The Purpose of the State

Byzantine Double Headed EagleIn the previous blog posting on the Fourteenth Amendment, we informed our readers that we would further develop the concept of the State. I can think of no better introductory to this lesson than this recent essay by Dn Patrick Mitchell.

Dn Mitchell as you may know, is a frequent contributor to Monomakhos. Please take the time to read it, it’s quite good and very enlightening.

Byzantine Empire—or Republic?

The Byzantine Republic: People and Power in New Rome, Anthony Kaldellis, Harvard University Press, 312 pages

Source: American Conservative

By Dn. Patrick Mitchell

The textbooks say the Byzantine Empire was a theocratic autocracy uniting church and state under an all-powerful emperor believed by the Byzantines to be God’s viceroy and vicar. Nonsense, says Anthony Kaldellis, professor of classics at Ohio State University. The Byzantine Empire was a continuation of the Roman Empire and even of the Roman Republic. Its political ideology was fundamentally secular and grounded in the ancient Roman republican belief that government exists to serve the common good. Its people no longer had a legal role in the election of leaders or legislators, but they often played an extralegal role in the making and unmaking of emperors, whose legitimacy depended on popularity and not on a claim of divine right or constitutional correctness. Emperors therefore ruled pragmatically and not fanatically, often disappointing the Church to please the people.

This is fresh air for Orthodox Christians, who have had to bear the accusation of Byzantine theocracy longer than Western Christians have had to bear the accusations of the Crusades and the Inquisition. But Kaldellis’s The Byzantine Republic also provides useful criticism of modern Western political thinking, as well as portentous, if inadvertent, insight into progressive democratic thinking and where it will take us.

His book is a frankly revisionist attack on the field of Byzantine studies, which has perpetuated age-old Western prejudices at odds with the historical record. Kaldellis takes aim mostly at academics of the 1930s and their imitators, but the roots of prejudice go back much further to the anti-Orthodox propaganda of the Middle Ages. The Orthodox Byzantines refused to recognize the supremacy of the Pope of Rome over all things sacred and secular, and they allowed their emperor far more authority over the Church than papal partisans could countenance. Later, during the Enlightenment, as the West moved to exclude religion from politics, the Byzantines were held up as the prime example of “caesaropapism” under the mistaken belief that the Byzantine emperor ruled as both king and pope, with no separation of church and state .

As Western political thought evolved, more faults were found in the Byzantine model. The empire lacked a written constitution with enumerated rights, separation of powers, democratic procedures, or any other explicit limits on the authority of the emperor, who seemed to rule by divine right as an absolute monarch. By then, the empire had ceased to exist, so Westerners with no knowledge of Greek or access to the relevant documents had no way of checking the historical reality against the disparaging claims of Edward Gibbon and others, for whom the Byzantines served as a convenient starting point for the Whig writing of history—the primeval nightmare of superstitious despotism out of which the Western world awoke and arose.

Some kinder 20th-century scholars have offered modest corrections to the conventional narrative, denying the accusation of caesaropapism and celebrating Byzantine art and culture, but no one has gone as far as Kaldellis in asserting the secular basis of Byzantine politics or in demonstrating the blindness of Western historians who only understand politics according to Enlightenment categories of thought.

Reading Roman history, but not rightly, early modern Western political theorists divided governments into two basic categories, monarchies and republics, defining the latter as self-governing polities without a monarch and understanding the former as either absolute or constitutional. As Kaldellis explains, the ancient Greeks and Romans saw things differently. Their two basic categories were kingdoms and commonwealths. A kingdom, in their experience, was the possession of a king ruled by his might for his own satisfaction. A commonwealth—res publica in Latin, politeia in Greek—was an independent polity variously governed but administered for the good of all. Commonwealths could therefore be monarchies, aristocracies, or democracies. Cicero himself said as much, even while bewailing the waning of senatorial power. 

The standard story that the Roman republic ended with Caesar Augustus becoming emperor is therefore simply wrong, says Kaldellis. The republic lived on, albeit in a new phase, the Principate, in place of the earlier Consulate. Historians call the republic’s later, third phase the Dominate—during which military emperors, ruling from wherever military necessity demanded, came to be addressed for the first time in Roman history as Domine, or “Lord.” The fourth, final, and longest phase, by far, was Byzantium, lasting from the fifth to the 15th century, during which emperors ruled as civilians from the city officially named New Rome but commonly called Constantinople (“Constantine’s city”) and founded originally as Byzantion (Byzantium in Latin).

