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


The Creation of Adam (ca. 1512) by Michelangelo (1475 – 1564)

The following is Part II of the essay “What is Christian Politics?” by Tsoncho Tsonchev. Part I is here.

The dream of success is the narcotic of the modern age and when its dazzling effect disappears a spiritual devastation follows. We speak about personal “success” and the “national.” There is no essential difference between these two. Both “successes” require sacrifices for the achievement of an imaginary goal, and the greatest and most troublesome of all is the sacrifice of morality. Morality is tightly connected with Christianity and natural inclinations (the moral sense in the “heart” of man or the so-called natural law). When Christianity disappears from politics and social relations, and only “success” is left, competition and striving follow. Moved by desire for success and a corrupted sense of competition, Cain killed his brother. Disappointed by the “success” of Abel and by his supposed “failure,” Cain committed the greatest crime. God asked him, “Why are you so angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you refuse to do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; you are its object of desire, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:6) Cain should not be angry, because the success of Abel was a result of his natural inclination, of a gift through which he serves the society of men and God. Cain should do what is right, that is, should accept his situation, as Paul advises, and respect the dignity of God and his brother, and continue to abide in his calling. His service would be certainly accepted, as God tells him, and it would be accepted even with a greater favor, because he would pass the test of time, and would prove that his service is perfect, that he is not under the power of sin, but masters it with his profession of “fruit-giving.” But he did not abide. He separated himself from what is right, and fell under the power of sin.

“A complete separation of morality and politics constitutes one of the prevalent errors and evils of our century,” Vladimir Soloviev writes in his introduction to the National Question in Russia (1891).[1] From a Christian point of view, the domain of morality and the domain of politics should be connected, Soloviev argues. He says that “in the common life of humanity, the kingdom of Evil and discord is a fact; but the goal is the kingdom of God, and towards this goal the intermediate transition from ugly reality is called Christian politics.”[2] Soloviev points out that there is a constant confusion in the understanding of the word “national interest.” If the national interest is considered as “supremacy,” “outward might,” “wealth,” upward “mobility” on the international stage, if it is related with the Dream for individual national success, then this understanding would “justify,” as it has been noted, “all sorts of crimes.” As a Christian, Soloviev insists that “national interest” as upward mobility towards supremacy is not the goal of state politics. He explains that “true patriotism” must be in accordance not with greed for power and influence, nor with the competitive spirit for world dominance, but with “Christian conscience.” When Satan took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world with their glory, and told him, “All this I will give you, if you fall down and worship me,” how did Jesus answer? “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” (Matt. 4:8-10) Jesus abode in his situation and calling, and he listened to his conscience. He did not revolt against the authority of God. Christian conscience is the collective inner feeling that makes the nation abide in its service, respectful of the authority of other nations and to the will of God, and that tells the nation (or the person) what its true mission, calling, and aim are. Therefore, the interest of the truly Christian nation “does not require and absolutely does not permit international cannibalism.”[3] The slogan “My nation first!”—a cry for dominance and individual national success—is a result, basically, of daemonic temptation that would end, inevitably, in ruin. This has been proved time and again in history.

soloviev, vladimir sergeyevich (1853 - 1900)

Vladimir Sergeyevich Soloviev (1853 – 1900)

Often, the “national interest” as “international cannibalism” is hidden behind the sense of cultural superiority and civilizational mission. The sense of cultural, spiritual superiority is nothing but a sign of an utmost corruption of national soul. Now, a nation finds itself so deceptively strong, so independent, so high on the “mountain” of its pride and success, so drunk of “abominations” (Rev. 17:4) that it wants to devour not simply the “body” of other nations, but their very “souls.” This is the complete and final stage of national corruption. After this stage normally comes the collapse. Pride and greed are the two cardinal vices that revolt against all authority and service. No one serves out of pride as no one gives out of greed; no one teaches out of pride as no one helps out of greed. High culture humbles its bearer, as the good teacher is generous to the point of self-sacrifice. But the “national interest” that takes the missionary role to convert other peoples into the image and likeness of the dominant state, only to cement its supremacy, is neither humble nor generous. It is, in fact, an attempt for usurpation of God’s image that is impressed on all people and nations. “The claims of one nation for a privileged position in humankind,” says Soloviev, “exclude the same claims of another nation.”[4] The nationalistic exceptionalism of one nation is refusal to admit the exceptionality of another nation. And we have many examples of poorly conceived national exceptionalism. Political theorists and historians such as George Kennan and Eric Foner warned about the temptations of the ideology of exceptionalism. Even Augustine explained the fall of Rome with its corrupted sense of self-importance, and Saint Paul, himself, warned the Jews, in his Epistle to the Romans, for the pitfalls of self-righteousness. There is only one kind of good and truthful exceptionalism and it is the exceptionalism in one’s personal and unique calling and service.

