Thursday, March 16, 2017

Quis Judicabit?: More Thoughts on Sovereignty and Suspension

The question Quis Judicabit? comes originally from Thomas Hobbes who constructed his philosophy on the problem of sovereignty. This question was repeated by Carl Schmitt who also saw the problem of the political as a question of the sovereign. The political was the dichotomy between friend-foe, deciding who was with the community and who was against the community. However, how does the body-politic decide this question? The Sovereign is the one who decides, as Schmitt famously put it.

Where Schmitt's genius lies is in the fact that no law is sufficient in and of itself for itself. That is to say, laws do not go uninterpreted. Laws must be understood. The trick of modern law codes is that they are self-explanatory or self-evidently clear. This is a sleight of hand of many liberal parliamentary orders. This is the obscenity in many American Conservative arguments about the Constitution. They fail to recognize that someone is making an interpretive decision, hence the judicial bench. Complaints about judicial activism obscure the issue.

The American system's original intent was a form of organized chaos where there was an attempt to cancel out the sovereign. This was Madison's goal. It failed miserably. The Federal government very quickly became split between various interest groups, climaxing in the economic regionalism that was settled in the Civil War. Lincoln pioneered the shift to an assertive sovereignty in the President, but this was quickly nullified by corrupt and ineffectual administrations. This was not a return to the Madisonian vision of limited government, rather it became, with the advent of the 2nd Industrial Revolution, sovereignty of the monopoly and the corporation.

Libertarians are useful idiots and naive about the functions of free-trade. Not only will sinful man will seek to gobble up the Earth in his own economic Tower of Babel; he will also create a political system that crushes others through market powers. This was the British position in its Imperial reconfiguration after the American Revolution. Free-trade became a means to literally dismantled countries and peoples and force them into a form of slavery. Was it really an altruistic, freedom loving, ideology that led the British to blast open Latin American and Chinese, among others, markets for free-trade?

The Progressives emphasized a powerful executive for the purposes of reclaiming the government as a seat for the sovereign. The President could become the figure that smashed the corporation. Teddy Roosevelt was a faux-example of this ideology, FDR was a more genuine example. But very quickly, this was coopted. A unitary executive could be bought and be a means to effect corporate interest through the sovereign. The synthesis is becoming more complete with the shift from American power as a Nation-State to a Market-State. It has become a norm that Wall-Street, banksters, and global finance have a pretty obvious and established place in politics. Whether its the Obama-Clinton Wall Street mafia, or its many figures in the Trump administration, both reflect that there has been a functional shift. Corporations and government machinery are fusing together. It's not the tenuous and shadowy hold that corporate money had over politicians in the late 19th and 20th century; now, it's literal execs staffing government posts and offices at increasing rates.

Of course, the Madisonian vision was corrupted from the get go. The American Revolution was, primarily, a Revolution fought for economic interests. Only mythology makes us think in terms of abstract and esoteric notions of freedom. It had to do with the flow of money and property. Why else did the French and Dutch opt to join the war effort? It was an investment of sorts. It was these foreign interests that made winning the war a remote possibility.

However, there's an American example of sovereignty I'd like to consider as an alternative to how we might begin to imagine how Christians should engage with the concept of the Political. Roger Williams, after being driven out of Massachusetts, formed his own colony in what would become the state of Rhode Island. During this period in colonial history, the English crown had limited control over colonial affairs. Williams was a sovereign of sorts in his government of Rhode Island. Yet how did he govern? I argue he governed by suspending the decision. Even as a Bapstistic Congregationalist, who had strong theological opinions, he refused to weigh in on them. He did not exclude them from the political community. He also did not decide on the state of New England Indians, the various nations he contracted with and live alongside. He refused to declare them friend or foe in the political sense.

This is fundamentally a sovereign in-decision, a suspension. However, what separates Williams from Madison was that he was not a Liberal. This is a bit anachronistic, but what we can say is that Williams made his suspension not from economic concerns, things which explicitly drove Madison's political philosophy. Williams, as a radical Puritan and a Separatist, deeply understood his governance along the lines of Christ's parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Williams, having an apocalyptic expectation of Christ's parousia, refused to usurp the ability to declare friend-foe and left these questions unsettled. Unlike the Postmillenialism of Massachusetts Establishment, Williams did not see his government in terms of ushering in Christ's Kingdom. Instead, he suspended the decision, allowing a time of development where the elect would live alongside the reprobate. The machinery of government would be maintained, but unused, for such purposes.

Roger Williams is an exceptional man, but a model, a veritable re-figuration of St. Daniel, of how Christians should operate in the political arena. Schmitt is right in how he understands the sovereign. The Christian should, at all chances, seek to suspend the choice. This cannot be done through Madisonian machinery, which has failed and only created a greater monster in the market-state, the peak of Capitalism's absorption of political machinery. If a Christian were ever to be a sovereign, the only possible righteous option is to suspend the choice. Of course, most kings and presidents who've acted as sovereigns have, instead, become agents of the demonic and seekers of Babel. Instead, many Christo-Americans worship at the violent nationalism of Bethel or at the plutocratic capitalist Dan, standing among the false altars of Jeroboam's faux-temple.

We can respect the limited goods of liberalism and nationalism, but both quickly become Babylonian cults of death. Let us instead remember and venerate St. Roger Williams, who ought to be a reminder of what remaining steadfast to the truth gets you in This World ruled by Satan. His was no easy life, nor will ours be. But instead, let us remember that Christ is truly sovereign and He sits at His Father's Right. Let us trust that He will return and enact, finally, the truly political act at the Judgement Seat, where sheep will be removed from the goats.

Thus: Quis Judicabit? Christus Sedet ad Dextram Patris

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