All along, the empire’s people called themselves Romans. (The term “Byzantine” is a modern Western invention.) And all along these Romans identified their empire as a res publica or politeia, boasting that unlike other empires theirs was committed to the common good. From beginning to end, “Byzantine” Roman emperors were obliged to justify their actions by appeals not to divine right or divine law but to the common good, and the undisputed arbiter of the common good was the politeia, which included everyone—the aristocracy, the bureaucracy, the army, the clergy, and the various classes of people: merchants, tradesmen, farmers, etc.

Any one of these could challenge an emperor’s right to rule on the basis of his failure to serve the common good. Byzantine emperors therefore lived in fear of the people and did whatever they could to keep the people happy, presenting themselves as civil servants working tirelessly for the public’s benefit.

The people did not live in much fear of the emperors, however. They were often irreverent and disloyal, verbally abusing the emperor in public, even in his presence, and disregarding new laws they didn’t like. “Byzantine history abounds in instances of men and women who refused to obey an emperor’s orders, mostly on religious grounds,” writes Kaldellis. With a single exception, popular uprisings succeeded in forcing emperors to make concessions or else be deposed. The one exception in the empire’s thousand years was the Nika revolt of 532, when Justinian the Great, at the urging of Empress Theodora, sent soldiers to slaughter the murderous mob assembled in the Hippodrome to acclaim another emperor. (There were earlier instances of such brutality, but they fell under the Dominate of the third and fourth centuries.)

Harder for modern Westerners to appreciate is the relationship between the emperor’s authority and the empire’s laws. Romans of every age prided themselves on their respect for law, which was closely related to their belief in the common good and one of the features of Romanity that they believed set them above other nations. Their emperors were also expected to respect the law, yet there was no law they could not change. In Western eyes, this made the emperor not just an autocrat whose word was law but an unlimited autocrat—an absolute monarch. 

Yet this common Western view is based less on Byzantium than on the “New Absolutism” of the early modern West, which grew out of early efforts by Western princes to theorize their claims of “sovereignty” against papal claims of the same. With the Reformation, these peculiarly Western claims on sovereignty became more urgent and expansive, producing both Catholic and Protestant justifications for the “Divine Right of Kings,” according to which the king, as sovereign, is accountable to no one but God. For the French Catholic Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, the king personified the state: “Tout l’État est en la personne du prince,” he wrote, or as the Sun King would say, “L’État c’est moi.”

Against this New Absolutism came counterclaims subjecting the king to other sovereigns: common law, natural rights, constitutions written or unwritten, the will of the people. Continued religious and political contention drove Westerners toward opposite poles of political idealism, pitting the monarchical idealism of Divine Right against anti-monarchical “republican” idealism variously conceived. The arguments in favor of the latter are more familiar to us today. Our Founding Fathers availed themselves of all of them, with scant regard for consistency and without really solving the practical or theoretical problem of limited sovereignty. For if the people are sovereign, what is to protect us from democratic absolutism since the people decide what laws to make, what rights to respect, and even how to read the Constitution? Who is to tell the people they are wrong, and who is to stop them when they don’t listen?

The Byzantines never bothered to ask such questions because they never needed to. Their concern was not the source of government—sovereignty—but, says Kaldellis, the purpose of government. They did not therefore absolutize the emperor. They knew him to be a mere mortal and a sinner accountable to both God and the politeia. They did not believe in Divine Right.

They believed that God ordained rulers as “revenger[s] to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4), but they also knew that God often un-ordained rulers for His own reasons. They were tempted like many people to believe in royal blood, but that didn’t stop them from throwing over incompetent emperors “born in the purple.” And if any Byzantine emperor had declared, “The state is me,” everyone in earshot would have thought him insane.

Without a monarchical ideal, the Byzantines never needed an anti-monarchical ideal. They never absolutized natural rights or Roman law or even the Roman people. They, too, were mere mortals and sinners, and what mattered most was the good of the politeia, not the will of the people. Their will was not even the only will that mattered: There was God’s Will to consider, and God was understood often to give people not what they wanted but what they needed. He dealt with people not according to fixed principles of justice but in ways that would best bring about each soul’s salvation. The Byzantine term for this was oikonomía, and it is still an important aspect of Orthodox Christian pastoral theology.

