Zadok the Priest & Nathan the Prophet Formally Chrismated Solomon King

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.

19 thoughts on “Zadok the Priest & Nathan the Prophet Formally Chrismated Solomon King

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  3. Need priests and prophets.

    I think I would make a good grand inquisitor, But a grand inquisitor without a priest, a prophet, and a king is just dangerous and not very useful.

    • Agreed. I should have specified that more explicitly. This, then:

      There is no reason then why a college of aristocrats, a Senate or a Sanhedrin could not elect a king who [then, anointed to his royal office by and not without the approval of the college of priests and the college of prophets,] fulfilled all the sacred roles of the High Kings and Priest-Kings of old, to whom they then all pledged their fealty.

      Nor is there any reason why a secular senate could not consecrate itself to God under the ultimate moral supervision of his vicars in the colleges of priests and prophets. Indeed, this is what such bodies have generally done. We still inaugurate presidents and judges with vows to the Most High.

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  5. It’s slightly OT, since you only mentioned commerce in passing, but…

    Would love to see some thoughts on baptizing commerce. I think there’s still a lot of confusion for the Christian surrounding business and economics per se. “Money is the root of all evil” is a misquote still stuck in too many heads and there is a still a lot of confusion about “justice” and Christian support for socialism (I want to say Pius IX tried to put paid to that).

    It’s urgent because there isn’t a lot that’s clear out there and it’s a moral field nearly all of us engage in daily through necessity.

  6. It could perhaps be said that what right now stands in the most dire need of being formalized is the spiritual life of Man. With the decline of mass participation in “organized religion”, the disunity and disintegration of philosophy, and the ascendancy of the positivist/materialist worldview at the expense of consciousness of the supernatural and metaphysical, the human instinct to seek out the Ultimate finds expression in irrational and morbid forms. At best these are incomplete, detached from their proper teloi, at worst, downright deranged. People seek out the sacred in all the wrong places: in politics or economics, in the physical health and pleasures of the body, in “nature” considered as the non-human physical environment. As though that weren’t bad enough, these pursuits are typically so compartmentalized and mutually incompatible that our societies seem to no longer have enough unity of purpose to be able to go on functioning much longer.

    The need for every aspect of human life to be put in its rational order according to the unitary formal end of Man can’t be overstated. This formalizing process has to start in the soul and work its way down to the polis. Juridical formalization of the whole polity in advance of this would only generate that much more adversarial litigation, at the very level of the State, at a time when the power of the State itself is increasingly the only thing preventing the litigiousness created by the juridical formalization we have already from erupting into outright civil war. (I.e. because much of what is presently settled informally by various back-room deals, unspoken arrangements, gentleman’s agreements, and the like would, once formalized, be formally contested on an adversarial basis by the parties involved).

    • The need for every aspect of human life to be put in its rational order according to the unitary formal end of Man can’t be overstated. This formalizing process has to start in the soul and work its way down to the polis.

      Just so; a point often rightly emphasized by Bruce Charlton. A consecrated government of an intentionally profane people is a lie about who they are. It is a Potemkin consecration.

      The consecration of the polis must happen first in men’s hearts, or it cannot happen at all. Thus the first business of those who would be tradents must be conversion of their own hearts and lives, and the second must be evangelization, teaching, preaching, apologetics.

  7. No man would pledge his life to a business tycoon, but if that man is secular, he would be happy to be ruled by a business tycoon. Secular man sees the state as a dispensary of happiness, and nothing more. Its role is to instantiate the hedonic calculus with policies that maximize net utility, and a business tycoon is naturally adept at running such a state. In a secular society such as ours, the head of government is nothing but an exalted hotel manager. Hotel guests (i.e., citizens) expect him to make sure the beds are made, the staff is friendly, and the bill is correct. They do not expect him to convey the word of God.

    • Too true, alas.

      Yet even secular men seem to feel an intense conviction that the discourse of politics is both meaningful and important. Modern politics is mostly empty of strictly religious speech that is honest (when our politicians speak of God they obviously lie, and everyone knows it’s nothing but pro forma signaling), but it is chock full of chiliasm, utopian fervor, alarums and dire prophecies, nefarious conspiracies, etc. This is only natural. When there is no sacred center, then there just is no center, things fall apart, and we *really are* in rather a state of emergency. We can expect it to continue, and deepen, until men find again their sacred center. In the meantime, the noise and thunder of politics will continue, proxies for the intensity of healthy religious feeling that men seek in them, but do not ever find.

      Notwithstanding all that, if we should by some wild mischance continue in the current secular desert for a long time, worshiping in the cult of Nothing, we shall still need *some political formalism or other,* and it will continue true that market perfection and monarchy will coterminate. My point in the post was only that this cotermination need not be to a merely secular, dead, ignoble state of affairs – that formalist politics is not incapable of sanctity and nobility.

