ChristBol Defended Ethically on Just War, Subsidiarity, and Wealth

OrthodoxPolitics has replied to my more recent defence of ChristBol, which addresses a comment of his, on three points:

  1. Just war and aggression;
  2. Subsidiarity and sovereignty;
  3. Redistribution and commonality of wealth.

Just war

Following the order we have used in the earlier parts of our exchange, I shall begin with just war.

He first responds to my point about National Socialism not following the principle of just war by arguing that National Socialism should follow it in theory, but didn’t in practice.

This is not actually what I do. I expressly disclaim any attempt in my reply to say concretely whether the German state’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was adequately ordered to a defensive end; instead, unlike the magistrates of Britain and France who declared war on Germany for that very reason, I suspend judgement on that point. I do, however, uphold general principles of just war, insisting that military action – even an invasion – ought to be essentially defensive. Thus I suggest, as OrthodoxPolitics rightly reads me, that National Socialist ‘expansion’ into Poland may be likened to an army’s trying to break out of a siege – that is, the siege imposed on the German people by the Treaty of Versailles. To what extent this was truly the case, and whether in the circumstances of 1939 such a siege justified the invasion of Poland in particular, I do not say.

While I think this can sometimes apply, an ideology centered around an aggressive ideal of expansion will lead to unjust war. It creates an us vs them narrative which breeds hatred between the citizens of two countries.

In principle, the 1920 NSDAP’s Programme does not advance an ‘aggressive ideal of expansion’. Rather, it recognizes that a people – and the German people in particular – has the right to take what it requires to survive. This recognition, though it set two states against each other, does not breed ‘hatred between the citizens of two countries’. It requires that a nation’s citizens be willing and ready to fight a political enemy, not that they treat foreigners as personal enemies.

As Carl Schmitt says in The Concept of the Political, the relevant text in Matthew and Luke ‘reads ‘diligite inimicos [personal enemies] vestros,’ and not ‘diligite hostes [political enemies] vestros.’ No mention is made of the political enemy.’ This is not to say, of course, that we are free to have no personal love for political enemies, but political enemies fall outwith the commandment’s proper scope, and only by extension – through understanding of broader principles and sound analogy – does the commandment apply to our relations with political enemies (hostes). And, of course, the command to love our personal enemies (inimicos) takes for granted that we have personal enemies in the first place. Enmity, then, is not in itself sinful, though the Lord requires us to settle with our personal enemies: Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Political enmity is what allows any war in the first place, a thing that holy Scripture gives its approval:

And between the passages, by which Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other side: and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. The forefront of the one was situate northward over against Michmash, and the other southward over against Gibeah. And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few. And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart. Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them. If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go up unto them. But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for the Lord hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us. And both of them discovered themselves unto the garrison of the Philistines: and the Philistines said, Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves. And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will shew you a thing. And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for the Lord hath delivered them into the hand of Israel. And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armourbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and his armourbearer slew after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow. And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people: the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled, and the earth quaked: so it was a very great trembling.

Thus Samuel, who also records that YHWH, never a god fearful of chastening his people with defeat, saved Israel that day. Likewise we know of David’s anger against the uncircumcised Goliath challenging Israel and going unanswered. The piety of the Old Testament is so closely bound to war, even while the sanctuary of the Lord has a court of the Gentiles, that it is hard to deny either the natural æquity of war or its holy use by the pious. And any war will require not only that a man fight but also that he own the hostility to which he is bound as a member of his nation; for the one cannot well be done without the other. What the pious man does with his body, he must also do with his spirit.

To acknowledge honestly when survival requires us to use force is not ungodly. The sin is to hope for force unnecessarily, against reason, when the good can be found for both parties without fighting. Thus, to commit to force, and to an ‘us v. them’ interpretation that substantiates it, is not wrong so long as it accords with reason. As Schmitt saw, after all, the friend-enemy (amicus-hostis) distinction is unavoidable in statecraft even when we do not actually fight. Nevertheless, If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.


Next, I spoke to the point about subsidiarity by insisting that it be held together with the sovereignty of the state, and in particular that the parts must submit to the whole in matters pertaining to the good common to the whole. I am not calling for an unthinking ‘balance’ between the two, as if the two worked in the same dimension, but for the full acknowledgement of both.

OrthodoxPolitics agrees that Christ is king of the Church, and he also says that, as God, Christ is sovereign over all creation. I will go further: even as man, he has been raised from the dead and given all authority in heaven and on earth. We who are ‘in Christ’ and participate in his glorified humanity, as St Paul shows us in Ephesians and elsewhere, share in the authority committed to Christ. This theme is also developed by the author of Hebrews:

But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.

As he has been joined to us even in suffering death, so we too, many sons, will be crowned with glory and honour, being one with him who sanctifies. To say Christ has his authority over heaven and earth as God, but not as man, is not merely to look Nestorian by avoiding the communicatio idiomatum between Christ’s divine and human natures, but rather to cut against the grain of holy Scripture itself; for it is Scripture that tells us we have, even now, everything Christ has – although, as John Donne notes in a sermon on Psalm 63, we now have the joy but not yet the glory of the resurrection.

Nevertheless, with the universal jurisdiction of Christ the King, OrthodoxPolitics contrasts the polity of the Church:

Yet if we look at the Church, we see that bishops deal with issues in their jurisdiction, councils deal with local issues, and only pan Orthodox or Ecumenical councils deal with issues for the whole Church. One Pope does not have direct, jurisdictional control over the whole church, nor does the individual believer have free reign. (The author to whom I am responding is an Anglican however, so I’m not certain of how the Anglican church is structured.)