The Byzantine approach to politics was likewise “economic.” The supreme law was the safety of the commonwealth. Everything else was discretionary. The emperor’s divine warrant as a “revenger” of evil was understood pragmatically to mean that rulers were to restrain evil, not eradicate it. Allowance was made for “humanity, commonsense, and public utility,” in Justinian’s words, with the understanding that some evils are not easily outlawed. Christian emperors were therefore slow to ban many evils condemned by the Church but popular with the people such as slavery, prostitution, pornography, and gladiatorial games.

K aldellis admits that Christian teaching supported the Byzantines’ republican commitment to the common good, and he judges Christian Byzantium more republican than the two previous phases of the republic—the Principate and the Dominate. But in his eagerness to argue against the conventional theocratic reading of Byzantine history, he errs in the opposite direction toward an essentially secular reading. “The Roman polity was only accidentally Christian,” he writes, and the result was a fundamentally secular monarchical republic “masquerading, to itself as much as to others, as an imperial theocracy.” The Byzantines were confused, given to “conflicting modalities of thought” and to shifting “situationally” between secular thinking and religious thinking. Their pragmatism and their republicanism were both products of secular thinking, at odds with Christianity’s supposed idealism and imperialism.

Here Kaldellis’s own reliance on modern Western conceptions of Christianity interferes with his analysis. He writes, for instance, that “secular” is a “fundamental category of Christian thought.” This is arguably true of Western Christianity, which is prone to distinguish sharply between the categories of sacred and profane, natural and supernatural, clergy and laity, “religious” clergymen and “secular” clergymen, “lords spiritual” and “lords temporal,” the City of God and the City of Man. But it is not obviously true of Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox have no exact theological equivalent of “secular” and think Catholics make too much of such categories.

Kaldellis’s use of “secular” is even further away from Orthodox thinking. He seems to limit Christian thinking to thoughts about the Christian religion, as if all other thoughts are not Christian and therefore “secular.” So when a Byzantine source attributes a victory to divine intervention, he’s thinking religiously, and when the same source attributes a victory to superior generalship, he’s thinking “secularly.” Kaldellis therefore cannot understand how Byzantine Christians could reconcile the deposition of an emperor by the people with the ordination of that emperor by God. He can only understand them as inconsistent—and more truly secular than Christian.

Surprisingly, Kaldellis identifies Jean-Jacques Rousseau as the Western theorist closest to the Byzantine tradition, citing passages from The Social Contract that do sound somewhat Byzantine. Rousseau defines a republic as “any state ruled by laws, whatever may be the form of administration.” He assigns sovereignty to the people and makes government their minister. And he stresses the importance of moral consensus and sees a need for a civil religion. When he writes that the most important laws are not those written down but those “in the hearts of the citizens,” Kaldellis says, Rousseau “reveals himself a classical rather than a modern thinker.”

This is a rather superficial reading of Rousseau. Byzantium was an actual, historical reality—a particular people with a particular past, religion, and legal, political, and cultural tradition—whereas Rousseau’s republic is yet another modern Western theoretical ideal, based on a very un-Roman, un-Christian, and un-Byzantine understanding of human nature and history. In his theoretical republic, all issues of value defining the common good are settled by the “general will,” which is not bound by any religion, tradition, institution, constitution, contract, or even reality. The people are free to build a new civilization as they please; they just need an enlightened lawgiver to show them how. (Rousseau saw himself in that role and actually offered his assistance in revolutionary lawgiving to Poland and Corsica.)

But what Kaldellis sees in Rousseau—the idea of a people expressing their will in the Byzantine way, asserting their sovereignty over the government extralegally—is why Rousseau still rivals Marx as the chief prophet of progressivism, and why progressive academics can be expected to embrace Kaldellis’s recasting of the Byzantines as secular democrats. Kaldellis shows that democracy can mean different things to different people. To American conservatives, it means orderly elections and strict adherence to written law and legal precedent, but to many American progressives it means public demonstrations, civil disobedience, and mob intimidation. The left understands that if the will of the people alone decides the common good, then the raised fist is a better gauge of good than a show of hands, for when the system fails to satisfy, some people will riot and some people won’t.

Brian Patrick Mitchell is the author of Eight Ways to Run the Country and a protodeacon of the Orthodox Church. 


