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.

My dream for this world

I dream of a world, where people acknowledge each other as equals. And not just equals, but as naturally good, and worthy of good things.
A world where people love their neighbours as themselves. And not in word, or tongue, but in deeds and in truth.
A world where people are tolerant of insignificant matters, and pay attention to the truly important things.
Where no one is taking what belongs to another, whether through direct violence, the threat of violence, or trickery guarded by violence. And where if anyone does take something, many seekers of justice quietly take it back.
A world where no one claims to own another’s life, nor a period of their life, nor the means to their life.
A world where people do not use violence to settle their problems or fulfill their desires. Where each human is recognised as an end in themself, and not as merely the means to another’s ends.
A world where truth is known and sought after. Where people speak reasonably and listen to determine the truth on any matter. Where people have the humility to accept the truth, because they know it is more than their own selfish desires.
Where things are not determined by violence, but by freedom and consensus. And if consensus can’t be reached, then they are free to break away and do things differently, or submit to the will of the majority. And if people refuse to accept reasonable decisions at first, they will be convinced eventually by reasonable friends arguments and attitudes towards them.
A world without a proud and pompous above and an angry and miserable below. Where people delight in helping each other, and seeing each other happy.
A world where people are not stressed by the prospect of losing their home, or paying for their next meal. Where they seek truth, justice, and love over security, and so produce a greater security.
A world where we no longer learn how to kill. Where the tools to slaughter millions of innocent children [nukes] aren’t kept, just in case they’re one day needed (to, you know, protect our children from bad men with guns).

Much of this vision is neatly summed up in the word, ‘Anarchism’. The rejection of rulership. But not necessarily all of it. It proceeds largely from Christian ideas of love and justice.

I’m a Christian, so would this dream world ideally be Christian? Maybe… but I would rather non-Christians live this way than Christians fail to live this way. Of course, it’s a very Christianity inspired vision, so I would hope it would come most naturally to Christians (though it seems many Christian groups are far further from these ideas than many non-Christian). It would be a world with religious tolerance.

How to start
First of all I must start with myself. As Leo Tolstoy said,

‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’

Talking has its uses, but no one will listen to someone who refuses to listen to themselves. The problem isn’t simply outside of me, it’s also within.
Secondly, it must start with the least. They are the ones that need it most, and who I’m most likely to have inadvertently supported the exploitation of.
And thirdly, it must spread to others. Most people aren’t yet capable of living in such a world. Too few of us are good enough so that if all exploiters gave up tomorrow, the world would become good. As we stand, many would try to take their places.
These three are nicely unified, in that I cannot help others without changing myself, I can’t improve myself without helping those in need, and I can’t convince anyone without action in accordance.

God bless you.

It’s good to know what I must do, but it sure does look tough. I’m not very comfortable around strangers, but I don’t know many people in need. Of course, I’m sure many of those I know have their own very real needs, but there are fewer people I know anyway, so the majority of my duty will involve strangers.
Thinking over the parable of the Good Samaritan earlier today, I realised that I’m far more like the Levite or the Priest who walk by on the other side than the Samaritan who helps a stranger in need. I desperately need to correct this.


Once upon a time, lending money at interest was completely illegal (for religious reasons). Later, it was legalized for Jews only, which led (among other factors) to strong anti-semitism. Eventually, it was legalized for all.
Those who couldn’t afford a house right away, took the chance to have a mortgage (roughly translated, a “death-pledge”), in order to have the house they couldn’t immediately afford. This helped the poor.
But, of course, the practice spread. And with everyone able to pay more thanks to mortgages, prices rose. So what once helped a few poor, came to enslave nearly all.
Today, most people in the “developed” world are unable to buy a home without accepting decades of debt, with half the real house price going to interest payments. The worst part is, those least able to repay are charged most of all and run the risk of having their house repossessed.
Without this system of mortgages, would we be better off? We would be paying less in the long run, because of no interest. We would be paying less excluding interest, because of reduced demand. Society would be far more egalitarian without the banks taking interest.
Economists might say that the reason for the reduced demand and prices was everyone being less able to purchase, so people would be without what they wanted. But what is forgotten, is the egalitarianism of no bankers, would reduce the land wasted by the usurers, so that supply would increase for the needy and average man. Even if this didn’t fully compensate, cooperative systems of lending and giving and sharing, in and between families could fill the role, and ensure proper housing and freedom for all.

So what’s the practical conclusion? We should withdraw our money from the bank, to stop lending at interest. We (Christians, anarchists, socialists) should attempt to form new, fair, egalitarian systems of living, taking many varied forms (perhaps based around Churches or other associations). No anti-interest law is necessary if we all reject and replace it. Refuse the old world, and build the new in its shell.
These societies may lack at first, but after a while without interest, they are bound to prosper.

Here are some scriptures on money lending and usury.

