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12 décembre 2008 5 12 /12 /décembre /2008 17:53
Today we know that democracy does not owe its efficiency as a political order of modern society to institutional precepts but, primarily, to consonance with the society’s historical, cultural and behavioral tenets. The Russian society has become introduced to democracy fairly recently and this introduction has been going on quite hard, among other things, for reasons of Orthodox tradition and democratic norms having had an uneasy relationship historically. I wish to explain briefly, why democracy came to Russia as late as the end of the 20-th century and what role the Christian Orthodox culture has been playing in this. Further on, I would like to dwell on the logic of the key theological concepts of Orthodox Christianity, relevant to the relationship between the Church and authority and political order. This logic is formulated in the “theology of power”. Finally, I will point out the directions in which the Orthodox thinking have to find points of convergence with the modern social order.

The democratic order of governance, i.e. participation in governance of all the members of the society comes natural to the simplest, innumerous societies of the ancestral and tribal social system. In such a society there exist beginnings of hierarchy. However, concurrent with the growth of the society, class distinction, these beginnings become stronger and finally result in assertion of abstract state authority, ranging to despotism. The logic behind the development of despotic (authoritarian) element in authority depends on the extent to which the mechanism of feedback with the population and the mechanism of representing their interests is interactive. The phenomenon of Oriental despotic societies constitutes an extreme opposite scenario to democracy, a scenario under which a live feedback is lacking.
In the European environment such factors have assumed significance as have considerably democratized the genesis process of the states and have prevented it from manifesting itself in the form of despotism. Ancient Greek political culture is a unique phenomenon among ancient states. It has something to do with active trade and political competition of the Greek polises and specifically with the fact that, despite all the creative fruitfulness of the Greek culture a unified state did not establish itself until the period of Macedonia in the 3-rd century A.D. The Republican model originating from Greece and proceeding into Rome is the first cultural generating factor of the inner democracy inherent in the European culture. Superimposed on this factor is the cultural creativity of the European nations who transitioned from ancestral democracy directly to statehood which led to a Medieval format specific to Europe in which political power crystallized itself in the form of feudal monarchies remote from the model of Oriental despotism. Such a feudal model was also typical of the Kiev Rus prior to Tatar Mongolian invasion. However, the influence exercised by the Tatars made Moscovia adopt fundamentally different, Orientally despotic models of authority.
The “Liberal democracy”, I am talking about, is a phenomenon of quite different nature to the principles underlying the most basic societies. On the contrary, this concept of democracy arises as a principle of organizing complex industrialized society. The society which at the beginning of the new times exploded the hierarchies of the feudal state, put in the forefront the significance of the third estate and, a little while later, transformed the social medium into an environment where various social groups come into play. In this society there arises a pluralism of hierarchies, a pluralism of logics of social nature: the economic logic and economically active groups form an absolutely special world compared with politically active groups operating to their own political logic. Adam Smith, John Locke, B. Franklin, and others created a brand new concept of representative democracy. It presupposes governance which is institutionally mediated, predicated by mechanisms of volition and representation of all the population’s interests rather than direct participation of the masses in the running of the state. The concept of democracy in the new times was gradually becoming a political continuation of the personality’s individualization, a notion of innate human rights.

Among the factors which promoted the European culture and upgraded it to the modern concept of democracy, the role of the Christian Church was not marginal.  The initial historic contribution of the Church was associated with the process of strengthening monarchies and assertion of the states. However, the Catholic Church had originally served as an institutional counterbalance to monarchy. The pluralism of monarchies was enshrined by the force of the unified church’s cultural authority, therefore no unified political force equal to Church, succeeded in crystallizing itself on it as was the case with the Eastern Christianity.
This function performed by the Catholic Church served to develop a whole set of concepts necessary for the historical genesis of democracy, specifically, the concept of legitimacy, delegation of authority, etc. Subsequently these tendencies acquired the aspect of the subsidiarity concept, reflective of the institutional order of the Christian Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church lived under a different set of historical conditions and followed a different path. Against the background of the unstable authority in Byzantine, the Church remained a counterbalance ensuring stability and continuity. Therefore, with all his grandeur and power, the Byzantine emperor did not become a despot and in the realm of the Orthodox Christian empire a symphony of authorities, the basileus and the patriarch, came into being. However, the political power is realized here as a unified imperial center.
The Russian Slavonic Christian culture, which arose in the boiling pot of the great migration of nations, blended the Byzantine model with the Asian notions of power, imported by the Tatar khans. For centuries the Russian Orthodox Church had been fighting to establish a single national political center. It did quite a lot to re-think the concept of a prince into the concept of a tsar,  the autocrat. This was necessitated by the challenges of survival.

