The dictionary definition of theocracy is government of a state “by priests or according to religious law,” or perhaps “by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.” As such, it applies to states like traditional Tibet, early Mormon Utah, and revolutionary Iran, but not in substance to any traditional Christian state. Even when ruled by a saint or bishop, Christian states have treated politics as different from religion, have not been subject to a general system of religious law (which doesn’t exist in Christianity), and have not viewed the political ruler in his capacity as such as the regular beneficiary of special divine guidance.
Today, of course, the term is used much more broadly, to the point that it covers Western states in general as they existed until the ’60s. Everybody’s a theocrat except a few post-’60s types, who happen to be the people who run things today. The idea seems to be that theocracy includes any situation in which government is influenced by concerns common among religious people but not among advanced liberals, even when, as in the case of homosexuality, abortion and embryonic stem cell reseach, the concerns are justifiable on general natural-law considerations and therefore quite widespread worldwide among philosophical as well as religious traditions.
The expression has thus become a term of abuse employed by advanced liberals to shut down discussion. One response to the abuse should be to turn the discussion in a more substantive direction. When we look at the type of situation the term “theocracy” originally referred to, and look for similar situations today, the results are at odds with common preconceptions, and are worth bringing into the discussion if only for that reason:
- All political orders are based on an understanding of man, the world and moral obligation that is sufficient for their purposes.
- The advanced liberal order attempts to reform human relationships and control the outcome of social processes quite comprehensively.
- It must therefore base itself on an understanding of man, the world and moral obligation that is so comprehensive as to become a religion. It is for that reason that advanced liberalism tries to shut down all other religions.
- The comprehensive religious view that defines advanced liberalism is articulated by a priestly caste of experts and functionaries and so gives rise to a comprehensive code of law, international standards of human rights and the like, that is viewed as universally obligatory regardless of consent and requires radical changes in all social relations.
On those facts, who’s the theocrat? So far as I can tell, the only response the liberals have is that their views are based on reason and all opposing views are based on arbitrary assertion, so they ought to win. I don’t believe they’re right on that, but that’s the point that has to be argued in every possible setting by those who reject liberalism. Like the Pope says, the current world struggle is all about the nature of reason.