When I was in Bulgaria recently, I came across a theory that has probably been around for some time – one that I call capitalist anarchism. It goes roughly as follows: since the state is always corrupt and since only the state oppresses, engages in wars and treats people shabbily, the state should be abolished. No law, no army, no police, no immigration authorities, no welfare, no state-sponsored education, medicine, business, anything; only capitalist relations should remain and everything should have a price, including children. In this situation there would be no war and no corruption, for only states wage wars.

I am not interested here in pointing out the obvious flaws of such a position, but I was struck by the resonances with Alasdair Maclagan’s and his Pancho’s ‘monarchist anarchism’ (as in, there’s a monarch somewhere, but he leaves things to run on largely on their own – like in the world created by the towering socio-economic theorist, Tolkien). By and large the state should fade into the distance, for only then may a full ‘big society’ of wonderfully altruistic people help each other (after all, people never ‘sin’). All of which makes me wonder whether a moderate push to the so-called red-tory/blue-labour fluff would land it squarely with the capitalist anarachists. Of course, Maclagan would object that capitalism too is a ‘heresy’, but given his support for one neo-liberal economic move after another, it seems he is far more enamoured with capitalism than he makes out.

But on one point they come very close indeed. When I asked my Bulgarian interlocutor about welfare, care for the aged, and so on, the reply was simply: that is where the church comes in.

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’.

In writing a piece on the Red Tories (with some able co-authorship) called ‘Thin Economics; Thick Moralising: Red Toryism and the Politics of Nostalgia’, I happened upon a key but hitherto unknown document. Here are a few choice quotations:

On localism, versus liberalism and socialism:

In the Red Tory conception of history, man is man only by virtue of the spiritual process to which he contributes as a member of the family, the social group, the nation, and in the function of history to which all nations bring their contribution. Hence the great value of tradition in records, in language, in customs, in the rules of social life … Red Toryism is therefore opposed to all individualistic abstractions based on eighteenth century materialism; and it is opposed to all Jacobinistic utopias and innovations…

Red Toryism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Red Toryism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon … Red Toryism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State.

On morality:

This positive conception of life is obviously an ethical one. It invests the whole field of reality as well as the human activities which master it. No action is exempt from moral judgment; no activity can be despoiled of the value which a moral purpose confers on all things. Therefore life, as conceived of by the Red Tory, is serious, austere, and religious; all its manifestations are poised in a world sustained by moral forces and subject to spiritual responsibilities.

On religion:

The Red Tory conception of life is a religious one, in which man is viewed in his immanent relation to a higher law, endowed with an objective will transcending the in­dividual and raising him to conscious membership of a spiritual society.

You’ll find this key document here.

In working my way through material on the red tories for a paper on their economics (which is woefully thin and slips readily into moralising) I began noting a good number of  ‘Enemies of the Faith’. So far I have the following, although the list is still growing:

    1. Anything that starts with L

    a. Liberalism (confused with left)

    b. Left (confused with liberalism)

    c. Libertarians (1960s – more confusion)

    2. Big things

    a. Secularism

    b. Centralised state

    c. Monopolised market

    d. But not Christendom or the RCs

    3. Scary Foreign things

    a. Islam

    b. China

    4. Icky things

    a. Abortion

    b. Homosexuality

      A small thought as a couple of us work up a paper on Red Tory economics – what there is of it – and a full broadside. Given that ‘localism’ is big on the RT agenda, with local tomatoes and eggs and whatnot being the solution to our economic woes, and given that I grew up in such wholesome local communities, I would like to suggest the following formula:

      RT = BB + VI

      In which RT is obvious, BB stands for bucolic bliss, the perspective of the outsider who happens to roll into a quaint village, and VI designates … village idiocy. I’ve seen too many lantern jaws, dull eyes, towns full of ‘cousins’, and some of the most eye-popping sexual experimentation (usually involving animate beings) to be persuaded by any such localism. And you can’t have BB without VI, believe me.

      Those of you unfortunate enough to live in England have already had the un-pleasure of seeing this man in action. But for the rest of us in more enlightened parts of the globe, well … it’s a bit of shock. Would you really trust him with advice on morals and virtue? On guilds and medieval enchantment? The conscience of a politician or two? Hell, I wouldn’t trust with him my dog, and I don’t even have one. It is, of course, Alasdair Maclagan’s disciple, Philip Blond.