  1. Christophertheugly says

    My only complaint with this essay is this: Nonsense, says Anthony Kaldellis, professor of classics at Ohio State University

    That’s, THE Ohio State University. A small, but noteworthy mistake that may put into question the entire piece ;o)

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

      I grew up in Ohio. My brother went to Ohio State. In those days, it was in fact Ohio State. “The” was added later for prideful PR purposes. It violates the rules of American English regarding the names of universities, and it disrespects Ohio’s many other state universities, including Ohio University and my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati. Simply put, OSU is not the Ohio state university; it is an Ohio state university.

      • Christophertheugly says

        Folks on this blog make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, there ain’t a lot of sense of humor ;o)

        And btw, pound for pound: Size, revenue, diversity, and yes even based upon academic standing, THE Ohio State University, Is THE university in Ohio.

        No disrespect.

        • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

          Go Bearcats!

        • Tim R. Mortiss says

          True enough, Chris. How many times have I remarked to myself how little a sense of humor is ever displayed here! Not totally absent– but close enough…..

        • Patrick Henry Reardon says

          Christopher says, “And btw, pound for pound: Size, revenue, diversity, and yes even based upon academic standing, THE Ohio State University, Is THE university in Ohio.”

          Those who doubt this point should spend an hour or two in Columbus.

          • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

            A great argument for calling it what it is: The Columbus State University.

          • Christophertheugly says

            Don’t get salty, Father :o)

            Columbus is a great city. It ain’t Chicago, but 16th in size in the Union. Pro Sport and college town, test market for some of the best restaurant, Muirfield, Jack Hanna, Museums, German Village, and underground Jazz.

  2. cynthia curran says

    He is very good and there are references to the Roman empire or somewhat the Republic in authors like Procopius and others of the time.

  3. Michael Bauman says

    Seems the same polity the good deacon describes applies to the Church and our bishops.

  4. Ashley Nevins says

    A church/state mentality and a foreign rule mentality are just two factors causing the real world practical demise of Orthodoxy in America. There are eight other factors for a total of ten. Can you list the factors demising your church in America and provide a solution to each of them that actually works?

    Church/state is top centralized authoritarian power and control that pushes down and suppresses and oppresses. It has no Gospels or NT basis. It is an institution of men turned into a tradition of men by men. It is man made religion and it is not Philippians 2:1-17.

    The Orthodox have some very harsh practical real world realities they have to face regarding why their church is demising in America. Orthodoxy in America only represents about .5% of Christianity here with about half that number the Greek church. If the Orthodox do not soon address the factors causing their demise here they will be .005%. (The Greek church is realizing the most significant losses)

    Practical real world reality for the Orthodox is the Pew Report. The number one issue that the Orthodox need to be addressing is the reasons why their church is dying in America. All other topics are insignificant in comparison.

    Are any Orthodox feeling suppressed or oppressed? That is not the fault of western rational freedom of religion that is not church/state. None of our founding fathers were EOC. Thank God.

    Orthodox, you do thank God for western rational freedom of religion America that is not under the rule of foreign patriarchs who all have a church/state mindset, right?

    • Monk James says

      As the proverbial statement says, ‘There are none so blind as those who WILL NOT see.’

      And since when did ‘demise’ become a verb, let alone an active-voice verb?

      We need to first do our homework so as to get our facts right, then we need to express ourselves in standard English if we’re not to be thought fools — my own suggested reforms of capitalization and punctuation notwithstanding.

    • gail sheppard says

      This may not be clear to you, Ashley, but you have become a beacon for the Orthodox Church. Defending our Church reinforces our Faith. May God credit you for that.

      • Ashley Nevins says

        A beacon is a guiding light or signal.

        The light in your church beacon is going out in America. It is growing dimmer and dimmer with each passing day.

        What is your solution to issues the demising your church in America? What is your DEFENSE against its implosion? How do you REINFORCE it while it crumbles before your eyes?

        Unless the Orthodox in America begin to answer such questions with solutions that actually work their church will no longer work in America. A failed and dying church is a church that does work. The right church foundation does not collapse it holds the church up. All of the props holding your church have come down and it can’t stand up.

        I read the Pew Report. Have you read it? It is beacon warning light like the engine light on your car. If you deny or ignore the engine light you only cause damage to the car. Would you agree? There is something seriously wrong with the Orthodox car in America and nothing is fixing the damage done to it.

        Talk is cheap faith action is expensive. You get the church you pay the price for, take the risk for and make the sacrifice for.

