Sunday, November 13, 2011

Democracy in a field of brambles.

I recently returned to the Old Testament and can’t help thinking that there’s a strong anarchist strain to be found there. I never really thought that before, but I just see it everywhere this time around. There are some obvious moments—Pharaoh’s defeat, Samuel’s warnings against the establishment of a kingdom, much of the prophetic tradition—but even those parts most dedicated to military triumph and the Law end in disaster precisely when a transition is attempted from the taking of land to the establishment of state authority. The very founding of the chosen nation constantly undermines itself in subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—ironic ways.

What’s fascinating is not only that this is in the text, but that it goes largely ignored by Christian anarchists, who, as far as I know, focus almost exclusively on the pre-Pauline New Testament.

Now, it could be said that the Old Testament’s critiques are simply anti-monarchical. Indeed, I think it’s a miracle of human ignorance that the Old Testament was ever used to unquestioningly prop up monarchies, but there’s more to it: inherent in its denunciations of monarchy are important warnings about empire which our not-monarchy has yet to heed. Furthermore, to restrict the Old Testament’s message to ancient feudalism is to miss some of the Bible’s most important points about the nature of power—and thus to prove it obsolete in our time (a judgment which, no doubt, some readers of this blog will find unsurprising and correct anyway).
Seriously, America? This is effective propaganda?

These musings, in pretty much this sloppily-conceived form, have been bouncing around in my mind recently and complementing my general discontent with the current state of democracy in the U.S.; with my disgust at how hard most people will actually try to remain as ignorant as possible as to the origins of their condition; and with my bewilderment as to how the hell it is that a voting public can be so easily duped into repeatedly and enthusiastically accepting the sorts of candidates which make up our elections.

Enter the Book of Judges, chapter 9. Gideon's already refused the throne and denied it to his sons on the grounds that no human king should rule over Israel (see what I mean?), but now he's dead and his illegitimate son Abimelech has declared himself king. In so doing, he kills his brothers; but Jotham escapes and yells the parable of the bramble king from a mountaintop.

I think this sums up the current political landscape rather nicely:
7 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on the top of Mount Gerizim, and cried aloud and said to them, "Listen to me, you lords of Shechem, so that God may listen to you."
8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree, "Reign over us."
9 The olive tree answered them, "Shall I stop producing my rich oil by which gods and mortals are honored, and go to sway over the trees?"
10 Then the trees said to the fig tree, "You come and reign over us."
11 But the fig tree answered them, "Shall I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, and go to sway over the trees?"
12 Then the trees said to the vine, "You come and reign over us."
13 But the vine said to them, "Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?"
14 So all the trees said to the bramble, "You come and reign over us."
15 And the bramble said to the trees, "If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon."