politics

What should government be?

[This post got stuck as a draft and now isn’t very timely. Oh well, better late than never!]

As we approach the general election on the 8th May, I thought it would be good to think a bit about politics. So, let’s start at the very beginning…

Where is authority ultimately from?

Authority comes from truth. Equivalently, we can say that authority comes from God, the author of all creation. We should listen to the truth and to those who instruct us according to the truth, simply because what’s in accordance with the truth is in accordance with our true being. As the (virulent atheist) anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin said,

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Perish the thought. In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the boot-maker.

This requires humility, because we have to recognise that sometimes, the truth, including the truth of ourselves, is not in accordance with our own wills and desires. At times like this, our desires, if not submitted to truth and reason, actually enslave us, denying us our true dignity and glory.

Today, this is probably not such a common concept of authority. We live in a world that is “post-God” and “post-truth”, believing that these tend towards oppression. Instead, the world believes in desire and force. What’s important is that I claim my “rights”, over against yours. Authority is then just a word for more established power.

Where does government come from?

My guess is, that government more or less grew out of natural structures of authority. At the lowest level, a father is naturally and historically the head of his family, as the one primarily responsible for its defense and provision, and therefore most aware of how to make the best decisions for it. In society at a larger level, say an extended family or a village, a father figure will emerge too; one who is strong, wise, and provides for the people. At each larger level, “father” figures may emerge, as and when groups become more integrated, and need someone to give them unity and provide for the common good.

Of course, right from the lowest level, and right from the beginning, violence ruins this lovely human family. There are bad fathers, bad chieftains, and bad kings, and then there are usurpers, often friends and relatives, who take power for themselves with the best or worst of motives, so that “authority” is rarely held by those who deserve it.

Plato believed that the ideal government was that of the Philosopher Ruler, but that this would degenerate into a timarchy (military/honour based rule, e.g. Sparta, or feudal [Samurai] Japan), which would degenerate into oligarchy (wealth based rule- think of the USA), which then degenerates into democracy (people/pleasure based rule- think of ancient Athens, or Norway, Iceland, or Sweden), which finally degenerates into  tyranny (the rule of absolute violence, and unrestrained desire). I think he was onto something. It is essentially the process of men and societies diverging from the highest good, Goodness Itself, to lesser, more divided goods, going through honour to wealth to selfish happiness to unrestrained desire.

What should government be?

The government’s duty is to serve the common good in accordance with the truth (it is impossible in discord with truth). Therefore, it should be honest; should seek the truth on every matter, with open, humble ears; it should respect the freedom of lower levels of government and society, which are generally better placed to look after their own common good; it should be firm in justice, but double so with itself; it should serve all, and respect all; it should be both strong and gentle; both reserved and courageous; it should be genuinely humble, never glorifying itself, but placing itself beneath others; it should be self-sacrificing and unprofitable; and undoubtedly much more. To simplify, a good government, and the people who compose it, should have all the qualities of a good father.

At this point you’re perhaps thinking this is literally paternalistic government. But the issue of paternalism would actually be an issue in a father too. The problem is the same in both overbearing parents and overbearing governments: both children and peoples need freedom in order to flourish, including the freedom to make mistakes.

Is this realistic?

If we could have a government of saints, absolutely! But saints are hard to come be, and generally wouldn’t want such a position. They know too well, how violence and sin thrive in power, and they don’t seek power, or its prestige and rewards. Their humility keeps them from seeking any position except the least. And the struggle for power, is a struggle, and they do not desire struggle and strife, but love and unity.

Still, it’s good to have ideals to reach for. If you’re in government, be like a good father and you’ll do well. For the rest of us, this can shape our engagement with politics, and perhaps we’ll see a conversion of our government.

palace_of_westminster2c_london_-_feb_2007

 

Finally

‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.’
[Mk 10:42-45]

Whenever I read this passage, it makes me wonder if a Christian should be in politics at all. I don’t suppose Christian virtue would go very far. After all, the kingdoms of the world belong to satan, and are given to his worshippers [Lk 4:6]. I guess we must engage according to the gospel, and abandon any struggle for domination.

 

Please, share your thoughts! God bless you!

The Church must unite Britain

[As a postscript to my last post, ‘Britain is split in two, and we must make it one’, I wrote the below about the Church’s role in bringing unity and justice to Britain and the world. Because I expect some readers are interested in the Church more than mere politics, I’m posting this separately. Hope you enjoy.]

In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.

We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,

‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’

Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.

Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.

The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.

 

God bless you!

ITALY-VATICAN-POPE-IMMIGRATION-HOLY THURSDAY

Pope Francis washing the feet of migrants

‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
Pope Francis

‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’
Pope Francis

Britain is split in two. We must make it one

Last Thursday, the People of Britain voted (51.9% to 48.1%) to leave the European Union. I wrote why I believe we should leave here. In the aftermath of the results, we saw just as much anger and division as during the campaign, and possibly even more. The name-calling was genuinely astounding. If there’s one thing to take from this referendum, it’s that Britain is more deeply divided than it has been for a very, very long time.

