Catholic Anarchy?

A close friend do of mine asked me how to explain the connection between Catholicism and philosophical anarchism (as in Tolkien’s beliefs).   Here’s my response, for what it’s worth.


st-augustineFirst, I try not to use the word anarchist in polite company—ONLY because for most folks, it conjures images of a bomb-thrower with a scruffy beard and top hat.  That said, I don’t really have a better term.  I do have the scruffy beard, though.
The logic of Catholic economics—at least its deep history—is that 1) the family is the primary institution of society, higher than the state.  The state exists ONLY to protect the family.  Consequently, if the state fails to protect the family, it’s not legitimate.
2) St. Augustine said that all states were “robberies.”  Even the best were robberies that secured justice.  From the early church up through the end of the middle ages, there was always a VERY healthy skepticism of (and against) the state.  The state served as the single most important force for martyrdoms.
3) Most Christians cite Romans 13 as the basis for supporting governments.  But, Romans 13 is an extremely complicated text, and the entire letter St. Paul wrote to the Romans is a series of questions about where we owe our allegiances: to the natural law, to Jewish law, to gentile law, to the Body of Christ (Yes!), or to secular authorities.  While we should never discount the thirteenth chapter of Romans, we should always keep it in its proper context.
My favorite writers on Catholic arguments about the state, economics, and politics are Robert Bellermine and Francisco Suarez, two sixteenth century Jesuits.  Yes, there’s a reason early modern rulers hated the Jesuits.  Many of the Jesuits did not hesitate to argue in favor of regicide and tyrannicide.
For a more modern example of Catholic anarchism, read Dorothy Day’s LONG LONELINESS.  She was a brilliant and deeply humane person. . . as well as a self-proclaimed American Catholic anarchist.
Finally, I’ll add this.  Having a welfare state help the poor might (or might not) be a good, but it’s certainly not a virtue.  A virtue is based on doing one’s loving duty toward one’s fellow person.  Handing your money over to a bureaucracy to distribute that same money to the poor is not a virtue.  Again, it might be a good, but it’s not a virtue.  Virtues must always be freely chosen.

One Comment on “Catholic Anarchy?

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