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Revolution and unthinkable thoughts

Should a discussion of political legitimacy be taboo? For the people of Christendom, in most times and places, I believe the answer is "yes". In a normal, settled, non-revolutionary society any discussion of this sort would be strictly limited to a small and responsible circle of scholars. To the extent that the "man on the street" dared to engage such a topic, he would rightly be considered dangerous, if not suspected of treason.

But what about Americans in 2011? Should the topic be off limits? There is, indeed, something unseemly and dangerous about it. Consider a happily married couple who make a habit of discussing, from time to time, all the various circumstances that might constitute legitimate grounds for divorce, annulment, or marital separation. They are only talking about the possibilities, you see: they have no intention of actually doing any of these things. But let me tell you a little secret: something about the conversation itself makes these possibilities more real than they were before. It's best for married people never to "go there", never to let the idea of divorce, annulment or separation enter their minds. It's a matter of training and disciplining the mind. The same restraint applies to many other things: e.g., those of us who are not involved in making legal distinctions should avoid even thinking about the finer nuances of where legitimate art ends and pornography begins. The exercise itself is dangerous; it lifts the veil. We know what the good is, so let us meditate on the good and nothing else.

So it is also with discussions of political legitimacy. To have this conversation at all is to put revolution "on the table".

Unfortunately, we Americans are in a bit of a pickle. Our own government - itself the product of a rebellion that it publicly celebrates - long ago opened the question about its own legitimacy and boldly invited the argument. Our government's legitimacy is solidified, not threatened, by a revolutionary spirit in the people. The day our government regards itself as having any legitimacy of its own is the day it ceases to be legitimate in the eyes of most Americans. Russell Kirk argued persuasively that the American revolution was not a revolution at all, but "a revolution prevented", or even a counter-revolution. While that may have been the prevailing sentiment in 1776, today the popular mind understands our nation's "founding principles" in purely revolutionary terms. The language and thought of revolution is simply the air we breathe: for this reason the better minds and hearts among us have, in my opinion, something of a responsibility to face the topic (and its many corollaries) head-on.

Still, most of us have no business attending every argument we're invited to. For the sake of peace and order, and barring particularly egregious circumstances (the determination of which forms the true heart of this controversy), every man should assume the legitimacy of his own government. That is, in fact, the actual praxis of the Catholic Church, which has such a preference for peace that it prefers to err on the side of legitimizing usurpers, even handing a crown to Napoleon himself. Which reminds me: I believe that someday, perhaps in the not too distant future, the question of political legitimacy will be made easier than any of us dreamed possible. In the meantime let us fight with all we have to make those "egregious circumstances" unthinkable.

Comments (69)

"For the sake of peace and order, and barring particularly egregious circumstances (the determination of which forms the true heart of this controversy), every man should assume the legitimacy of his own government. That is, in fact, the actual praxis of the Catholic Church, which has such a preference for peace that it prefers to err on the side of legitimizing usurpers, even handing a crown to Napoleon himself."

Similarly, Charles Martel's claim on the Frankish throne was acknowledged by the Pope because the Pope decided that he should be king who held the power, not the mere title (i.e. the weak Merovingian Dynasty, whom Charles Martel had served as "Mayor of the Palace"). It seems that the Pope held the role of "he who decides when an usurper should be acknowledged de jure as well as de facto."

Of course, the question of legitimacy became especially protracted in Catholic circles on account of the expulsion of the Stuarts in 1688 and the various tergiversations of regime in France. It's arguable that the "highest" school of Catholic thinking on the subject upheld the legitimacy of the Stuarts long into the 1700s (de jure, if not de facto, probably until the death of Bonnie Prince Charlie) and then supported the Legitimist line of monarchs even *long after* the Vatican attempted rapprochement with the Third Republic.

Whoops, I should have written Pippin (Charlemagne's father), not Charles Martel (Charlemagne's grandfather) above.

On a side note, the Pope's response to Pippin stated that that man should be king who held the actual power (i.e. the Mayor of the Palace, who played a role very analogous to that of a Japanese Shogun), not the "king by right of his blood" (i.e. the virtually powerless Merovingian dynast, who played a role analogous to a Japanese Emperor during the Shogunate). The transparently obvious reference to "kings by right of their blood" (vel sim.) has since been misinterpreted by the "Holy Blood, Holy Grail"/Priory of Sion/Da Vinci Code people to mean the "bloodline of Christ." Whoever concocted this theory must have wilfully blinded himself to the context, which was a debate about whether an hereditary monarchy should remain in the hands of an ineffectual dynasty or a more robust one that already exercised well-nigh monarchical power.

A final note: I wonder if it is not one of the effects of Original Sin that in the course of Fortuna's havoc (i.e. history) God legitimizes usurpers and claims based on the right of conquest.

Agreed that talk of legitimacy is dangerous and often unwise, but hey, they started it. We hear all the time that regimes lacking popular consent are illegitimate. It's been used just recently against Syria and Libya, which, for all their obvious flaws, should be considered legitimate regimes/states, at least internationally. Most of the people here seem to be arguing for a more lenient, conservative view of legitimacy than what's common today.

I admit I'm biased, living in a state whose legitimacy is vigorously disputed. But even for more normal states, the question of legitimacy is going to be debated whether conservatives participate or not.

To proscribe the discussion of political legitimacy, we would have to return to the restraints of a traditional society which has never appeared in the United States. It would be a hierarchical society without social mobility, governed by natural law, or perhaps ordained by God.

In Troilus and Cressida, Ulysses assumes such a society to be the 'natural state of affairs' - like the celestial order -- and in his famous speech about 'degree', warns of the ruin that is sure to follow if the hallowed assumptions concerning rank are examined and then rejected:

The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre
Observe degree, priority and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose med'cinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans check to good and bad. But when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture! O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows!

Force should be right, or rather, right and wrong
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing include itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite,
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make per force an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

Such antique, but not extinct, considerations are probably alien to the debate about political legitimacy in modern America. Perhaps they are not immaterial to Jeff's view.

It might help to think of rebellion and revolution separately here. Take for instance the Battle of Athens. A corrupt sheriff and his department (literally) savagely beat up and oppressed returning WWII vets who wanted to peacefully clean up the local government democratically. They ended up taking up arms and driving him and many of his deputies out of the area at gun point. The state government exonerated them on the grounds that the abuse of the sheriff and his men warranted armed insurrection as there was no effective legal recourse.

We should frame the debate within the context of the two ideas being separate for that reason. The veterans had no revolutionary goals, but rather a goal to use rebellion specifically to topple men who aimed at undermining the legitimate government of their community.

Considerations about political legitimacy is akin to that reflective thought that occurs after an action which asks, "Have I just sinned?". Unless one is scrupulous, such thought as always proper to entertain.

The advice that thinking about revolutions increases the temptation and so they should not be thought about is called, thought stopping, and is a classic characteristic of a cult.

No, I think it is always right to consider the legitimacy of a government, assuming one is reasonably well-centered, morally.

The Chicken

Even for some allegedly conservative folks, it's as if Milton never lived, never wrote.

Do not forget that there's a temptation to silence, and that some have succumbed to it, both to their shame and their detriment. The conversation will occur. The debate will happen. Unless your side prevails, someone else's will. Silence and abstention are not the way, especially in discussions of legitimacy.

it prefers to err on the side of legitimizing usurpers, even handing a crown to Napoleon himself.

In all fairness, Napoleon took that crown, he wasn't exactly handed it. And given the anti-clerical bloodletters he replaced, I don't know that Napoleon is the best example of papal pragmatism.

But none of that is really apropos in discussions about America. The whole point of the American experiment is that it establishes additional criteria for governmental legitimacy beyond those that may be necessary on a purely moral level. Thus, while it may be complete rubbish for the State Department to say that the government of Syria is "illegitimate" because the people don't vote, it is something else entirely to question whether the American system remains legitimate pursuant to its own standards.

Nor will it do merely to say that the American standards are somehow additional and therefore not actual criteria. If we accept, as we surely must, that a wide variety of political organizations are permissible, then it must be the case that a society can establish additional, further criteria for the legitimacy of their chosen political organization. The American Revolution and the framing quite explicitly established an unprecedentedly high bar for political legitimacy. Furthermore, the process and its architects explicitly accepted that the principle safeguard of that legitimacy, beyond the institutional structures of the government itself, was to remain the opposition of the people to tyranny. So regardless of what might have been appropriate in the Austrian Empire, for instance, it is perfectly appropriate in the United States to ask whether the government continues to operate within the boundaries of its legitimacy. Taking that question off the table changes the entire calculus of the system and admits, in a roundabout way, that the American experiment has not produced a government ultimately answerable to the people: in short, it has failed. And if the American experiment has failed, there are a legion of asinine enlightenment suppositions that should be immediately jettisoned from further discourse.

Finally, frankly, I think the original post rather overstates the role of pragmatism in Catholic thought on political legitimacy. The Church has always recognized the real necessity of securing the faithful's protection under the civil law, even from regimes that leave something to be desired in the way of moral authority. Furthermore, of course the pope held the power to determine who held a lawful claim to power: who else would you ask? But to reduce the entire calculus to "power equals right" is to ignore the vast intellectual tradition of the rule of law within the Church. The rules might make accommodation for power to pass by right of conquest, by other non-conventional methods, but those accommodations do not a pragmatism make.

I think myself that questions of legitimacy are rather different questions when applied to an existing government and when applied to a government that hasn't yet come into existence. With regard to the former, the question is, "When does a government lose legitimacy?" and seems definitely to include the contemplation of revolution as at least in some circumstances a real option. It can still in that case be an entirely theoretical discussion. After all, the vast majority of political theorists, including (I believe) quite traditional Christians, have believed that it _can_ be okay to overthrow a tyrant in some circumstances, etc.

