Saturday, February 27, 2010

Marriage, the Core of Society:

In chapters 2 & 3 of the Politica, Althusius identifies the family as the basis of human society. Of course, this is sort of a common place. We hear this sort of thing in political rhetoric all the time today. It was an old concept (indeed a biblical one) even in Althusius' day, but it was not popular. The nation state was emerging with its strong centralized power. Althusius believed that society and government was organized around consent and commitment, that is, covenants. There was no absolute human authority.
Are these two ideas compatible? Can the basis of society be the family and, at the same time, consent? After all, we do not general choose our family members. But a moments reflexion identifies the basis of the family is the covenant between man and wife. If were but one society, only one family, at its base would be a commitment between a man and his wife, between a woman and her husband. This is the teaching of the Bible. Adam and Eve were joined together in marriage by God (see Genesis 2, and Matthew 19). In fact the creation of man included the creation of both male and female, they together complete the concept of man.
The bond of this union is such that it even trumps the duty of a child to his or her parents (see again the two references above). Now the law of God does not pit one duty against another, we are to honor father and mother AND keep the marriage bond pure and unbroken. However, we live in a sin-sick world and their are times when our duty to God overrules our duty to our neighbor. It is better to obey God rather than men, says our apostles. When we remember that our duty to respect and honor civil government is derived from the fifth commandment (our duty to honor our parents), the sacredness and solemnity of the marriage bond is intensified. In human society it is covenant, not power, that is fundamental.
But can the same argument be made outside of revelation? I think so. While our understanding of humanity's early years is clouded and based largely on conjecture, recorded history sees mankind already organized in complex societies. And common to all those societies is the institution of marriage in one form or another. It is true, that hierarchies of power asserted themselves over the mutual commitments of men, patriarchs of families began to undermine their sons' marriages by demanding unwavering loyalty, and that sacred institution became a way of extending political clout, it became one more tool of power. But in the beginning it was not so, and our Lord makes that clear. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Another Warning against Faith in Government:

This article is a must read:
Is Joe Stack a Wake-Up Call to America? by John W. Whitehead
Its purpose is to show the tragic futility of trusting government. Government is not God, it is not capable of doing what it promises & often promises what it has no intention of doing. Why? Because government is human. It is made up of men and women wielding power. It is subject to human corruption. And like mankind everywhere, it lies, cheats, steals for the extension of its own "good" (which, from the perspective of government, is power). Of course, government wants to put the best spin on its actions and so it creates myths and presents itself as the protector of human freedom, prosperity, and wellbeing. But that is its own useful fiction. The tragedy is that many people believe government myths, and they either become pawns in the oppression of themselves and their neighbors or they end up disillusioned and despondent: thus Joe Stack.
This is not to say that government serves no good purpose for mankind. All things work together for good to them that love God, and to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God uses the evil of the world to bless his people. Government, as evil as it is, is still a restraint against humanity's utter depravity. God uses many such restraints. But when we confuse a restraint with a positive blessing, we set up an idol. This is the problem with the so-called Christian Right and the Christian Left, both replace politics with the gospel. Government is a burden, but with Paul we can say, I can do [endure] all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Phil. 4:13).

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Social Imperative

Moreover, Aristotle teaches that man by his nature is brought to this social life and mutual sharing. For man is a more political animal than the bee or any other gregarious creature, and therefore by nature far more of a social animal than bees, ants, cranes, and such kind as feed and defend themselves in flocks. Since God himself endowed each being with a natural capacity to maintain itself and to resist whatever is contrary to it, so far as necessary to its welfare, and since dispersed men are not able to exercise this capacity, the instinct for living together and establishing civil society was given to them. Thus brought together and united, some men could aid others, many together could provide the necessities of life more easily than each alone, and all could live more safely from attack by wild beasts and enemies. It follows that no man is able to live well and happily to himself. Necessity therefore induces association; and the want of things necessary for life, which are acquired and communicated by the help and aid of one’s associates, conserves it. For this reason it is evident that the commonwealth, or civil society, exists by nature, and that man is by nature a civil animal who strives eagerly for association.
--Althusius, Politica §32,33.

Here is an argument from natural law (and God's revelation in the book of nature) that undergirds all social intercourse amongst men. Man is, by the necessary conditions of his creation, a social being. Man cannot be alone and be complete: thus moral obligation and love. By the same law, a Christian man cannot be alone and be complete: thus the church. Moving from natural theology to revealed theology, God has declared unto us that we are created in his image. Is it any surprise then that he has also revealed himself to be a community of persons in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another Way to Read Althusius

This link will take you to an online version of Althusius' Politica. You may access the whole translation for free, with the same page numbers in the print version.
Thank you Liberty Fund.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Introduction to Althusius' Politica

"Politics is the art of associating (consociandi) men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called "symbiotics." The subject matter of politics is therefore association (consociatio), in which the symbiotes pledge themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise of social life."

Thus Althusius begins his Politica (p.17). His vocabulary does present some problems to the casual reader so I would like to help clear things up a bit. First, we should not read politics as referring to the squabbles of political parties. Nor does he have in mind political government per se. He is seeking to explain the principles underlying every association between individuals (government, church, family, professional associations, &c.). Art is used in the sense of a subject of inquiry or a skill.
Symbiotics is from a Greek word meaning "living together." The symbiotes are, therefore, those who live together (or associated together for whatever purpose they are so associated). Communication is sharing, related more to communion (the modern word indicates the sharing of ideas, words, thoughts, &c.). This is how the older English versions of the Bible use the term (typically rendered fellowship in newer versions).
One should note that Althusius was committed to the "social contract" theory of politics before the Enlightenment formulation. However, Althusius' preferred word would be covenant. As man's relationship to God is covenantal, so is his relationship with the rest of mankind. And so his understanding of politics includes elements of piety: "The end of political "symbiotic" man is holy, just, comfortable, and happy symbiosis, a life lacking nothing either necessary or useful."
Althusius constructs his Politica on divine & natural law, both conceived as coming from the Lord. As such his politics assumes the liberty of mankind (though this was less a concern before Thomas Hobbes). Along with the mutual agreement of the members of the political body being considered is the belief that human sovereignty in a commonwealth lies not with the prince but with the people as a whole. He concludes "that the efficient cause of political association is consent and agreement among the communicating citizens." (Page 24). Of course, these ideas are at the very heart of our free society (or at least they were).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Different Direction & a Good Book:

I know some of you miss the short run-throughs of the sermon texts from week to week, but I really cannot bring myself to them justice. I may still do some of that, but obviously I cannot do it consistently (the last such post being back in November). So what should I do? I did get some feedback on my last post. It was just a link to an article I read with some of my own comments attached. That seems to be a good use of the blog, but certainly not a primary use. I am considering posting reading notes on some of the books I am reading. Right now I have several books in the queue and several strategically locating in my reading zones (on my desk, by the bed, near the couch, &c.). I will probably write most on Johannes Althusius' Politica. Althusius was an early advocate of popular sovereignty, federalism (and social contract), and local rule. However, he is pre-Enlightenment and his views grow out of his commitment to the Reformed faith (Calvinism) and natural law.
The link below has information about Althusius' Politica (and how to order):
Liberty Fund | Fifty years of affirming the ideal of individual liberty

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