Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Christianity and Anarchism, Part IV: Problemata

As I hinted at in my last, I do not regard the practical difficulties of Anarchy as necessarily upsetting the theory; for the theory is precisely one of a society ordered on completely different principles -- and so its impracticability according to the principles we now employ is, in a sense, wholly irrelevant. And it should be said that organically arranged, truly self-governing societies have in fact existed in history, that being what most anarchists mean by Anarchy. (The society of the Guarani people in central South America during the era of the Jesuit reductions is a tolerably good example of an effectively self-governing society; you can watch The Mission if you like your history with a side of Jeremy Irons, as I do.)

However, those practical difficulties are there, and hence have to be dealt with. I will handle a few of the basic problems here, whose ramifications are more complicated than I really have the expertise for.

1. What Sort of Anarchy?

This might seem like a weird question; how many kinds of chaos can there be? Well, to begin with, Anarchy isn't synonymous with chaos, as I've discussed: it means organically developed order, as opposed to an order impressed upon society from without, by compulsion.

This leads naturally to the question of what that organically developed order will look like -- what principles it will develop according to. Obviously, that's going to depend upon one's philosophy of man; and that's where it all comes to pieces. Not in the sense that Anarchy, as a theory, becomes unsustainable, but in the sense that there are lots of different philosophies of man than can get plugged into an Anarchist framework.

So, for instance, most forms of Anarchy are descended, ultimately, from the French Revolution and the varying reactions to it, from every class and political perspective (just as many forms of the classical Liberal movement owe something to the same event, to say nothing of conservatism in its specifically European form). But two of my closest Anarchist friends are Anarcho-Capitalists, more closely related to the Minarchist movement or the thought of Ayn Rand than to any other school of Anarchy, and having developed from completely different premises and largely, if not entirely, unconnected to the mainstream Anarchist movement -- the majority of which utterly repudiates Capitalism.

Well, alright, let's limit ourselves to the mainstream, to the extent that a movement like Anarchism has a mainstream. Do we repudiate civilization as such, like the Anarcho-Primitivists do, or is that unworkable? Is it worth sacrificing our artistic and technological advances for the sake of that kind of liberty -- did we, perhaps, make a mistake in the first place by becoming civilized at all? If not, can Anarchy and civilization be reconciled at all? And if they can -- well, for the purpose of the discussion, we've set Capitalism aside, so are we going to go fully collectivist and become Anarcho-Communists or join the IWW*? Or might the Anarcho-Syndicalist perspective, which seeks to obtain self-government through unionization, be more effective? For that matter, if we're already Anarchists, can we even have a discussion about sub-genres, or is that buying into a historical metanarrative that allows people to write like this for hours?

These questions may well be answerable. But, without a clear philosophy of man, especially of man as a political being -- that is, man as a being who relates to other men in society, and not on an exclusively personal basis -- the answers will be perpetually disputable. The Church has been at pains to prevent wrong understandings of the nature of man from gaining acceptance, most notably in the social encyclicals of the late nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries; but even if her philosophy of man and his rights were wholly explicit, the prudential question of what system best respects those rights remains a question we will have to work out for ourselves, for the Church has not been invested with temporal power.

The same difficulty, of course, can be raised about any and every general approach to society -- including democracy.

2. How is an Anarchist society supposed to work? Spontaneous order sounds great and all, but come on, criminals aren't going to go along with that, and with no government there's no one to stop them.

Whether the government stops criminals is an interesting question, with regard to which I'd be interested to know the views of those who were governed by Rod Blagojevich, or those who were sentenced by the court of Mark Ciavarella.

At least cops are always good, although I'm kind of puzzled why this 
one is spraying what I assume is orange Fanta on these student protesters.

However. Strictly speaking, that is a reason not to trust the government to be perfect, and not necessarily an argument against government as such. I actually regard all arguments for Anarchism on the basis of actual state corruption as intrinsically flawed and useless, because they violate the basic logical principle abusus non tollit usum (the abuse of something does not abolish its proper use).

