Anarchy, Catholicism, and hierarchy

I recently read the book, ‘Anarchy’ by Errico Malatesta. Here is a link to the whole book online. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of government and politics. I especially recommend reading chapter 3, as it brilliantly explains the natural union between the rich and the rulers.

You may know, I used to describe myself as a “Christian anarchist” (if you hover over “Christianity” at the top of the page, you’ll see a note on this, and if you go back in the archives or check the tags, I did some anarchist posts). I no longer call myself that, partly because I don’t much know anymore, partly because some anarchists think it’s misrepresenting anarchism, and partly because it’s a term that can cause confusion and conflict. But that said, I have retained a lot of anarchist ideas, and value them very highly.

If you’re not aware of anarchism already, here’s the wikipedia page, and here’s my quick anarchismsummary: A form of socialism in which the state (the entire ruling class, including the wealthy) is to be abolished. Hierarchies (but not organisations) are held to be inherently violent, and therefore should not exist. Usually, it is considered that private property (particularly of the means of production) must be abolished also (however, a distinction is usually made to allow “personal property”). All men and women should live peacefully and freely in a society of equals, with none above or below any others.

But now, I’m a Catholic, and therefore under the oldest hierarchy in the world today. Not to mention Jesus’ title of King of kings. This calls for some thinking…

Where I believe anarchism is wrong, is the belief that hierarchies are inherently violent and bad. They often are, but not always.

King of kings, and Lord of lords

Jesus of Nazareth is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is the messiah, the Son of God. But how does he rule? Amazingly, his rule is distinguished by service, self-giving, and, ultimately, sacrifice. Not just by small gestures either, but by the complete giving of himself throughout his entire life, and finally at the cross and resurrection. And not only this, but he gives us himself, his own body and blood, for our nourishment, that we may live in him, and he in us, and may live because of him, as he lives because of the Father. Our God and King, became our saviour and servant and sacrifice. He shared in and conquered all our suffering and even death.

Jesus did not abolish hierarchy, but he did something greater, and more radical: he created a paradoxical hierarchy, where the greatest is the least, and the first is as a servant. He revealed greatness as a matter of giving, rather than controlling. He showed the ultimate power of love.


God is not oppressive. Our power does not compete with His power, so that we must be powerless for Him to be all-powerful. ‘God is love’, and it is from God’s creative love that our freedom originates. There are two kinds of power in this world. The one is destructive and violent, and when properly seen, dull, and seeks to make all into ruins and graves. The other is creative and loving, and seeks to build a world of many wonders and joys, and share creation and freedom and life with all. The first is the rule of satan, and seeks to grasp and destroy. The second is the Kingdom of God, and seeks to give and embrace.

God’s hierarchy is a gift

Why does God use a hierarchy? In fact, why does the all-powerful God use anyone? Why would almighty God ever employ an army of angels and archangels and saints and popes and bishops and priests and Christians and humans and animals and plants and objects to do His important work? Because God’s work is to share His life and all good things with us, and that includes His work. He blesses us, despite all our weaknesses and failings, to participate in His salvation of the world. He blesses us with His life, and blesses us again by sharing what brings Him joy: His work of salvation. In all cooperation with God, a hierarchy is formed, with God, His servant, and the person being served.

Yet God’s hierarchy does not distance us from God, but rather brings God Himself to the person, by way of the servant. How could we participate in the work of salvation without bringing God to the person? This is particularly clear in the Holy Eucharist, where every member of the Church may receive their God as their food and drink, their very life.

Back to Anarchism

Anarchism presents a powerful vision of a more just, peaceful, and free world, and a powerful critique of the misuse of power in today’s world, and shouldn’t be ignored or undervalued. But the gospel is far greater and more radical. Still, I have my suspicions, that living the gospel would look very much like living anarchy.

God bless you

P.S. The Catholic Worker movement was and is anarchist (in a sense), and brilliant. The biography and autobiography of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day are incredible, and a large part of what led me to become Catholic myself. Here’s a link to the Catholic Worker.

P.P.S. There is also a set of political ideas that calls itself “anarcho-capitalism”, which basically seeks the abolition of government and absolute property rights. I have no sympathy for these ideas, and consider the term a contradiction. It is as coherent as “anarcho-monarchism”, except even monarchs didn’t claim absolute rights over their kingdoms.

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