But the other question, "How does a government come to be a real and legally legitimate government in the first place?" is even farther removed from any notion of revolution and is an almost _entirely_ theoretical discussion, involving instead of any notion of revolution something more like conceptual analysis applied to imaginable circumstances (it's more interesting if they are plausible circumstances or real historical circumstances from the past) of governmental origin. As such, it's what one might call "pure political philosophy" and difficult to see how it could be regarded as even remotely seditious or unthinkable for anyone.

But even for more normal states, the question of legitimacy is going to be debated whether conservatives participate or not.

I can't imagine why anyone would think the idea that discussing legitimacy is taboo, save the ideas of one contributor here.

Conservatives are usually the ones talking about legitimacy. Liberals usually don't wish to entertain this because they tend to be of the "realist" school, otherwise known as realpolitik. For example, Obama's early speeches in the ME were widely interpreted as "don't worry, we don't question your legitimacy" speeches, unlike the traditional American view that we do when you throw political dissidents in jail, unless the general direction is positive such that progress seems to be underfoot.

As far as questioning one's own government, I can recall Christians speaking of this from my childhood days and still. I see no evidence whatever of taboo. Even now some are openly wondering, as I myself do, whether a nation that commits fiscal suicide has a legitimate government.

By the "right of conquest" you enshrine the Mafia, MS-13, and the various street gangs operating under the lawless oversight of corrupt officials as legitimate. Not to mention Anders Behring Brevik, who was the entire 'legitimate authority' on Utoya for all of 90 minutes by virtue of his badge and his large number of guns.

How about: That government is legitimate whose agents identify and act as agents of the government, enforce the government's laws on all individuals under their purview, and answer to the higher government authority rather than to their own whims. Anything else is banditry, and there are neither theological nor moral grounds for decrying deadly force used against those law officers who do not follow the law. If the police won't do their jobs, fire them. If the police are actively using their officer status to commit crimes, fire at them.

Though it's far less the police we have to worry about than the runaway judiciary.

Jeff C.,

I'm curious, and asked the question over at my blog, do you think Henry VIII's actions constituted "particularly egregious circumstances" when he went after the Catholic Church's institutions? I tend to think they were, but as I say over at my blog, at some point I think most good Catholics would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Anglican church and the English monarchy as the legitimate English goverment. Indeed, I would even go further and argue that there is much about the Anglican church that is good and beautiful and true; despite is dubious origins.

I agree that we shouldn't be having revolutionary thoughts, but we can exult when God brings down Babylon, as detailed in Revelation 18-19. A wicked Christ-hating regime's fall is something to be anticipated with excitement.

I think there is a difference, in the marital example given in the main post, between a couple's discussing, say, the interpretation of Christ's words on divorce and a couple's discussing divorce in a more personal way. Here's an example of the latter: I saw a commentator on another blog say something like, "My marriage is difficult, and if I were ever single again, I don't think I would remarry." I think this was an appalling comment to make. Since presumably she is maintaining her marriage, she shouldn't be contemplating on a blog the possibility of her own eventual divorce. That's crazy.

But if, say, a couple is doing a Bible study and discussing various biblical passages on this topic and what they might mean, that doesn't seem to me to be undermining anything. It's just a matter of biblical interpretation. Or if one of them gets into an argument with someone else who has different opinions on divorce or interprets those passages in a different way, then they can have a lively discussion and agreement in disagreeing with this other person. Or the subject might come up in discussing whether or not to go to a wedding they've been invited to where one or the other people involved was divorced. Or a friend might have an annullment, which would bring the subject up for the couple. It's an sad moral and theological topic like homosexuality or abortion which happens to come up a lot in our culture: Christian couples are of course going to have opinions and are going to share and discuss these opinions with each other.

I see a distinction between realms and republics; one can assume some sort of property right granted to kings. One would assume a king's tyranny would at least have to rise to the level of not respecting other people's property rights to relieve him of his right. We live in a republic, which purports to derive it's power from the people through a constitution, which they routinely violate. They are obviously illegitimate; indeed they've already gone way past disregarding our property rights.

The Catholic Church also has the just war doctrine- I believe the point about actually having a reasonable chance at winning is the only requirement not met. In any case, this is the reason the legitimacy of authority must be questioned in the first place; we already know we are being unfairly treated, so we inquire into why and what the appropriate response should be. Whether we are dealing with a legitimate authority or not helps determine our path. Is it not immoral to let the theft continue unabated? Shall our children be indebted for life so that these lunatics can continue their shenanigans unabated?

If anything, questions of governmental legitimacy are more “nerdy” and less likely to come up naturally in the daily course of life in society than questions about divorce. One might argue that this makes it even less excusable to discuss them, but I find this a puzzling position unless the people doing the discussing really are contemplating revolution. Otherwise, it seems to me a lot like just war theory or any of a number of other abstract moral/philosophical discussions that are going to have no practical relevance for most of us but that philosophical people like to discuss nonetheless.

This is, as I suggested above, all the more true when we're discussing a government's coming into existence in the first place. None of us are ever likely to be advising the lords of the country when the king dies without an heir!

My own objection to political philosophy tends to be not that it is seditious or dangerous but that it's a tad dull. :-)

I don't see any reason to think ideas of revolution are "off-limits" or taboo except among the type who sees a Christians duty to be obedience to authority without much qualification. Those who hold that the Revolution itself was sinful or wrong.

And since no one else has made the usual quote here, remember Jefferson's statement from France about some rebellion or other. Whiskey?

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ... God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion; what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms."

Well, that's a pretty nutty quotation from Jefferson, isn't it, Mark? I certainly think so. A rebellion every twenty years!? That's crazy. People die in such things. And innocents die, accidentally. And there is waste and destruction. Besides, rebellions shouldn't be engaged in just for the heck of it but only, if at all, under very extreme circumstances.

Now, I would be willing to agree that, when we have government officials who have such a terror of what they call "anarchy" and such a respect for what _they_ call the "rule of law" that they won't even disobey a flatly immoral court order (e.g., to dehydrate a woman to death), we have a problem with people who are over-scrupulous about avoiding anything that could be called "lawlessness."

But it would be too mild an expression to say that Jefferson's bloodthirsty hankering after rebellions just on the principle of "keeping the rulers on their toes" is, er, going too far in the opposite direction!

The American Revolution was pretty obviously wrong and foolish. What I find odd about modern defenses of the Revolution is that they never seem to take themselves all that seriously. I mean, if the colonists had grounds for rebellion on the fact of oppressive government, then how much more do we have grounds today to rebel against ours? Give me the stamp tax any day, I'll gladly pay the tea tax--and I actually drink tea.

I sometimes think Jefferson went for pithiness over good sense. That quote is mighty catching...and I am inclined to say the twenty years thing was probably largely rhetorical.

In general, rebellion should only be considered when the government is doing something really bad. Threatening your life, imprisoning your family, and forcing you to do something totally against Christian principles (e.g. deny God), etc. And even then, prudence dictates that you don't start a rebellion you can't win.

But as for talk, I would say that it depends on intentions. You shouldn't discuss political legitimacy with someone you fear might actually declare the government illegitimate and start an insurrection. But an academic debate among well-intentioned and normal people--provided you can find any--is pretty harmless.

Donald Livingston: Secession and the Modern State. I think it's useful how he makes distinctions between secession, civil war, and revolution (hint: the American Revolution was really just a secession).

Not that I'm endorsing Revolution, Secession, or Civil War. I think God will bring it down with people of his choosing, and Christians aren't part of that people.

No revolution ever ended well. Asking, "do we need a revolution?" is like asking, "do we need a murder?" I'm sure the first revolutionary was the devil.

Here is an example of the revolutionary spirit: Saul Alinsky's dedication in Rules for Radicals:

Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer

Has anyone here read Robert Filmer's Patriarcha and can apply that here?

Well, that's a pretty nutty quotation from Jefferson, isn't it, Mark? I certainly think so. A rebellion every twenty years!? That's crazy. People die in such things. And innocents die, accidentally. And there is waste and destruction. Besides, rebellions shouldn't be engaged in just for the heck of it but only, if at all, under very extreme circumstances.

Well Lydia, I think he was speaking of small-scale rebellions like the Whiskey rebellion. I don't think he had in mind a grand cataclysm of what the CW was. Nobody wished for or wanted that. But even TJ's statement was hyperbole, which I doubt it was for the reason I gave, I think the point was be made, and perhaps you are confirming it. People die in rebellions, even small scale ones. If nothing is worth dying for, then nothing is worth living for. It's the paradox of modern life where we'd rather die of something we control, like whether or not we're sedentary or prefer a sugary diet, than that which we don't.

I think most good Catholics would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Anglican church . . . . Indeed, I would even go further and argue that there is much about the Anglican church that is good and beautiful and true; despite is dubious origins.

Even a blind pig finds a few mushrooms. But generally, this is a pretty nutty statement.

No revolution ever ended well. Asking, "do we need a revolution?" is like asking, "do we need a murder?" I'm sure the first revolutionary was the devil.

This is a rather broad statement. Nor is it really true. The American Revolution, while producing its fair share of buffoons (see, e.g., Jefferson, Thomas, supra), certainly resulted in some benefits. We may not be in the best of places, and our experiment may be a failure, but I'd say we're better off than Britain or Canada, which are both much farther down the path of decline and silliness than we. Then there's the Spanish Civil War, which was something of a revolution: Franco was worlds better than the priest-murdering communists.

