Friday, April 15, 2005

The Monarchy Debate

Andrew of Unpopular Opinions has challenged some of the points I made in this post. His post is merely an initial sortie in a much larger campaign which Andrew outlined in the 8 points of his initial post. Specifically relevant to our discussion are points 1 and 2:

1. Divine government is monarchical.
2. Human authority is derived from and patterned after the divine monarchy.
Since my original post was only tangentially related to these theses, I don't feel it would be profitable to make a point-by-point response to Andrew's critique, but there are a few points where he is misinterpreting my position and at least one where I feel his view of history is sufficiently mistaken that it would be misleading to let it go unchallenged. So I will limit myself to addressing those few points, then turn immediately to a positive statement of what I believe to be a biblical model of government.

First, Andrew makes the following claim about my contrast of Saddam's dictatorship with the rule of law:
Here Russ has set up the problematic that is common to all Enlightenment thinking: either rule by a person or rule by law. Either dictatorship or democracy. But I do not accept these alternatives.
But I was making no such dichotomy. I am ready to admit that monarchy is a valid form of government, just not that it is the valid form. And, of course, it is perfectly possible to have a constitutional monarchy in which the king is subject to the rule of law. I believe Andrew has been misled by my quotation of Paine into assuming that I would argue from an Enlightenment perspective. But the basis of my argument, as I will demonstrate below, is biblical not theoretical. As a general principal I reject the rationalistic or deductive model of argument that is characteristic of the Enlightenment in favor of a muddling-through, traditional, inductive approach that is more at home with Edmund Burke, F. A. Hayek and the Common Law tradition. (Incidentally, in his concluding remarks, Andrew says "I would more readily trust my case to one who viewed me in some sense as a son than I would to someone who regarded me a stranger." But surely this is just as much a false dichotomy as I am accused of making. Why cannot we hold judges to the same standard of fatherhood as we would for a monarch? But since I actually distrust paternalism in government, I am not sure I want to go in that direction.)

Andrew continues:
But let's be perfectly clear, the true import of this thinking is that there should be no king.
It is not at all clear to me that this is the import of my assertion. I was speaking historically, not prescriptively and was contrasting a pagan with a Christian worldview. I do happen to believe that the bible portrays monarchy as a punishment inflicted on a people who reject God's rule and are, therefore, incapable of ruling themselves. But I was making no such argument in the post that Andrew cites.

There is much that can be said in response to this rebel's rant, but I shall restrict my comments to address the possibility of rule by law alone.
But even Paine was not arguing for quite so radical a thing as "rule by law alone". The actual government which his generation produced was fully grounded in the notion that some will rule and others obey. It was a representative republic not an oligarchy of judges that actually existed in America at the time and was later officially adopted in the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

As illustrated in the Schiavo debacle, judges are very powerful in this country.
I don't agree that this is quite the lesson to be learned from the Schiavo case, but I fully agree that judges are indeed powerful. But their power derives largely from the self-same lack of accountability that would occur in a monarchy except that it is somewhat more diffuse in the case of judges. Andrew is largely making my own case here.

Tommy Paine's ideal that law replace the king has been actualized in the real world as government run by lawyers.
I disagree. Call it a flaw in the original design of the Constitution, but it is not the rule of law but the unrestricted power of the judiciary that is implicated here. And Paine's argument specifically notes that "But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is." It is not quite clear what he means by "ill use" in this context but it is at least conceivable that he anticipated Andrew's criticism (and mine) and suggested a solution for what we now call judicial activism: democratic oversight. It is a pity this theme was not translated into the actual governing documents of our nation, but that is a topic for another day.

This leads me to the final point, which I characterized earlier as a misunderstanding of history. He doesn't say so in this post, but permeating Andrew's discourse is the idea that the American Revolution was an inevitable product of the Enlightenment rejection of Christendom. This is consistent with his 5th principle:
5. Enlightenment revolutionism (whether American, French, or Bolshevik) is the political expression of anti-Christ.
I remember hearing this trope (sans the bit about anti-Christ, which wouldn't have flown) when I went to public school, too, but it is simply false. The Left -- who are the true heirs of the Enlightenment -- would like us to believe that the American Revolution is morally and ideologically consistent with the French and Bolshevik varieties, but they differ in both their motivations and their results. The American Revolution is more in line with the Glorious Revolution of 1668 in England in that it aimed at restoring ancient liberties which had been abused than with either of the other two which attempted to create entirely new societies that had never existed outside of humanist theorizing. I don't have time to defend this assertion here, but let me note that such a defense would draw heavily on the writings of Russell Kirk's Roots of American Order as well as Burke's various letters in support of American grievances in contrast to his criticism of the French Revolution. One might also point to the distinction between the two made by both Hayek (in Constitution of Liberty) and Horowitz (Politics of Bad Faith) for support of my general thesis. If this particular point is a matter of interest, I would be happy to comment on it in future posts (and probably will anyway, whether or not anyone is interested).

I am mindful that there were indeed strong Enlightenment influences on both the war of independence and the founding of the country and that, indeed, Thomas Paine's later writings are a particularly egregious example of this influence. I am also aware of the serious criticisms of the American Revolution from a biblical perspective, and indeed am sympathetic to some of those criticisms. But whatever the moral status of the war, the actual nation that resulted from it is thoroughly steeped in the biblical traditions of the rule of law and limited government. To be sure, I did not originally adduce Paine's work as the ground of my argument but merely as independent corroboration that the Bible favors democracy. Dismissing his points on the grounds that he is no "illustrious biblical scholar" commits both the fallacies of ad hominem argument and an appeal (negatively) to authority.

But let me move on to a brief outline of what I believe the Bible presents as a pattern for human government. First, as a sort of preview, I note the wisdom of Jethro when he speaks to Moses in Exodus 18:
And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws. And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Ex 18:14-21)
This is clearly an indication that, at very least, government should not be autocratic and is too big a task for a single individual. Also note that the solution to Moses' dilemma begins with the rule of law. However, this is still a monarchial form of government (albeit ameliorated by a hierarchy of representatives), so it may seem that this point goes to Andrew. But note that in the parallel passage in Deuteronomy, the men appointed by Moses were already leaders that the people had chosen for themselves:
And I spake unto you at that time, saying, I am not able to bear you myself alone: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. (The LORD God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!) How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. (Dt 1:9-15)
The pattern I think we see here is that the people are being trained for self-rule under God's ultimate authority in accordance with his law. And remember that the audience in Deuteronomy is the next generation, the people that are about to leave Moses behind and enter the Promised Land. I would infer (although this is certainly debatable) that the people needed a single authority figure, having spent generations under the tyrannical rule of the Pharaohs, but God's ultimate purpose was that they should be free and self-ruled. For support of that thesis I turn to the preamble to the law that is given in Exodus which is echoed, in the Christian era in both 1 Peter and Revelation:
And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. (Ex 19:6)

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev 5:10)
Taken together I think this shows a trajectory of increasing self-government on earth under God's heavenly rule. This is also supported by the following eschatalogical passage in Jeremiah
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
So, if, as we both agree, earthly government should reflect heavenly principles, I would make a strong case that self-rule and not monarchy is the true ideal. To be sure, democracy is not self-rule any more than monarchy. Both are compromises with the sinful state that we currently find ourselves in. But as a people grows in grace my understanding of the biblical model predicts that they should also outgrow the need for external coercion.

I think I have babbled on long enough for now. I already know at least one objection that Andrew is going to make (involving Deuteronomy 17) but I will let him make it before attempting to respond.

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