Christian Anarchists? How politics corrupts our language of relation

More and more often, one hears one’s friends on the Right describe themselves as “anarchists.” “Christian anarchist,” says one. “Tory anarchist,” says another. “Anarcho-capitalist,” say quite a few. But the most daring increasingly call themselves “anarcho-monarchists”—inspired, I suspect, by J.R.R. Tolkien’s now notorious 1943 letter to his son:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate!

The sentiment (yes, sentiment) expressed by Tolkien and shared with great intensity by all “anarcho-monarchists” is that order is nice but government is obnoxious and we should therefore have as little of it as possible.

We all feel that way at times, but the readiness of Christians today to profess “anarchism” says a lot about how frivolous people are when declaring themselves to the world—and about how little they understand about the language of both politics and religion, particularly the Christian religion. Heretofore the word anarchism has been universally understood as the very opposite of the proper Christian regard for government, and heretofore the very opposite of anarchy has been the Christian conception of God.

The Greek root of the word anarchy was deeply meaningful to early Christians. Its basic sense was that of “beginning.” Both the Old Testament and the Gospel of John begin with the words En archē—“In the beginning …” Christ is said in Holy Scripture to be both archē kai telos—“beginning and end.” The Father was said by church fathers to be anarchos, “without beginning,” and for that reason He was also said to be the archē of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. He is the monas archē (“one beginning”) of the Trinity, which is the monas archē of all creation.

As “beginning,” archē also could mean source, origin, first cause, first place, or principle, being often translated into Latin as principium. The Latin princeps (whence prince) corresponds to the Greek archon: Both literally mean “first man” or “first citizen.” Since he who comes first sets the course for others to follow, archē involved a recognition of rank among persons. When applied to politics, it came to mean rule, authority, sovereignty, dominion, or power.

But the ancient Greeks had other words for similar purposes, one of which was kratos. The basic sense of kratos was hardiness or strength. It is, in fact, a cognate of the English word hard, sharing the same Indo-European root. (The Epic and Ionic form of kratos is kartos.) From hardiness or strength, kratos came to mean force over others, and thus also rule, authority, sovereignty, dominion, or power. In both ancient and modern Greek, to kratos means “the state.”

When talking politics, the ancient Greeks often used archē and kratos synonymously, arguing over derivatives like monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, and aristocracy with little regard for the difference of archē and kratos. Yet the difference in the underlying senses of archē and kratos survived into the Byzantine era. In Constantinople, the popular factions or dēmoi known as the Blues and the Greens were each headed by a civil leader called a dēmarchos, responsible for public works, and a military leader called a dēmokratōr, responsible for civil defense. At a higher level, the Church was headed by a patriarchos and the empire by an autokratōr. At the highest level, the two concepts of archē and kratos were united in one person, Jesus Christ, Archpriest and Pantocrator.

The modern West, in its various attempts to re-conceive the theoretical basis of social and political order in the aftermath of the Reformation, has never clearly distinguished archē and kratos. Yet an intuitive awareness of the difference between the recognition of rank and the use of force is evident in the diverse and diverging socio-political perspectives existing today, which can be easily sorted into different corners based on their regard for archē and kratos. Simply put, some people are for both, seeing little difference between them; some people are against both, also seeing little difference between them; and some people are for one but against the other.

The details of these differences have been explained elsewhere (see Eight Ways to Run the Country, Praeger, 2006). Here and now, the only detail worth noting is that those who value archē above kratos are also those with the highest regard for Christianity. This should hardly surprise us, for the Christian God is not a god who sends his faithful out bearing the sword to force all the world into submission. (That’s the Muslim god.) The Christian God gives His Son to give Himself to invite free-willing creatures, made in His image, into thanksgiving.

