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Tuesday, October 11. 2011
The first political systems, from an institutional standpoint, were monarchies. Monarchs either considered themselves gods, chosen by 'the gods', or "Chosen by God". In almost every sense, the political system was tied somehow to the spiritual beliefs of the nation.
During a college course on Democracy, my professor spent the better part of an hour and a half discussing the implications of this concept. He pointed out that God Himself chose Israel's first king, and approved of their choosing a king. I immediately raised my hand and asked "But God didn't want Israel to have a king, did He? He considered Himself their king and allowed them to have Judges which acted as their spiritual and moral guides on earth."
The professor disagreed, saying God had set up the rules for the choosing of the Israelite king, thereby approving of the system and setting the standard for all kings that followed to be "Chosen by God". Again, I responded that God did this grudgingly, and only because of the obstinate nature of the Israelites. The professor, sensing I was unwilling to give this up, suggested I write a single page paper about the topic. It would have no bearing on my grade. But I felt it was worth the effort.
Twelve years of Catholic schooling meant I still had a Bible among the possessions I carried with me to college. Finding the passages in question was simple. I knew the Book of Samuel was the place to start looking, and sure enough it wasn't long before I found 1 Samuel 8:1-22. This described the worries faced by Israel as Samuel aged and his sons proved they were corrupt.
However, to fully understand the mindset of the Israelites, I had to read beyond the opening. Clearly, Israel was concerned about more than just an aging Samuel and his sons. What else was going on? It seems Israel faced many threats, too. Samuel was not just a wise judge. He was an active leader, as well. He was instrumental in battle, as well as in maintaining social order. He was communicating directly with God.
Losing Samuel didn't just mean a corrupt social contract, it meant potential devastation at the hands of enemies.
The Israelites worried they would lose everything and, being human, they made demands on God. They wanted a king, they wanted to be like other nations.
Samuel spoke with God. God opposed this, pointing out that by wanting a king, Israel was rejecting Him.
God did not stop there. God was very clear about exactly what having a king would mean. As much as it seemed a good idea to the people of Israel, God painted a picture that mirrors many common protests we hear today. The basic premise was this: A king will make his nation slaves to his will.
God went further and warned them when the day came that they realized the king had made them slaves, He would not hear their cries.
The people, fearing the internal problems they foresaw and the external threats they feared, did not care to listen. They wanted to be like other nations no matter what God said.
So God gave in, and let them have their king. And at this point it was assumed, by virtually every king which followed, that he was "Chosen by God".
One could say God supported anarchy, and I more or less made this final point, since the opening classes on Democracy considered alternative forms of political systems. Our opening classes required reading Wolff's In Defense of Anarchism. However, I was also clear to point out God was not fully sold on anarchy. After all, Samuel was a leader of sorts. God felt that having just mediators, rather than coercive ruling influences, could provide the support and management a nation needed.
It was the people themselves who couldn't see the wisdom of God's desires. Humans have always spent time trying to seek God's will in guiding our leaders. God was reluctant to allow a leader other than Himself, though. Our nature is to mix the flesh with the spiritual. God wished to avoid this in the management of society, recognizing the corrupt force of politics, and His stance played out even as Jesus made his way through Israel.
Today, Democracy may be the worst form of government except for all the others. But we seek to find some form of balance to avoid the pitfalls which God made clear would happen with an absolute ruler. We still have some of these problems, even with a 'good' system of governance. Which probably says more about God's wisdom than ours.
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Good stuff. More proof that professors use an appeal to authority (their authority) to defend some of the most ludicrous assertions.
Anyway, I just finished reading that chapter to my son last nite.
One take that I had was that the Israelites lacked faith that God would replace Samuel effectively, when Samuel's sons were obviously not suitable replacements.
Also, this chapter was the basis for Ron Paul's speech at last Saturday's Values Voters Summit. He did a great job with it.
Social contract theory is mostly a fictional post-hoc explanation (or justification) of government, but this might be a rare, if not unique example of an an actual social contract (between God and His people) in the making.
"...He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18"
I don't view Social Contract theory as fictional. It is a post-hoc justification, however.
The problem with Social Contract theory is less one of fact or fiction. Every relationship we have with a person, institution, or society in general carries an 'agreement' of some sort. Rules of behavior, expectations, etc.
The problem comes from the variations in those expectations. The OWSers want something for nothing - that's their 'social contract' - make others pay for what I think is mine by 'right'.
Libertarians, on the other hand, expect to live and die by their choices and the consequences of those choices. Sometimes those choices may carry retribution from people or groups wronged by misguided behavior.
Other people believe in some mix of individualism and statism providing to 'fill in the gaps of both'.
As a result, the contract is not going to be the same for everyone. Which is, ahem, an interesting case for Libertarian thought because it is supportive of voluntary collectivism, if individuals choose to give up rights. If you can't make everyone happy by having one way of doing things, choose one way of doing things that allows others to make choices for themselves......
With regard to the point you make, however, absolutely the concept is that God entered into a 'contract' with Israel. He brought them out of Egypt, delivered them from slavery and gave them their own land. Part of that contract was to worship Him and Him alone, while trusting in His guidance.
Once they showed a bit of doubt in God's guidance, God made it clear - when he enslaves you, I will not be there to hear your cries.
In other words, think ahead. As good as this may seem right now, you may wish you thought a little harder about it.
I think you would find David Hart's discussion of Tolkien's anarcho-monarchism views gratifying.
Note: I am a big fan of Tolkien, but I think he is naive here, as is Chesterton with his Distributism.
I agree, it is naive.
I'm a fan of anarchy in the same sense that Tolkien is, but I also realize it's absurd to consider it a potential alternative.
What surprises me is that Hart says democracy "produced" Nazis. I don't think that is accurate. Nazis manipulated the system to make their electoral success seem democratic, but they definitely achieved power through muscle and manipulation.
What a pleasure to read. I have been thinking about our current political situation and how it relates to the Jews demanding a king, but was putting off going back to read. I am glad I am not the only one seeing similarities.
Wow, last week I got 2 "Bullshits". So pleased to receive the compliments.
I recently wrote to a blogger I enjoy reading and he responded it was compliments like mine that kept him going. I have to say, receiving them is very gratifying.