Evil, as Aquinas says (following Dionysius and Augustine), has no being, it is a privation of good.[5] So, in this essay, one may notice that every term that we use has one true and good meaning, and many wrong and corrupted interpretations. Let’s take the last example, the concept of national exceptionality. To be an exceptional, special, and unique nation, is good. All nations are exceptional, according to the Christian truth of equality in diversity. But the claim for the existence of an exclusive national exceptionalism that disrespects the uniqueness of all other nations is a corruption of the idea of national uniqueness. Moreover, from a Christian point of view, it would be equally wrong to argue that there are no exceptional people and nations, that all are equally wretched and lost in their sin. Now, it should be clearly noted that Christianity is a positive religion, despite its prophetic function. It starts from the good, that is the truth. A state (or a nation) is good insofar as its serves its unique mission, and is “bad” insofar as it fails to perform its appointed aim. If a nation exists, it is good by the power of its very existence. It becomes bad or evil when its existence is severed from its mission and its action loses its proper, “co-natural,” to use Aquinas’ expression, end.

Thus, for Christianity, there are no “good” or “bad” nations, or, in contrast to arguments found in political theories from antiquity to the present, there are no “good” or “bad” political regimes. It is senseless from a genuinely Christian point of view to argue in favour of one or another political regime (or nation). All political regimes are essentially good as far as the people who make them are essentially good, i.e., acting according to their proper end, that is, their proper calling and service. Therefore, we may conclude that monarchy is good, if it has a good monarch; democracy and liberalism are good, if the people are good and vote for good political representatives; even “anarchy” is good, if it is the anarchy of Christians, who love God and their neighbors. Socialism would not be essentially different from capitalism as “good” economic order, if the economic agents in socialism and capitalism considered their economic surplus as common good and spent their capital and energy according to their natural inclinations and needs. One might be sure that the most natural human inclination is friendship.

paul the apostle

Paul the Apostle

So, to conclude, genuine Christianity does not enter into partisan battle against a particular political or economic order, it fights not the positive qualities of all social orders, but their specific corruptions. Christianity is concerned not with the value of democracy as a political system, or the value of conservative authoritarianism, but with the values of the people, who make democracy, or with the values of the political “autocrat,” (here I use the Russian expression for the Tsar, “samoderjets,” that is charged with a rather positive meaning) who rules the country. Both regimes could be positive in a given situation, but there could be nothing positive in a corrupted moral sense in people and rulers.[6] So we return again to Paul’s advice that says that the situation, or the regime, should not concern us, what finally matters is whether we perform, as persons or a nation, our calling and service.

I have mentioned Aquinas, and already have begun to speak about good and evil, so it would be right to explain in a few lines the Thomistic conception of evil. It could give us a better understanding of Christian politics as moral action. According to St. Thomas, every agent acts for a good end and if the good end is natural for the agent, i.e., if the good corresponds to the fitness of the agent to achieve it and brings him improvement and peace, then the end of the agent (that he pursues with his will and actions) is never evil. If the agent fails to achieve some end for which he was not appointed, this also cannot be described, from a general point of view, as evil, although the agent might consider it as such. The reason an agent has an “appetite” or desire to achieve an end that is not fit for him is, as it has been said, a result of temptation and illusion, a result of corrupted or not properly directed will. So the agent, who is full of desires, and follows unnatural for him ends, as is the case with the modern “consumer,” whose will is constantly moved and tossed by temptations, would feel always unhappy from not receiving what he aims. He would not have peace, because he does not accept the advice of Paul that teaches contentment with the given situation and abiding in the natural service and direction of will.

