Mystical Christian reactionaries: another type of conservative

My esteemed fellow reactionary blogger Bruce Charlton has read my taxonomy of conservatism and failed to find a category that adequately describes his own position.  That would seem to indicate that my taxonomy is incomplete, and he proposes another type of conservative, the mystical Christian reactionary.  If I may summarize his position (hopefully Dr. Charlton will correct me if I misrepresent him), the mystical Christian reactionary asserts

  1. Social thought should base itself explicitly on Christian truth.  Christian practice should permeate all aspects of life.
  2. The primary way to make things better is prayer, liturgy, and the cultivation of sanctity.  What the world needs is not better laws but conversion to the gospel, soul by soul.
  3. The world is fallen; the telos of man (individually and corporately) is elsewhere–union with God effected by God.

I’d like to focus on this

Another aspect is that MCRs are – in a loose sense – more Platonic than Aristotelian. What I mean is that there is a kind of Platonism about the basic idea that human history as we observe it is the noisy, muddied and superficial appearance of the Unseen Warfare between Good and Evil which is its underlying reality.

This does seem to be a real difference among religious conservatives.  Not, I should emphasize, that the “Platonists” and “Aristotelians” disagree with each other on some point of principle, but that our emphases are definitely different.  The “Aristotelian” like myself emphasizes how spiritual realities can be embodied and made manifest given the right social structures and rituals.  The “Platonist” remembers that even in the best arrangements, alienation is a feature of the human condition.  Indeed it is a special glory, since it indicates that man was made for beatitude and will settle for nothing less.

The Platonist would find himself contradicted by the secular right-Hegelian, for whom alienation is always bad, and any transcendent horizon is a source of alienation.  The social conservative might be able to come to agreement with the Platonist, because for him social structures point beyond this life, authority coming from God and all that.  Still, we do have a temptation to speak as though the right social structures will make man completely at home in the world.

This brings us back to some of the objections that were raised by Christians–I believe it was Stephen in particular–when I first presented my taxonomy.  I suspect Stephen would agree that he’s a mystical Christian reactionary (or at least a mystical Christian) and less likely to paper over the effects of original sin, indeed the effects of simply not possessing the beatific vision in this life, than I am.

Mystical Christian reactionaries share some traits with a couple of my conservative types, although I agree that none of my original types describes them completely.  Like the cultural conservatives, their emphasis is on culture rather than politics.  Like the romantics, they emphasize humility in our social action, i.e. not imagining we can fix all the world’s problems with laws and advocacy.  But their humility has a different basis.  The romantic’s humility is epistemic; he claims to lack the vast knowledge needed to perfect the world.  The Christian reactionary’s humility is more radical; it’s based on the knowledge that only God can bring us to our ultimate end.

Much of Charlton’s description is at the pre-political level.  I hope he will expand it to explain how mystical Christian reactionaries understand their resistance to liberalism and their defense of reactionary institutions like the patriarchal family,  (I assume that, being reactionaries, they do do this.)  It will be interesting to see if they have a different “take” on these things than other reactionaries.

12 Responses

  1. That seems a good summary, and I thought the following passage was excellent:

    Bonald: “The “Aristotelian” like myself emphasizes how spiritual realities can be embodied and made manifest given the right social structures and rituals. The “Platonist” remembers that even in the best arrangements, alienation is a feature of the human condition. Indeed it is a special glory, since it indicates that man was made for beatitude and will settle for nothing less.”

    Aristotle (with Aquinas) is the most perfect (precise and coherent) philosophy – but Plato (with later Christian modifications from the Holy Fathers) is the best theology (being less precise philosophically – or, if it becomes too precise, becoming incoherent).

    Both philosophy and theology as more and somewhat less specialized disciplines ought to be subordinated to theosis/ sanctification/ holiness.

    *

    Bonald: “I hope [Charlton] will expand it to explain how mystical Christian reactionaries understand their resistance to liberalism and their defense of reactionary institutions like the patriarchal family, (I assume that, being reactionaries, they do do this.) It will be interesting to see if they have a different “take” on these things than other reactionaries.”