We can go farther back: the Ionian Revolt, although not immediately successful, helped destabilize the Persian Empire and led to Greek ascendancy in the eastern Mediterranean. The Maccabeean Revolt was successful and resulted in the cleansing of the Temple. One can probably argue about, say, the Scottish Wars of Independence, the 1302 Flemish Uprising, and the Sicilian Vespers: the history there is complicated. The Montenegrin Revolution was highly successful at freeing a Christian people from Ottoman rule. Skanderberg's Rebellion was not ultimately successful in freeing Albania but apparently put a substantial check on Ottoman advancement in Europe. The Balkan peoples fought a long series of incrementally successful rebellions against the Ottomans for several centuries. The Belgian Revolution was certainly an improvement over rule by Dutch Protestants. For a more recent example, the long string of Irish uprisings were eventually successful in freeing Ireland from English rule (illegitimate political authority, Exhibit A), although the results in free Ireland have been, like most of modern Europe, ambiguous in the long run. Certainly there have been examples among non-Western peoples of which I know nothing. (Nor, should I add, am I an expert on all of the aforementioned events: they just seem at least to be sufficiently questionable to belie the "no revolutions ever!" line.)

Pardon the spelling errors above. But I very frequently ponder the absurdity of life where people find it acceptable to be killed by safety devices, and often are. I myself nearly drifted into the path of an oncoming truck when my anti-lock brakes failed some years ago. Children have been decapitated by auto airbags. Not to worry, they've got it all worked out now and the lives saved in the long run will bring the average in line, or so the story goes. Don't worry, the statisticians know how to account for all this. People are encouraged to take prescribed medications with the most severe side effects, including death, based on risk profiles of dubious merit and supposed benefits that there is little real evidence for. Go to any large health care organization that has a pharmacy sometime and sit and watch people expectantly waiting to have their meds dropped into their outstretched hands, even though we know that most of these will only add a few days to one's life at best. It's hard not to get a strong impression that you're watching some Orwellian dystopia take place right before your eyes. That's a strange rant I guess, but all to say I think we're no longer amusing ourselves to death as much as protecting ourselves to death. I suspect the risk-averse life isn't any better than the unexamined life.

Titus, you don't think there's _anything_ good about the Anglican church? Really? Ever, during its entire history? Heavens, man, what about the liturgy? There's a reason why the Book of Common Prayer has so greatly influenced the English language. And the King James Bible, too, for that matter.

Mark, are you Scottish, by any chance? :-)

I think you were born into the wrong age. In another age you would have been Sir Philip Sidney or Lovelace and gone off to fight for a cause you supported because it was better to die on the field of battle in a bonny fight than to die in your bed. (Though actually, neither Sidney nor Lovelace happened to be Scottish, but the Scots are known to love a good fight and to have been throughout their earlier history much of the "Give me liberty or give me death" school of thought.)

Titus,

You say, "Even a blind pig finds a few mushrooms. But generally, this is a pretty nutty statement." Since I'm the nutty one, let me clarify what I meant by "at some point I think most good Catholics would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Anglican church and the English monarchy as the legitimate English government."

What I was trying to argue is that imagine you were a Dominican Friar dispossessed of your lands and stripped of your authority by the tyrant King Henry VIII. Obviously the Dominicans will never submit to the ecclesiastical authority of the Anglican church and they and all Catholics are right to do so -- but what about your lands and the role of the Anglican church in English life? I'm suggesting that at some point Catholics had to make peace with these facts. What is the alternative? I guess the alternative was to foment rebellion against the Tudors and all English Kings since Henry as illegitimate and until all church lands are returned to the Catholic church and/or the Church is compensated for what happened back then...you see my point now? Over time Catholics had to accept the Anglican church as a fact of English life -- not its authority over Catholics, but its authority over life in England, although they could obviously preach Catholic doctrine when and where they were able. And as good Catholics we should all rejoice that the Pope has established the English Ordinariate to welcome Anglicans back into the fold. But would we be at this place if Catholics had continuously rebelled against the establishment of the Anglican Church and the crimes committed by Henry? I suggest not.

Finally, I guess it is borderline heresy, but I just think Lydia is right about what the English church has given the world and that is what I was referring to in my original comment.

Mark, are you Scottish, by any chance? :-)

I think you were born into the wrong age.

Not that I know of. But I don't think I was born in the wrong age. I think it is a universal thing and there are lots of people who think like that, and those who actually act on it rather than just talk about it like I am. It's something I think many men can relate to. I think we've had that discussion before.

the Scots are known to love a good fight and to have been throughout their earlier history much of the "Give me liberty or give me death" school of thought.)

I'm more of the "don't tread on me" school. Or is that the same school? :)

Jeff Singer writes:

I think most good Catholics would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Anglican church and the English monarchy as the legitimate English goverment. Indeed, I would even go further and argue that there is much about the Anglican church that is good and beautiful and true; despite is dubious origins.

The crown isn't the 'legitimate government' of England. The queen is a constitutional monarch who has a duty to warn and advise, but not to govern the nation: parliament does that.

If you dig back far enough in history the 'legitimacy' of the English monarchy becomes problematical.

I think it's true that much about the Anglican church is beautiful and true. Its liturgy alone is evidence of that.

Jeff C, I think it is right to be cautious about talking about evil, because it IS evil, and revolution is an evil. But I think your conclusion that it normally cannot be discussed needs some help.

First of all, EVERYONE has a right and duty to understand authority appropriately. In my view, every man has the prospect, when given a command by someone in authority, to ask 2 questions: (1) Does this command require me to do something contrary to God's law? And (2) does this command fall within the authority of the person who gives it? (The town dogcatcher cannot tell me to pay twice the taxes, his authority doesn't pertain to that.)

Secondly, every state (whether it be a realm, a republic, a commonwealth, or whatever) has people who more nearly pertain to the workings of government on a daily basis than maybe other people do: those from whom the next generation of governors will be drawn, those who have the ear of the government and have an effective capacity to request redress, in a military caste system those who are drawn on for the draft (knights and squires, or in Greek city-states the "citizen" who is responsible for service), and so on. These have a particular need not only to understand authority in its general principles, but to understand the particularities of authority in their own government: with their increased privileges come increased responsibilities. Now, in our democratic republic, it so happens that "the people" are, by and large, that inner group. (Let me qualify that: at the founding, those who had the vote were a modest subset of the population, not everybody).

Now, to understand authority correctly JUST IS to understand its abuse and perversion and its limits. They are 2 sides to the very same coin. You cannot truly understand your duties to submit to the king or Parliament without understanding your freedoms that do not fall under their purview. You cannot understand properly the right use of power whose mantle some in your generation and group may have to take up, without understanding what is the WRONG use of power. And you cannot be responsible for rightly putting down wrongful insurrection and revolt if you cannot distinguish wrong insurrection from the right.

Therefore, insofar as we have a duty to reflect properly on what our true role is in obedience to authority, we also have a duty to understand what is wrong about revolution - which means we learn to recognize when revolution is actually right. And we the citizens of our republic, from whom the next ranks of legislators, judges, police, etc are taken, and who vote for the rulers, are more responsible for this knowledge than might be true of the average peasant in an aristocracy or monarchy.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so lets make sure to not let our knowledge of the matter rest at the barest particle of understanding, and extend it to the full range that is needed for sound comprehension.

No revolution ever ended well. Asking, "do we need a revolution?" is like asking, "do we need a murder?"

Mark is entirely right to attack this silly claim. And he gives excellent counterexamples. Continental Op, if you wish to make a point, do it with an argument, not with conversational bombs that are useless for substantiating a point.

Funny how we ought to not even think about revolution while our leaders not only plan it, but are trying to execute one right in front of us via this new "Super Congress" that will effectively crush the authority of the average congressman.

A few caveats, guys:

1. The American Revolution was about taxation without representation. Even when the government spends our money profligately, you can at least identify the winners and losers as long as they're Americans.

2. The American Revolution served as the perfect counter-foil to the Godless French Revolution.

3. I'm pretty sure it was Chesterton who said that all successful revolutions were riots of the rich. The American Revolution was one that simply took the appalling position that the laws the rich bound themselves under to separate themselves from the poor might actually be applied to the whole population. And it basically worked for every new town in America right up until the time some rich guy petitioned the government to let him have a new load of cheap labor from the old country, causing much of the original population to head West.

I think SOMEBODY'S just jealous that we basically did it without the oversight of the Catholic Church. Considering that their cardinals are engaging in precisely the same immigrant-meddling chicanery that the old rich men did against the labor unions, they have no grounds for complaining.

How about another quick-and-dirty "Is the Revolution Good?" criteria: Does it give the revolting party both control of and responsibility for their own country? If not answered in the affirmative, it's almost always likely to be less a 'revolution' and much more likely petty squabbling over money and titles that can only end in another "revolution." In those cases it IS always best for Christians to stay out of it. Though the question of whether to fight or pay will always come up...

It seems to me that the principles of just war apply to the question of legitimacy, and I'm surprised in this whole discussion that no one has brought them up. The actions of any conceivable government, no matter how wicked, no matter how benevolent, will be more or less just, more or less prudent, and will more or less promote the general welfare. Therefore, lacking any formula, either from natural law or revealed religion (which no one has yet plausibly provided) to help us identify it, legitimacy, it seems to me, boils down inevitably to the "more or less." I.e., the right of overthrow of any government (either more or less "legitimate") inheres to any and every people (or any subset of a people) at all times, and the only question is whether that people or subset thereof can overthrow de facto government, an act of war, and simultaneously fulfill just war principles both ad and in bellum.

For example, a government may be quite (tho' never entirely) unjust and quite (tho' never entirely) imprudent, and thereby relatively "illegitimate", but the sect wishing to overthrow such a government may have a low probability of success, or the harms (e.g., the body count) of the attempted overthrow may exceed the harms of continuing the status quo. That would make their attempted overthrow, by just war principles, illegimate... or at least far less legitimate than continuing to suffer with no revolution under a current regime.

If on the other hand, several high level generals of the armed forces, possessing perhaps far greater wisdom and skill than the amalgamated wisdom of people expressed by the crude measures of ballot boxes and public opinion polls, and this group, assured of the loyalty of all but a handful of their men, were to dismiss a congress and unseat a president (or lay him aside in a figurative role) and rule by fiat while a new and more robust constitution was implemented, they may be able to do so without firing a single shot (or perhaps only shots into the air). If such a group were able to rule more justly and/or more prudently and/or more in keeping with general welfare than the (heretofore thought "legitimate") regime that they replaced, then such an act might very well be considered just under just war principles. And the new regime ought be considered "legitimate"... "more legitimate", certainly, than the previous one.