        Faith takes action that defends against corruption and abuse that can first undermine and then over time destroy a church. Faith is not powerless. The faithless powerless are powerless to hold corruption and abuse transparent and accountable with consequences that send a zero tolerance message of no tolerance of corruption and abuse. Place your faith in the wrong God and you will go powerless without God. Look to the wrong source for solution and only the wrong solution will come. Misidentify the problem and you will misidentify the solution and the solution will fail.

        Only a poisoned faith made a toxic faith would defend corruption and abuse that cause church implosion. The object of a churches faith determines its thinking, attitude and behavior and therefore its outcome. A toxic faith will kill a church dead. Idolatry is faith in what corrupts. Think it through. Idolatry is faith in what corrupts.

        A top down authoritarian church that is dictatorial in its corruption and abuses will make you powerless if you by misplayed loyalty and submission allow its thinking, attitude and behavior to continue. Idolatry of church and/or its senior leaders over Gods people leads to the corruption abuse of Gods people. Anyone who would defend corrupt and abusive church behavior is acting out that behavior by being an enabling accessory of that corrupt and abusive behavior. You know, like those who defend the convicted sexual abuse criminal Seraphim (OCA) and those who do nothing about the sex abuse scandal led by the EP in Astoria, NY (GOC).

        When Christ morality is replaced by systemic corruption and abuse in a church that church will suffer serious consequences and the damage done by the behavior and consequences can be irreparable.

        The seven last words of a dying church are, we have always done it this way. If the Orthodox keep doing systemic corruption and abuse as their Orthodox Way there is no way they will survive themselves in America. It is not outside forces imploding your church. It is all internal. Systemic means a majority are involved in causing the implosion problems. It means the influence of something has control of the system everyone is involved in. If the influence is Jesus Christ then that is healthy system and if it is corruption and abuse that is a sick system.

        A sick system believes the same failed solution used over and over again will next time work. No, it does not work. It only makes the system more sick.

        Delusion believes the same failed solution will work next time. Idolatry creates delusion that cannot see the idolatry that creates the failed solution. Right worship worships Jesus and not a systemically corrupt and abusive church. Right worship of Christ leads to right solution by Christ. Wrong worship of what is corrupt leads to wrong solution by idolatry.

        How a church thinks in who and what it worships determines its real world outcome over time and the Orthodox in America are out of time. Think idolatry over Christ and that will determine your church future in America. Systemic idolatry is destroying Orthodoxy in America. The Orthodox are self idolatrous of themselves and their church.

        I fully understand how a top down centralized structure of authoritarian power and control that is dictatorial in a exclusive, closed and isolated system can become systemically self idolatrous of itself and then by the delusion of that idolatry deny that it is self idolatrous of itself. I fully understand how it will deny what it is, but its thinking, attitude and behavior that determine its real world outcome expose what its denial is. The Orthodox cannot closed system hide, cover up, keep secret, spin or lie about why their church is failed in America. The failure points directly to the cause of the failure. The delusional by idolatry will deny the cause and then they will try to defend the indefensible.

        The real danger of systemic church corruption if it is left in place is that it will turn that church into a cult in Christianity. A cult is self idolatrous and in denial of what it is. Idolatry and corruption is the basis of a cult. There are rational objective criterion that can be used to determine if a church is a cult. However, the criterion only works with those who are willing to see their church as it really is and not by how idolatry tells them to see it. The turning away from Christ that causes systemic church corruption is what I call cult creep. It creeps in without the idolatrous who are delusional seeing it.

        The character of the self idolatrous is superiority, pride, arrogance and self righteousness that believes only they are the God right and therefore they do not listen, John 8:31-59. All church growth and relevancy development and what can kill them dead is found in the Gospels and NT.

        All other topics are irrelevant in comparison to dealing with the reasons why your church is imploding in America.

        • Monk James says

          Some of what Ashley Nevins writes is true, and some of it is not so true. But all of it is confused and confusing.

          There’s no reason to assume that Ashley Nevins is a Christian of any stripe, especially considering today’s assigned section of St Paul’s letters (2 COR 11:14 ff).

          In the interest of clarifying our relative positions here, it would be good for Mr Nevins would tell us which God he worships, and what perfect religion he follows to do so, and how that organization’s clergy and people escape all the sins and failures he so insistently attributes to Orthodox Christianity and its faithful.