The rich over the poor ruleth, And a servant is the borrower to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7

a servant—wast thou called? be not anxious; but if also thou art able to become free—use it rather
1Corinthians 7:21

To no one owe anything, except to love one another
Romans 13:8

His silver he hath not given in usury, And a bribe against the innocent Hath not taken; Whoso is doing these is not moved to the age!
Psalms 15:5

Thou dost not lend in usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of food, usury of anything which is lent on usury.
Deuteronomy 23:19

In usury he hath given, and increase taken, And he liveth: he doth not live, All these abominations he hath done, He doth surely die, his blood is on him.
Ezekiel 18:13

At this point I should clarify: I don’t believe having money in the bank or being a banker is a ticket to hell. We live by grace now. But, I do believe charging interest is unjust (although it’s irrelevant if we’re forgiving debts as God forgives our debts). [Note from 2nd May 2014: I don’t know what I meant exactly by “We live by grace now”, but I think I may have meant our actions don’t matter to God any more. Just to note, I don’t believe that now.]

Here’s Peter Maurin’s Easy Essay, ‘Mortgaged’. You can see all his Easy Essays by clicking here.


1. Because John Calvin legalized money-lending at interest the State has legalized money-lending at interest.

2. Because the State has legalized money-lending at interest, home owners have mortgaged their farms; institutions have mortgaged their buildings; congregations have mortgaged their churches; cities, counties, States and Federal Government have mortgaged their budgets.

3. So people find themselves in all kinds of financial difficulties because the State has legalized money-lending at interest in spite of the teachings of the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church.

God bless you.

The money in the bank

A while ago I wrote that I do not believe Christians should lend at interest (here’s the original post where I said it, it’s called ‘Jesus’ Economics’). I based this simply on Jesus’ command that,

to him who is asking of thee be giving, and him who is willing to borrow from thee thou mayest not turn away.’
Matthew 5:42

and that if you may charge interest on this, you make his word worthless. And of course, Jewish law did not allow lending at interest either.
I applied this in my day to day life, to the extent I was given the opportunity to. However, I left a small amount of money in the bank (mainly because it’s awkward to get it out), gathering interest.
I can no longer keep my money there. It was being part of the system of greed and extortion, while I could have been giving/lending in love.
Plus, in removing my money from the bank, they have that little bit less power to take from those least able to pay, and to get a living off of the work of others. Yes, my money is probably negligible to the bank, but what if all the anarchists, or socialists, or Christians did likewise? What if just a fraction? The entire economy would be transformed. Even if just me, I will use my money to produce a micro-transformation in my micro-economy, even at a personal loss.

If many people did this with me, what would happen? Banks might collapse with people withdrawing money the banks don’t have. People would be there to help.
When people lend freely, (theoretically) there will be inflation. People won’t value money as highly. Perhaps people will stop valuing anything they have as their own, and share possessions as happily as they lend money.
Poverty will be profoundly affected. I should note here, that Jesus also said

‘But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward will be great, and ye shall be sons of the Highest, because He is kind unto the ungracious and evil’
Luke 6:35

So this wouldn’t result in harsher punishments for those who fail to repay their debts. We would forgive our debtors, as God forgives us our debts.
I would even venture to say, that if we used our money in such a way, it would not only touch the fabric of society; it may also begin the withering away of the state, as people rely more on human kindness, and so less on state thievery.
There is a remarkable idea among economists, that all working for themselves is for the best of all, and any helping others is harmful to all. I don’t buy it. We are the most naturally sociable of all creatures, and must function best with and for one another.
I’ll pop to the bank for this tomorrow.

God bless you.

P.S. I’ve now done it. However, I did leave 92p in my account, because when I asked to withdraw it all, it was given in pounds, and I didn’t want to bother with the trouble of asking for such a tiny amount. I also don’t know if accounts can be kept without any money in.
I understand that I will need a bank account, because few employers are willing to pay cash. I plan to withdraw money as it goes in.
I’m writing this because I don’t want to seem like something I’m not. Perhaps also so that my actions may be tested against my own standard.

God bless you

[19th of September 2014: I do currently keep my money in the bank. I have been considering lending my savings via a microfinance organisation (such as Zidisha), but I’m not sure if I’ll need it sooner than that will allow. This post was kind of silly, because it seems to propose just having cash, which is obviously foolish.
I don’t really like having money in the bank still, but it is the prudent thing to do, and I’m intent on being a good steward. I’m also still intent on living the virtue of poverty, but I’m not yet sure how…]

Thoughts on cynicism, hope and freedom in anarchism and Christianity

Many people (at least where I’m from) have a strong belief in humanity’s bad side. I share this belief, but I think our response to it is more important.
I doubt I know a single person who believes that the government is good. ‘Power corrupts’ is almost universally accepted. Yet, very few have any hope to save it. Evil is accepted. Only the anarchists have faith in defeating this evil. They accept the cynicism to power, and meet it with a hope of a better world.
Likewise, practically everyone agrees humans have evil in them. Call it what you will, mistakes, a bad side, foolishness, selfishness; we know it’s there and bad. Most accept it, and live on, believing it cannot be changed. Christians have faith in the defeat of this evil. Christians accept the cynics belief in humanity’s evil, and meet it with the hope of God’s complete redemption.

Having, then, such hope, we use much freedom of speech,
2Corinthians 3:12

Hope is a crucial part, to being free in the conditions of bondage. Our enemies surround us, but we fight on, because we have hope in better things to come.

