Recent goodness from Fr. Stephen Freeman

To the best of my knowledge, Fr. Stephen Freeman does not associate with and probably knows nothing about Neoreaction. However, if you have any doubt about the affinity between Orthodox spirituality and neoreactionary thought, then let the following two links put your mind to rest.

The Sin of Democracy

People of the modern world have a sense of inherent equality, and often resent any assertion of authority. Of course, equality is true in a certain manner, and utterly false in another. It is true that all people have equal worth – no one life is more valuable than another. But by almost any other measure, we are not equal, because we are not commensurate. I am of equal worth, but I am not as smart as another. I am of equal worth but I am not as talented, or handsome, or wealthy, etc. Apparently, intelligence, talent, beauty, wealth and the like are not the proper standards of comparison when we speak of equality. But our interior sense of equality often makes us assert equality where none exists.

 …

The classical world of Orthodox Christianity is profoundly undemocratic. It holds that the universe and everything that exists is hierarchical. This teaching is not an artifact of an older patriarchy (a typical democratic critique), but an essential part of the Christian gospel. For if Jesus is Lord, then the universe has a Lord. Democratic spirituality distrusts all hierarchy – anything that challenges the myth of equality is experienced as a threat. “Jesus never said anything about…”

The Demons of Our Time

It is interesting that great theories of economics and social justice do not form a part of this novel. Dostoevsky was no stranger to Russia’s radical movements and their political and economic theories: he spent a number of years in prison under the Tsar for having participated in one such group. But he does not make the theory out to be of much importance. He rightly recognized that the spirit of revolution is not about a struggle for a glorious future. Revolution is about the destruction of the present and the will to power. Hitler’s rise to power and Lenin’s rise to power both belong to differing ideologies. What they share in common are lies and murder.

 

Dostoevsky’s revolutionary sees the world as teetering on chaos. The old order is a road block, an encumbrance that stands in the way of progress and the forces of renewal. Every convention, every custom and practice of tradition is the enemy. The revolutionary has to be prepared to sweep everything aside for the sake of his cause. In Dostoevsky’s Russia, the Church was a primary conserving force. Its Orthodox practice was a shrine to Tradition and custom. Every aspect of life moved in obedience to the seasons of the Church. It is thus not surprising that the Church, God and the Christian view of the world were the primary targets of his drama.

 

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5 thoughts on “Recent goodness from Fr. Stephen Freeman

  1. It’s nice to say that every human life has equal ‘value and worth’ (‘to God’ I presume) despite all being widely varying in almost every important respect with regards to behavior and performance. But how does a statement like that translate into politics? It seems very ambiguous. Should the political system be neutral towards, amplify, or mitigate human these differences? Should it intervene at all on the basis on such ‘equality’?

    • Fr. Freeman is a priest, not a political writer, so I don’t think he knows (or particularly cares) about such questions. Historically, “equality before God” has always been linked to a diversity of gifts and roles, both within the Church and within society. Thus, the Church has its priests, bishops, monks, and nuns, and society has its nobles and monarchs. The elimination of the ecclesiastic hierarchy is a Protestant heresy which leads directly to the elimination of the social hierarchy, and eventually to revolt against the divine monarchy of God himself.

      • Yes, I understand all that. My question is sincere, not rhetorical. My inquiry is about how the Catholic and Orthodox churches contained the egalitarian impulse. I’m not a protestant, but I can see how the doctrines of universalism (‘quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus‘) and equal human dignity, worth, and value would lend itself quite naturally to the notion of a contradiction or hypocrisy and then to the rebellion against hierarchy and difference. And how through generations of heresies building upon heresies it has led to the modern politicized version of redistributing and leveling ‘social justice’.

        Is there a name to the doctrine whereby Catholicism or Orthodoxy has resolved the apparent contradiction? Or perhaps the formula is just inherently unstable and was bound to unravel eventually wherever the power of the institutional Church was weakest.

      • There are two questions here, one about universalism, and one about egalitarianism, which I think should be treated separately. In one sense, Christianity is irreducibly universalist, since it presents its tenets as universally applicable to all people regardless of ethnicity, race, or gender. In this it is similar to Buddhism and Islam, but dissimilar from Shinto or Hinduism. If this is a problem in itself, then I don’t think there’s really anything to be said in its defense. I don’t think that the notion of catholicity (quod semper etc.) has much to do with universalism, though. The catholic rule is intended to be anti-innovative, since anything new is not quod semper, and should restrict what can be universally prescribed, since local distinctives are not quod ubique.

        As for egalitarianism, the doctrine of the tripartite ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons keeps the egalitarian excesses in check, since the ranks of the clergy have a hierarchical relationship to each other and to the laity. Luther started the leftward ratchet going by eliminating all ministries except for the priest, and some of the more radical reformers that followed tried to eliminate or radically reinterpret the ordained ministry. Does that mean it was unstable? I dunno — the Latin hierarchy lasted for 1500 years before there was any serious secession, which is about as long as anything lasts. And does the existence of a breakaway province make the hierarch illegitimate? (Similar comments apply to the Orthodox and their small, less well-known breakaway movements, such as the Old Believers.)

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