Rome’s Conquest of the Political Imagination: Church, State, and Why Freedom Has Never Been Dared

Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom. –The Grand Inquisitor Since the conversion of Emperor Constantine, the pursuit of and resistance to human freedom has not ceased to dominate the political imagination of the West. Numerous revolutions dismantling the first Christian Roman Emperor’s “great synthesis” manifest this obsession. The Protestant Reformation fractured the Holy Roman Empire into various colonialisms (imperial in reach, but without the need for a contiguous geography). The Enlightenment and market reasoning gave rise to secular nation states (and ‘economic colonialism’). Now, through the rise (and hastening reign) of ‘technocratic globalism’, we find ourselves staring into a postnational age. Yet a fundamentally Roman essence remains. Whereas once it was necessary to insert a bishop or colonial governor to ensure political (trade) stability, nations can now send CEOs. The nexus of political power has become more decentralized and transparently more economic. Religious belief is also more decentralized. Pre-Constantinian Rome has been making a comeback. Where once (before Christendom) there existed a varied array of gods, there now exists western pluralism and multiculturalism (after Christendom). Today’s most obvious ‘Constantinians’, to be found in corners of the Vatican and American organizations like The Christian Coalition (or Al-Qaeda, for that matter), pine after a time when religious faith was not only more predominant and homogenous, but politically central, even axiomatic to a view of the cosmos. However, today’s cultural logic dictates that religious faith is simply one choice in a vast marketplace - by no means necessary, and perhaps even anachronistic. Democracy is the current attempt to fill the legitimation void created by secularity’s movement beyond theology. Consolidations of ideology, however, are no less evident in a secular government than in history’s more blatant examples of theocracy. For a secular democracy to be truly secular, the people themselves must be converted to Enlightenment views of church and state. Hamas is a perfect example of the ability of an ‘un-converted’ democracy to thwart secularity’s aims. America’s ‘Religious Right’ is another such example. ‘Secular proselytism’, on the other hand, can be seen at work in the privatization of religious belief – itself a historical novelty. John F. Kennedy could not have won the U.S. Presidency had he not assured voters that his Catholicism was a private matter and not a determinant of his public policy. A desire to retain cultural influence throughout the ascent of secularism has given rise to veritable conversions of the nature of religious belief. Those not wishing to convert to this secularism, like Osama bin Laden in extreme cases, react as many persons throughout history have always reacted when feeling culturally or ideologically coerced: with violence. ‘Religion’ is often too easy a target, however, for conflicts that belong squarely within the realm of realpolitik. Certain antagonists towards religion would have one believe that Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland fought tooth and nail over the Rosary and the Five Points of Calvinism, as opposed, say, to the availability of running water. Oddly enough, many opponents and proponents of religion alike believe that Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad are warring over the status of Ali ibn Abi Talib, as distinct from the question of who is profiting most from transnational (western) corporations. The current so-called ‘war on terrorism’ is deeply in need of pragmatic analysis. Religious fanaticism is a reality, but so is the distribution of power, wealth and resources - and fanatics need not be pious.

to Abu Ghraib. Spiritual communities may actually represent our most viable future. from Hitler to Halliburton. Consolidation of belief and maintenance of power through militarism. similar to those who told the Hebrews they needed no king.Rome’s Conquest of the Political Imagination: Church. we require the transformation of individuals willing to be freed from the state: transnational networks of varied social arrangements. but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse.378 applications for alternate service. To imagine new political possibilities. once lived as an internally self-regulating people with no king . Hitler would have had no armies with which to conquer. nations – but the governing dynamics are identical to all previous Roman collusions of religion and government. to renew and rebuild civilization. to the Crusades. In any case. Consolidated powers. an archetypal ‘religious’ community. our secular age must move beyond the market economy and the Roman commoditization of human persons into soldiers. Thomas Friedman is sadly correct about the hidden fist behind the hidden hand of the market. we must imagine feminine possibilities for tomorrow’s social arrangements – arrangements not wedded to the Roman patriarchal will-to-power. Concepts of market agency may vary – individuals.oaths of allegiance must be eradicated. In Chekhov’s The Seagull. meanwhile redeeming the time: so that humanity may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us. Christian.S. Perhaps more than another transformation of the state. – Joshua Casteel . corporations. and save the world from suicide. can do nothing without willing bodies. Western exploits have always depended upon the willingness of the working classes to sacrifice themselves at the altars of the powerful few from the crossing of the Rubicon. I would reformulate certain sentiments of T. In other words. Konstantin was correct: we need new forms. The disempowered of all countries must be permitted to learn that they need not kill each other at the behest of passing aristocracies. Had European Christians actually cared more about their faith than their state. State. We must reject the proselytism required of Roman forms of government . a new faith has taken the place of the Christianity. particularly those arrangements willing to endeavor the vulnerability required of genuine human relations – arrangements freed of militarism and the caprice of borders. Believers and atheists alike can pray at that church. The ‘Quietism’ of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani represents a similarly fruitful religious-political arrangement.no state. and Why Freedom Has Never Been Dared In our secular age. or Secular) dominate tomorrow’s political imagination? Fact: The Hebrews. Konstantin (aptly named) cries out: “We need new forms!” Why must the Roman wedding of religion and militarism (whether polytheist. Were I prophet. The market is humanity’s current failed attempt at a notion of freedom. Eliot to accord with our secular (market) age: The secular (market) experiment will fail. The Market.000 applications for conscientious objection and 112. Germany approved 153. Fact: In 2002.

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