Do not, in other words, just war principles fundamentally settle any and all questions of "legitimacy"?

No, they don't, because they don't tell us how to get a legitimate government started in the first place. For example, if the king dies without an heir, how do you decide with whom to replace him? To what extent does the desire of the people fit into that picture? For example, when Richard the Lion-hearted died without an heir there were contradictory traditions: One tradition of succession would have made Richard's nephew Arthur the rightful king by inheritance. Another tradition gave more weight to Richard's own desire to pass on the crown to John Lackland, his brother.

Just war doctrine doesn't tell us whether John was a wicked usurper for taking the crown or not. If we imagine John asking _himself_ the question of whether he could form a legitimate government (not that he was likely actually to ask himself this question, but we can imagine it hypothetically), just war doctrine wouldn't settle that issue.

But Lydia, as I implied, there is no formula--at least no plausible one that simultaneously finds legimate all the known-to-be "legitimate" rulers, e.g., who played by some as yet unarticulated set of rules, and illegitimate all the known-to-be illegitimate ones, who failed somehow to live up to those rules. The parties who care (verging on compulsively IMO) about "legitimacy" are asking a question that does not have an answer in either revealed or natural law. He who is in power is, by that very fact, in power. In achieving such power, he may have acted morally, i.e., within the confines or revealed and natural law, or he may not have. We may (unlikely in general, based on our ignorance of exact circumstances, but for the sake of argument....) even be able to say whether morally or not. But answering such a question is more or less pointless, because if we were to find that a governor took power by immoral acts, and therefore (presumably) illegitimately, that does not by itself justify his overthrow. We (or some sect) can only be justified in overthrowing a de facto ruler (an act of war if there ever was one) if they can meet the standards of just war. If they can and will likely rule more justly and prudently, then it is probably their positive moral duty to overthrow such a ruler. But meeting the standards of just war are very difficult.

The net effect of this, for lack of a better term, "Legitimacy Agnosticism", is (yes) probably more often than not, less just and less prudent rulers stay in place longer than they deserve. But the net benefit is that we cut down the number of wars (most of world's total over the past century) caused by, or justified by, questioning the "legitimacy" of de facto rulers, which to me is like debating about their midichlorian count. Power is power no matter how it was achieved. It is God's will, a benefit to all mankind, and ought to be Christians' constant prayer that they wield that power wisely, justly, and prudently. That, for me, sums up "legitimacy".

At some point the 'legitimacy' of a government - whether takes the form of monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy - is established either by power or by the consent of the governed. Once established, governments evolve self-serving justifications for their continuing authority:

"How the several forms of government we now see in the world at first actually began, is matter of great uncertainty, and has occasioned infinite disputes...... However they began, or by what right soever they subsist, there is and must be in all of them a supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority, in which the jura summa imperii (supreme dominion) or the rights of sovereignty, reside. And this authority is placed in those hands, wherein, according to the opinion of the founders of such respective states, either expressly given, or collected from their tacit approbation, the qualities requisite for supremacy, wisdom, goodness, and power, are the most likely to be found."

William Blackstone : (Of the Nature of Laws in General.)

Legitimacy rests on the question of force, it's restraint or lack of same. The degree to which it is abused or ignored is connected to it's decline. I think it was Charles the First who sent his men to arrest five PM's, bad move. Examples abound.
As Kirk would assert, as common sense would demand, custom is as central, or more so, than statute.
But we have entered a period where the emotionally unstable seek to accrue powers unheard of, to lay burdens and controls heretofore unknown, and who routinely compare dissent to mass murderers and terrorists, who oddly enough to not come under the same opprobrium,& a list to long & painful to expand, I have no problem saying we are on the verge.
The tiny little fellow in the WH, as well his numerous, troubled supporters do not bother themselves with a dot of thought on the subject. Will supplies legitimacy.
Which is why we are on the verge. The facade or skeleton may remain, only because appearances count for those who don't look too closely. But that's it.

Well, Steve, I find it at least an analytically somewhat interesting question as to what a group of people should do who might take power when there is a power vacuum and how they decide what is moral to do. You seem constantly to be looking at the question of whether it is moral to overthrow a government. I'm not. Even if John Lackland was a usurper, it might have been wrong for some later group of people to try to overthrow him. As you suggest, that will be a question that has a lot in common with just war theory. I'm asking as a theoretical question what John himself should have done confronted with the fact that his brother died without an heir.

I'm not suggesting that there is a "formula"--a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for legitimacy that we can state and that will apply everywhere. In fact, I suspect that there isn't and that legitimacy will arise through an eclectic set of sufficient conditions.

However, I think that there _are_ situations in which it's probably _right_ to consult "the people" or their representatives. Unexpected power vacuums such as the death of a king without an heir may very well but just such cases. That's at least mildly interesting, as it would refute any idea that the consent of the people is irrelevant to legitimacy or should never be brought up. There may be situations where it is in fact an irreducible part of what should be consulted in setting up a new government.

Legitimacy rests on the question of force, it's restraint or lack of same. The degree to which it is abused or ignored is connected to it's decline. I think it was Charles the First who sent his men to arrest five PM's, bad move. Examples abound.
As Kirk would assert, as common sense would demand, custom is as central, or more so, than statute.
But we have entered a period where the emotionally unstable seek to accrue powers unheard of, to lay burdens and controls heretofore unknown, and who routinely compare dissent to mass murderers and terrorists, who oddly enough to not come under the same opprobrium,& a list to long & painful to expand, I have no problem saying we are on the verge.
The tiny little fellow in the WH, as well his numerous, troubled supporters do not bother themselves with a dot of thought on the subject. Will supplies legitimacy.
Which is why we are on the verge. The facade or skeleton may remain, only because appearances count for those who don't look too closely. But that's it.

That's at least mildly interesting, as it would refute any idea that the consent of the people is irrelevant to legitimacy or should never be brought up.

It is undeniable that consent of the governed always plays some role in legitimacy: If the people, or some people, will not consent to be ruled by a ruler, they are, ipso facto, in rebellion. If the ruler (now so-called) lets them continue to walk the earth in freedom (by either not killing or jailing them), then he is no ruler, and anarchy reigns at least in some part of his realm: This would in fact provide no small motivation, I think, to recruit a new ruler. I only object to the (Satanic) Painean formulation that consent is the sole or principal source of legitimacy. That sophistry has probably resulted in more death and misery in the past 100 years than any vile superstition, stamped out by the (Paine's precious) Enlightenment, had in all of previous human history. The entrails of oxen would indeed be a better guide to human government.

"a small and responsible circle of scholars:" You really bring out the pitchfork in me. It doesn't take a scholar to recognize injustice, or to seek protection of one's life, liberty or property under the authority of another if the need arises. I think the reason that revolution is spoken of in America circa 2011 is because we are in a gov't led transformation of society, and have been for decades. And many of these are morally intolerable yet mandatory. And some are psychologically intolerable, such as widespread drug use, high immigration, extraordinary rates of imprisonment, and the confusing nature of everyday life being choked by private and public bureaucracy. Guess who deserves the blame for this: a small and responsible circle of scholars.

I certainly also disagree with the main post's odd notion that even having a theoretical discussion about the concept of governmental legitimacy would be rightly treated as treason in an older (and better?) world if done by the common man but that some small group of "responsible scholars" would be, apparently, license (!) even to discuss this theoretical issue.

It is undeniable that consent of the governed always plays some role in legitimacy: If the people, or some people, will not consent to be ruled by a ruler, they are, ipso facto, in rebellion. If the ruler (now so-called) lets them continue to walk the earth in freedom (by either not killing or jailing them), then he is no ruler, and anarchy reigns at least in some part of his realm: This would in fact provide no small motivation, I think, to recruit a new ruler.

Well, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind. What you say, Steve, seems rather reductionistic. It seems to reduce legitimacy entirely to a matter of success. I can't help wondering if you have any concept of a tyrant (as a bad thing) at all. Also what you would think of my examples of Moe and Frank in an earlier thread.

See here for Moe:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/07/see_spot_consent.html#comment-164582

And see here for Frank:

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2011/07/see_spot_consent.html#comment-164583

Lydia, the overthrow of government is always and everywhere an act of war. To decide, therefore, whether to overthrow a government, one ought (morally) to meet well-known (and as far as I know universally acknowleged by the WWWtW community) standards of just war. If Moe or Frank can meet those standards (quite difficult) and promise to rule better than the current regime (any of the first 500 names in the Boston phone book could do that), then I say more power to 'em.

Tyrant is always and everywhere a pejorative term. You may as well ask whether I have a concept of a misogynist as a bad thing. Tyrants are, as I believe Plato pointed out, what you get when democracies fail--an end toward which we in the West (and in America especially) seem to be careening at an alarming rate. Democracies fail because democracy is a synonym (as most of America's founding fathers realized, Th. Jeffersons intemperate remarks not withstanding) for anarchy: a dire situation that specially calls for a strong and inflappable personal executive, unswayed and unswayable by the listing passions of the people (half of whom, remember, are below average!). Yet such a ruler, desirable and necessary, inevitably finds himself governing a people conditioned (by anarchy) to care far more for their own opinions than they are generally worth, a people poorly conditioned (again because of anarchy) to submit to a level of authority necessary to promote the common good. A leader so positioned then almost always finds it necessary, if he is to maintain his leadership, to increasingly brutal and underhanded tactics (secret police, death squads, show trials, pogroms, etc.). Thus we have come, for historical reasons, to associate "tyrant" with evil. So a better term might be: personal executive.

