Friday, June 27, 2008

Authoritarian Idolatry

Shall we conclude, then, that within every political society there occurs, implicitly, an act of worship of divine rule? I think we may even venture as far as that. ‘State-authority’, remarks Stephen Clark, ‘is what emerges when households, clans and crafts first recognise a sacred centre in their lives together and then forget where the centre gets its authority…The voice of the High God reminds us that the land is his’ (Civil Peace and Sacred Order, p. 90). Certainly it explains, as very few attempts at theorising the foundations of politics ever do explain, the persistent cultural connexion between politics and religion. And it allows us to understand why it is precisely at this point that political loyalties can go so badly wrong; for a purpose can only be an idolatrous worship which sanctions an idolatrous politics. It sheds light, too, on the nature of the impasse into which a politics constructed on an avowedly anti-sacred basis has now come. For without the act of worship political authority is unbelievable, so that binding political loyalties and obligations seem to be deprived of any point. The doctrine that we set up political authority, as a device to secure our own essentially private, local and unpolitical purposes, has left the Western democracies in a state of pervasive moral debilitation, which, from time to time, inevitably throws up idolatrous and authoritarian reactions (Oliver O'Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 49).

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