A YouGov survey (which I’m afraid I can’t find) showed that on the subject of the EU referendum, for every influential voice (from economists and world leaders to actors and sportspeople), Leave voters strongly distrusted them. Which shouldn’t really surprise us, since the majority in practically every field agreed that we should remain.

Leave voters were not just rejecting the European Union, they were rejecting the entire modern establishment, of which it is just another embodiment. Everyone with influence is, by that fact, just another part of the establishment. It’s little more than a matter of us versus them, where, contrary to the narrative that the Leave campaign was mere xenophobia (though there was definitely a good deal of that), they are the “powers that be” in our world. And we are the people of Britain, excluding our elites, because they have already betrayed us, supposedly to serve the foreign devils. When Leavers spoke about freedom, they meant the freedom of the British people, and not the freedom of the British establishment, and as the debate wore on, it became more and more evident these were not the same thing.

If we look now back to the Remain camp, you’ll see just the same division defining them. These are the people who identify themselves as educated, enlightened, freethinkers, on the side of “progress”. They trust our elites. Or at least they trust a portion of our elites, and in trusting them, they reveal their trust in the systems and institutions they work in.  In their campaigning, they quoted economists, politicians, and experts of every kind. They spoke about what’s best for Britain, but were always referring to the Britain of the establishment, of the rich and powerful, because to them, that just is Britain. They weren’t even aware that to much of the population, the British establishment has betrayed the British people. Because they didn’t see this alienation, they could only understand leaving as stupidity and hardheadedness against the obvious good of the nation. In retrospect, their campaign was not tailored towards Leave voters at all.

median

Both education and income correlate to greater support for remaining in the EU

Basically, those who have become part of the establishment trust and support it, and those who feel left out, with no power and no hope, do not.

The EU has, for a long time, been made a scapegoat for the failures of the establishment as a whole, by the media and our government. Any degree of perceived euroscepticism was an easy way for our media and politicians to pretend at being anti-establishment, and pro the people. But ultimately, it is genuine disillusionment from our modern world as a whole, as shown by the general distrust, that fuelled the exit.

In working up these feelings of disillusionment for the sake of their own manoeuvring within the British establishment, those who headed up the leave campaign, in politics and the media, have played a very dangerous game. It won’t be long before people realise that nothing has fundamentally changed, and they are no more free than before. At this point, either we’ll be stuck blaming ourselves (or the “idiots”) for leaving the EU, or we’ll see that the EU was just one manifestation of the worldwide establishment that has failed and excluded the people.

We have to commit ourselves here and now, to fighting for the people. And not just the people of Britain, but the people of the whole world, who are today being oppressed as one man.

That’s not to say that we should ignore everything our established experts have to say. Not by a long shot. There’s no true knowledge or expertise that we should reject, and everyone that works in the establishment, but not for the establishment, must be encouraged. We must bring all knowledge and all expertise to truly serve the people. The people must be heard, and the people must listen.

Britain, and the whole world, is split in two, and we must make it one.

 

Peace and love, and may God’s blessing go with you

 

Postscript on the Church’s role in this

In this work of bringing true unity to the country and to the world, the Church should be at the forefront. The Church’s rich tradition embraces all of humanity, and listens to the voice of the poor as much as the expert. The individualist ideology of the modern world could never unite a people, and when people turn to national, ethnic, or religious identity for meaning and community, they only get the unity of a common separation; but true religion offers true meaning and true unity, that reaches out to all in love and service.

We might think Britain is too rich to hear the gospel. The truth is, Britain and the modern world suffer from extreme poverty. As Bl. Mother Teresa said,

‘There is much suffering in the world — very much. And this material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases, but I still think the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one.’

Britain is desperate for the gospel. We are desperate to be a people, each turned towards God in our neighbour.

Catholics need to realise, above all others, it is our duty to work for love, justice, and the common good. Jesus, the light of the world (Jn 8:12), told us we are the light of the world (Mt 5:14), and we must realise this.

The sad thing is, to many people, the Church is part of the establishment. We must lower ourselves, identify with all those in need and on the margins of society, and become in practice Pope Francis’ “poor Church for the poor”.

 

God bless you!

‘I prefer a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets rather that a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.’
Pope Francis

‘Mercy is the prophecy of a new world, in which the goods of the earth and of work are equally distributed and no one lacks the necessary, because solidarity and sharing are the concrete result of fraternity.’
Pope Francis

The EU and Paradise

image

Tonight, the above EU poster made me finally realise just what the EU really is. By using the image of the tower of Babel (on the left is the 16th century painting it’s based upon), the EU declares its design to bring all of humanity together (which is great, by the way) and reach/create heaven by our own strength (which is very, very bad). This is shown also by the Remain camps appeal to the EU for bringing peace.