But no, personal executives are not ipso facto evil. Steve Jobs is the personal executive of Apple and has yet to descend into torture or genocide of either his employees or customers--in fact they are among the very happiest to work for or buy products from him respectively. I think most ordinary people would not commit great evils if thrust into that position, and would, if allowed to, manage to provide well for the common good. But most (the vast majority) of people would not be able to maintain their role as personal executive over a people who suckled anarchy from their mothers' breasts. They, the ordinary, would end up dead. And so it takes a quite extraordinary person to pull it off: Hopefully, one of the best and brightest (say one who qualified for West Point and rose to the rank of General), and then only in cooperation with many more of the best and brightest. As I said in my first post on my thread, I think he could take power without firing a shot, or at least very many shots--which is to say that he could meet the demands of just war principles and undoubtedly provide a better (i.e., more just, more peaceable, more prudent) government than the one we now have: The cause is just, the means are just. What more can we ask?

Steve, "competent authority" is as far as I know an irreducible part of just war theory. This is usually understood to mean that a "war" declared by private individuals cannot be a just war! By definition, a revolution is not going to be declared by a state entity or by an entity already responsible for public order. Hence, at the most, the criteria for a revolution (if it is ever justified) will have to be _analogous_ to criteria in just war theory, not identical to them.

By removing the notion of "competent authority" or treating it as unimportant and trying to make revolution justifiable sheerly on the basis of other criteria, you set up a pretty dangerous "might makes right" idea, especially since you don't seem to be trying to replace the notion of "competent authority" with anything else--such as, oh, I dunno, consent of the people...Or perhaps the fact that the, er, "personal executive" presently in charge is illegitimate de jure. Or anything like that.

I just want to point out that Steve Nicoloso appears to be at one and the same time the most authoritarian-friendly and the most revolution-friendly commentator on this thread, or, for that matter, any of our recent threads on these subjects--an interesting confluence of sympathies.

For example, a government may be quite (tho' never entirely) unjust and quite (tho' never entirely) imprudent, and thereby relatively "illegitimate", but the sect wishing to overthrow such a government may have a low probability of success, or the harms (e.g., the body count) of the attempted overthrow may exceed the harms of continuing the status quo. That would make their attempted overthrow, by just war principles, illegimate... or at least far less legitimate than continuing to suffer with no revolution under a current regime.
But answering such a question is more or less pointless, because if we were to find that a governor took power by immoral acts, and therefore (presumably) illegitimately, that does not by itself justify his overthrow.

Steve, I appreciate that there is an irreducible matter of "degree" in all of the prudential decisions that go into how much a government is, or is not, acting for the common good, and likewise how likely an attempted overthrow is to achieve success. These cannot be separated from an inherent fluidity and thus a matter of degrees, (and as a result, permitting different conclusions by different men of admittedly high prudence and good will). That is one of the reasons it is so difficult to know when it is ripe to revolt.

But I do not agree that the only legitimacy is, as such, in him who currently holds the power. I fear that point of view cannot be philosophically separated from the view that there isn't any authority as such, only power and thus only what you can be forced to obey. For, if you think (a) that you can successfully get away with a small bit of under-the-level-of-notice non-compliance, AND (b) if you think that non-compliance would actually serve the common good better than compliance, then you would be morally absolutely free to disregard the "law" that is imposed from above by the power of the state. But that's not a description of authority in the least, it's a description of a coercive dictatorship whose power is ONLY power and not authority. If we wish to apply the principles of just war theory, let's not forget the first one: you must have a "just cause" of war, and "just cause" cannot be understood as simply a goal that is more perfective of the common good than you have now: it must be a proper causus belli as such.

If legitimacy is essentially just the capacity of he who is in power to carry out force effectively, then law and moral obligation to obey would be non-entities all around, and all we would be left is raw power. Sorry, that's a bad way to account for what we see.

I'm not suggesting that there is a "formula"--a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for legitimacy that we can state and that will apply everywhere.

I am probably more in agreement with Lydia than not, but I suspect further that there ought to be SOME principles that we can draw out of the hundreds of examples of states coming to be legitimate (and illegitimate where they had once been legitimate) and states being overthrown rightly or wrongly. It is, admittedly, very difficult to draw out principles from the examples when you cannot perform experiments and, worse, you have so much disagreement about what even constitutes examples of good or bad revolutions. Nevertheless, I think we can instructively get to the point of being able to cast away some of the more dead-end sorts of accounts. Machiavellian "there is only power" is one: it may be practical because there really is power, but it is also impractical in the long run because it ignores human nature, and eventually human nature will assert itself: men seek that there be authority, not just power and coercion.

While it is absolutely true that a coming-to-be of a new legitimate government cannot happen without it being ordered to the common good, that is certainly an incomplete account of the legitimacy. Steve fails to account for the fact that we DON'T think it is OK to overthrow a government that is highly legitimate if we think we could replace it with one that just a slightly bit better - as Lydia pointed out with Moe. So, follow that into its natural result: it may be true that there is a matter of degree in legitimacy in SOME contexts, but this does not lead to the conclusion that there is no such thing as "legitimate" simply, full stop. There is certainly debate about whether viruses are truly alive, and about whether some one-celled creatures are truly plants or animals. This doesn't prevent us from being certain that there are things that are definitely alive, and some things that are animals, full stop. When an apple turns from green to red, there is certainly a point at which it WAS green, and there is a point at which it IS red, but it may be impossible to state an exact point at which it became red. Likewise, it may be difficult to say exactly when a person dies, but we know for a fact that the body is DEAD after a while. We draw knowledge about what is the essence of a reality from the fulfilled condition, the state of affairs in its rest state of full actuality, not so much from its state of imperfection when it is coming to be or passing away. If there is such a thing as true legitimacy, it won't be found in easy-to-identify form in states that are becoming illegitimate through decadence. (It may be that we have trouble with perceiving proper legitimacy precisely because we are living in a state that is becoming degenerate and so its legitimacy is rotting away. Bad for us, if true.) And it may be difficult to START trying to identify it in states where there was civil war that eventually settled down to one ruler.

We know that King David's reign was that of a legitimate government. Let's not cast up silly theories that if someone could have come up with a more perfect manner of ruling, and if he could have talked the generals into backing him, he would have had a "right" to overthrow David. So, legitimacy is not readily accounted for on the basis of "more" in the sense of "more complete common good," at least not in any simple sense. At least to begin with, Saul's reign before David was, also, a legitimate government.

I believe that it is impossible to account fully for David's legitimacy without pointing at God's having anointed him (well, Samuel anyway). But also, David did not attempt to proclaim himself ruler over all 12 tribes of Israel until he received a form of acceptance from the second group. Thus, he was not attempting to exercise authority over them until he could, ALREADY, be said to be legitimately their ruler. He did not achieve legitimacy by conquest and coercion, and he did not achieve it simply by being anointed. At least in this case of a new reign, the consent of _some portion_ of the people completed the final step to a legitimate kingship. (There were, also, numerous intermediate steps where David proved vast self-restraint and ability to command well, and prudence in regulating large bodies of men. Let's not ignore those steps.) It may be other kingships started without consent, but not David's.

Democracies fail because democracy is a synonym (as most of America's founding fathers realized, Th. Jeffersons intemperate remarks not withstanding) for anarchy: a dire situation that specially calls for a strong and inflappable personal executive, unswayed and unswayable by the listing passions of the people (half of whom, remember, are below average!).

No, no, that's quite untrue, I think. Democracy may, perhaps, inevitably lead to anarchy, but the term isn't synonymous with anarchy. Please, let's not go down the road of creating a mish-mash of theory by using a mish-mash of terminology. We know perfectly well that democracy, or rule-by-the-many is still under RULE, whereas anarchy is no-rule.

I think he could take power without firing a shot, or at least very many shots--which is to say that he could meet the demands of just war principles and undoubtedly provide a better (i.e., more just, more peaceable, more prudent) government than the one we now have: The cause is just, the means are just. What more can we ask?

How about a causus belli? In just war theory, we do not refer to a situation where state A believes that they can achieve a better condition of inter-relations with state B by winning a war as a "cause of war". That's not what the term means. It means a specific, grave injustice that state B is perpetrating that gravely damages the common good of nations. This would be analogous (in overthrowing your government) to there being a definite matter of grave injustice or other grave damage to the common good - and such a condition would justify calling the government illegitimate. Steve, you haven't avoided legitimacy at all. Waging war - including war against your own government - would seem to require meeting all the standards of just war theory, including having an adequate reason to hope for success, using legitimate means, AND having a sufficient cause meaning a grave evil to be overthrown.

Lydia is also right about the revolution being pushed by "competent authority". In most ancient wars of revolt, the "competent authority" almost always amounted to a cadre of generals or others (nobles?) who had (a) demonstrated the capacity to command many, (b) knew the difficulties of waging war and were competent to estimate possible success, and perhaps (c) who had been in the public eye and whose character had been widely enough known that people could come up with some basis for trusting them. Revolution in such terms doesn't get off the ground until someone can competently stake a claim for actually being able to lead forces successfully in the face of whatever resistance there might be. So, it is virtually necessary that the "competent authority" either has to be a general or head of police or other leader of force, or have the full and public backing of such men.

Which describes David perfectly. But he didn't wage war against the prior government to declare himself king.

On "competent authority," I don't work a lot with just war theory, but my perception had always been that that meant that the one who launches a war must _be_ a government--a state actor. One site referred to it as the entity that is already "responsible for public order" and contrasted it with "private individuals." If some group of generals decided to start a war on their own against some other country, we'd say they were rogues, even if their men would obey them and they would be successful. I don't see why revolutions should be any different.

For this reason it seems to me that revolutions *cannot* literally meet the "competent authority" requirement and must be evaluated (if they can ever be justified) under some rather different, though probably related, set of criteria than just war criteria per se. This because ex hypothesi a revolution is carried out _against_ the state entity by a group of people who do not at that time constitute "the government."