The evil, on a personal level, is “always incidental to things beside the intention of an agent,” says Aquinas. This is so because the result of an action differs from the intention of the agent. So, Aquinas concludes that “evil happens without intention.” The agent considers a failed achievement as evil because it did not bring the expected result. This result could not be evil in itself and is certainly not evil, if the expectation and direction of will was wrong, it is rather natural, but from agent’s point of view, it is always evil as failure. One is certain, that evil, although caused without intention, should be always voluntary, that is, evil is always a result of free will that was wrongly directed. That’s why evil is a moral problem. It is a moral problem because the agent is able to inspect his natural inclinations, through his intuition and right reason, and act accordingly, and yet he fails to do so. In other words, he chooses a lie instead of truth, something unnatural or unfit for him, and he makes this voluntarily, often under the weakness of habit or external temptation. So, following Aristotle, Aquinas concludes that “evil is […] nothing else but the privation of what is connatural and due to everyone” as this privation is not an essence, “but is the non-existence of something in substance.” This simply means that evil is a “lack” that does not improve the natural being of something, or, in other words, evil is the missing part in a whole that might be otherwise perfect. Good, on the other hand, is what expands the completeness of a whole, adding to it something that was still lacking.

Thus, if an agent finds his missing “part,” that is always fitting, i.e. completing his being, this is good; but if the agent fails to find what is missing in him, and distracts his attention and energy with “goods” that are not naturally fit for him and do not work for his improvement, this, for the agent, is something evil, although, generally speaking, his failure wouldn’t be an evil in itself, since it would reflect the truth and natural order of things. It is clear that the bottom of the problem is in agent’s confused judgment: the agent confuses unnatural for natural, unfit for fit, nothing (evil) for something (good), and then acts in direction for its achievement, full of hope and desire and yet blind for the fact that the pursued “good” is not good for him. The agent is real, he has an essence as being, and as such, he has a natural direction, a natural “movement,” so to say, that, if followed, makes him complete, or perfect. He just needs to accept it voluntarily and abide in it. This, we should say, is a positive, optimistic Aristotelian and Christian philosophy. It suggests that reality, or any agent as part of it, has a God given teleological direction towards God, i.e., good. And that also argues that all created, i.e., all existing, has a share in good, and is good. That’s why it has been said in the preceding paragraph, that every political regime, as far as it is real, is good in itself, and has some particular, naturally good function. What makes of a political regime evil is its direction to nothingness, i.e., its failure to perform its natural function that is bringing justice and facilitating people’s communion.

satan cast down by dore

Satan Cast Down (ca 1855) by Gustave Dore (1832 – 1883)

Evil has no essence; it is always a privation. And as such, it is not natural to anyone and anything, since anyone and anything is naturally directed to fulfillment in good. That is precisely why the evil is evil for the agent: not because it is in the agent by nature, but because it impedes the process of its natural fulfillment. It is not natural for an authority not to perform its duty, but this does not make of authority an evil thing in itself. As it is not natural for autonomy to aim at imaginary goods, but this does not make of autonomy something evil in itself. Aquinas says, and here I simultaneously agree and do not agree with him, that the good end depends on the approval of reason, and the evil end, or evil, depends on the discord of reason. I agree with this conclusion as far as we speak about the right reason (orthos logos), the reason that has discovered the good, and I do not agree, insofar as I think that reason alone and by itself is not capable of formulating the good and natural end. It needs the help of intuition. The right reason, for me, is namely reason acting along with intuition. Intuition and reason are complementary: where intuition fails, reason must come, and where reason fails, intuition must act. But it is certain, at least for me (and for Semyon Frank as well[7]), that intuition has a better and more direct access to natural ends (truth) than reason, and on this, we are in agreement with Aquinas, who says in one place that angels “know” God by intuition only, i.e., directly and unfailingly, and not by reason (deliberation) and intuition as it is with humans.[8]

So, in conclusion, we must say that “evil,” according to the Christian Thomistic view, is not caused except by a good, i.e., by something existing; that evil lacks “being,” and therefore cannot cause anything; that only good can cause evil, but it causes it “accidentally,” i.e. unintentionally, yet voluntarily under the influence of wrong judgment; and that good, even as reason for evil, continues to abide in its goodness, and moves naturally to a greater good, along with the entire Creation, returning to itself and expanding, despite all “evil” deviations. Aquinas finishes with the optimistic argument that evil, as nothing, cannot be a “supreme evil.” We find a similar understanding in Visheslavtsev, who, speaking about irreligion, says that there is “absolute health, but there is no absolute sickness.” It is so, because the “limit of sickness is death, as the limit of irreligion is nothing; if everything is mortal, temporal, unimportant, phenomenal, illusory, then the nature of everything is nothing.”[9] But we know that good is not “void,” or “emptiness,” and that nature, in order to be properly called nature, is what “is.” There is no a supreme, self-sustaining evil. That’s why Christ often appeals “Take courage! Do not be afraid!” Only good could be a “supreme good.” It is so because it exists in itself, by itself, for itself.[10]