My own view, which owes something to Anarcho-Syndicalism, is that a community that is small enough to be genuinely Anarchist (i.e., self-governing) will correspondingly be small enough to deal with its own criminals as it sees fit -- probably by either restitution or exile.**

"Help! Help! I'm bein' repressed!"

Which leads into another difficulty ...

3. What about wars?

I'm against them.

4. But what if another country that isn't Anarchist declares war on your tiny one?

Well, life will probably suck for us in that event. Self-defense may not, practically speaking, be possible. I am not as pessimistic about this actually happening as I might be; some extremely small countries that have declared themselves perpetually neutral have, thus far, done okay. But, unless Anarchy were to become a world-wide phenomenon, there would be a risk inherent here.

That being said -- having a government is no security against being attacked, or conquered for that matter, as we in America have occasion to know.

For example, this happened.

Every society is temporary; every arrangement of society is flawed or, at best, vulnerable; all will eventually perish before the King of kings and Lord of lords. Looking for a society that can sustain itself forever is a waste of energy.

5. On that "King of kings" subject -- what about Scripture? For instance: "There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."

Romans 13, and several other passages in the Epistles (not to mention the Gospels, where Jesus' attitude toward the government seems to consist chiefly in indifference but with a curious fondness for Roman soldiers), are most certainly an embarrassment to any attempt to synthesize Christianity and Anarchy. I've thought a great deal about these passages, and about how I can hold the political beliefs I do and at the same time profess the Catholic religion.

A few points deserve making, though: first, that one can scarcely suppose that this is a categorical acceptance of literally everything the state does. Even apart from the insane implications of such a view, St. Paul can hardly be supposed to have meant that Christians ought to sacrifice to the Emperor simply because the state ordered them to; it was precisely such refusal that lost him his head.

Second, in its original context, this was written to a Church that was just coming into existence. The Crucifixion had only happened about thirty years earlier when this was penned, at the outside. Getting embroiled in mutiny and sedition would have destroyed the Church before she even got started. It is possible -- I do not insist that it is the case, but it is possible -- that this and similar passages of Scripture were written with a partly provisional outlook, giving the Church the tools she needed to survive the period of official oppression; rather as her active opposition to slavery took some time to develop, even though the primitive Christians did treat slavery as a basically bad thing from the very beginning.

Third, these passages deal with the authorities that do in fact exist. They say nothing of how authorities ought to come into being; and if that question has any meaning at all, then the possibility of Christian resistance to a so-called authority that has erected itself on an unjust basis opens up again. Taken with full rigor, the interpretation of these passages that destroys Anarchism would equally destroy any and every kind of resistance to the state, no matter the cause, to the point of actually believing in cold prose that might makes right.

Lastly, this is part of the reason that I am also a pacifist (part, not the whole). I am as opposed to sedition as I am to the state it revolts against. I don't think that any rebellion against the state is worth carrying out except the rebellion of conscience, which, if it is both authentic and well-reasoned, must (in my view) be non-violent. That, however, gets us into questions of means that I haven't the space to do justice to here.

6. Okay. Let's say we've figured everything out and it's totally workable: self-governing societies where men live peaceably and don't attack each other, so small and so amiable that there is no need for government. Will people ever actually do that?

Ah ... and here the sole real objection to Anarchy is manifest. Not that men cannot make it work, but that they will not. All the other objections were to this or that circumstance or difficulty; this is to whether Anarchy can succeed in incarnating itself at all.

And you know what? It probably can't, because people probably won't.