Probably one can replace that with something about the people's having a reason to trust. Perhaps one could also replace it in a monarchical context by talking about someone who had, or reasonably believed that he had, better hereditary claim to the throne. But it's always going to be someone who is not, at the moment he starts a revolution, "responsible for public order."

Re: Competent authority. It seems quite unfair to construe just war principles in such a manner as to forestall any possible right of revolt--it only takes us to the extreme standard that all revolts are per se' evil. I would say that most (inluding our own) were and remain evil, but even I can imagine a situation where rebellion is justified. In fact, I could even name some real ones. Obviously, any coup or party leader has some sort of competent authority over his own people. We don't really expect Larry or Moe to take over the government by themselves, do we? No. The question is whether the party out of power ought to oust the party in power (for whatever just reason(s)) and whether they can do so without inflicting greater evils on society than standing pat with the status quo. If it helps, think of the leader of the out-party as the head of a government in exile. He could be the legitimate leader in power, if only he had just cause and just (proportional, etc.) means to seize it.

As for de jure legitimacy, we end up in the same place. Any state has positive law on its books against rebellion. Therefore do we deem any forcible change of regime, no matter how well justified or benignly executed, is not legitimate? No. It would be just as ludicrous to deem any incident of driving over the speed limit as always and everywhere evil. There are obviously some situations where driving over the speed limit is justified. Such laws (against speeding and against taking up arms against one's own government) are not universal or natural law. In any search for some nebulous formula for "legitimacy", you cannot expect "laws on the books" to have very much standing. Of course, we ought not throw of governments for "light and transient causes", but for good enough causes "laws on the books" will likely mean less than nothing: the wicked governor was the very one who wrote those laws to begin with.

I just want to point out that Steve Nicoloso appears to be at one and the same time the most authoritarian-friendly and the most revolution-friendly commentator on this thread, or, for that matter, any of our recent threads on these subjects--an interesting confluence of sympathies.

Well, Lydia, I had noticed that. But you should bear in mind that I view meeting the requirements of just war principles to be almost impossibly high. So in practice I think my view would prevent far more "revolutions" than it abetted. In fact I want no revolution, but am waiting for a reaction of the quickest and gentlest sort possible.

No, no, that's quite untrue, I think. Democracy may, perhaps, inevitably lead to anarchy, but the term isn't synonymous with anarchy. Please, let's not go down the road of creating a mish-mash of theory by using a mish-mash of terminology. We know perfectly well that democracy, or rule-by-the-many is still under RULE, whereas anarchy is no-rule.

There is always, always, everywhere and everywhere rule. There is never, ever, no rule. Whoever collects your "taxes" is your ruler. We always hope that that person is a well-educated and gentle bureaucrat performing a benevolent King's bidding. But whether he is that or an armed thug, you have a ruler... unless you are that thug (which makes you the, rather illegitimate, governor of some tiny patch of real estate). Sovereignty always exists. Sovereignty is conserved. Dividing it is inherently anarchical. When it is divided, it leads inexorably and inevitably to full-blown anarchy ("thugs" collecting "taxes"). The distance it time between the first division of sovereignty and unimaginable human misery is a function solely of the quality (morally and socially) of a people so cursed as to lack a true king.

Re: Competent authority. It seems quite unfair to construe just war principles in such a manner as to forestall any possible right of revolt--it only takes us to the extreme standard that all revolts are per se' evil. I would say that most (inluding our own) were and remain evil, but even I can imagine a situation where rebellion is justified.

Well, no. An alternative would simply be (and this seems to me correct) to say that just war theory was not all by itself supposed to address the issue of revolt at all, that just war theory taken on its own terms just isn't _about_ revolt. In that case, if one believes that revolt is sometimes justified, one would have to modify just war theory and come up with some sort of cousin thereof to address that different situation.

As I say, I don't see how you can say that somehow just war theory permits a "group of generals" working against the government (!) to constitute a "competent authority" in attacking their own government when a similar group of generals wouldn't constitute a "competent authority" for launching a war were they to attack a completely different country. Just war theory per se simply seems to me to be _about_ wars that are carried out by state entities.

The reason I'm making such a big deal about this is that it seems to me that evolving a replacement for the notion of "competent authority" will probably be somewhat difficult and may very well involve some notion either of a general tyranny in the existing government such that the people en masse recognize this tyranny and are able to replace it with something to which they consent and which is better or, perhaps, with some notion of an actual rival claimant with a prima facie good _legal_ claim according to the actual laws of the country. After all, one doesn't just become a "government in exile" by fiat. But one might actually _be_ a government in exile if there were strong legal arguments for that conclusion.

Either of these ideas seems to me better than simply replacing "competent authority" with "lots of generals with a good chance of success."

Titus, you don't think there's _anything_ good about the Anglican church? Really? Ever, during its entire history? Heavens, man, what about the liturgy? There's a reason why the Book of Common Prayer has so greatly influenced the English language. And the King James Bible, too, for that matter.

Well, frankly, not really. To the extent that there are things good in Anglicanism, they are either 1) left overs from English Catholicism or 2) encompassed by by statement about blind pigs and mushrooms. The liturgy is just a cut-and-paste job of the Sarum Rite, with some anti-sacramental heresy thrown in (ditto for the BCP). The King James Bible, well, I've never really understood the fuss: there are lots of beautiful works of literature from the early modern period, and most of them aren't agenda-driven masquerades at translation of (part of) the Scriptures. The Book of Common Prayer has been influential because people who speak English are descended from Englishmen who were compelled to use said book, and many of whom remained Anglican/Episcopalian by choice. If we were all descended from Swedes, we'd feel a lot of influence from . . . whatever they say prayers out of in the Swedish National Church. Sure, Anglicanism has a lot of beauty, and a fair amount of truth, in it, but it's not Anglicanism's beauty or truth: the Anglican communion wears a borrowed coat and lives in stolen buildings.

What I was trying to argue is that imagine you were a Dominican Friar dispossessed of your lands and stripped of your authority by the tyrant King Henry VIII. Obviously the Dominicans will never submit to the ecclesiastical authority of the Anglican church and they and all Catholics are right to do so -- but what about your lands and the role of the Anglican church in English life? I'm suggesting that at some point Catholics had to make peace with these facts. What is the alternative?

I will certainly grant you the points made in the expanded post: it is of course plausible for English Catholics at some point to have given up on Jacobite insurrections and on legal or revolutionary machinations for the return of their property. That doesn't mean that what was done was right, of course, or that they can't still toast the True King Over the Water, (or that with better chances of success, as in Ireland, resistance couldn't continue) but your point was far more sensible than it appeared at first blush.

I will also add that Benedict's largesse is, as you suggest, entirely appropriate: the Church was deprived of a rich tradition with the extermination of the Sarum Rite, and it's appropriate to reclaim the pieces of that tradition that have been preserved within Anglicanism.

Re: just war and Revolutions

Yes, the just-war doctrine has much to say about revolution, which it permits. No, the just-war doctrine is not the sole arbiter of political legitimacy: a regime is not legitimate just because a revolt against it would not qualify as justified.

The liturgy is just a cut-and-paste job of the Sarum Rite, with some anti-sacramental heresy thrown in (ditto for the BCP). The King James Bible, well, I've never really understood the fuss: there are lots of beautiful works of literature from the early modern period, and most of them aren't agenda-driven masquerades at translation of (part of) the Scriptures. The Book of Common Prayer has been influential because people who speak English are descended from Englishmen who were compelled to use said book,

Except the Sarum Rite wasn't in English! I'm afraid, Titus, you must have a tin ear if you don't agree that the grandeur of these works and the justice of their massive influence lies in the genius that informs their use of the English language. Like it or not, this genius came to flower under the aegis of the English Church.

But this, of course, is off-topic, so I'll leave it at that.

Just war theory per se simply seems to me to be _about_ wars that are carried out by state entities.

This is doubtful since just war principles predate, by far, the notion of a (modern, legal, empirical, hyper-rational) state. Surely, Lydia, you're not suggesting that just war principles do not apply to feuding tribal chieftains? Are tribal chieftains per se illegitimate? Is the question of legitimacy only applicable to Europeans and their diaspora?

Nature recognizes peoples, not states. Peoples naturally need governments. Nature is largely indifferent to how those governments are constituted, i.e., achieve legitimacy. But she is not indifferent to the morality of government actions.

"States" as we now know them, i.e., in their full-flower, have arguably existed only in the lifetimes of some still living: States are states only by permission of the UN.

Steve, no, I'm not saying that everything chieftains do in fighting is unjust, nor that they can do whatever they please. But the distinction between an entity "responsible for public order" and "private individuals" gets rather blurry when we're talking about feuding tribal chieftains. Hence, if one of the rules of just war theory as presently understood is that a just war under this theory should be launched by an entity "responsible for public order," that particular set of criteria cannot, ex hypothesi, apply to rebels _against_ the entity "responsible for public order." (Heck, they usually aren't even tribal chieftains!)

If their action is just, it must be seen to be just because it obeys some different set of rules.

Nature recognizes peoples, not states.

Steve, according to traditional western political theory, nature recognizes peoples' need to have arbiters of rules - varying levels of authority. Of the many levels of authority, there cannot but be one that is highest in the temporal order. If "a people" is large enough to constitute a relatively independent body - harboring within themselves enough different capacities and resources to be largely capable of answering for themselves for most needs - they are large enough to be a polity. When the highest authority of the temporal order is the political authority of such an independent body, you have a state and a state government. That's nature.

There is always, always, everywhere and everywhere rule. There is never, ever, no rule.

Oh, please. I hope that you don't really mean that you can defend this as an actual historical fact, because it is indefensible. There are tons of times when what we have is a people without any recognized ruler, and nobody whom more than 5 associates are ready to "obey". When David was sought out by the 10 tribes (other than Judah and Benjamin), they did so because they _didn't_ have a ruler. When the French decided to finally get rid of Napoleon, they chose to recognize Louis XVIII, but there was an intermediate moment in which they could have chosen another republic, or some other king.