If we apply this understanding of the “metaphysics of evil” to the practice of national politics, we would conclude that there is nothing wrong, for example, in the idea and pursuit of national interest, but only if this interest is well understood and in accordance with the specific inclination and calling of the nation. National interest is not in the search for dominance or supremacy, but in the fulfillment of the nation as a community within the community of other nations. Supremacy, that is so cherished in secular politics, is not the natural end for a nation. It is community that is natural for every people and person. It was hinted above that the most natural human inclination is friendship, and the nation is a kind of friendship and as any collective of friends, of people capable and disposed to communion, the nation should naturally expand its interaction with the world, and yet never lose its specific character and calling. Self-concealment, isolation, is not divine, i.e., perfect, thus it could not be a feature of the teleological character of any existing good. “For the nation as for the individual,” Soloviev writes, “the [misdirected] elevation of one’s own interest, one’s own self-importance, to a higher principle means legalizing and perpetuating the difference and the struggle, which tear humanity apart.”[11] In other words, the egoistic national interest and sense of self-importance do not fulfill the goal of collective spirit that tends naturally, at every level of its development, to an ever greater unity.

Jesus Before the Sanhedrin

Jesus before the Sanhedrin – Sixth Century Byzantine Mosaic

How serious is the failure of national egoism is revealed in the gospel with the conviction of Jesus in the name of the people. Soloviev recalls the argument of the High Priest, “If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and then the Romans will come and take away both our peace and our nation… For it is better that one man die for the people than the all nation perish.” (John 11:48) This logic is completely wrong because no one should die for a wrongly conceived national interest; the nation is not an organism that sacrifices its individual parts, or members, for an imagined survival of the whole. On the contrary, in its ideal state, the nation cares for each member equally. To cut a member of an organic body is, ultimately, never good for the health and survival of the body. To cure it, is right; to correct it, is right; but to sever and destroy it completely, without hope for restoration, is to make the body eternally crippled. It is to prolong its life, but never to save it completely, excellently, and wholly. It is even worse when the nation destroys its conscience, its spirit (although, we may note, conscience is always the first victim of misguided will). But as it has been said, a particular evil, the evil that happened accidentally to a particular agent, could never be an evil in general, i.e., could never be a “supreme” evil of fatal proportions, because whatever the particular agent does accidentally, this could not change the universal natural order that melts all accidents into the “furnace” of “pure gold.” So, Jesus was sentenced to death, Jewish people were destroyed, but not completely, as the death of Jesus for Jews has turned, eventually, and super-naturally, into a life of Christ for all. “Destroyed by the patriotism of one nation,” Soloviev says, “Christ is risen for all nations and commanded His disciples, “Go and take disciples of all nations.”[12] This is nothing but a great example of the Divine natural order that brings all agents and societies to one, natural for them, state of all-unity.

“So? Does Christianity abolish nationality?” Soloviev asks. “No,” he says, “rather, it preserves it. Nationality is not abolished, but nationalism is.”[13] Nationality forms the parts of the organism of humanity. Different nationalities perform different functions in this “organism.” “Christianity, abolishing nationalism, saves nations, for supra-national does not mean sous-national.” And Soloviev explains that it is said “Only he, who lays down his life will preserve it, and he who saves his life will lose it,” (Matt. 16:25) so a nation that desires to preserve its life through a “narrow and exclusive nationalism,” will lose it, and “only by laying all its life [that is by accepting its calling of service] into the supra-national cause of Christ will a nation preserve it.”[14] The “supra-national cause of Christ” is the natural direction of every living organism towards fulfillment into an ever expanding unity and co-naturality.

