I can’t help thinking that a careful reading of Max Horkheimer might aid the red(-faced) tories and sundry hangers-on during their effort to sup with the devil Cameron. A snippet from Criticism of Theology (with a few inserts).
One of Horkheimer’s main themes in his texts on religion is the role of the state – that collective gone bad. His experiences were not the best: he had fled the Nazis in the early 1930s, resettling the Institute for Critical Theory at Columbia University in New York; he had witnessed from afar what was taking place under Stalin in the Soviet Union; he and Adorno were not enthused at all by the vigorous capitalism in the United States. With these tendencies all around, it should not be surprising that Horkheimer would scan history for similar tendencies – and he found it with both Christianity and Judaism.
As for Christianity, Constantine the Great – son of a Christian mother and who himself converted at least in 312 CE (if not earlier) before the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge in which he gained control of the Roman Empire – is the main culprit. By 313, Constantine and Licinius (then emperor in the east) issued the Edict of Milan, which legalised Christianity, and Constantine set about an aggressive programme of building churches (in the main centres of Jerusalem, Constantinople, Rome and elsewhere in the empire), paying for a whole new class of state-bureaucrats, the priests, calling church-councils (especially the first ecumenical council in Nicaea in 325 CE) for the sake of Christian doctrinal unity, and ensuring favourable treatment for Christianity. Even though it was not until 380 CE that Theodosius I proclaimed Christianity the sole religion of the Empire, the deal had been done and the Christian church had moved from a marginal religion under pressure of state-censure to become extraordinarily powerful, wealthy and used to employing strong-arm tactics against opponents.
For some, this epochal shift was the sign of Christianity’s success. The Eastern orthodox and oriental orthodox churches made Constantine a saint, and ideologues such as Eusebius of Caesaria, the first church-historian (and Blond’s much more illustrious fore-runner), opined in 320 CE that a unified Christian empire was God’s will. For others, it was the great moment of betrayal. Radical Reformers in the sixteenth century, who suffered persecution at the hands of both the Roman-Catholics and the Protestants, saw Constantine’s conversion and adoption of Christianity as the religion of empire as the moment when Christianity sold out and betrayed that for which Jesus and the early Christians had stood. Horkheimer agrees wholeheartedly: this was when Christianity became rather embarrassed at what Jesus had said and done. And so it developed ‘a secret and indomitable hatred for that attitude of mind for which its founder had earlier been put to death’.
The consequences for theology and practice were momentous: evil and hell became necessary categories for those who did not conform; orthopraxis combined with orthodoxy to define who submitted to the will of the Church and who broke ranks; prayer slid from intercession for rain, the crops, the ruler or the people to the furtherance of one’s own (later bourgeois) goals; theology began its delicate task of reconciling the clear demands found in the Gospels with the requirements of power (a deifnition of radical orthodoxy …). On this last item, Horkheimer and G.E.M. Ste. Croix would have had much to discuss over a long night, many empty beer-bottles and an overflowing ashtray – Horkheimer with the theoretical depth and Ste. Croix with his inexhaustible references.
Yet the theme that keeps recurring in Horkheimer’s observations concerning this complex betrayal is the way the longing for the other becomes identical with longing for the mother-country. At this point, Horkheimer’s invocation on the ban on idolatry from the second and third commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 has some weight: ‘critical theory … rests on the thought that the Absolute – that is God – cannot be made into an object [nicht zum Objekt gemacht werden kann]’. Adorno would make this ban on idolatry into the Bilderverbot, a persistent leitmotiv of his thought; even though the theme is more muted in Horkheimer’s writings, it still has significant critical bite. Identification of the state, the mother-country, with the Absolute is the worst form of idolatry. And, like all idols, it demands sacrifice in blood, justifies wars of aggression and bloody suppression.
Horkheimer compares this compromise to a skyscraper, in which the ‘basement is a slaughterhouse, its roof a cathedral, but from the windows of the upper floors, it affords a really beautiful view of the starry heavens’.