It was exactly this momentous, that caused the cultural and historical “creed” of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was the special status of the Orthodox Christian tsar within the framework of the so called “political theology”. Following this period, the Russian Church was not able to change its cultural theological model to any other, settling for modernizing this model only.

This watershed  was in the epoch of the Moscow tsardom, the time that the Russian state was born. This state defeated the Tatar Kazan khanate whose territory it inherited and outstripped the Lithuanian principality in the competitive rivalry. The Church had been significantly instrumental in strengthening Moscow by moving  the patriarch’s throne there from Kiev. In the early 15-th century, Josef Volotsky, an illustrious church figure and theologian, came up with the famous formula: The tsar, by his nature, is akin to people, by virtue of power he has affinity to God Almighty”. In the heavenly hierarchy and ontology the tsar, rather than the patriarch, came to be next after God, at least in the realm of political earthly order. This belief was further amplified by the idea of Moscow being the ultimate haven of the Orthodox faith following the downfall of the Greek Byzantine. Monk Philophey enshrined this in the Eschatological formula, having identified Moscow with the “third and ultimate Rome”. In this political theology the role of a tsar is made sacred.
The theological thinking of the Orthodox Christian faith, closely combining the national, the religious and echatological mindset, revolves around the tsar’s figure. For such a tsar even the Church becomes a tool, a device serving his goals. It is difficult to describe this as a symphony of authorities.  Instead of this, the Russian thought creates the concept of a full autocrat. The 16-th century presents to history, for example, in the person of Ivan the Terrible, the icon of a quite typical despot of the Eastern kind. The Church counters the power of his authority with the strength of the Christian moral law, rather than the institutional force.

Since Peter the First, Russian tsars had been exploiting this premise and image, while abusing the Church a lot at the same time. Despite the fact that Peter embarked on the path of making the society more secular, neither he, nor his predecessors belittled an single inch the truth about the “theology of power”. And the point was not that the Church was unable to oppose the aggressive anti-Church policy of the tsarist government. On the contrary, it did do that, having taken refuge, as it were, in the ideological catacombs and having abandoned a lively dialogue with a new political elite. However, the Church could not find a theological foundation for liberalizing the Orthodox religion’s concept of power. The tremendous economic and cultural modernization processes did not reflect in any way in the socially inactive life of the Church, though it was to this particular time period that the universal education of the clergy, which was entirely the achievement of the state, was referred.

The democratization of the political theology took place as late as the 19-th century, in the creative activities of the Slavophiles. Slavophiles did not represent the clergy but educated and socially active laymen.  The main achievement that the laymen were credited with was the development of such concepts as catholicity (Sobornost), popular church, popular monarchy. The concept of catholicity saw the social ideal in which all the various layers of society, its multifarious parts, were to have been united into one. It is very similar to the concept of solidarity in the Catholic social doctrine. The Slavophiles turned into one of the leading social forces who supported the democratic processes, local government, development of communities.
The development of the Slavophiles’ theological thought, while giving rise to the Russian religious philosophy, did not have any impact on the Orthodox theology, this impact was more of a confrontation between the laymen’s theology and official theology.

It can well be said that in the entire body of Russian religious philosophical thought, from Soloviev to Berdyaev, no ideas supported the democratic idea. The general trend of the liberal Christian thought was gravitating to a greater extent towards its social interpretation. It was partly due to this that the autocracy in Russia survived for such a long time, with only the working strata of the society exerting pressure on it. The February Revolution could have been a platform for the turnaround of the Church which had been planned for the 1-st All-Russia Church Assembly but failed to become such.

In summary, we can conclude as follows: the Orthodox theology provided support for justifying the autocracy of ierocratic type, while compounding the political modernization of Russia. Making the concept of political power sacred, requiring that authority be sanctified and blessed by the Church, happened to be at variance with the processes of secularization. Reaction to the historic complexity during the epoch of modern industrial society manifested itself in the radicalization of the conservative version of the Orthodox faith’s political doctrine, the doctrine of the world-wide Freemasons’ conspiracy which in the 20-th century took an extremely firm root in the Church. What actually happened was tantamount to demonization of the political environment in which the world was perceived to be a world of evil, whereas the tsar was regarded as not just the stronghold of Orthodoxy but as an eschatological figure that was keeping the world from falling. A sign of mythologization of such an already lost ideal was the canonization of the last tsar, Nicolas the 2-nd. The behavior of the Russian diaspore in the 20-th century was of interest. The Russian Orthodox Church in the West, while operating in the environment of democratic societies, had, to a great extent, retained a “ghetto like” way of thinking. It was only in the theological school of thought of the Paris diaspore that answers were given to the current issues, and the concepts of Christian democracy were elaborated in the writings of G. Fedotov, P. Struve, A. Kartashov, S. Bulgakov.

