“Arky” and anarchy

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reading the opening chapter of the online version of Vernard Eller’s book Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers.

This is something of a mixed bag: Eller makes some very good points, but (in contrast to Ellul) he does sometimes come across as a bit pleased with himself. I was occasionally reminded of Blake’s comment about one who imagined himself “the single one on earth that ever broke a net”. And I am wary of allowing Ellul’s careful consideration of the common ground and differences between Christianity and anarchy to harden into a label like “Christian anarchy”. But let’s focus instead on the better points that Eller makes.

Eller contrasts “anarchy” with a word of his own coinage, “arky”. It’s a shame that Eller had to come up with such a distractingly ugly word, because (aesthetic considerations aside) the word is very useful. In his opening chapter, Eller defines “arky” as meaning “any principle of governance claiming to be of primal value for society”. It is important to note that “arky” in this sense is broadly defined, and goes beyond merely describing civil government:

[P]olitical arkys are far from being the only “governments” around. Not at all; churches, schools, philosophies, social standards, peer pressures, fads and fashions, advertising, planning techniques, psychological and sociological theories – all are arkys out to govern us.

This then leads him to define “anarchy” (or – brace yourselves – “unarkyness”) as:

…simply the state of being unimpressed with, disinterested [sic] in, skeptical of; nonchalant toward, and uninfluenced by the highfalutin’ claims of any and all arkys. And “Christian Anarchy” – the special topic of this book – is a Christianly motivated “unarkyness.”

The arkys that are imposed upon us are (as Eller puts it) “heteronomous”. A “heteronomy” is “a law or rule which is ‘different from’, ‘other than’, or ‘extraneous to’ whomever it would govern”. “All worldly arkys are by nature heteronomous,” Eller continues, in that “each is out to impose its idea of what is right upon whoever has any different idea”.

Eller goes on to contrast “secular” and “Christian” forms of anarchy by arguing that secular anarchism’s goal of autonomy for the individual amounts in practice to imposing my own self-image upon me as the rule of my life. But this rests on the assumption that “I am the one who knows myself best and knows what is best for myself”, which amounts to a rejection of the God who made us and who knows best what is good and right for us. Hence secular anarchy’s autonomy is merely yet another “heteronomous arky”.

By contrast, Christian anarchy takes as its goal “theonomy”, “the rule, the ordering, the arky of God”. But isn’t this just another form of impositional power – indeed, for most anarchists, the ultimate form of impositional, heteronomous power? (Especially, one might add, when one considers that the word “theonomy” is usually associated today with “Christian Reconstructionism”, which is about as far from Christian anarchy as one can get.)

Eller answers no, on two grounds:

First, particularly as God has been revealed in Jesus Christ, the style of his arky is not that of imposition but of the opposite, namely, that of the cross, the self-givingness of agape-love.

And second, God’s arky, his will for us, is never anything extraneous to ourselves but precisely most germane to our true destiny and being.

Hence, in summary:

The contention of Christian Anarchy … is that worldly arkys are of the “all” that “in Adam” dies and are no part of the “all” that “in Christ” is made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). Consequently, worldly arkys must die (and we must die to them) in order that the Arky of God (his kingdom) might be made alive in us (and us in it).

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5 Responses to “Arky” and anarchy

  1. CPA says:

    Eller’s definition of unarkyness is this:

    “…simply the state of being unimpressed with, disinterested [sic] in, skeptical of; nonchalant toward, and uninfluenced by the highfalutin’ claims of any and all arkys.”

    But is this view consistent with Ellul’s statement here?

    “Political authority and organization are necessities of social life but nothing more than necessities. They are constantly tempted to take the place of God.”

    If so, then I think Eller’s definition of unarkyness falls far short of what anarchism really means. Central to anarchy is the idea that a life with “arkies” is conceivable and that we have a moral obligation to begin the process of dismantling arkies right now. (Now exactly what that dismantling will consist of, and how much of a beginning we can make in our lifetimes is the stuff of intra-anarchist debates.)

    Because frankly, if simply being skeptical of the claims of authority is anarchy, then I’m an anarchist, and if I’m an anarchist, the word has no meaning 🙂

  2. John H says:

    CPA: I don’t have my copy of Ellul’s book to hand so can’t comment on the context of his “necessities of social life” statement.

    However, given the rest of what Ellul had to say on this topic, I think that remark has to be read in the narrowest possible sense. Whatever sense Ellul may have regarded political authority as “necessary”, it was only as a necessary evil.

    Ellul’s statement here be related to his equal and opposite rejection of the revolutionary overthrow of the status quo, which I hope to look at in a later post. In other words, it is a grudging recognition of a present practical reality, rather than an endorsement of some minimum level of political organisation.

  3. steve martin says:

    Eller seems to be repackaging the two kingdoms doctrine.

    Arkies…give me a break…

  4. Rick Ritchie says:

    I’m kind of glad the word is distractingly ugly. That’s appropriate to the subject.

    On the other hand, how hard should it be to dismantle the arky if it’s built of gopher barky?

  5. Mack Ramer says:

    {dumb comment}My grandpa used to call my brother Noah “Arky”.{/dumb comment}

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