More Governmental Insights: Insiders, Outsiders and the Question of Divinity
You’ll recall that two days ago we introduced our new theory of government. Of course, we are not entirely serious. And not entirely unserious either.
But it hardly rises to the level of a theory. It is more like an insight:
Government is the natural phenomenon wherein the “insiders” take wealth, power and status from the “outsiders.” They may provide a useful, even necessary, function — such as keeping the peace. Or they may not. They sometimes redistribute wealth among the outsiders. Sometimes not. They sometimes claim to be acting in the name of the greater good…and often do not. Sometimes they claim their privilege from God; sometimes, they don’t bother. But they always take wealth, power and status from those who are not among the insiders.
We’ve already seen how a small group of Romans were able to reach beyond their home town, for nearly 1,000 years, taking wealth from people on the outside. One tribe fell under their control. Then another. Then, one town. And another. And always the power, prestige and wealth flowed back to Rome.
But not all Romans benefited in the same way. Rome itself was divided. During the Republican period the insiders were the leading families who controlled the Senate. Then came the dictators, the emperors, and the scalawags who were able to get control of the government. Often, they were military men, popular or cunning generals who rose through the ranks, murdered their rivals, and took the reins of power for themselves. Each brought in new insiders…and kicked out some of the old ones. Rome sizzled with intrigue…and sometimes erupted into open warfare, with one group of insiders battling it out with another.
After Rome fell, barbarian tribes swept over Europe. Local strongmen were able to set up their own governments. There was little theory or justification involved. They used brute force to take what they wanted. Then they settled down to govern. One local lord provided protection from other local lords. All demanded payment, tribute, wealth and power. In the largely un-moneyed economies of the Dark Ages, taxes were in the form of a share of output…and/or days of labor. A serf typically worked one day in 10 for his lord and master.
The local warlord and his entourage were the insiders. They took from the outsiders as much as they could get away with. Or as much as they thought it prudent to demand. Some even asserted a droit du seigneur, known in France by the more carnal expression “the right to the thigh.” The local chief demanded the right to deflower the brides of his peasants. Even as recently as the beginning of the last century, Kurdish chieftains claimed the right to bed Armenian brides on their wedding night.
As the Dark Ages progressed, government became less locally peculiar. Across Europe, serfs, lords, and vassals knit themselves together into the feudal system. One governed a small area and was in turn governed by another, who governed a bigger one. At the top was the king, who owed his allegiance to God himself.
Justifying and explaining the phenomenon of government also evolved. How to make sense of it? Why was one man powerful and rich and another weak and poor? Europe was Christianized by then. All men were supposed to be equal in God’s eyes. How come they were so different in the eyes of each other?
Reaching back into antiquity, the doctrine of the “Divine Right of Kings” was developed to explain it. Scholars did not maintain that kings were divine, because that would undermine the foundations of Judeo-Christian monotheism. Instead, they claimed that kings had a special role to play, that they were appointed…and anointed, by God (through his ministers in the church of St. Peter)…to rule. Some people thought the kings were descended directly from the line of Jesus Christ. Others thought that God gave kings a “divine” right to govern in His name.
In the fixed order of the world, each person had a job to do. One was a hewer of wood. Another was a drawer of water. A third was a king. Each man did his duty.
Scholars in the middle ages spent a lot of time on the issue. As a theory of government it seemed coherent and logical. But there were traps and dead ends in it. If the right to rule were given by God, man could not contradict Him. But men did. One divinely-appointed ruler met another divinely-appointed ruler on the field of battle. Only one could win. What kind of game was God playing?
And if God granted a man the right to rule other men, did that mean that every order he gave must be obeyed, just as though it had come from the mouth of God himself? And what if the king seemed not to be doing God’s work at all? Adultery was clearly a no-no. God disapproved of it. But kings often made it a habit and a sport. Did not the king defile his body and betray his Lord? In an effort to explain away the problem, scholars put forth the idea that the king actually had two bodies. One sacred. One profane.
But which was which?
More to come…