“In the basis of any society,” Semyon Frank writes in his Religious Foundations of Society (1925), “lays the elementary fact, or principle, of solidarity, the immanent unity of many, the co-belonging of individual people to a single ‘we.'”[15] “We,” Frank argues, is the ultimate source of every relation between “I” and “Thou.” In life, if there is no “we,” there won’t be any communication, any sociality, any “I” and “Thou.” In order to have “I” and “Thou,” there should be, necessarily, “We.” There should be some common sense of co-belonging, of unity and equality between individuals. All theories that promote any form of communion on the basis of individualistic egoistic will, Frank says, are “fallacies.” “Solidarity,” that is what we call “we,” is absolutely necessary for the existence of communion, of sociality. Every communion presupposes some understanding that my fate is somehow related to your fate, that my action somehow reflects, changes, and impacts your action and life. Sociality presupposes the existence and consciousness of an organic inter-dependence.

But Frank says that solidarity is not the only principle of sociality. The communion is based also on another, in a certain sense opposite principle: the principle of personal freedom and independence of the individual “I.” This individual “I,” Frank argues, is the “sole motor of social life.” It is so because social life depends on the will and actions of individual “Person,” the “I.” There is no sociality or communion in a state of slavery or under the coercive power of an autocratic order. There are no “persons” in slavery and coercion. Whatever the arguments for the “necessary” coercion are, “discipline” or “pressure” are of ever lesser degree in value and social effectiveness than the “spontaneous source of power that is coming from the depths of human spirit.”[16] Man is an “image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:27) and cannot be treated or transformed into a “thing or mechanical power.” That’s why socialism, Frank says, that tries to “replace” the individual will with an abstract “collective will,” and so to make every person a part of an uniform collective “mass,” is a “senseless” and stupid idea. Socialism has this “insane and sacrilegious dream” to force man to reject his freedom, his unique “I,” and become “a screw in the social machine.”[17] It is clear that if man is stripped off of his human image, the image of divine freedom, he could not and would never be a real member and participant in the life of society; he would rather be a “domesticated animal.” Frank concludes that socialism, as with every similar regime, that tries to make people abandon their freedom and identity for the good of some abstract collectivity, is doomed to failure.

All this leads us to another conclusion—that every society should somehow rely on both “solidarity” and the “freedom of individual ‘I’.”[18] “We” and “I,” Frank says, are primary principles and despite that, or precisely because of that, since they are two but not one, there is tension between them. From this tension arises the constant conflict between “solidarity and freedom,” between “sociality and personality.” The principle of sociality, although impossible without the respect for the human person and ultimately depending on social individual action, “feels” individual freedom as a threat to itself, while the principle of freedom “feels” unification under a social whole as a danger for the preservation of the self. This is the source of the constant conflict between “despotism and anarchy,” a conflict that Niebuhr wanted to resolve with his “Christian realist” political philosophy.[19]

semyon frank (1877 - 1950)

Semyon Frank 91877 – 1950)

But the conflict is a result not so much of some error or paradox in the nature of society, but of the “falsehood” in political conceptions such as the “liberal” and “democratic” theories of society. Neither the “rights of man” nor the “will of people” nor any other secular political concept could serve as a basis of human society. It is so because the one contradicts the other: the “rights of the human person” as a principle of society, if not religiously grasped, contradicts the fundamental primacy of the principle of social unity, while the “will of the people,” as an absolute social and political imperative, as an expression and confirmation of sovereign power, rejects the primacy of the principle of personality. Frank’s solution to this tension, that is the Christian solution, is in his argument of the necessity and existence of a “third” fundamental principle, the first and most basic one that affirms the value of “all human life—personal and social.”[20] This principle is found and expressed in the command “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37) The tragedy, especially the tragedy of the modern time, is that man thinks that this first principle and command is not really necessary for the construction of social life. However, Franks says, the reality established by God “does not ask what man thinks of it, and what man imagines for himself.”[21] The “actual basis of social life,” Frank concludes, is the service of God; it is to perform one’s moral duty of service, which is practically the equal consideration of both personality and society.