And what the Christian God wills for us is nothing less that what He Himself demonstrates, for within the Trinity there is also both self-giving and thanksgiving. (Not so for the Muslim god.) The Father gives to the Son all that He has, even His very being; the Son in return gives thanks to the Father, showing his thanks by doing the Father’s will, which is also the Son’s will on account of Their shared being. Between Them, there is no inequality, no mediation, and thus no subordination; there is instead a single essence shared by the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Three are thus each free, equal, fully God, and perfectly one not despite of but because of the “archical” relation of the Son and the Holy Spirit to the Father, from Whom, says St. Gregory of Nazianzus, “flows both the equality and the being of equals.”

It is the equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that makes it inappropriate to describe the Trinity as a “hierarchy,” for hierarchy, as originally conceived and still commonly understood, is based on inequality of some kind, as well as mediation between higher and lower. Yet though the Trinity is not a hierarchy, it is also not an anarchy, without order or distinction. There is a characteristic difference in what the Father and the Son do. They do not change place or take turns as if there were no difference between them. They remain forever true to their relation as Father and Son, never stepping out of the relationship, always consistently showing who they are in what they do for the other.

In the Gospels, there are many things that both the Father and the Son are said to do, but when it comes to giving and giving thanks, their characteristic difference is unmistakable: Not once in Holy Scripture is the Son said to give anything to the Father except thanks, and not once in Holy Scripture is the Father said to thank the Son for anything the Son does. All the giving is done by the Father, and all the thanking is done by the Son. This defines in their relationship. The Father loves the Son by self-giving, as the Archē of the Son; the Son loves the Father by thanksgiving, as the Father’s Eucharistia.

This difference sheds new light on the Son’s prayer to the Father the night before He was betrayed: “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:22) We are accustomed to hearing in these words only an intention of unity among men consistent with unity in God. It never occurs to us that the words “even as we are one” may refer not just to the fact that the Father and the Son are one but also to the way in which They are one: Christ may be expressing His intention that His disciples become one by relating to each other as fathers and sons. If this is what Christ means, then the “glory” given by the Father to the Son and by the Son to the disciples could be these two distinct ways of relating: self-giving and thanksgiving.

Such a reading is not without scriptural support. Elsewhere in Holy Scripture we are given indications that relational distinctions among human persons are in some way analogous to relational distinctions among divine Persons. The very names Father and Son establish an analogy to human fatherhood and sonship. But there is also the enigmatic verse, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27) And then there is the Apostle Paul’s likening of the man and the woman to God and Christ: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3)

The word the Apostle uses for “head” is kephalē, which the Greeks rarely used to mean “lord” or “master” but often used to mean “source.” The Septuagint, in fact, uses kephalē interchangeably with archē to translate the Hebrew word rōsh, which can mean both “head” and “beginning.” The Septuagint even uses archē in Isaiah 9:15 to explain kephalē in Isaiah 9:14. Elsewhere kephalē appears in the mention of the “heads” or “headwaters” of the rivers bounding Eden in Genesis 2:10; in the phrase “head of the corner” (cornerstone) in Psalm 117:22 (also Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, and 1 Peter 2:7); and in the feast name Rosh Hashanah (“head of the year”).

The account of creation in Genesis 2 and 3 also gives evidence that the original relationship of the man and the woman resembled the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son. The man is the source of the woman, as Christ is the source of the man, and as the Father is the source of the Son. As the Father and Son share equally a common divine nature, so the man and woman share equally a common human nature. As the Son receives all that He possesses from the Father, so the woman received all that she possessed from the man, including her flesh and bone, her general and specific names (“woman” in Gen. 2:23, “Life” in Gen. 3:20), the names of the creatures, and the commandments of God. As the Father loves the Son by giving everything to Him, even His own essence, so the man is commanded to love his wife as he would his own body, giving his life for her as Christ gave His life for the Church. (Eph. 5:25-33) And as the Son thanks the Father by doing His will, so the woman is commanded to obey her husband as her head, as also the Church obeys Christ, being the Body of Christ. (Eph.5:22-24, 33)

This is just the first human relationship imitating the relational self-giving and thanksgiving in God. After it come other head-and-body relationships based on archic self-giving—or, we might say, sourceness: parents as sources of life, bosses as sources of income, rulers as sources of safety, and pastors as sources of salvation. Above all, and the model of all, is Jesus Christ, who demonstrates both how to lead and how to follow. Though male, He is the Archetype of both the man and the woman on account of being both the Source of all creation and the Son of God the Father. As the self-giving Source of all creation, He is the model of what some call “servant-leadership.” As the thankful Son of God the Father, He is the model of the dutiful wife, the grateful child, the trusted employee, the law-abiding citizen, and the faithful disciple.