This, however, puts Anarchy in a very curious position, to my mind. I don't think that it destroys Anarchy. For, like Communism, it is one of those things which people often fall over themselves to say would be lovely if only it could be made to work. And that itself puts me in mind of something else, something that people often lightly love and lightly break, something that has always been declared utterly impracticable:

"Now in truth while it has always seemed natural to explain St. Francis in the light of Christ, it has not occurred to many people to explain Christ in the light of St. Francis. ... Nobody would be surprised to read that Brother Juniper did run then after the thief that had stolen his hood, beseeching him to take his gown also; for so St. Francis had commanded him. Nobody would be surprised if St. Francis told a young noble, about to be admitted to his company, that so far from pursuing a brigand to recover his shoes, he ought to pursue him to make a present of his stockings. We may like or not the atmosphere these things imply; but we know what atmosphere they do imply. ... There is in it something of a gentle mockery of the very idea of possessions; something of a hope of disarming the enemy by generosity; something of a humorous sense of bewildering the worldly with the unexpected; something of the joy of carrying an enthusiastic conviction to a logical extreme. ... It seems reasonable to infer that if it was this spirit that made such strange things possible in Umbria, it was the same spirit that made them possible in Palestine."***

I think the same attitude that St Francis applied to possessions can equally be applied to power. Such a lightheartedly mystical approach to something as practical as politics can easily be dismissed as naive idealism, wishful thinking, unable to effect any real change. I hope I may be excused for observing that this same naive idealism is the only thing that has ever effected real change. Idealists are the only people who get anything done; practical people are too busy compromising with one another, until all their aims are frustrated, so that, while none of them have gotten what they want, they may at least take comfort in the fact that nobody else did either.

But if we bring up practicality, I can't help noticing in my study of history that all the most enduring movements, political movements included, have sprung precisely from some idea or other that was totally unrealistic, and not infrequently concerned with another world altogether than the present one. The slave trade was ended by men whose eyes were fixed on God, not those whose eyes were fixed on the earth. The French Revolution was accomplished by the mass of the people upon one of the most illustrious, ancient, and rooted institutions of all time: the French monarchy. Even the explicitly and dogmatically materialist ideology of Marxism was victorious, where and while it was victorious, because its sensibilities were millenarian; its compromises with practicality, like glasnost, led to its final crumbling.

And it is not too extreme to cite the example of the single oldest continuous institution on the face of the earth: the Papacy. The very idea of a single head of a universal Church, a mere man appointed to be the Vicar of Christ, is preposterously impractical -- knowing what men are, it should have broken down a hundred times over; indeed, in the wicked and stupid Popes of the early Middle Ages or the Renaissance, it did break down, utterly. And there it is, still, seated upon the glory of two thousand years, having survived the wreck of Rome and the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation and the violence of Napoleon and Cadorna, the reigns of Boniface VIII and Alexander VI: as mystically continuous as the phoenix.

What's the point of all this? That there is nothing -- nothing -- less practical than pragmatism. Only by fixing our eyes on an ideal can anything be accomplished. And, in the political sphere, you don't get more idealistic than Anarchy. That, far from seeming to me a disadvantage, is the thing that crowns my supposition with conviction.**** If I may quote Chesterton again, applying his words to a different purpose, the idea "has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."

*Easily possessed of the best nickname in politics: the Wobblies. The International Workers of the World, with whom Ven. Dorothy Day was for a time associated, were founded by a Catholic priest (in good standing at the time, though his later record was rather depressing), and somehow -- no one knows how for certain -- got called the Wobblies; the name stuck.

**I'm oldschool. Also I oppose the death penalty, and imprisonment isn't likely to be feasible in a society small enough to be authentically self-governing -- the problem of whether prison is an intrinsically good idea, considering that its solution to crime is to put a bunch of criminals together for long periods of time, is outside the scope of this piece.

***G. K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi, ch. VIII: The Mirror of Christ, pp. 109, 111.

****This may seem inconsistent with my repeated claims that my Anarchism is tentative. It is in one sense -- namely, that I am willing to be talked out of it, if someone can find me a more persuasive theory, or if someone can show me that it is categorically incompatible with Catholicism. Naturally I cannot rule either of those possibilities out; I don't know enough, for one, and I can't predict the future for another -- I don't know what doctrines the Church may some day have to define that might prove me wrong.

1 comment:

  1. " Idealists are the only people who get anything done; practical people are too busy compromising with one another." Love it!