      Indeed, I feel strongly that market perfection and monarchy coterminate in turn upon the baptism and consecration of politics. In the limit, all public ritual – all sport, all politics, all drama, all procedures of justice – is sacred; all deals, all handshakes or greetings or agreements are instances of holy charity; all meals are salients of the sacrificial feast; all beddings are instantiations of the Heavenly Marriage; and so forth. This, at any rate, in their aboriginal Platonic essence and intent, even if not ever purely and fully realized in their actualizations. The Logos is the strange attractor of all things, from whom they take their form, toward whom they feel their inmost urge, in and through whom they are integrated and most perfectly expressed.

  8. What man would pledge fealty – would pledge his life in battle – to a business tycoon?

    Manchester United isn’t even owned by a tycoon. It is a publicly traded corporation. Liverpool, on the other hand, is pretty much owned by a tycoon. Given how adrift modern people are, it isn’t a particularly insurmountable obstacle to get people to pledge fealty to a corporation. Men are absolutely itching to pledge their fealty to something, anything. Even a random assembly of foreigners who happen to kick balls around a local field half the time. What stops that from happening widely is that corporations largely aren’t interested in having such pledges. Also relevant: feudalism started with men pledging fealty to their local business tycoon.

    • Men are absolutely itching to pledge their fealty to something, anything.

      Exactly. As CS Lewis said:

      Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

      Much of the frantic energy of modernity can be ascribed to a general desperation for real nourishing food – spiritual, emotional, intellectual, corporeal. The desperation is less and less quiet with each passing year.

      … feudalism started with men pledging fealty to their local business tycoon.

      Aye: business tycoons *who were fell warriors, and leaders of warriors.* They had the loyalty of their subjects as men, not of business, but of war.

  9. Formalization should not be seen simply as demystification. Clarity should only prove fatal to unnecessary mysteries, i.e., sophistries, and leave genuine mysteries of faith untouched. Indeed, clarity of thought and language should strengthen genuine mysteries even as they dissolve disingenuous ones.

    • In the Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche argued that Greek culture failed because Apollonian clarity overwhelmed Dionysian mystery. Critical philosophy undermined all myth and mystery, leaving men rootless, abstracted and alienated in a disenchanted world. Then there was overreaction in the other direction. Henri de Lubac said that excessive rationalism causes a return of the repressed in the form of barbaric myths that provide escape from “the prison of things that are clear.” As you say, the correct attitude is to accept clarity where clarity is possible, while admitting mystery where it is not.

      • I agree with that. Clarity has its place, and so does mystery. The benefit of clarity is it gives us remarkable berth for altering present situations which might be disadvantageous or erroneous. However, mystery is vital to preserving a societal core from criticism and overthrow by degenerate elements. In many ways, it is better for the masses at least, to understand little of what they have no need to understand.

  10. I think the problem is that, as with most things, we can’t see commerce through anything other than a reductive, vulgar Marxist lens. The world has been turned upside down, so modern man starts with material instead of spiritual necessity when thinking about business. Medieval guilds were honorable, spiritual associations rich in symbolism and spiritual fraternity. You can go back to the symbolic and religious bond between colony and mother city in classical Greece, even in regards to economic matters. These kinds of fraternities seem all but impossible to modern men.

    • Yes. Moderns understand men as all basically – i.e., essentially – antagonistic. It goes back to the improper Hobbesian reduction of all human feeling to mere aversion; of its subsumption of abversion to adversion. This makes society in all its particulars a ritualized war of all against all. It is a bit less bloody and chaotic than the Hobbesian state of nature, but this is due only to the fact that the essential and ineradicable conflict it sees as basic to all human relations is in society ritualized.

      Humans are all to each other adversaries, to be sure. This does not however mean that they are nothing but enemies. It takes two to tango, as well as to fight; so is there more to any two than mere enmity, whether or not veiled by civilized rites and customs.

      A deal is not a conquest. It is an *agreement.* It is a type of harmony, and mutual aid. “Sell” stems from the Gothic saljan, “to offer sacrifice,” and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European *sel-, “to take, grasp.” Sacrifice is the archetype of all commerce, all exchange, which at root is the surrender of what is less important, valuable and good in favor of what is more important, valuable, good. In sacrifice, we offer up the goods of our own substance in exchange for the goods of the substance of the god. Likewise then when we exchange goods with each other. Where such exchanges are not grossly defective, they leave both counterparties better off than they had been.

      Many commercial transactions are of course grossly defective. Men are wicked. But we tend to overlook the transactions that go well, and justly. These predominate in our common life, to an immense degree. Were it not so, our common life could not after all be common; it could be, only, the unremitting war Hobbes notices at the bloody wounds of society, where it begins to break down. The Hobbesian reduction fails to notice that fights are interruptions of society, not its basis. The violence of war, crime, and tyranny are not the essence of society, but failures to realize that essence; which, since society is a coordinate conjunction and communion of disparate entities, is obviously love.

      Commerce then is indeed dirty, but only because it is the soil of our garden.


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