Author Topic: The burden of history  (Read 980 times)

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Offline Carl Kraeff (Second Chance)

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The burden of history
« on: June 12, 2009, 11:05:00 AM »
I wonder if any scholar has published a comparative study of the relationship between secular power structures and ecclesiology. By "secular power structure," I would think that the simplest distinction may be between political power based on the rule of law versus that based on personality. (Please bear with me as I build my thesis).

There has already been an effort, led by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar, to find out why capitalism flourishes in some nations and not others. From Wiki: "De Soto argues that an important characteristic of capitalism is the functioning state protection of property rights in a formal property system where ownership and transactions are clearly recorded...The main tenet of de Soto's books is that people in developing countries lack such an integrated formal property system, leading to only informal ownership of land and goods. He argues that the fruition of economic success of American and Japanese capitalism relied on a clear system of property rights which were created during the times of the 'frontier' in America and in post-WWII Japan. The lack of such an integrated system of property rights in today's developing nations makes it impossible for the poor to leverage their now informal ownerships into capital (as collateral for credit), which de Soto claims would form the basis for entrepreneurship." (Soto, Hernando De. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0465016146).

The study found out that wherever the rule of law flourished, capitalism flourished because people trusted the legal and political system to protect their investment, thereby converting wealth into capital. In contrast, in nations that traditionally have been ruled by men (or men in the name of religion), people were hiding their assets because they feared that the powers-that-be would steal their wealth.

As Professor Freedman argues in Capitalism and Freedom, the two are irrevocably linked, particularly freedom based on rule of law. (Friedman, Milton (November 15, 2002). Capitalism and Freedom. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226264211.)

We know from our history that particularly in the United States of America, there has been a conscious rejection of the rule of personality. The Revolutionary War was waged as much against monarchy as for the inalienable rights bestowed by the Creator and the rule of law (See the Declaration of Independence). Various historical accounts related President Washington's refusal to be called anything more than "President" or "Mister." The United States of America also rejected the establishment of a particular state religion at the federal level. In short, the United States of America was the antithesis of all other forms of government extant at its establishment and for decades after.

Hoping that I made the case that there is a great distinction between the rule of law and rule of personality, I would like to now draw some parallels in the religious sphere.

The rule of personality (emperor, tsar, dictator, king, etc...) has strongly correlated to state religions. We know that was the case with Christianity and the Roman and other Christian empires and states. For Islam, we have the Caliphates and the Ottoman Empire. Some scholars argue that even the Nazis and Communists tried to create their own state religion as they tried to kill of true religions in their state.

The top-down and personality based rule must have affected the Church. On a superficial level, the titles of our hierarchs grate on Western ears: His Grace, Eminence, Beatitude, Holiness, and All Holiness. As an aside, I always wondered what exactly were the people who invented the last titled were thinking of; if one person contained all holiness, would any be left over for the remaining hierarchs (and I did not even consider the scriptural implications of such audacious title).

On a deeper level, as judged by the current controversy in the Antiochian Archdiocese, some folks seem to believe that the Metropolitan is above canons and the constitution and by-laws of the Church. Obviously this attitude is vexing to the western mind, but is it to the Middle Eastern mind? If you come from a society that was ruled by might rather than the rule of law, it would be completely unnatural and even traitorous for people to criticize the leader.

By the way, I do not mean to pick on the Middle Eastern folks; the Russians, for example, have had the reputation of requiring (needing) a strong leader (too many sources to cite here). And to be fair and balanced in today's inter-church issues, it must also be said that the Constantinople Patriarchate's power grab via an unnatural interpretation of Canon 28, also is imperial in nature.

Now that I have managed to insult almost all Orthodox, I ask the scholars amongst us to point me to any work that addresses the intersection of secular governance and ecclesiology. I suspect that the intersections are strong and that they reflect all sorts of accommodations that have allowed our Church to navigate those seas. There have been many studies  of what happened in the past; I don't think that scholars have addressed how the Church, which is organized to deal with personality-based power structures, can best operate and flourish in states based on the rule of law. 

« Last Edit: June 12, 2009, 11:09:02 AM by Second Chance »