How exactly is this “consideration” possible? From the point of view of personal freedom, only self-constraint could preserve social life. Self-constraint means not the constraint of man’s natural inclinations, but the limitation of man’s egoistic phantasms that blur the significance of others, that do not permit respect to be given to any authority except the dominion of the self. Duty is practically doing what ought to be done naturally, according to the social nature of man. Thus man has no any other “natural right” except the right to fulfill his social duty, to be social, an image of a Trinitarian God. It is written, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” (Gen. 1:26) that is, that man is not a reflection of a monistic, autocratic whole; he is rather an image of us, of some mystical “we,” of a communion. The destruction of communion, therefore, means a destruction of man. And the formula of communion has always three basic elements. In the Divine, it is Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit: in human society in general, it is God, myself, and my neighbour; in the family, it is husband, wife, and a child; in political society, it is people, church, and government; in political and social theory, it is the triad of freedom, duty, and rights; and finally, in the Church, it is Christ, I, and we, together in flesh and spirit.

The first duty of man, according to Frank, is his duty to God. The duty to God is, as it has been said, service in truth, acting both consciously and led by intuition according to the true nature of self and humanity. Society, therefore, should not ask man to sacrifice himself or perform his duty under the authority of some abstract “will of people.” On the contrary, Christianity, through its teaching, should remind individuals and society that they are not alone, that there is a third principle that consists them both in itself, and this one principle is God, whose will, being universal and all-encompassing, is sovereign, and that this will was revealed in a law that says that each man should love God and neighbour as yourself, and that each action should be in conformity to this law in order to be a truthful and just action.

The consciousness that social life is built not on “autocratic arbitrariness of men,” but “on agreement with the superhuman, divine principle of genuine Truth,” leads necessarily to the sense of respect to authority.[22] All social power, Frank argues, should rest on “voluntary concession in service.” It should be understood, with mind and intuition, that the service is different for different people. That not all could be teachers, or rulers, or masters, but all could teach themselves, rule themselves, or master only through their natural, God given talent, and that the true dominion and power do not have anything to do with the autocratic dominance over others. All power rests on authority, but it should be clear that power “is not authority because it is power,” but is power “because it is authority.” And we have already explained at the beginning of this essay what authority means. Thus, the final task and justification of every political order, of every constitution, Frank asserts, is not the “free manifestation” of the autocratic will of people, of permitting them to live “as they like,” but in this that it provides a genuine, fruitful, and skillful governance that places “every man on his right (natural) place.”[23] This means, as we have already said, an order built on respect to the natural hierarchy. And Frank is convinced that as much the political order reflects the natural hierarchy of human social organism as many people would have the opportunity to follow their true calling and service. Aristotle didn’t give a clear answer to the goal of politics except the most general aim of happiness. But happiness is difficult to define, Aristotle admitted. But Christianity has a definition: in social order and politics, happiness, or blessedness, is everyone to receive the chance to follow his God given talent and vocation and flourish.

Like Berdyaev, Frank defends the “principle of aristocratism,” of nobility.[24] He is a realist, and he understands that every “majority” is ruled by a minority; that there is no living organism without a ruling part having the specific function (and service) of keeping the whole intact and just, to prevent the collapse of unity and order. Human “masses” are by nature chaotic and passive, they could spontaneously arise and spontaneously disintegrate, if left completely to themselves; but in social matters, Christianity is in accordance with the Aristotelian teleological hylomorphism, which does not accept the blind rule of chance and the caprices of the aimless spontaneity. The rule of one, Frank says, is natural; hierarchy is natural, and the aristocratic principle of minority, of the “I,” if you like, is rooted in the very principle of authority.

Authority and hierarchy do not contradict the idea of equality. The only equality, Frank notes, is equality under God.[25] United under the Divine principle, solidarity and freedom, society and person, are in balance, equal and in complete harmony, as the person is primary to society, but impossible without it. There are two types of human equality, Frank says, 1) equality under God, where all are equal in weakness and humility, and 2) equality in dignity and duty, where all are elected for service. All are elected for free service and participation in the work of God, no one is excluded from his or her particular and unique place in Creation, even the stillborn or severely ill have their dignity and supreme aim and value. Through our equal dignity, best revealed in our proper calling, we are part of the hierarchy of being. And every one should be convinced that he, himself, as existing immanently in himself, then in the world, and ultimately in God, is the one and primary principle of all existence, but existence always in communion, never in isolation. Everyone should know, and, in fact, knows it intuitively, that if he is not now, at this very moment, then no one is, and that once being born, everyone becomes first, first even before that that was before him, and this makes him understand, again intuitively, that if no one is, then he would not be, too. That’s why nobody should grumble against the right, dignity and primacy of each living, individual person, because it is written, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt. 20:16) Through our being and vocation, through our creation and fact of existence, God made of us authority, made us forever primary to all and to everything, even to Himself, that’s why He died for us, to show us this great truth, and in this truth is our greatest dignity: that if we die and perish, all will die and perish along with us, even God Himself. Christian faith is the bearer of this truth, the truth of the inviolable dignity of human person, and it brings it to all spheres of life, including politics.