What’s so wrong with this? Every attempt to create paradise by our own power always has and always will bring nothing but slavery. The Nazis believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious Arian future. The Soviets believed in, and sacrificed to, a glorious communist future. Revolutionaries always believe in the post-revolution world, and commit atrocities for it. Whatever we make our ultimate end, will always demand sacrifices of everything else.

What about Christianity, with its promised “Kingdom of Heaven”? The Kingdom of Heaven demands a far greater sacrifice than any other revolution: it demands our very selves. This is the meaning of the cross: the Kingdom of Heaven is giving yourself away in love of others. Do we do this by our own strength? Not at all! How could self abolish self? The Christian’s self sacrifice is not how they win the Kingdom for themselves- it is the Kingdom! Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not our creation, but a gift to receive in us, we have no work in which to sacrifice for a greater, “sacred”, good, but have only to live Heaven now.

‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ -Jesus

The EU believes in itself, and for that reason will oppress people. It trusts in strength to achieve its goals, but strength and power can never bring true harmony, love and joy. The Church on the other hand, believes in God’s gift of Himself to us, and in this gift the whole Church is called to give itself away. It is by lowliness, humility, and love, and these alone, that Heaven is brought to Earth.

“You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

So what’s the problem with the EU? That it believes it can, through mere collective intelligence and power, force the world into unity. The Body of Christ (the Church) on the other hand, calls the world to true unity in its own self-giving sacrifice of love, in which your life is mine and mine is yours.

We are, as always, having to choose between using/forcing others, and loving/helping them, and this time, because the aim is as high as it gets (heaven), so are the stakes.

Peace and love, and God bless you!

The Necessity of Religion in Politics

Religion is necessary to politics, because the idea of the person is necessary to politics. The person is in fact something only perceptible by faith. By science or philosophy, you can determine many things about the nature of Homo Sapiens, but you cannot demonstrate their personhood. By these methods, you may discover various different ways of how they work, engaging various material, or even “spiritual”, mechanisms within the creature, but you won’t find that it is a person to relate to, to engage and commune with, that participates in the unfathomable mystery at the foundation of the universe, and so has universal rights.

Persons and personhood, cannot be proven or discovered, but only encountered. They are too profound to be found through our external and detached methodologies, but must be met, and communed with. Personhood is a truth we can only accept on faith, born of encounter.

Of course, you don’t have to be “religious” to encounter and accept the reality of personhood. People from any religion (I think…) or none can. But it is a thoroughly religious idea.

And without a solid, well built faith, the idea of personhood will be attacked on all sides, by various ideas of ‘pragmatism’, ‘utility’, ‘realism’, ‘moderation’, ‘fairness’, ‘liberty’, and even ‘compassion’. Personhood must be held to tightly at all times, or it will not last, and with it, the dignity of many lives. But personhood is difficult to hold alone, because it refuses all compromise, and to be strengthened needs to be part of a larger system of mystery. That is, personhood cannot well last, if it is understood as an isolated reality, without proper relationship to the rest of existence; it requires to be placed in relationship with a similarly profound mystery of all that is, that is also to profound for any knowledge but the knowledge born of encounter: the knowledge of faith.

Believers, when engaged in politics, cannot leave religion at the front door, because it will leave personhood, which should be the heart of all politics, exposed and vulnerable, to inferior ideas making reckless use of lesser truths. When the true principle of man’s life, that is, man’s relationship to the divine, is ignored, life is easily denigrated, and we end up with a culture of death.

In practice, personhood means that humans are not things to be used, but people to love. From this view, we can see that society’s focus shouldn’t be the individual or the collective, but the community, which transcends and harmonises both, in a shared life of dynamic love.

God bless you

P.S. I hope to write more posts on politics and society soon.

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.

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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.

Any questions?

I haven’t posted anything for more than a month now, for a few reasons. I was slightly busy at first. Then, it was a matter of being uncertain of what I wrote, and even when I was pretty certain, I wasn’t sure it was even worth anyone reading.

So my solution here, is that I will ask you for questions, then try to answer in a post as best as I can. Not that I have the answers, but I want to explore questions and see what may be found. I need some guide of what to consider and what to share, and I think questions fit the bill nicely. I expect I may have to give various thoughts on each question rather than an answer.
So please share with me any questions, areas you’re curious about, or challenges to my ideas. I generally post a combo of philosophy, politics, theology and general religion (often with an emphasis on freedom) but anything will do.
Maybe if there’s something you have been pondering for a while, and would like to see another’s perspective on, you could share that. Or maybe if you have a question on something I’ve posted in the past, you could share that.
Please give me a question. I don’t want to be the fool answering questions no one asked.

Thank you very much and God bless you.