          Where can we sign up?

        • Sub-Deacon Gregory Varney says

          How long George? How Long???

  5. Michael Kinsey says

    Very enlightening, but what does it have to do with a world culture and financial system ruled by pirates, in secret societies and banks. Who can fight the beast? A question stated in the Revelation. Nobody, but God is the answer. We endure to the end to gain victory over this beast. There is a scripture that God will set up a kingdom that will endure for all Eternity. Perhaps, the purpose and manner will have a root in the Old Holy Empires of Christian peoples, making a correct understanding of them fruitful.

  6. Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

    Most relevant to our present situation is the fact that the Byzantine — and, I would say, the Christian — approach to politics is necessarily pragmatic and not idealistic. Politics is all about the use of force, which is a fallen way of relating. It can, therefore, never be ideal, there being no ideal form of coercion. There are ideal ways of relating, but they do not involve coercion.

    Christians are therefore called to be moral idealists but political pragmatists, which is what our present situation requires. We in the West are now threatened by our own political ideals, which require us to pursue unobtainable ends like absolute equality, and which force us to treat all religions as the same, equally bad or equally good. These naïve, 18th-century ideals make us politically insane, unable to even consider courses of action necessary to preserve our civilization.

  7. Where, Deacon Patrick, did you ever get the idea that you have enough background to review this Byzantinist’s latest effort? Prof. Anthony Kaldellis has impeccable translation skills, an Orthodox pronoma and is apparently following in the footsteps of the likes of Claude Cahen.

    A short summary:

    Here’s a course syllabus on one of his major topics

    For all those dismissive of the university where he teaches, I wonder how many people on this forum meet the prerequisites for this course?

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

      As a matter of fact, Decebalus, I actually recommended someone else to write this review, another Orthodox Christian with a PhD in Byzantine history, but I was told by the editor of the magazine, who knows both of us very well, that he wanted a generalist to write the review because generalists often see things that specialists do not and can therefore do a better job of relating work by specialists to broader issues of concern to broader audiences. I’m sure you will agree that that is true.

      Furthermore, please note that my criticisms of Kaldellis’s book pertain only to what he says about Orthodox Christianity and political theory, both of which are out of his area of expertise. He is neither a theologian nor a political scientist. He is a historian.

      Finally, no one is dissing OSU for its academics, only for its silly pretense to being “The” Ohio state university.

      • George Michalopulos says

        That’s why I was excited when I read your excellent essay originally in The American Conservative. Specialists are necessary but when it comes to history they tend to get lost in the weeds.

    • Patrick Henry Reardon says

      Decebalus asks, “I wonder how many people on this forum meet the prerequisites for this course?”

      At a bare minimum, I think, candidates should be able to translate “Decebalus.”

  8. Mark E. Fisus says

    Be careful what you wish for. A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take it away.

    If state power is justified by the common good, why should it be shackled by such contrivances as the Constitution?

    For the economic conservatives here, wouldn’t this article counsel support for the Affordable Care Act?

    • Michael Bauman says

      Mark Fiscus you are assuming that all central government action is for the common good just because it is sold that way. Any common good that comes from Obamacare is by accident not design.

      The secular state serves only itself supported by a never ending stream of propaganda and coercion. The common good is whatever. It is an idol. Western monarchies became that too as the Machiavellian ideas of use relation against the people took hold.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

      No, the article does not counsel support for the Affordable Care Act, for the very reason stated above and in the article — that we as Orthodox Christians may choose pragmatically what to make a matter of law. We are not obliged by any article of Orthodox faith to say that force must be used for any particular purpose, only that when force is used it must be used for real good, which is always ultimately the good of all — the common good. Sometimes the common good is served by punishing evildoers; other times it is better served by forgiving them.

      • George Michalopulos says

        Your last sentence seems to me to be the ideal summum of Christian politics.

      • Pdn BPM:

        we as Orthodox Christians may choose pragmatically what to make a matter of law. We are not obliged by any article of Orthodox faith to say that force must be used for any particular purpose, only that when force is used it must be used for real good, which is always ultimately the good of all — the common good.

