Anarchy vs revolution

So if, as both Eller and Ellul would argue, Christianity calls us to a form of “anarchy” – of rejecting all “arkys”, as Eller would put it – then does this lead us to become revolutionaries, dedicated to overthrowing the established order?

On the contrary. Having defined his terms “anarchy” and “arky” (see previous post), Eller goes on to say:

At this point of definition, then, we should note that the idea of “revolution” is not anarchical in any sense of the word. Revolutionists are very strongly opposed to certain arkys that they know to be “bad” and to be the work of “bad people.” However, they are just as strongly in favor of what they know to be “good” arkys that are the work of themselves and other good people like them.

As an example, Eller cites those who find “nothing good to say about the establishment U.S. arky”, but who then become very “proarchical” when it comes to regimes they support (the example Eller gives, writing in 1987, is the “revolutionary Sandinista arky”). He continues:

Indeed, the regular procedure of “revolution” is to form a (good) power-arky that can either overthrow and displace or else radically transform the (bad) arky currently in power. This selectivity amounts to a passionate faith in the power of arkys for human good and the farthest thing possible from a truly anarchical suspicion and mistrust of every human arky.

He quotes the 19th century Lutheran Christian socialist Christoph Blumhardt as follows, in words that will probably make a good epitaph for President Obama in a few years’ time:

[T]his world of the humanly great is and remains the cause of all misery. They cannot do anything about it, these well-intentioned people, these good things and ministers, these excellent prelates and popes. However much they try, they cannot. I would like to tell all of them, “You cannot do it!”

Similarly, Eller quotes an interview in which Ellul asserted that he was “in no way pleading in favor of a different social order”, but rather “pleading for the regression of all the powers of order”. As Eller observes, this distinguishes Ellul as much from the “Christian Left” as the “Christian Right”:

Ellul’s “anarchism” has him most markedly distinguished from and opposed to those intent on creating “a new, Christian social order.” That is the group he identifies as “the Christian Left.” […] The problem (as shall become clear) is that these people are totally dedicated to “revolution” where Ellul sees Christianity dedicated to “anarchy.” The two ideas are not simply different but actually opposed to each other.

It is this in turn that leads Ellul to reject the natural human tendency to demand social change through “centralized action, the state, through a decision center that sends down the decrees from above”, favour of his dictum that I quoted in an earlier post: “Think globally, act locally”. Eller identifies three advantages of this approach to Christian political engagement:

Consider, also, first, that “local action” – having a much shorter linkage between “act” and “result” – has a much greater chance of success than does “top-down action.” Second, there is a great deal of local action that won’t have to include arky involvement at all. And third, locally, even where political action is required, the arkys are smaller; weaker, and more responsive. They will not call for the same sort of bloc pressure and power plays that high-level politics would. It is local action that is most appropriate to Christian Anarchy.

This contrasts with the more “top-down” approach of many on the “Christian Left” (and, indeed, the “Christian Right”):

Yet consider how regularly our Christian revolutionaries – with their anti-nuclear demonstrations, their tax revolts, their Equal Rights Amendments, their getting the U.S. military out of Central America – prefer to try for the high-up jugular. Christian Anarchy (Ellul) and the Christian Left plainly are of two quite different minds in this matter.

This entry was posted in Anarchy and Christianity, Jacques Ellul, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Anarchy vs revolution

  1. Jeremy says:

    I know a guy named Arkie who plays the harmonica. He’s from Arkansas.

  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    These are important arguments to make. Whenever other Lutherans get wind of my political position, they imagine I’m advocating forceful overthrow or ignoring all the passages about longsuffering.

    Then there are the Aristotelians who talk about man being a social being who needs government to flourish. Well, I have to wonder how much social contact is actually thwarted by government action. Zoning laws tend to work against social contact. Their idea of people working together is rather narrow. And I have to wonder if Aristotle himself would agree with any of them. How easy is it to be a peripatetic when there are so few places to walk?

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