“When kings are kings, and kings are men—
And the lonesome rain is raining!
O who shall rule from the red throne then,
And who shall covet the scepter when—
When the winds are all complaining?”
James Whitcombe Riley, “The Flying Islands of the Night” (1878)
Orthosphere readers a.morphous and Scoot are engaged in a gentlemanly exchange of views in the comment thread of my recent post, their polite back-and-forth enriched with additional comments by Kristor. I have been silent because I have been, for the better part of the past few days, glued to the steering wheel of an automobile. While glued to that steering wheel, I did however brood on certain points that a.morphous and Scoot raised, once going so far as to jot a note as I stiffly hobbled across the hot tarmac of a raucous roadside rest area.
The points on which I particularly brooded concern what a.morphous might call the Orthosphere consensus, those broad points of Orthospherian agreement with which he, a.morphous, so strongly and pertinaciously disagrees. If I were to reduce that consensus to a familiar and homely expression, it is that too many modern thinkers have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and that, in matters of theology, morality and political philosophy, our forefathers were not all villains, fogies or fools. As a corollary, it follows that we Orthospherians also agree that there is much that needs to be said against the ugly and deformed changeling that has been substituted for the baby that those careless modern thinkers threw away.
* * * * *
Here is how a.morphous characterizes the Orthosphere consensus.
“Obviously there are many differences between the Taliban and the orthosphere, but the similarities are interesting and salient: both antimodern, both antifeminist, both advocating cultural uniformity, both advocating, if not theocracy, a strong relationship between the state and religious authority.”
I do not think that this characterization is unfair, although I cannot say the same thing about refusing to capitalize our proper name. There are definitions of antimodern, antifeminist and monocultural that that I, at least, will heartly own; and I will try to explain these definitions in future posts. In this post I will take up the claim that we Orthospherians advocate theocracy, or something not so very dissimilar to theocracy.
This is partly true, but it is certainly no more true of us Orthospherians than it is of a.morphous himself. Every political system requires a supernatural sanction, and every political system therefore requires a sacerdotal class of oracles, teachers, and apologists. Members of this class are reasonably described as theocrats, even when their supernatural sanction does not descend from anything like a God. Buddhism, for instance, is often said to be an atheistic religion, and yet traditional Tibetan Buddhism is just as often said to have been the world’s greatest example of theocracy. When Auguste Comte wrote his proposal for an entirely scientific society in 1848, he prudently furnished that society with scientific theocrats:
“Henceforth all true men of science will rise to the higher dignity of philosophers, and by so doing will necessarily assume something of the sacerdotal character . . . . Thus the philosophers of the future become priests of Humanity.”*
We must suppose that Comte agreed with de Maistre that,
“All imaginable institutions repose on a religious idea, or they quickly pass away.”**
The political question is not therefore whether there should be theocrats. Every political system has theocrats, in some places claiming to speak for God, and other places claiming to speak for Science, Reason, Justice, Morality, or some other occult and otherwise cryptic authority. The political question for any particular society is, who shall serve as the theocrats and how shall these theocrats relate to the other sources of social power?
* * * *
Every social order must balance and combine the four basic sources of social power that are held by the four basic types of men. These four basic types are Holy Men, Strong Men, Rich Men, and Little Men. In the traditional social order of India, these were the four basic castes of Brahmans who prayed, Kshatriyas who fought, Vaisyas who worked, and Sudras who performed unclean tasks. In the traditional social order of Europe, these were the four basic estates of Clergy who prayed, Noblemen who fought, and Commoners who worked and were divided into the two grades of Masters and Menials
The Holy Men are, of course, the theocrats. Their power is their ability to sanction or censure, bolster or undermine, unify or divide, the other sources of social power. Holy Men do this with words. It makes no difference whether they call themselves priests or philosophers, whether they cluster in lamaseries or universities, whether they speak for God in a church, for Reason in a college, or for “Who We Are” in a syndicated newspaper column. Their function is in every case to sustain or subvert the existing system of status and subordination.
The first Strong Men were warriors, and their power was their ability to reward obedience with plunder and to punish disobedience with pain. In the modern world, politicians are the Strong Men and the law is their sword. Obedience they reward with legal plunder; disobedience they punish with legal pain.
The Rich Men are the bankers and merchant princes—what Marx called the bourgeoise—and their power is their ability to make men prosperous or make men poor. Both Strong Men and Rich Men prefer to have Holy Men on their side, and even Holy Men see the wisdom of being on good terms with the men who hold the sword and the men who hold the purse.
Little Men are not very strong, not very rich, and not very holy; but they have a sort of power because they are so very numerous. They can be whipped into a swarming nuisance by a turbulent Holy Man who turns the mass of Little Men against the Strong Men, the Rich Men, or the Holy Men other than himself. This is why the Little Men are normally pacified with some combination of threats from the Strong Men, goodies from the Rich Men, and flattering words from Holy Men of the established theocracy.
* * * * *
My epigraph asks the pregnant questions “who shall rule” and who shall “covet the scepter.” The answer to the first question is uncertain because the answer to the second question is, very nearly everyone. The Strong Men say that they should rule, and the Money Men, Holy Men and Little Men all say likewise. This is because all men are naturally gripped by an unslakable will to power. Gripped by the will to power, Strong Men clamor to establish an Aristocracy in which Strong Men rule, Rich Men clamor to establish a Plutocracy in which Rich Men rule, Little Men clamor to establish a Democracy in which Little Men rule, and Holy Men clamor to establish a Theocracy in which Holy Men hold the scepter and sit gloating on the throne.
As Thomas Hobbes famously asserted,
“I put it for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”***
St. Augustine called this perpetual and restless desire of power after power libido dominandi, and he agreed with Hobbes that men are by nature slaves to this overmastering lust for mastery. Augustine’s symbol of libido dominandi was the imperial capital of Rome, an “earthly city” that was at the same time splendid, terrifying and doomed.
“I cannot . . . pass over in silence that earthly city which, when it seeks for mastery, though the nations are its slaves, has as its own master that very lust for mastery.”†
In Augustine’s Christian theology, one mark of a Holy Man is that grace has delivered him from his natural slavery to the will to power and ibido dominandi. A Christian Holy Man is a sojourner in the “earthly city,” and is therefore exempt from many of the duties and tolls that lay so heavily on its earthly citizens. In imperial Rome, a Christian Holy Man was a resident alien. His carried the passport and lived as a citizen of the far away “city of God.”
From this we may conclude that Christian Theocracy is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Christian Holy Men can serve as a mere theocrats, and I daresay the Orthosphere consensus is that all our theocrats should be Christian Holy Men; but true Christian Holy Men will not, indeed cannot, clamor to establish a Theocracy in which Holy Men hold the scepter and sit gloating on the throne. This is impossible for the very simple and obvious reason that grace has delivered Christian Holy Men from their natural slavery to the will to power and ibido dominandi.
*) Auguste Comte, A General View of Positivism, trans. J. B. Bridges (1848)
**) Joseph de Maistre, Essay on the Generative Principle of Constitutions (1814)
***) Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
†) St. Augustine, City of God (426)