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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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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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

How We Inherit & Propagate the Fall; & How We Can Begin to Stop

The Fall is at bottom an error about the relative importance of our selves versus God. It occurs when we put first in our lives anything other than God – who is, of course, by definition for everything whatever the most important thing of all. When we put God first, everything else then takes its proper place in our affections and attentions, and our wills are not deflected from their true and proper course. Then we give everything other than God its proper due, and justice prevails; so then does peace. Our lives go rather well, then, all things considered.

But whenever we dethrone God in our hearts, we mess up our judgement of things, and so deflect our will from its rightful course. So doing, we ruin the whole shooting match, even if only subtly. We cannot then but injure our fellow creatures, by mistreating them – whether or not advertently.

To dethrone God in our hearts is in one way or another to enthrone ourselves. It is to put our judgement about what is important, and thus our will toward our own desires that by our deformed judgements have themselves been deformed, ahead of his.

To dethrone God in our hearts is to be selfish.

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Christian Soteriology Proper Forestalls Specious Holiness Spirals

We can’t work our way into Heaven, for finity is incapable of infinity. Indeed, we cannot achieve anything greater than ourselves, whatever; but only, rather, what is lesser than we. So, Heaven is given to us gratuitously. Our work consists only in accepting its invitation; in wu wei.

So then, there is a difference between interior holiness spirals and exterior holiness spirals. The former are done in secret, and in service of true spiritual ends, so as to accept the invitation of the Logos; whereas the latter are done publicly, and for purposes of social advantage. As essentially worldly, exterior holiness spirals partake the Arms Race to the Degenerate Bottom. They are motivated by the urge to be accepted and approved by the mob. So do they accept the conditions of the mob, and instantiate it.

The Pharisee is an agent of the mob.

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Naturalism: A Search for Infinity Among the Numbers

It is obvious that all the things that pass away do indeed pass away. It is therefore silly to search among the things that pass away for something that does not. It is even sillier to conclude from the necessary failure of that search that there are no things that do not pass away.

That would be like searching for infinity among the numbers, and having failed to find it, concluding that there is no such thing as infinity.

A Concrete Exemplification of the Inexorable Internal Logic of the Fall

To my recent post on the internal logic of the Fall, in which I argued that under that logic the Fall was liberation from a cruel delusion that YHWH is anyone special, and so a turn toward hard good solid real truth, in which its advocates, both human and demonic, as basically nice guys, could not but do their best to convince us to follow them in their rebellion against YHWH and his Father El Elyon, our loyal leftist atheist commenter and friend a.morphous had this to say, God bless and keep and save the poor man:

Maybe we differ [about the Fall] because you think it would be better for it not to have happened. I disagree that this is desirable, but I don’t really have an argument, it’s more a matter of esthetics. Sinless and perfect humans would not be very interesting, and would be less than fully human.

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The Inexorable Internal Logic of the Fall

The logic of his rebellion compels Satan to seek our damnation too. He has no real choice in this matter; he is doomed by his own decision to seek our doom as well. For, as a rejection of the Divine Limit per se, rebellion once undertaken cannot by its own mere lights thenceforth see its way through to anything other than the utmost rebellion of all creatures. The rejection of the Limit is effectually the will that no thing at all should ever reckon it, or therefore reck its rod. If the Limit is false, then to reckon it is to err, and so to Fall into injustice and ignobility. From Lucifer’s perspective, then, anything other than his own Fall is itself the Fall, and a rebuke thereto, so an insult, and therefore an unwarranted injury.

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Of Possible Interest

My essay A Westerner Reads the Koran appears at the Gates of Vienna website.  In it, I offer a type of reader-response critique of the second surah of the Koran.  That surah bears the title “The Cow,” which possibly entails a rather oblique allusion to the episode of the Golden Calf in Exodus or, as a scholarly footnote suggests, to a passing reference to an occasion of heifer-sacrifice overseen by Moses, as recounted in Numbers.  I offer an extract:

The Western layman approaching the Koran for the first time must experience something like befuddlement.  Supposing that the layman possesses a good education, including knowledge of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and the core classics of the Greek and Roman worlds, the Koran will strike him as something like the opposite of that with which he enjoys familiarity.  Take the Bible’s Genesis: It deals in straightforward narrative, as does its Near Eastern precursor texts such as the Babylonian Creation or Enuma Elish.  The very opening words of Genesis invoke the concept of a beginning, which implies in advance both a middle-part and an end.  The same is true of the Greek poet Hesiod’s account of the generations of the gods – Elemental, Titanic, and Olympian – in his Theogony.  After Hesiod explains his own function as an interpreter of the lore concerning these things, he launches into his genealogical story whose episodes follow one another in comprehensible sequence: Once again, a beginning, a middle-part, and an end.  In much the same way, the New Testament follows the Old Testament so that, taken together, they constitute a unified tale.  The events in Homer’s Odyssey similarly follow in a comprehensible way the events in Homer’s Iliad.  The essential seriality, as it might be called, of Western narrative and exposition contributes mightily to their seriousness and comprehensibility.  Both the Old Testament and the New also sort out their chapters so as to keep non-narrative prose separate from narrative prose.  This consideration helps the reader.  To whomsoever compiled the Koran these principles meant nothing.  The Koran lards non-narrative exposition into its narratives – promiscuously and confusingly from a readerly point of view.  A properly chronological narrative can, by a difficult labor, be reconstructed from the Koran’s chapters or surahs, borrowing the history of prophecy from the Old Testament, but the naïve Western reader who proceeds from one surah to another will encounter no orderly arrangement of episodes such as he might expect in the Bible or Homer.

Berdyaev on Culture and Christianity

Berdyaev 05 Fate (Cover)

Current Edition of The Fate of Man

The reality that modernity is a crisis and that it also causes crises, severe ones, in the cultural and civilizational fabric dawned on perceptive observers at the turn of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  Joseph de Maistre in the Francophone world and Edmund Burke in Anglophone offer themselves as early outstanding analysts of emergent modernity.  Their work constitutes the bedrock of a steady tradition of anti-modern criticism that has, somewhat paradoxically, accompanied modernity for more than two centuries, becoming ever more acute as modernity increased in its perniciousness.  The first half of the Twentieth Century produced a number of outstanding commentators in this vein – not least that Colossus Oswald Spengler, but also René Guénon, Julius Evola, José Ortega, Simone Weil, Paul Valéry, and Eric Voegelin, to name but a few.  And that is to count only the essayists.  Poets and novelists add themselves to the tally.  Another important name that wants a place in the list belongs to Nicolas Berdyaev (1874 – 1948), whose curriculum vitae heightens the plausibility of his critique.  Born of the minor aristocracy, Berdyaev in his youth associated himself with Marxism and the Bolsheviks even to the extent of supporting the October Revolution.  The regime permitted Berdyaev to teach and to publish, but the brutality of Lenin’s new order swiftly alienated the philosopher, who began to criticize the state and its actions from a specifically Christian point of view.  At one point the police arrested Berdyaev but then released him.  Berdyaev continued his criticism until finally Lenin exiled him in 1922.  He went first to Berlin, but the chaos of the early Weimar years made it impossible for him to work.  in 1924 he traded Berlin for Paris where he remained.  Berdyaev lived by writing and lecturing.  His authorship offers itself both as an intrinsically useful assessment of the modern deformation and as a complement to the work of those other, mainly Western European writers named above.  Berdyaev possessed a perspective all his own.

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