Caesar And The Things That Are Caesar's

It has never been easy to interpret, let alone carry out, Jesus’ injunction to the Scribes and Pharisees. Holding a Roman coin under their noses, Jesus told them to give Caesar his dues. Before we can understand what Jesus meant, it is necessary to spell out who Caesar is, and then what actually belongs to him. This essay will try to do just that.

First Part: Caesar

For centuries, Caesar meant a monarch, whether dynastic or not. The ancient world lists many types: the Roman Imperator, the Greek tyrant, the Spartan dual-monarchy, Athenian democracy, and the rest. In addition to monarych, aristocracy was also common in the ancient world, as was oligarchy, or government by a few, selected men. Without going into details, let me mention the Somalis, who to this day prefer the independent clan system without a central government, much less a monarchical one.1 

Christendom adopted monarchy, mostly dynastic but also elective, as in Poland. The monarchy had two features and one problem. First feature: the legislative, judicial, and executive powers were under unified command. Second feature: the hierarchic-monarchic principle: the monarch chose his successor and briefed him. It was taken for granted, not always successfully, that monarchic leadership could be inherited. In Christendom the same principle extended to intermediate bodies such as the municipality, personal and territorial jurisdictions, guilds, families, etc.

The problem, common to all forms of government, was the perennial quesion: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, i.e. who or what should limit the temptation, common to all monarchs, of neglecting the common good in favour of his private one? Christendom had solved it with the principle of duty, common from the monarch to the last of citizens, subjects, vassals, or what have you.

After all these centuries we are in a position to observe, in what is left of former Christendom, the practical results of the subversive process “divide and conquer,” driven by the miscalled “French” revolution. Its aim and principles were spelled out by its advocates from the very beginning: “Equality and freedom were the rights of man in his original, primitive perfection, awarded by nature. The first attack on equality was launched by property; on liberty, by political societies or governments. The only support of property and government are religious and civil laws. In order to give back to man, therefore, his primitive rights of equality and freedom, religion must be destroyed first, civil society second, property last.”

The argument is flawless, provided that the idyllic situation portrayed by the fertile pens of Jean-Jacques (1712-1778) and his predecessor Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) be historically true. But neither of the two, let alone their innumerable followers, have ever mentioned the historical existence of the utopia called the Social Contract.

On the intellectual front, the paganizing Humanists of the 15th century launched their successful attack on the Christian spiritual order. The Protestant Reformers of the 16th did the same on the moral front, and the aforementioned French Revolution completed the onslaught on the remaining political institutions. That revolutionary commitment continues to this day, targeting any institution which retains any residues of unity in diversity and replacing them with uniform and equal ones. Including, as will be seen, Caesar’s prerogatives.

His unified command was targeted by Montesquieu (1689-1755), who argued for the separation of the three powers. It did not take long to verify the results. In 1851, after barely 60 years of revolutionary policies, Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) had this to say:

To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right nor the knowledge nor the virtue. To be governed means to be, at each operation, at each transaction, at each movement, noted, registered, controlled, taxed, stamped, measured, valued, assessed, patented, licensed, authorized, endorsed, admonished, hampered, reformed, rebuked, arrested. It is to be, on the pretext of the general interest, taxed, drilled, held to ransom, exploited, monopolized, extorted, hoaxed, robbed; Then at the least resistance, at the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, abused, annoyed, followed, bullied, beaten, disarmed, garotted, imprisoned, machine-gunned, judged, condemned, deported, flayed, sold, betrayed and finally mocked, ridiculed, insulted, dishonoured. That is government, that is its morality!2

The morality stigmatized by Proudhon is not that of “government,” whose power has been waning since 1789, but that of the modern State usurping its functions. Joaquín Costa (1846-1911), a Spanish philosopher of the generation following Proudhon’s, dubbed the State as:

The sole personality, immense, crushing, world-encompassing, that, while breaking the natural laws of society, monopolizes legislation with the laws of the strongest. 3

One hundred years later, one can unmistakably see what has happened in replacing a unified command with a non-command whose description defies imagination.

Textbooks of what passes for “history” relate that, after a short-lived period of “constitutional monarchies,” we have finally arrived at the longed-for Democracy with its inseparable “rule of law,” outside of which there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The reality is very different. The three powers are indeed exercised, but not separately. They are exercised completely at random. Countless laws, changing like clouds, are daily promulgated by parliaments, heads of the executive, courts more or less “Supreme,” municipalities, bureaucrats out of control, and generally speaking by anyone taking advantage of the “great fiction of government” as Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) dubbed it, “through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.” 

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This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the December, 2018 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.

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