Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kyriarchy and Constitutionalism

On November 20, the Feast of Christ the King, a coronation ceremony took place at the Church of Divine Mercy in Krakow. The President of Poland and the Catholic Bishops officially crowned Jesus Christ the King of Poland. (Our Lady, Mary, is already Poland's crowned Queen). This is no mere piffling monarchy; this is Kyriarchy, the reign of the risen and enthroned Lord, more absolute than the most fevered dreams of the Sun King or the Caesars.

Among the many things that might be said about this, I will focus on one, of interest to constitutional lawyers and political scientists interested in the classification of political regimes and the typology of constitutional systems. Is Poland now to be classified as an authoritarian regime? What is Poland's small-c constitution, if it still has one? (I put aside the excellent question, raised by Nicole Stelle Garnett, whether the coronation of Mary should already have changed the pre-existing answers to these questions). How to code a sacramental and ecstatic surrender of self-rule by a demos and its representatives, who believe that "all authority in Heaven and on Earth" has been given to Christ (Matthew 28:18)?

From a strictly secular perspective, this must amount to symbolic politics within the extant regime. That bout of symbolic politics should not affect the regime's structural classification -- any more than if Poland were merely to adopt a new flag, or a new national bird. But the implicit assumption there is that the internal Catholic point of view on the matter is false. From a Catholic perspective, in other words, the classification of Poland's sacramental surrender as symbolic politics begs the question entirely, by assuming that the reign of Christ is indeed only symbolic. The Catechism of the Church, of course, affirms the physical reality and sovereignty of the risen Christ (CCC 643 et seq., 668 et seq.). Catholics might agree that the Polish regime is in fact unchanged, but they would agree to that for nearly the opposite reason -- that Christ was already Poland's true Lord (and Lord of everywhere else as well) before the declaration as well as after it, so that the ceremony actually did nothing more than recognize a pre-existing truth. Whatever the effect of the ceremony, however, the key point is that one cannot answer the coding question without taking a stance on questions of political theology. The putatively neutral technology of regime classification in political science, it seems, must necessarily break down when confronted with a radically incompatible substantive world-view.

I have spoken only of regime classification. It is of course a separate question whether Kyriarchy is good or bad. There is an odd and thoroughly tendentious Wikipedia page that defines it as intrinsically oppressive; needless to say, that begs the question against the Catholic perspective as well. The Church believes that the infinite and absolute power of Christ enthroned is conjoined with, and justified by, absolute Love. Whereas the princes of the earth lord it over their subjects, Christ serves His people, and is first only because He puts Himself last (Mark 10:42-45). Right or wrong though such beliefs may be, one cannot simply assume them away.

Adrian Vermeule


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