But whether he is that or an armed thug, you have a ruler... unless you are that thug (which makes you the, rather illegitimate, governor of some tiny patch of real estate).

That's exactly what we are NOT talking about: raw power that controls out of fear and only fear. If that's your notion of authority, you are not using the same language. People obey authority out of a respect for an obligation to do so, not simply because they are afraid of the consequences from the thugs. If there is no obligation to obey, there is no authority, and the commands are not "rule", they are mere thuggery. That's not a state. If you have true rule, you have someone who has a right to command and others who have an obligation to obey even if the fist is not around to hit you. Backup of authority by force is not the essence of authority, it is the necessary evil consequence of needing to exercise authority with sinful humans who fail of their duty to obey authority.

Lydia, I'm sorry I got off on the tangent of competent authority. I didn't mean to suggest that a revolt must be announced by competent authority properly so called - that would be silly. My point was that there was a kind of imperfect analog to competent authority from just war theory in waging a war of revolt, in the practical aspect at least, of not committing to such a war until you have the input of those who are capable of estimating the actual difficulties and evils of the war itself. Such expert opinion isn't really a solid analog to competent authority, though, there are problems with the analogy.

Jeff C, I think it is right to be cautious about talking about evil, because it IS evil, and revolution is an evil. But I think your conclusion that it normally cannot be discussed needs some help.

It's not that evil cannot, or should not, be discussed normally - that can't be avoided in this fallen world - it's that some evils are so hideous, or dangerous, or alluring, that they belong "in the closet" normally. And by that, I mean that they should not even be contemplated, much less discussed.

First of all, EVERYONE has a right and duty to understand authority appropriately. In my view, every man has the prospect, when given a command by someone in authority, to ask 2 questions: (1) Does this command require me to do something contrary to God's law? And (2) does this command fall within the authority of the person who gives it? (The town dogcatcher cannot tell me to pay twice the taxes, his authority doesn't pertain to that.)

I agree, Tony, on both counts. But so far as I can tell, in neither case does the wrong answer necessarily involve the illegitimacy of one's government. A legitimate government can certainly issue illegitimate commands now and then. So what is your point here?

Secondly, every state (whether it be a realm, a republic, a commonwealth, or whatever) has people who more nearly pertain to the workings of government on a daily basis than maybe other people do: those from whom the next generation of governors will be drawn, those who have the ear of the government and have an effective capacity to request redress, in a military caste system those who are drawn on for the draft (knights and squires, or in Greek city-states the "citizen" who is responsible for service), and so on. These have a particular need not only to understand authority in its general principles, but to understand the particularities of authority in their own government: with their increased privileges come increased responsibilities.

So far, so good. But again, I don't see how this relates to the idea of political legitimacy or the lack thereof. If you are saying that this group of people is justified in openly contemplating the possible illegitimacy of their own government, simply by virtue of their station and without serious provocations, then I think you are poisoning the soup.

Now, in our democratic republic, it so happens that "the people" are, by and large, that inner group. (Let me qualify that: at the founding, those who had the vote were a modest subset of the population, not everybody).

And this is where, in my opinion, whatever argument you started out making truly begins running out of steam. I wonder how such beliefs can be maintained by those who live in the "real world" amongst real workaday people, those of us who are only barely managing our own complicated lives. Yes, if the bar of political participation were raised sufficiently high, we might have a stable and highly functional republic. But the point is moot, so far as I can tell: contemplating the possible illegitimacy of one's own government, without grave and sustained provocation, is just as wrong for the few as it is for the many.

Now, to understand authority correctly JUST IS to understand its abuse and perversion and its limits. They are 2 sides to the very same coin. You cannot truly understand your duties to submit to the king or Parliament without understanding your freedoms that do not fall under their purview. You cannot understand properly the right use of power whose mantle some in your generation and group may have to take up, without understanding what is the WRONG use of power.

Again, I agree. This is very important. But it's relation to the disputed question is still rather tenuous. Authority can abuse its power, misuse its power, neglect its power, etc., and still be perfectly legitimate. There are lots of ways to dissent from and seek to correct such problems without getting into the question of political legitimacy.

And you cannot be responsible for rightly putting down wrongful insurrection and revolt if you cannot distinguish wrong insurrection from the right.

Now we're getting somewhere. :-)

My response: very little discernment is needed to identify a wrongful insurrection. What is needed is moral prejudice. The overwhelming majority of armed insurrections are wrong, and the burden of justification is always on the rebels. The tedious work of examining, calculating, weighing and evaluating everything that makes a particular armed insurrection wrong is not the job of the people, but of the magistrate. For the rest of us, the presumption must be for established authority. It will not do to have every Tom, Dick and Harry independently deciding these things for himself.

The nature of rebellion is that it always has eloquence, charisma, and an inexhaustible supply of petty grievances. If treated with "impartiality", human nature being what it is, it will suck you right into its orbit.

Therefore ...... we also have a duty to understand what is wrong about revolution - which means we learn to recognize when revolution is actually right. And we the citizens of our republic, from whom the next ranks of legislators, judges, police, etc are taken, and who vote for the rulers, are more responsible for this knowledge than might be true of the average peasant in an aristocracy or monarchy.

Again, this is just asking too much of most people. If real life doesn't persuade you of that, I don't know what will! But when the crisis presents itself, simple Christian men who have never been catechized on the finer points of political legitimacy will know instinctively "when revolution is actually right". The Cristeros of Mexico are a case in point.

I'd just like to remind everyone of the context I presented in the original post - "For the people of Christendom, in most times and places ... in a normal, settled, non-revolutionary society ...". Our times are hardly normal, settled, or non-revolutionary, and it is debatable whether we may consider ourselves "the people of Christendom" any longer. Certainly this is the kind of society for which we should be striving, but it isn't presently a reality. I concede, as well, that in our revolutionary times "the better minds and hearts among us have, in my opinion, something of a responsibility to face the topic (and its many corollaries) head-on.".

We just need to keep in mind that certain things must be done in revolutionary times only with deep regret, for the sake of making those very things unnecessary, and in the hopes of making some corner of the world a little safer for innocence.

Say, Tony, that due to budget cuts, law and order can no longer be maintained in my town. The last full-time police officer must be laid off, and our only recourse to peace and security is the already vastly overstretched state patrol. Say further that, as a result of this, people of one identifiable group (not my own), because blood does indeed run thicker than water, begin to take advantage of this situation by preying financially, by sheer criminality, on some other readily identifiable group (mine). In this situation the first obligation of government, to protect persons and property, has been breeched. There is no effective de jure government. Nevertheless, someone certainly seems to own the streets... and that someone seems rather bent on doing me and my family financial, if not physical, harm.

Do you not think that I, thrust into this situation, would happily pay good money to some high ranking "thug" and his underlings to provide protection to my group? I would. [In fact, I suspect it would cost me less per year than I already pay in this, the state with the highest property taxes in the US.] In fact, I suspect you would too. And, assuming this "thug" and his underlings were effective, I would be grateful, for without the protection of persons and property there is no economy, no innovation, no lending, no financial risk or reward, no nothing... but profound and grinding human misery. This is how all government begins: in essence a protection racket--a way of protecting "us" against "them". And just as surely no one likes to see sausage being made, no one likes to imagine his benevolent and reasonable leaders as the direct ethical descendants of violent racists. But no other explanation of the evolution of human government makes sense to those who appreciate human nature.

The one sovereign, i.e., he who has the raw power to rule where so many do not, simply rules and rightly collects taxes for his trouble. He has that right, no matter how he got it, on the basis of his power alone. It is his responsibility to use that power wisely, prudently, justly for the general benefit of his subjects. In doing so, he will earn the loyalty and love of the people he rules, and thereby legitimacy. If he fails to do so, he deserves to be overthrown by someone who can do a better job. Should someone (or some faction) be able to do so in a manner keeping with the principles of just war (justified violence), then by all means let them do so. But I will not say that our original "thug", the first guy whose necessary protection was offered (for a fee), was necessarily acting immorally either.

This is how all government begins: in essence a protection racket--a way of protecting "us" against "them".

Let me grant that this is how some governments first arise. I reject that it is how ALL start. I already have given a counter-example, King David. It just isn't true that all regimes start this way. In the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1689, the British removed the Stuarts and invited in William and Mary: there is no way to re-invent this as a protection racket with William having been the provider of protection. Sweeping over-generalizations will not win arguments here. We are prepared to accept that governments arise in a multitude of different patterns. You can certainly make a good case for some kings starting as protectioneers, but it won't fadge as a universal description.

Again, I agree. This is very important. But it's relation to the disputed question is still rather tenuous. Authority can abuse its power, misuse its power, neglect its power, etc., and still be perfectly legitimate.

C'mon Jeff, let's follow through, please. Admittedly, authority can mis-use its power and remain the legitimate authority. Does so all the time. But it is precisely in virtue of mis-using its power that eventually, when it gets bad enough, it ceases to retain the claim to legitimacy and may (or even must) be overthrown. It is not like the earlier, smaller mis-uses are somehow irrelevant to the eventuality, they are in the same category, part and parcel with the later development. By knowing what is valid use of power, one recognizes invalid uses, and thus one recognizes truly severe abuses of power that approach to causing the state to fail of legitimacy. It's not tenuous.

Again, this is just asking too much of most people. If real life doesn't persuade you of that, I don't know what will! But when the crisis presents itself, simple Christian men who have never been catechized on the finer points of political legitimacy will know instinctively "when revolution is actually right". The Cristeros of Mexico are a case in point.

No, I think this is rather unreasonable, Jeff. It actually sounds self-contradictory. (Unless I am missing your point altogether.)