[1] Soloviev, Vladimir. Morality and Politics in Politics, Law, Morality: Essays by V.S.Soloviev, ed. and tr. Vladimir Woznik, p.6

[2] ibid. p.7

[3] ibid. p.8 In his excellent Three Essays on the Russian Icon, Sovoviev’s follower Prince Evgenii Trubetskoy writes, “When on the world stage appears a nation-predator that exhaust all of its power on the technique of annihilation, all others in their self-defence are forced to imitate the predator […] All are concerned to acquire greater, not smaller, jaw than the opponent. In higher or lesser degree, all are forced to take for themselves the image of the beast […] Living nations devour each other, armored for universal annihilation—this is the ideal that periodically triumphs in history.” (Trubetskoy, Evgenii. 1917 Umozrenye v Kraskah: Tri Ocherka o Russkoi Icone, Contemplation in Colors: Three Essays on the Russian Icon); my translation. 

[4] ibid. p.9

[5] Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Contra Gentiles, in Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Vol. II, ed. Anton C. Pegis, Random House, 1945.

[6] For a good discussion on this question, see Semyon L. Frank’s The Debacle of Idols (Krushenie Kumirov). In this short book, based on lectures for the society of the Russian Christian Students (1923, Berlin), Frank writes, “In any concrete [political] order there is neither absolute good nor absolute evil […] I cannot live for any political or social order. I do not believe anymore that I can find in it absolute good and absolute truth. On the contrary, I see and I know that […] all who believed in monarchy or republic, in socialism or private property, state power or anarchy, in aristocracy and democracy as absolute good and absolute value—all of them, desiring good, created evil, searching for truth, found injustice and untruth.” (Ch. 2, The Idol of Politics); my translation. One may notice that Frank’s view, that is genuinely Christian, is slightly different from Aristotle’s opinion in Book 2:1 of the Nicomachean Ethics. In his Ethics, Aristotle argues that the “legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss the mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.” Here Aristotle is right to argue that the legislator (and state order in general) has for its aim to produce lawfulness, if not true virtue, among wicked citizens (subjects), but it should be clearly stated that this aim could not be achieved, if the legislator himself—a monarch or a parliament—is not good. In other words, the legislator needs, as much as the citizens, an education in “good habits” and this could become possible only if he follows another, even higher source of authority. This source, in our argument, is the non-coercive Christian teaching.

[7] “Frank explains the possibility for intuition pointing out that individual being is rooted in the Absolute as “All-unity,” which puts every object in immediate contact with us before any [positive] knowledge, “since we are merged with it not through conscience but in our very being.” The abstract logical knowledge is possible only because of our intuition in this All-encompassing Unity.” N.O.Lossky, Istoria Russkoi Filosofii (History of Russian Philosophy), Akademicheskii Proekt, 2011. p.352. See also S.L.Frank Predmet Znania. Ob Osnovah i Predelah Otvlechennogo Znania.

[8] “[…] the cognitive acts of the angels are uniform: for they receive the knowledge of truth from one fount of truth; namely, God. Their cognition is also immutable, because they see directly the pure truth about things by a simple intuition, not by a discursive movement from effects to their causes or the reverse. It is even incapable of defect, since they directly intuit the very natures, or quiddities, of things, and understanding cannot err in regard to such objects, just as sense cannot err in regard to proper sensibles. We, however, make guesses as to the quiddities of things from their accidents and effects. Therefore, our intellectual knowledge must be regulated by means of the angels’ knowledge.” Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Ch. 91:5

[9] Visheslavtsev, Boris. Religia i Bezreligioznost (Religion and Irreligion) in Problemoi Russkago Religioznago Soznania (Problems of Russian Religious Consciousness). 1924. YMCA Press p.12

[10] Consult Aquinas’ arguments in The Summa Contra Gentiles, Ch II., (pp.5-18) in Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Vol. II, ed. Anton C. Pegis, Random House, 1945.