After the liberation of the Church in 1990 there occurred a restoration of the ideological matrix: national and patriotic versions of political Orthodoxy and democratically oriented Christian concepts were resurrected.  Christian democratic parties which initially mushroomed in multitude were quick, being out of touch with the church community. Either in their depths, or in the active church journalism there came to be no serious opposition to the theological claims of the nationalist patriotic part of the church community (except for A. Men). The democratic idea, just as before, continues to be an orphan in the theological community.

Unfortunately, against the backdrop of Russia’s chaotically Mafiosi society of the 1990-s, the idea of democracy traveled a hard and difficult road which was far from being a path of glory. The “chaotic democracy” order in many ways discredited the idea of democracy. The stabilization of the political and economic situation after 1998, attributed to Putin, was accompanied by devaluation of the liberty values in favor of the values of order. A belief of Russia being ill prepared for democracy and the need for strong authority to be restored gained universal currency. Hence, the cynical concept of “governable democracy”, “portion by portion” democracy. The concept that virtually legitimizes the curtailing of democratic norms by the political elite. Consolidation of the vertical state hierarchy of the Presidential authority and the dismantling of many gains of federalism and parliamentarism made direct reference to the experience of the autocratic tsarist power. While the Church loudly applauded these tendencies. Electioneering talk in praise of the president on the part of the Partriarch is directly in line with the tradition of the praises sung by the hierarchs to the throne in the 19-th century. The concept of sacred power is being extended to the new democratic authority. That does not imply a complete abandonment or distortion of the democratic idea. The 2008 elections, the “democratic” choice of Putin, is indicative of the fact that the idea of autocracy in its initial form is absolutely extraneous to the Russian society.

Today, the role of the Orthodox Church in actual political life has not changed much compared to tsarist Russia, or Soviet Russia, though for the first time the Church positions itself in the society as an absolutely independent institution. The canonical principle of possible insubordination to the authorities was articulated for the first time in the “Social concept of the Russian Orthodox Church”. However, the political role of the Russian Orthodox Church has not gone beyond legitimizing everything originating from those in power. Anyway, the practical operation of the Orthodox traditions exercises an essential influence on the route that the country’s socio-political development takes, and not in favor of the democratic practice, at that. In actual practice it legitimizes the increase in the authoritarian potential, cultivates non-resistance to authority.  It weakens the autonomy and legitimacy of the social groups. No “ideological” support for democratic institutions emerges in the Orthodox culture and this is the greatest problem in Russia’s political culture.

How are the concepts of democracy to be transformed in the light of the Orthodox theological perspective? All the attempts to do it impromptu have failed and have been discredited. However, it is necessary to modernize theology and to seek a link between the democratic order and the believers’ religious perceptions.  There are two paths open: 1) developing the concept of natural rights; 2) seeking the sacred interpretation of democracy. The first path comes natural to the Western tradition. However in the Orthodox theology the concept of natural rights has been in direct conflict with the notion of God given rights. Its jurisdiction is narrow.

The second way appears to be paradoxical. However, under the conditions of the Orthodox theology’s inability to assimilate and challenge the tendencies for modern outlook to lose its sacred content, this may well be the most constructive path. And it means the following. The role of the tsar, which presupposes his sacred significance is the “bishop of external affairs”. The tsar is responsible for everything that is outside the Church, for the “churching” of the world. Such is the mission of the authority. In a democracy a fragment of this lay authority is held by a layman, a member of the electorate.  As this fragment is infused with true power, it should assume the same religious content as the Orthodox mentality is accustomed to seeing in authority. Under democracy isn’t every layman an image of the tsar, a bearer of the God given power? Is he in a position to lead to the church this particular piece of the world over which he holds power? He must feel himself to be the tsar, the Orthodox tsar, who in his time led the world into the church. And then the cumulative sense of the church will bless his will in particular, rather than the office function of the Chief Executive, i.e. the President.

Dr. Konstantin Kostjuk

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