Religion and Politics, Theology

Orthodoxy and (Anarcho) SocialismPost-Easter and Mayday Meditations

Published on: June 9, 2023
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Christ is risen!
Workers of the world, unite!

Are these two exclamations mutually exclusive? Can one be an (Orthodox) Christian and an anarchist or a socialist? It all depends on what one means by “Orthodoxy” (or “Christianity” for that matter), and what one means by “socialism” or “anarchism.”

Orthodox Christianity, in my view, cannot fully be contained in any conceptual framework, it cannot be expressed by simple (especially not simplistic) concepts and catchphrases. It is a faith which requires a living and lived experience, its manifestations are often contradictory (when one tries to fit them into a simplistic logic), and it is materialized in an exemplary way in the transformative experience of love. Orthodoxy is an eschatology-oriented existential experiment, in which one risks everything (i.e. “this world,” the world of necessity, including one’s own pregiven being), to acquire (a different kind of) everything, that is, a new mode of existence, based on freedom and love.

This eschatological orientation, and the fundamental importance of freedom and love—again, not as abstract concepts but as the capacities of the human being that go to the very core of what it means to be human—is what makes (Orthodox) Christianity anarchic in a very profound sense. Those who acquire the new (eschatological) mode of existence are deified human beings, those who become gods. They exist without an end and without a beginning (which is what it means to be anarchos in a metaphysical sense). Nothing that belongs to the mode of existence of “this world,” which is necessity, will inherit the Kingdom of God. Just as the paradigmatic manifestation of the eschatological mode of existence in history is love, it is the logic of power, domination and oppression which paradigmatically expresses the logic of necessity, the logic of “this world.”

Of course, one can use the word “anarchism” in many other meanings as well. It usually refers to various political philosophies. Anarchism is often considered a stream within socialism, which is more individualistic compared to (more collectivist) communism. Because of its insistence on freedom, some authors see in it (I think justifiably) a natural successor of early liberalism, which took the torch of freedom-fighting from liberalism, at the time when mainstream liberalism was selling its soul to the devil (I mean to capitalism).

Anarchism, as real socialism (or anarcho-socialism if you prefer), can thus be understood as a left-wing political philosophy, which affirms both individual freedoms and the social well-being, taking into account that society is the place where human (political) freedom, creativity and wellbeing are manifested and made possible. Anarcho-socialism stands between extreme individualism which threatens to dissolve community, and extreme collectivism, which can become totalitarian, oppressing individuals for the sake of a “greater (social, collective) good.” Anarchism is fundamentally anti-capitalist, since capitalism is a profoundly and irredeemably inhuman ideology, which turns the logic of necessity of “this world” into a principle, both an ontic and social paradigm. By turning everything into commodities (including human beings, their ideas, relations…), it corrupts everything, it kills, in the long run, the very possibility of freedom, creativity, authentic inter-human relations… That is why one should never talk about “bad capitalism” and “good capitalism.” Capitalism is evil. It is cancer on the social body. Yes, with various measures, you can suppress some of its negative effects, but nobody, in their right mind, would claim that cancer is good simply because taking various medications makes its effects less destructive or less visible.

For me, “anarchism” is primarily a method. It is a method which starts from the values of human freedom and dignity, and asks questions such as: What are the most prominent power structures, and what are the most acute forms of oppression, here and now? What can be done to dismantle illegitimate power structures and lower the amount of oppression, maximizing human freedom and well-being. This means no prefabricated solutions, no abstract models that are then automatically applied no matter the context. Societies change, and the forms of oppression change. Yesterday’s liberators can be today’s oppressors. Anarchism as a method implies both intellectual and moral vigilance. It is not a fixed system or a consistent ideology.  

Anarchism as a method is not limited only to the political sphere, it can also be applied to metaphysics. How do we break free from the pregivenness of the world in which we live? How do we liberate ourselves from the bonds of our own being? This quest for ontic freedom makes Christianity, in this sense, anarchic.

Christian eschatological concerns do not operate on the same plane as political issues. One cannot make the Kingdom of God on Earth, and one shouldn’t even aspire to do that, as it necessarily leads into various types of fundamentalisms and oppression. However, one can improve the living conditions. One can order societies in such a way that most, if not all people who live in them can develop their potentials, can live and work in a relatively friendly and safe environment, and under the conditions of relative justice and freedom, without economic exploitation and without oppressive ideologies, always aspiring to broaden the existing horizons of freedom, always knowing that once we dogmatize one ideology, one system, one model of government, one type of power-structures (even if they are called “free” or “democratic”), that is the first sign that we turned from liberators into oppressors, from emancipators into the ideologists of new power structures and its oppressive system. There will be no Kingdom of God until the Kingdom of God as a new mode of being. So, there is not any necessary connections between the exclamations “Workers of the world, unite!” and “Christ is risen!” They do not even refer to the same planes of existence. However, there is also not any necessary contradiction between them. Both of them, each on its own horizon, are cries from freedom. In metaphysical and in in the socio-political spheres.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Davor Džalto

    Davor Džalto

    Professor of Religion, Art, and Democracy at University College Stockholm, Sweden

    Dr. Davor Džalto is Professor of Religion, Art, and Democracy at University College Stockholm. He is also President of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. Among his most recently published books are Anarchy and the Kingdom of God: From Eschatology to Orthodox Christian Political...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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