The strange thing is, we can easily show people that they are in bondage, but most do not want to be free. Their bodies have moulded themselves into their chains, and to be without them is uncomfortable or even painful. How do you persuade a person to desire freedom (from human oppression and slavery to sin)?
I say, we must live out freedom as much as we can. If it is as desirable as we say it is, they will see it in us, and pursue it relentlessly.

God bless you.

A scripture on God’s grace (and anarcho-communism?)

Ho, every thirsty one, come ye to the waters, And he who hath no money, Come ye, buy and eat, yea, come, buy Without money and without price, wine and milk. Why do ye weigh money for that which is not bread? And your labour for that which is not for satiety? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat good, And your soul doth delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me, Hear, and your soul doth live, And I make for you a covenant age-during, The kind acts of David—that are stedfast. Lo, a witness to peoples I have given him, A leader and commander to peoples. Lo, a nation thou knowest not, thou callest, And a nation who know thee not unto thee do run, For the sake of Jehovah thy God, And for the Holy One of Israel, Because He hath beautified thee.
Isaiah 55:1-5

I’ve been enjoying this passage for the last couple of days now. I love it.
It’s very interesting that the imagery used to show God’s kindness here, is of buying without money and without price, not just necessities (water) but the good and fine things of life too (milk and wine), as Peter Kropotkin hoped for. Christians are told to be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect, so should it be our ideal to be rid of money?
God’s point here is how wonderful His grace is, especially when compared with the works of false religion. He also gives us a clear way to imitate His grace, that would result in something like anarchist-communism.

God bless you.

Capitalism vs Communism, Property vs Belongings

A lot of people misunderstand capitalism. Capitalism isn’t about profit, or GDP, or getting rich, or greed, though they are all part of it. Capitalism is about property.
Many socialists and communists criticise capitalism with poor understanding and arguments, and few take on its foundation. I will now attempt to lay down its foundation.

You begin with the premise of property– each person may have complete control over what s/he owns, and may use that control to whatever ends they wish. As long as this is one of your premises, you will either end up with capitalism (anarcho-capitalism?) or a contradiction.
Now, within each person’s control of a possession, they have the power to hand over control. So you can trade.
And importantly, no object has any value of its own. This is a common misunderstanding. You never pay for anything in itself: you pay for someone else to hand over their power to you. If you paid for the object itself, where would the money go? And this value is subjective.
So, one man (we’ll call him No1) has an ornamental (but functional) tractor and many fields, and another (No2) has a field and bags of gold. No2’s field is on an island with No1’s tractor, and No1’s fields are on the mainland. No2 offers enough gold to buy a thousand better tractors on the mainland, because he doesn’t want to transport a tractor to the island, but No1 says no, because his tractor was his dead grandfather’s. The objects value was different to the two. Is there anything wrong with keeping your heirloom to make you happy?
It is the same with a business. A (monopolist) farmer might burn some of his crops, despite hunger around him, because he wants more money to be happy. It is in his power to do with as he will.
A nice note on capitalism, is that because value is subjective, so is the idea of being rich. For one man, money makes you rich, for another, it’s friends, family, kindness, or anything.

‘for where your treasure is, there will be also your heart.’
Matthew 6:21

Each actor in the market uses their own power, to their own ends. Whether consumer, employer, investor, employee or anyone else. (If you accept the government’s possession of the land and the people, they do too)
Capitalism flows logically from ownership. Anyone who wants to attack capitalism, must attack property.
Peter Kropotkin, the great anarcho-communist, understood this. When other communists, socialists, and anarchists, suggested any form of ownership, trade, or money (“work notes”), he told them it would lead to tyranny or capitalism.

So what argument can be levelled against property itself?
Property is based on increasing freedom. The argument is that, if a man in his freedom can change an object, for his past freedom to be sustained he must have complete authority over the object. For the freedom to change an object to exist, that change must be protected.
But this premise is false. Freedom to do, doesn’t require the removal of the freedom to undo.
And property, in the privatisation of freedom over an object, is violent. You cannot remove freedom by free action in the past. It makes no sense.
How can property be gained by being first to act upon it? What would count as acting upon it? How come such a right is eternal, lasting beyond the actor’s life. No, property rights are nonsense. Property began when men threatened violence for touching an object.
That said, I respect that some things mean more to some people, and I don’t want to upset them. I call this, belonging. Heirlooms belong in families. Everyone belongs at their own home.

‘We belong together.’
Mariah Carey

When you respect possession, you respect violence, and papers. When you respect belongings, you respect people’s feelings, their hearts.
All that being said, I don’t intend on stealing (or expropriating) anything. Just living by love, regardless of the idea of property, but keeping in mind those who consider themselves owners. It’s still not kind to steal.
Arguably, using property in love would work out as not treating property as your own anyway. I like this idea, because it means the problem of what to do with property and of property being false, solve each other if you live by love (which I believe you should).
Love cannot be bought. It cannot be forced. It cannot be tempted out. It is definitively free. All things in love are free.

God bless you.