This is also the case for Anglicans. Our Thirty-Nine Articles say plainly, ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.’ But this is not because no man rules the whole Church. Rather, that man is Christ, who holds authority over the whole Church, and not only as God but also as man. And this man, who rules believers by faith, by the power of the Holy Ghost, has no need of another man to stand in the temple of God and claim to be his vicar ruling the whole Church in his stead. Thus, as it is with the Easterns in polity, so it is with us: the Archbishop of Canterbury has no jurisdiction outwith England, the place of his primacy. Indeed, historically, the Archbishop of Canterbury has not been able to rule what was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.

Even so, the bishops who are each archbishop’s suffragans are bound to obey each his own archbishop, and neither archbishop may impose laws upon the Church, nor hold any councils, against the will of the king – or, in the case of Constantinople, the emperor. And every suspension from Holy Communion is also to be reported to the ordinary – generally the diocesan bishop – within fourteen days, that it may be referred to his judgement. What we see is not that the bishops – or, God forbid, the archbishops – manage the details of lower levels of governance, but rather that appeal is to them and formal legislation is in the hands of the national church. Thus, the Book of Common Prayer is a law that not even an archbishop may break; nor may he change it of his own will without the rest of the national church. What the bishops judge is how it must be obeyed, with respect for both the spirit of catholic tradition and godly local custom on the ground. Thus is subsidiarity held together with solidarity, by the sovereignty of the chief magistrate.

So while the king has complete sovereign reign over his people, he should willingly allow issues to be dealt with on a local level.

A great many matters will never come before the king, and no sane king will ever want to deal with so many things. But matters of national defence naturally are in the compass of his care, as are all matters of national scope. To these things he must be allowed to attend, even when doing so requires that he specify certain things on the local scale; and if he be denied this right, he must cross the line that others have unjustly drawn.

Common wealth, or commonwealth

The last issue was wealth in the commonwealth, and the role of the magistrate therein.

While many Church Fathers did advocate for communal ownership, such as in Acts 4, it was never advocated that the government must force this. Instead, they saw that what matters is how one uses their wealth. It would be far better to have a society where the wealthy were expected to give to charity as a social obligation, rather than have one where they are forced to give up their wealth.

Pourquoi pas les deux? There is a certain measure of wealth to which some of the rich lay false claim in the first place. For the magistrate to refuse to honour this claim is only just. Such is the vast majority of the wealth held by about 20 houses in the world, which was not acquired but by deception, usury, and unjust wars whose cost has fallen rather on common folk than on these houses of greed. They must fall, both they and those who are allied with them around the world, many of whom are likewise exploiters of the poor. The Lord’s call for charity, which every man knows in his heart, goes beyond this need for that kind of strict justice. He who willingly submits to what is just, at his own expense, is also obliged to be liberal with his goods:

פ He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor;
צ his righteousness endureth for ever;
ק his horn shall be exalted with honour.

Thus the Thirty-Nine Articles say on this matter, as I have quoted in my earlier post, ‘The riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give Alms to the poor, according to his ability.’ That men should not all own the same things, or in the same amounts, I heartily agree; likewise, I am far from saying that a Christian nation, or Christians among themselves in a heathen nation, ought to treat all their riches and goods as common with respect to ‘right, title, and possession’. Indeed, I agree with the Thirty-Nine Articles that these things are not common: not only underwear and toothbrushes, but also a host of other things, are not common and therefore should not be treated as such. What must or should be common – and certainly at least some things are – is a matter to be specified in law, varying somewhat from place to place. Indeed, every commonwealth has such properties that belong to all, not least the state itself; hence the term commonwealth. As Althusius says of the commonwealth and its sovereignty,

This right of the realm, or right of sovereignty, does not belong to individual members, but to all members joined together and to the entire associated body of the realm. For as universal association can be constituted not by one member, but by all the members together, so the right is said to be the property not of individual members, but of the members jointly. Therefore, ‘what is owed to the whole (universitas) is not owed to individuals, and what the whole owes individuals do not owe.’ Whence it follows that the use and ownership of this right belong neither to one person nor to individual members, but to the members of the realm jointly. By their common consent, they are able to establish and set in order matters pertaining to it. And what they have once set in order is to be maintained and followed, unless something else pleases the common will. For as the whole body is related to the individual citizens, and can rule, restrain, and direct each member, so the people rules each citizen.

In this way, the commonwealth itself, the commonwealth as such, belongs to all the people joined together, seeking the common good. This common good very much includes the good of charity. And any law must see to it that the people, not only the rich but also those of more modest means, have opportunity to give to others, according to their abilities. For virtue is ever to be encouraged by the magistrate, and never displaced.


But the point of expropriating what some hold unjustly for themselves is not that they should be forced to be virtuous, but that their holding that property is itself an injustice. And it is not to absolutely everything they own that we lay this charge, but only to what they hold or take unjustly. Naturally, the ones who submit to just expropriation ought to be treated more mildly, and those who rage and fight against the people ought to be killed in battle or tried and hanged.

The matter, then, is not one of taxation, though taxation too ought to be so used as to support the honest living and godliness of all. Unlike the utopians, I know the poor will always be with us, as the Lord says. This is why, until the ending of the world, we will always have the duty to give liberally to the poor; and this duty the poor often know more than the rich, for they give more than the rich. But justice remains, and it is not a mere matter of distribution and redistribution. I am not a socialist so that everyone’s possessions may be æqual, nor is my refusal to pursue such an end based on fear dressed up as moderation; I am a socialist so that the commonwealth may be so in fact as well as in name, a res publica (‘public thing’) as the Romans called it.


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