First of all, I think that in principle the vote should have remained restricted to a smaller subset of the citizenry. I agree that the average shoe-maker apprentice is unlikely to ponder, investigate, study, and prudentially adjudge abuses of power. For which reason, perhaps, he also should not have the vote. But in principle the people who have the capacity to recognize WELL how to vote - i.e. how to ensure that their government is using its power properly - are the people who will also recognize its excesses and defects. If THOSE ones perceive that the government is gone gravely wrong and cannot be corrected within legal means, they have the capacity to judge revolution is needed. In an ideal democracy that group would be a substantial portion of the subset that would vote, and they would also be the subset from which legislators, judges, police chiefs, etc would be drawn. These are the ones of whom I was speaking. Because in this country we have some defects in our design, the mass of "the people" who have the vote is actually much larger than the subset of people who are capable of understanding what they are doing with the vote, who have put in the time to ponder and pay attention, and who are capable of understanding what is to be expected of legislators, judges, police, etc.

But it is sheer fantasy to think that the general mass of the whole people will, on the one hand, be incapable of adequately reflecting on proper use of power and come to sound conclusions, and THEN upon a crisis arrive at a natural and mutual conclusion that action MUST be taken - and be reliably right in that conclusion. That's not really possible. "The masses" would never get to that point without first listening to people who HAVE thought about the matter, and (largely) deciding that they can trust these upsetters of the status quo, more than they trust the government. It is impossible that a unified mind-set against the government could be achieved without some individuals taking an early lead in proposing that new point of view. And the masses would be following these others. If they follow upright men of prudence and judgment, the masses will do well, but they can also be brought to do ill if they choose the wrong men to listen to.

But I would take up another point: you say What is needed is moral prejudice. The overwhelming majority of armed insurrections are wrong, and the burden of proof is always on the rebels. I agree with the second sentence, but I don't think that the second clause is proved by the first clause: The burden of proof is on the rebels because of what authority means. The nature of authority is that the person in charge orders others according to his own deliberation, choice, judgment. The others are obliged to obey, that is, to submit in action to HIS judgment about the best way to proceed. By definition, then, they are required to not follow their own thoughts on the best way to proceed, and must accept his (again, in action - they are not required to submit their minds to his). This means that of natural course, the commander's judgments effectively get the benefit of the doubt when there is doubt about how to achieve the common good. And, there is ALMOST ALWAYS doubt about how to achieve the common good. Therefore, the rebels must be able to show, not only probably, but clearly and with overwhelming assurance that the commander is not ordering for the good, but rather is gravely damaging the common good, before they can overcome the presumption in his favor. Thus, it has nothing to do with any statistical historical accounting that most rebellions are in the wrong, that they must give him the benefit of the doubt.

But by the very nature of such a situation, the clear and overwhelming assurance will be perceived FIRST by those who are virtuous, upright, prudent, and have studied their government carefully, and only later by the masses who have not such prudence and have not had the time to study their government. This is almost inescapably so, since the evidence comes in pieces and must be pieced together as a puzzle picture. Therefore, when a state goes from bad to intolerable there can be, not only possibly, but with some likelihood, the situation where wise and sound men rightly understand the need for revolt before they can move the general populace to see that same need. By and large, then, most proper rebellions come later than they might, even if not by a long margin: they come later than when the mass of evidence is solid enough for upright men of prudence and insight to be certain of their conclusion.

I already have given a counter-example, King David. It just isn't true that all regimes start this way [i.e., as a protection racket]. In the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1689, the British removed the Stuarts and invited in William and Mary: there is no way to re-invent this as a protection racket with William having been the provider of protection.

I didn't mean to say that each and every regime, taking power by whatever means, from that previous, starts out as a crude protection racket. You are making my assertion to say wildly ludicrous things, and then accusing me of overly broad and sweeping generalizations. I meant only that the very first governments, the foundational principle of government so to speak, start out that way. When things go well, they refine themselves into things we recognize as technical and civilized governments. [When they don't go well... well... then we're no longer talking about civilized men.] King David took power legitimately from King Saul, who took power legitimately from...? A series of strong men (and the odd woman) who came to power to protect Israel, with wildly varying degrees of effectiveness, from her enemies. This example is tailor-made to support my point.

When "the British" offered the crown to Wm. & Mary, there already was an active, functioning government in England for them to lead; England's eras of tribal protectors, blood feuds, and warring factions, having been lost to the "undatable past".

I see, Steve. We are talking about different things. You are talking about the rise of a polity as such, and its very first government, where before there had been simply no entity; whereas I was talking about the rise of a new government of an already existing entity.

I admit that your description is very appealing. It is not, however, universally admitted as the right way to understand the rise of governance, there are other theories (and since we don't have solid history back 6000 years ago, that's all we will ever have is theory, isn't it?) For example, in Genesis God tells Cain that He will set a mark on Cain so that the "other" cities will not attack him. There is an implication that there is, already, organized coherent communities and one might surmise governments thereof (even if only loose ones). Some suggest that these communities would be based largely on patriarchal lines - clan rule, in effect, which would not be beholden to a "protection" framework for its first establishment, relying instead on the natural authority of the father. Whatever is right, my point is that there are other theories.

But it is not necessary to establish what happened in the mist of antiquity to discuss how new governments come to exist and come to be legitimate. Any given polity can cease to have a functioning government and then acquire a new one, without being reduced to a state of total anarchy and absolute disunity (or, as Hobbes would have it, a state of nature). But it is not sufficient to point to whatever form and structure that was left intact between losing the old and gaining the new: that remaining structure aspect of authority would not, by definition, have a legal right to appoint a new government, because then it would not be a brand new government but merely a new administration. It is, precisely, the situation where explicit laws DON'T cover the coming to be of a new one that we are looking at. The authority of the old government is not resting in any authoritative body for a time, and then it comes to rest in a new authoritative body. You suggest that in the interim that authority rests in whoever has the most might. That is, again, not the only theory proposed. For one thing, we don't usually mean "authority" and "might separate from a legal right to impose force" to be the same thing. Secondly, some Christian scholars suggest that "the people" cannot actually hold the authority of government in themselves inchoately, all they have the inherent capacity to do is to _designate_ the next holders. In this view, then, the authority might _lapse_ between the two governments, where nature permits that a government should have authority, but until there is a new government no entity holds that authority. In such an interim, a person might have a right to use force to defend himself (which right is pre-political and isn't a matter of authority anyway), but he would hardly have a right to use force to compel his neighbor to "contribute" to some common endeavor, merely by reason of being stronger than his neighbor.

Regarding David and Saul:

Wouldn't these be instances of explicit divine-right kings?

All legitimate authority comes from God, through an act of divine delegation.

When God does, in fact, delegate autocratic authority to a man and his heirs (as in the case of Saul and David) then they really have that authority.

The problem is with all the other "divine right" kings who in fact did not receive anointing at God's command, but who merely assert divine right on the basis of having won a battle over another claimant (or their ancestor/predecessor having done so). This claim is dubious, having no scriptural backing and plenty of counterexamples. By such a theory I suppose the Soviets could have claimed divine right after the Russian October revolution -- which goes to show how absurd the notion is.

Anyway, there isn't (for a believing Christian or Jew) any question of whether Saul and David and David's successors had authority delegated to them by God.

But since nobody else has such credentials, the question is by what path they received their authority from God -- since all authority, to be legitimate, must come from Him in the end.

I think that the Constitutional Democratic Republican model is the model which makes the best claim for legitimacy; to wit:

1. God delegates authority to individuals to act as they see fit, within the confines of His Moral Law, by virtue of making them free-willed and creative beings in His Own Image (and thus moral actors capable of choice). This is intrinsic to humanity and is the core of humanity's intrinsic dignity.

2. Among the kinds of authority God delegates to each individual are (a.) the authority to work cooperatively with others by mutual consent and (b.) the authority to use force to defend innocent persons (themselves or others) against wrongful attacks on their persons, their property, or their dignity.

3. Among the kinds of ways individuals exercise their authority to work cooperatively with others by mutual consent are contracts, and the hiring of employees. The former involves committing to agreed-upon actions; the latter involves the delegating of authority. Combining these two, individuals form a government by agreeing among themselves to do so, contractually obligating themselves to pay for it, and delegating to it some portion of their authority to defend innocent persons against wrongful attack.

In this theory, the flow of authority is perfectly clear and legitimate: God to individuals, and individuals to their employees (the government).

And, it has the built-in advantage of clearly-understood limitations on the just exercise of force by the government. The government cannot exercise force in a way that individuals working together could not justly exercise force, because if the individuals themselves never had a particular just authority, then obviously they could never delegate that authority to their employees. Also, the government cannot exercise force to support policies which they were never constitutionally empowered to enact; that would be a usurpation from the people of authority the people never delegated to them to begin with. Only authority which (a.) resides in individuals to begin with, and (b.) those individuals explicitly delegated to the government in their employment contract (the Constitution), can justly be exercised. What the employer cannot morally do, the employee cannot morally do; what the employer has not authorized the employee to do, the employee cannot morally do.

So, Saul and David are not at issue, and the United States (when it acts Constitutionally, which sadly isn't always) is not at issue.

What's at issue are all the other great governments which got there by "might makes right." It seems utterly obvious to me that "might makes right" is not a Christian theory of government.

I myself don't mind calling all those other governments (including ones headed by saints) "illegitimate" in the narrow sense of not having a clear "provenance" tracking the authority they claim back to God.

That the kingship of, say, St. Louis was "illegitimate" in this sense is not to call it evil. The old boy was doing the best he knew, in a world littered with empires founded by god-kings relying on brutality and charisma and money. Asking even a saint to invent Constitutional governance and the like out of that is like asking the Israelites to comprehend the illegitimacy of the institution of slavery five minutes after the Exodus.

But now that the question "just how did governing authority make its way from God to you, mister?" is out of the bag, it wouldn't be legitimate for St. Louis, were he fetched through a time machine into our present day, to start ruling the same way now.

Nowadays, you either need a prophetic authentication along the lines of Saul and David, or you need to ask nicely for the consent of the people, like everyone else.

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