, or marriage, or politics? It was done by Man, and with him lies the blame, not with the institutions he has ruined.
Is commerce ruined altogether? Is the Church, or marriage, or politics? No; they would have winked out altogether, were it so. So long as a body coheres, there is in it enough good to resist (and, indeed, usually to surmount) the constant assault of exogenous factors.
The trick then to establishing a consecrated formalist political order is to baptize it – to ritually and publicly dedicate it to God. And this a sagacious parliament of noble men will be eager, indeed anxious to do. For, it is in the final analysis the only way to secure a people in that bond of friendly coordination called patriotism, in virtue of which alone there can in the first place be such a thing as a polis. Without it, everyone would look upon the common life as a commons to be exploited, good and hard; nothing more. And people hate living that way. Humans are such as to expect and demand a sacred meaning of their political order, whose ultimate importance warrants their sacrifices. Eventually they will get it.