[11] Soloviev, Vladimir. Morality and Politics in Politics, Law, Morality: Essays by V.S.Soloviev, ed. and tr. Vladimir Woznik, p. 10

[12] ibid.p.11

[13] ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Frank, Semyon. 1925. Religioznie Osnovii Obstestvennosti (Religious Foundations of Society), Ch.1. See also Frank’s The Spiritual Foundations of Society (Ohio University Press, 1987)

[16] Ch.2

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid. Ch.3

[19] See for example his masterpiece The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941).

[20] Frank, Semyon. 1925. Religioznie Osnovii Obstestvennosti (Religious Foundations of Society), Ch.3

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. Ch.5

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid. Ch.6

[25] Ibid. Ch.7

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: What is Christian Politics? (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: What is Christian Politics (Part II) | Reaction Times

  2. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkaton 1/20/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores

  3. This is an important point “reason alone and by itself is not capable to formulate the good and natural end, it needs the help of intuition. The right reason, for me, is namely the reason acting along with intuition. Intuition and reason are complementary.”

    I wrote an article “Philosophy and The Crisis of the Modern World” that outlines Guenon’s thoughts on this subject. And another description of Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary.”

    Someone once stated that the Enlightenment was such a great boon because it eliminated appeals to intuition and tradition. He couldn’t be more wrong that that would be a benefit to thinking or society.

    In footnote 7 you write: “Frank explains the possibility for intuition pointing out that individual being is rooted in Absolute as “All-unity,” which puts every object in immediate contact with us before any [positive] knowledge, “since we are merged with it not through conscience but in our very being.” The abstract logical knowledge is possible only because of our intuition in this All-encompassing Unity.”

    This had been my point of view until I read Berdyaev. I had thought that love is connection and since we participate in a spiritual unity of some kind, then love is merely a recognition of reality and living in truth. However, Berdyaev points out that true love has to be voluntary – something I had been saying to my students in another context. Any kind of forced connection is antithetical to love. For the human personality to exist in communion with others is an ideal that must involve a voluntary and free reaching out to others. Anything else reflects the determinism of objective reality. Love and the mystery of freedom are inextricably bound up together. Thus love and subjectivity is the nature of the realm of the spiritual – though exactly what this means concerning our metaphysical relationship with God I am still somewhat unsure.

  4. This is exactly how I read Berdyaev. Intuition, but also a free, not determined by necessity relation to the Other (God, neighbour, and creation). Berdyaev, following perhaps Nesmelov, argues that the greatest secret of the world is man himself (something that was repeated by Niebuhr in the opening sentence of his “Nature and Destiny of Man”; btw, Niebuhr knew Berdyaev well, and Berdyaev had his sympathies to Niebuhr as well). The revelation of man is the revelation of the “last secret.” God, Berdyaev argues, waits for man to reveal what man is. Man, himself, waits to see, what he is. And this revelation is, in my opinion, first an act of outreaching, of free will, if you like, towards the other, and of communion (love). It is also, what Berdyaev says, a “creative act.” In the truly creative act there is no compulsion, and the truly creative act is not an act of self-enclosure, but rather of self-exposure, of revelation and relation.

    I think that you sensed very well that there is a kind of divergence in the perspectives of Frank and Berdyaev. A couple a days ago, I read a piece of Frank, published in one of the last issues of the edited by Berdyaev journal Put (No.60, year 1939). It was on the “Christian Socialism.” In an article that followed Frank’s piece, Berdyaev accepted most of Frank’s observations, but did not agree with the main argument: that improvement of society is possible in history at all. Frank was influenced by Soloviev, and Soloviev, in his early work, believed in the realization of the Kingdom of God in history. This Berdyaev could not accept, because history for him is a process of necessity. Berdyaev, like Niebuhr, was a kind of a “pessimist” in regard to the capacity of this creation to improve, to become perfect. Christianity is political, there is a “Christian politics”, as I argue in the essay above, but this does not mean that it could bring a final (social) salvation; the final salvation is ultimately in the “new heavens and earth,” and it is not a historical or political event; it is not, properly speaking, a process of improvement of the creation towards the Good. It is a “creative act” where the new, that cannot even be imagined now, replaces completely the old. Berdyaev bases his opinion on the Biblical verses; for example, “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (Rev. 21:1)… So, yes, there were differences between Berdyaev and Frank.


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