        The Protodeacon is right to insist that we Orthodox Christians choose pragmatically as opposed to dogmatically what to make a matter of law. A compelling instance of the axiom is afforded by the prevailing ethos of Orthodox Christians in the U.S.A. with respect to same sex marriage: they are in favor of it, as study after study shows. Quote:

        “The most supportive major religious groups are Buddhists (84 percent), Jews (77 percent), and Americans who select “Other religion” (75 percent)…More than six in ten (62 percent) white mainline Protestants support same-sex marriage. …And while the Catholic Church officially opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage, about six in ten white (61 percent), Hispanic (60 percent), and other non-white Catholics (60 percent) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. A majority of orthodox Christians (56 percent) also support same-sex marriage….On the other side of the debate, majorities of Jehovah’s Witnesses…”

        • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

          OOM, real good — the good of all — cannot include forcing people to participate in immorality. There is therefore no pragmatic option to force gay marriage on people.

  9. lexcaritas says

    Some may be interested in this from Henri de Bracton circa 1253:

    “The king must not be under man but under God and under the law, [009] because law makes the king, Let him therefore bestow upon the law what [010] the law bestows upon him,7 namely, rule and power.] for there is no king where [011] will rules rather than law. Since he is the vicar of God, And that he ought to be [012] under the law appears clearly in the analogy of Jesus Christ, whose vicegerent on [013] earth he is, for though many ways were open to Him for his ineffable redemption of [014] the human race, the True Mercy of God chose this most powerful way to destroy the [015] devil’s work, He would use not the power of force but the reason of justice.Thus He [016] willed himself to be under the law that He might redeem those who live under it. [017] For He did not wish to use force but judgment. And in that same way the Blessed [018] Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord, who by an extraordinary [019] privilege was above law, nevertheless, in order to show an example of humility, [020] did not refuse to be subjected to established laws. Let the king, therefore, do the [021] same, lest his power remain unbridled.] There ought to be no one in his kingdom [022] who surpasses him in the doing of justice, but he ought to be the last, or almost so, [023] to receive it, when he is plaintiff.”

    He is said to have spoken in Parliament contra King Henry III in a dispute that was mediated by (St.) Louis IX of France who, in the West at least, epitomizes the ideal of the saintly and just royal.


  10. Joseph Lipper says

    George, thanks for posting this essay. Probably the closest thing in America to the Byzantine tradition of politics would be the Democratic Party. The Byzantine emperors were often enough in egregious moral and dogmatic error (remember the iconoclasts?). And let’s not forget where the term “Byzantine Intrigue” comes from. The Byzantine Emperors were not perfect, nor did they see the selves as such. But as Kadellis points out, they understood their duty as being one of seeking the common good, whether or not they actually achieved it.

    By contrast, in America we have the Republican Party which is highly modeled on Protestant Calvinism, and it is a shame that this passes off as having anything at all to do with Orthodox Christianity.

    • George Michalopulos says

      I would agree with you re the Democrat Party up to 1968. At that point it was taken over by the Alinskyites and it now functions as the vanguard for the Establishment as it seeks to displace the native American working classes in the interests of globalism.

      The Republican Party post-Lincoln did this as well in the South when the execrable Radical Republicans had their day in the sun for ten years. Once their evil tenure was over, more humane elements took over in the North and actually looked after the interests of the American middle class and black folks (in the North at least).

      It saddens me, this business of throwing great men like Jefferson and Jackson under the bus by the Democrat Party. It does not bode well for the future.

    • Pdn Brian Patrick Mitchell says

      Joseph, have you ever heard of The Fable of the Bees by Bernard Mandeville? The fable’s subtitle is “Private Vices, Publick Benefits,” and its point is that the common good is often served by allowing people the freedom to pursue their own interests.

      I am not aware that any Byzantine ever made the same argument, but, as with many modern arguments, they may never have made it simply because they never had to. Their empire was a commercial commonwealth deriving much of its wealth from trade. Even emperors engaged in trade. Usury was legal and ubiquitous, forbidden only to clergymen.

      Mandeville wrote in defense of such freedom against feudal conceptions of society, which looked to a lord to manage his estate for the benefit of all, and against the Roman Catholic condemnation of usury, which made immoral what we now call “capitalism.”

      Looked at that way, Republicans appear more Byzantine than Democrats. And besides, as George points out, Democrats have long since become outright revolutionaries, obsessed with grievances and determined to destroy the old world so as to create a new one. Nothing could be further from the Byzantine way.

      • Tim R. Mortiss says

        Thus, in the era of the American Civil War, it can be said that the North was more in accordance with the Byzantine way, and the South was feudal.

        I kind of like the sound of that……;-)