    I see the clearest examples of this in the forms of resistance that Russian Orthodox made to Communism, and the grounds for that resistance. It can be seen in Solzhenitsyn, as described most clearly in the biography by Joseph Pearce; or (at a distance) in the writings of Fr Seraphim Rose (which are summarized in the biography by Hieromonk Damascene).

    As I understand it, Liberalism (and Leftism, in general) are seen as apostasy, and an attack on the soul by a society built around nihilism, and ultimately the enforced worship of unTruth.

    So, Mystical Christian Reactionaries wish for a form of politics which at least allows, and at best encourages, a Christian life. Politics is a means to that end. One consequence is ultimate authority comes from God and is hierarchical, so that divinely-ordained monarchy is most desirable.

    (And systems in which ultimate authority comes from humans, or would-be egalitarian systems – such as democracy, and Leftism – are intrinsically bad).

    *

    Beyond this there is a division between Eastern Orthodoxy which most desires a unified authority with monarch as God’s Vicegerent (e.g. Byzantine Emperor, a King like Alfred the Great of England, or Holy Russian Tsar); and Western Christianity which desires a dual system of Church and State – with the ‘Holy Roman’ monarch anointed by the Pope.

    But these alternatives are perhaps best seen as means to the same end of the earthly version of the divine The City of God – the difference is that the earthly copy of the City of God for the Eastern Christians was New Rome (first Constantinople, then Moscow – now nowhere); and for the Roman Catholics the City of God was The Church.

    (This idea of earthly copies of divine things seems Platonic to me – albeit the Western European medieval Church was Aristotelian/ Thomistic.)

  2. This is a fascinating issue, Bonald, and I do believe it traces to the dramatic differences in emphasis between Eastern and Western Christian mindset. Tho’ it is an intramural struggle between groups likely to agree publicly on most prescriptions for the modern state, it nevertheless remains a discussion worth having.

    As a westerner (Roman Catholic), when I see:

    Social thought should base itself explicitly on Christian truth. Christian practice should permeate all aspects of life.

    My eyes just glaze over. I mean the words have meaning, and I actually want it to be true (hooray for my side!), but it seems obvious that good governance, both in state action and in the efficacy of various societal taboos, has little or nothing to do with Christian revelation. If God is the Creator, then obviously Nature will, by her nature, recapitulate Eternal Truth. In other words the last 7 of the Decalogue (or 6 depending on your accounting) are obvious from Nature herself, and will be enforced (by law or custom) in any successful society–and, by extension, fail to be enforced in unsuccessful ones.

    And this is, more or less, what we find: Japanese successful, Tibetan polyandrists not so much; Rome prior to Christianity, very strong, Rome after Christianity, weaker. Paganism, Christianity, appear to count for very little in the equation.

    What counts is the ability of a people and her leaders to deal with reality as it is, vis-a-vis what they wish it were, and plan accordingly. If Christianity predisposes us for this task (and it should), then it will be beneficial (morally, economically, socially) to a people. But I see nothing in Christianity that uniquely predisposes us toward such realism. In fact, for much of the last 500 years, various streams of Christianity have been conditioning peoples for quite the opposite.

  3. Hello Mr. Nicoloso,

    I also take a less revelation-based approach to politics, although I think it’s more a matter of style than anything else. There’s one thing I worry about in your formulation, and that’s that different sides will define “success” differently. For example, most liberals (e.g. Reggie) would say that the modern West is much more successful than what came before. They would even say that it is more moral than what came before, using their understanding of morality which conflicts with ours.

  4. Hello bgc,

    I think the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox social ideals are probably closer than is commonly imagined. After all, didn’t Byzantium have a distinct Church and State, although the two were certainly bound by intimate cooperation? The Patriarch of Constantinople derives his authority from apostolic succession, not imperial delegation. And, of course, while strife between Church and State has been common in Western lands, the Catholic ideal is concord and cooperation between Christ’s “two swords”, the temporal and the spiritual.

