A few days ago we got into a discussion over human nature. Specifically, we somehow got snagged by someone who wanted validation for his personal theory of Christian anarchism . . . which, given the Aristotelian basis of much mainstream Christian philosophy — Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox — as well as Judaism (thanks to Maimonides) and Islam (thanks to Ibn Khaldûn) is something of an oxymoron, that is, a self-contradictory term, like dry water, a wet martini, or government intelligence.
The discussion (such as it was) was framed within the “Catholic” religious paradigm, but it applies equally to most other faiths and philosophies within the Aristotelian “family.” Specifically, the Christian Anarchist wanted to know if anarchism (he carefully refrained from using the word ‘anarchy’) is compatible with what the Catholic Church teaches.
Quick answer (which we gave): no. Nor with any of the other Abrahamic faiths and quite a few others. This has nothing to do with ‘religion,’ but everything to do with human nature and political theory derived from Aristotelian assumptions about human nature.
In the Politics, Aristotle contended that man is by nature a political animal, with both an individual and a social character. Saint Thomas Aquinas concurred, both in his Commentary on the Politics and in the Summa Theologica (Ia IIae q. 72 a 4). (As we said, this has a definite ‘Catholic’ slant, but the theories are Aristotelian, and apply across the board, irrespective of religious faith.)
Most recently, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed this in his encyclicals. Saint Robert Bellarmine, a “Doctor of the Church,” in his De Laicis reiterated Aristotle and Aquinas to refute those in his day who contended that society is unnatural and the only ruler man needs is God. (Bellarmine erred in asserting that God grants some rights directly to the collective, but that is a different issue.)
Consequently, if you are an Aristotelian Pagan, Jew, Christian, or Muslim, you will have to accept the fact that anarchism is not consistent with your fundamental guiding principles.
Admittedly, Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, leaned toward anarchism. So did Emmanuel Mounier (who developed a rather atomized version of personalism) and others.
It is essential to keep in mind, however, that human beings make mistakes. In Catholic belief, even the pope can err in applying (though not teaching) matters of faith and morals, to say nothing of political philosophy. Christian anarchism, after all, is rooted in the condemned writings of Blessed Joachim of Flora (all Joachim’s writings were condemned, as were the forgeries that people created to spread the errors and improve on them); Joachim is considered ‘blessed’ — one step away from official recognition as a saint — not because he wrote weird things, but because he submitted absolutely to the authority of the Church, even as everything he wrote was rejected.
|Joachim of Flora|
Still, main problem with Joachim’s writings was not so much the philosophical speculation. In the Catholic Church you can speculate all you want on anything that the Church has made no specific statement on.
It was, instead, the fact that a renegade group of Franciscans originally called “the Spirituals” and later “the Fraticelli” and the sect’s philosopher, William of Ockham (of razor fame), took them, developed them, and declared that all society is a human invention.
As the Fraticelli reasoned, all political forms and organized religion should be abolished, along with all natural rights, including life, liberty, and private property, and people throw themselves totally on the mercy of God in all things.
In this way the Kingdom of God on Earth will be established and ungodliness (i.e., disagreement with the Fraticelli) eliminated. All you have to do is change human nature and put collective man over God, as Fulton Sheen explained in his doctoral thesis, God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy (1925).
|William of Ockham (Notice the beard?)|
All of this was argued out in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when anarchy, totalitarianism, divine right and all that sort of thing was being dragged out as a weapon against organized religion and traditional political arrangements. Msgr. Ronald Knox touched on this in his book Enthusiasm (1950), while today the work of Dr. Julian Strube of Heidelberg University is revealing a lot of what was going on in the nineteenth century as people struggled to come to terms with the “new things” of socialism, modernism, and esoteric (“New Age”) thought.
Every pope since Pius VII has struggled with this. Interestingly, Evelyn Waugh agreed with a theory we developed that John XXIII selected the name he did to signal he was going to counter all the weird ideas that were popping up in the twentieth century: in the fourteenth century John XXII opposed the innovations of the Fraticelli and earned the condemnation of every socialist and modernist since.