by Berry Friesen (August 15, 2016)
Two readers offered substantive responses to my previous post on “A Stateless Politics.”
CM from California wrote: “Quite a feat to write a whole post on anarchism without using the term! Seriously, though, why not use the occasion of this post to at least mention the thin tradition of Christian anarchism over the last 150 years? Just curious.”
CM, yes, the stateless character of the prophetic biblical witness does have important connections to anarchism.
Anarchism points us away from the state, just as the prophetic biblical witness does. Each insists the state is not a solution to the violence and insecurity of our world, but instead a significant source of that violence and insecurity.
Anarchism and the prophetic biblical witness also share an emphasis on informal ways to “establish” peace at the grassroots level. Both are realistic about the importance of authority in community life, but in contrast to those holding a top-down orientation, each views authority as most effectively mediated informally through social and economic norms and structures. The emphasis is on informal cultural power, not formal state power.
Of course, the prophetic biblical tradition is rooted in its understanding of YHWH and the shared experience of communities committed to YHWH. It is a religious viewpoint, in other words. In contrast, anarchism as a belief system dedicated to the abolition of government is an ideology, one difficult to support by reference to the biblical tradition, in my opinion.
CR from Iowa wrote: “A stateless politics is as idealistic as a church without politics.” He went on: "The processes of decision-making and authority are parallel in regional, state, national and international scale organizations, whether they are church-based or [overtly] political organizations. War is the failure of nonviolent decision-making organizations [of whatever type]. . . . The religious, consensus-based pacifists [who refuse] to lend their voices, votes, time and money to the [overt] political process is a negative and a tragedy, in my view.”
CR, I haven’t attempted to mount a general argument for a stateless politics. States provides benefits as well as burdens/threats, and life in some places of the world would be much worse without them. Witness the empire’s deadly desire to destroy states in places such as Iraq, Libya and Syria, thereby rendering residents of those places highly vulnerable to exploitation by private interests.
But yes, as you say, political behavior is certainly as present in church life as in the realm of government.
My point is that communities shaped by the prophetic biblical witness create a multifaceted life that shapes behavior, enables commerce, encourages human creativity and protects safety/security. This is accomplished by providing a better way, not by imposing top-down power. Because it is practically attractive and life-giving, it can also be self-organizing, not by capturing the levers of coercion but by winning the heart-felt commitment of people.
Often this kind of “politics” is separatist and sectarian, but it doesn’t have to be. It can exchange ideas, data and best practices with local governments, for example. In the biblical record, we see many positive examples of such (though at the imperial level, not so much).
So as I see it, the power of the prophetic biblical witness is in modeling another way to live in the world, including norms, expectations, structures and prototypes that are life-giving.