  5. “The Platonist would find himself contradicted by the secular right-Hegelian, for whom alienation is always bad, and any transcendent horizon is a source of alienation.”

    “Here as hereafter, the alternative to Hell is Purgatory.” — T.S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society

    It’s healthy to feel alienated from a world ruled by a species of monsters who kill to feed himself, who kill to clothe himself, who kill to adorn himself, who kill to attack, who kill to defend himself, who kill to instruct himself, who kill to amuse himself, who kill to kill.

    I think the point of winning the war of ideas against progressives, a struggle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities, is nothing more grandiose than turning the state into Purgatory so no more revolutionary leaders can turn it into a genocidal Hell. An Emperor’s job was not to solve all his subjects’ problems, but to restrain the Antichrist by simply occupying the throne. Then each subject could exercise his free will to strive for Heaven, or not.

  6. “An Emperor’s job was not to solve all his subjects’ problems, but to restrain the Antichrist by simply occupying the throne. Then each subject could exercise his free will to strive for Heaven, or not.”

    That is an extremely powerful clarification – thank you.

  7. Steve N – “My eyes just glaze over. ”

    Well, yes – and that is how modernity is sustained. We are easily bored, we want stimulus and distraction. But that is irrelevant, orthogonal, to truth, reality – and even to sustainability.

    The point is 1. what will happen, 2. what ought to happen – and this has nothing much to do with the emotional habits inculcated by our decadent culture.

    (In which I am *myself* deeply implicated, I hasten to add – why else would I be blogging and commenting? I can’t remotely imagine one of my heroes like CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien or – especially not – Fr Seraphim Rose spending *so much* time as I do browsing ‘teh interweb’…)

  8. But Dr. Charlton, with all due respect, I did not mean to imply simple ennui on my part, but rather a complete void in understanding how such a statement could have any real-world implications. On the contrary, I have thought much about it and remain completely unconvinced that Christian revelation, qua Christian Revelation, adds anything to the art of ruling men that isn’t already abundantly clear from Nature Herself. I come from an Evangelical background in which it was taught in no uncertain terms that Christians founded America on Christian principles, and it was moreover our duty to return America to those exact principles. Coming to doubt that historical account was a tiny part of my move towards RC. But now as I see it, if this account were true, it would now be all the more reason to reject the American founding as sheer bunkum (which it more or less was).

    Of course I want a Christian (preferably Catholic) Monarch. But I’d take even an atheist monarch over the present system. Hell, I suspect the devil himself could run a government better than one democratically elected. And were I to get the first wish (Catholic Monarch), I would pray all the more fervently for his (or her) wisdom to lead and establish justice and peace. But I would not be so foolish as to assume that his leadership would better just because he was faithful Christian. Jimmy Carter-n-all that.

  9. “On the contrary, I have thought much about it and remain completely unconvinced that Christian revelation, qua Christian Revelation, adds anything to the art of ruling men that isn’t already abundantly clear from Nature Herself.”

    It is a typical modern statement. Historically, all governments were religious (the greatest society which can be ruled based on secular principles is a tribe of a few hundred persons – and even this is not certain).

    In other words, there is no “art of ruling men clear from Nature” at all.

    Of course, any change in religion must change the way the men are ruled.

    See:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20080424100215/http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~kaplan/ Edward Kaplan Lectures on the history of China

    At the same time, your remark is correct. Christianity is not one of the religions. The purpose of the Christian Revelation is not the change of government and it says nearly nothing about the government. Byzantium managed to retain a version of the Classical Civilisation adjusted to Christian principles.

    At the same time, your remark is not correct. The principles of Christian revelation CAN be used to change government. This is what was done by the Catholic Church since “Dominus Papa”. (See Harold Berman “Law and Revolution”). The results are the Western Civilisation as it is today. There was no greater change in the way men are ruled in the history of the world.

  10. […] (Svein Sellanraa) – A Genealogy of the Right Bonald – A taxonomy of the Right (addendum) James Kalb – Q&A at 2Blowhards: Parts one, two, and three Lawrence Auster – What […]

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