But many today are impatient with all such head-and-body relationships. They demand freedom and equality. They resent rank, precedence, and seniority. They resist “hierarchical” thinking, believing that it devalues individuals and impedes progress. They hate tradition. They flout convention. They not only “question authority” but often act out against it. They “check privilege” wherever possible, insisting, for instance, on saying “female and male” instead of the linguistically logical and natural “male and female.” They regard all “archies” (hierarchy, monarchy, patriarchy) as intolerable tyrannies to be forcibly overthrown and suppressed.

The most extreme among them are so impatient with the existing order that they resort to civil disobedience and even violence to destroy it. That’s the connection between Tolkien’s desired “abolition of control” and the “whiskered men with bombs” like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski who still today choose for themselves the name of anarchist, and rightly so. For the anarchist is a rebel who respects no one as his head and looks to no one as his guide. He believes himself a free spirit, unbeholden to any originating archē and therefore unbound by any governing person, principle, tradition, or order—free to define for himself the nature of reality, choosing his own name, his own rules, even his own gender.

This is the spirit riling the two competing passions of our age, libertine individualism and envious egalitarianism. Both deny the moral relevance of the objective other to the subjective self. Both insist on the self as the point of origin and reference for all definitions of goodness, truth, and justice, in effect replacing the First Person of the Holy Trinity with the selfish first person—the singular “I” in the case of individualism, the plural “we” in the case of egalitarianism.

Anarchism is thus the exact opposite of the Christian way of relating. It is not actually a way of relating but a way of not relating. Its response to all others is rebellion or abandonment, attack or escape. Its model is Lucifer, the Arch Anarchist. Christians who take his name, identifying themselves as “anarchists,” do so thoughtlessly and irresponsibly, and they should stop.


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3 Responses to Christian Anarchists? How politics corrupts our language of relation

  1. The state is the great evil, the destroyer of order, of good, of family and not peaceful anarchist. I decided to write a short reply.

    • Brian Patrick Mitchell says:

      A common characteristic of all leftists is their insistence on externalizing evil: “We” can be trusted to live virtuously in absolute freedom, but “they” won’t let us. Who is “they”? The rich, the white, the male, the Man — or the State. It’s all the same delusion.

  2. Joseph Lipper says:

    Have you considered nomadic hunter-gatherer societies? Usually these societies reject centralized political authority, but instead possess very, very traditional worldviews and ways of doing things. They are very structured societies, but it is an internalized structure, not an externalized one. You can’t have a king without a kingdom, and hunter-gatherers would typically lack both. Rather, they would rely on tribal elders, or shamans, in a form of interpretive leadership that helps keep the tradition alive.

    The Christian parallel to this is the Hebrew people who followed God as nomads in the Sinai desert. They had no earthly king or kingdom, but lived in tents, always on the move, following God in the desert. They were an extremely traditional group as the books of Moses testify. The Prophet Moses brought them the tradition and served as interpreter and judge, but he was not a king.

    It was later that the Hebrew people demanded a king, and God finally gave in to their demands, although it wasn’t His original plan.

    When Christ, the King of the Jews, is born on earth, He is ultimately rejected by the Jews as their king, primarily because He completely rejects any concept of possessing an earthly kingdom. He fulfills the law, and is obedient unto death, but His is the Kingdom of Heaven.

    We have had nomadic hunter-gatherer societies in North America, and some of them converted to Orthodox Christianity in Alaska as nomadic peoples, as was St. Innocent of Alaska’s mission.

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