Religion and Government and Spontaneous Orders

Human societies are made up of a variety of different social orders. Among the orders (hardly an exhaustive list) are language, morals, culture, religion, government, philanthropy, math, the natural sciences, technology, the social sciences, philosophy, the arts, money, and the economy. Taken together, these social orders constitute civil society.

These orders often involve a certain degree of both bottom-up and top-down organizational forces, and there is often a great degree of overlap. Religion, for example, very often involves issues of morals and philanthropy. This overlap can. however, sometimes result in a single order coming to dominate another — or even a set of orders.

Let us take the Medieval Catholic church as an example. The Catholic church at one time came to dominate Medieval European civil society, including the economic order, the arts, the sciences, philosophy, morals, and culture. They even dominated, though this dominance was more than a bit less stable, the governments of the time. There were many economic transactions which Christians could not undertake because of religious prohibition — such as usury (though one could borrow on interest from other religious groups, particularly the Jews). The church dominated all scientific inquiry and the arts were understood to be in service to the church. Needless to say, all morals were Christian morals. The arts were strongly censored throughout this period, both directly and indirectly. Thus under the Catholic church the religious order was, essentially, civil society. Indeed, there seems to be a tendency for monotheistic religions to be strong colonizers of other orders, though we will see that even the obvious order the Catholic church dominated —the religious order — fell away from their influence.

The Renaissance saw the falling away of a number of spontaneous orders from the Catholic-dominated religious order. The Reformation, for one, went so far as to break the very dominance of the Catholic church within the religious order, making the religious order a spontaneous order with a variety of players (though still almost all Christian). The artistic order also broke away as playwrights began writing secular plays and painters began painting secular themes. The novel arose as a secular form of prose fiction (Don Quixote was a satire of the Medieval Romances, which always had at least Catholic religious undertones and moral lessons woven in), and poetry and music became more and more secular as well. Modern science was, of course, a substantive break with the Catholic world view, and some of the most famous fights (e.g., Galileo) involved this break.

The Modern Era, then, saw the emergence of a variety of independent spontaneous orders. We saw the rise of science, secular arts, independent governments, independent philanthropies, and the free market. Patronage in the sciences and arts switched from the Church to governments to even more decentralized sources. The Renaissance arose in northern Italy in no small part because the region was dominated by competing princedoms, who sought prestige by hosting scientists and artists. Germany was a similar cultural hot spot as it fragmented into competing princedoms as well. Capitalism also arose first in such places precisely because of such high competition combined with cultures unified by common languages, meaning there was a great deal of movement among them. Places that had freer markets had the strongest economic growth, leading to greater prestige, meaning the local princes began to adopt those systems that proved themselves most successful. All of this only drove the secular fragmentation of the spontaneous orders from the dominant Catholic religious order.

The Postmodern Era, which I identify with the rise of the French Revolutionary world view, which only came to truly dominate in the 20th Century, has involved a process of reversing these trends. The new dominant order, the order that is colonizing all other orders, is the governmental order. In Europe, this has perhaps been expanded the most, since it also includes the religious order, with officially identified churches actually receiving government money. The governmental order has taken over the natural and social sciences through the state-funded university system, the arts through both the universities and through state art funding, philanthropy through various welfare programs, the economy through the regulatory state (complete colonization of the economy by the government, also known as socialism, has proven to be such a clear and obvious failure that it has been completely abandoned by all but the worst dictators). When you hear supporters of government talk, it’s clear that they equate government with the moral order, and do not believe humans could be moral without government. In the U.S. even language is being brought in through political correctness.

In this sense contemporary governments are for all intents and purposes identical to the Medieval Catholic church. The defense of the government taking over everything is identical in practically every way as those arguments the Medieval Catholic church made for their own dominance. The only difference is that the omniscience and omnipotence of God has been turned over to our technocratic elites, who have managed to take on God’s role.

At the same time, we may be seeing a new Renaissance beginning to bubble up. The governmental order is beginning to break down, with new spontaneous orders emerging. The internet (a new spontaneous order) is facilitating this transformation and re-differentiation. With blockchain technology we are seeing the monetary order emerging as an independent spontaneous order, finally separating from government. Economic transactions online are harder and harder for the government to track and therefore control. Decentralization of governance, too, seems to be taking place in some places, with independent cities being founded in a variety of countries. This latter is potentially equivalent to the Reformation’s development of a true religious spontaneous order, which managed to free up all the other orders.

Thus we are seeing another shift from a single-institution-dominated colonizing order to a set of independent-yet-interacting spontaneous orders. The last time this happened, we had the rise of people like Shakespeare and Newton, and the emergence of free markets and technological innovations giving rise to a massive material improvement of pretty much everyone who had the benefit of living in those areas where it took root. Cultural, economic, and social stagnation was transformed into exponential growth of material wellbeing, knowledge, and understanding. There is little reason to think this will not happen again. For those paying attention, it already is.