M. Raphael Johnson Interviewed by Wayne John Sturgeon

Please could you introduce yourself and explain how you came to be an Orthodox priest and creator of the Orthodox Nationalist?

 

I was a Platonist before I became a Christian. Very early on I rejected the doctrine of materialism that was so cavalierly taught at universities as if it was established fact. I realized that such doctrines are ideological, not scientific. I grew up in a secular household. I also grew up in the funeral business, and so I was surrounded by death and grief from birth. This sort of thing always forces the most inconvenient questions.

 

Working for my father, I drove the hearse. This is normally where the clergy rode. The only problem is that I asked them too many questions, and realized very quickly that, with few exceptions, they were incompetent. Numerous priests and ministers requested that I not drive the hearse with them in it. This began my struggle with modernity: from modern capitalism to Platonism to Catholicism to Orthodoxy. It was an ordered progression. I realized as I grew older that the changes at Vatican II were nothing new, and were easily as radical as the Gregorian reforms that drove east and west apart. I had initially been a part of the Society of St. Pius X, but could not reconcile their heroic resistance to Vatican II with their acceptance of equally radical changes a millennium prior. I was driven to Orthodoxy with the force of logic, and I paid for it with lost friends and an alienated family.

 

 

How would you define Orthodox Nationalism?

 

Nationalism does not imply the conception of ethnic superiority. It implies the simple concept that in order to be rational and legitimate, law must come from below. It must come from the people. But “people” are no abstraction: they are historically constituted by language and tradition, and this, in turn, derives from their topography and historical experiences such as colonialism, genocide and other traumatic events. I’ve called the development of ethnic tradition as “structures of survival,” that is, the mechanisms that people have developed to cope with difficult situations such as war or famine. The commune in Russia, armed resistance in Ireland, Cossacks in Ukraine all derive from trauma and struggle, and these have been ways where the tradition has been preserved under the worst possible circumstances.

 

Orthodoxy is organized along ethnic lines. This is an organization of convenience, since the church in the east usually focused on the vernacular, the language of the people. Nationalism in this context asserts that there is one truth, both dogmatic and canonical. Yet, this one truth manifests itself in different ways with different people at different times. These traditions are sacred and should be maintained. There is no such thing as “generic” Orthodoxy. This is a product of nominalism, modernity and alienation.

 

 

Could you explain the Orthodox concept of Symphony?

 

The doctrine of the “symphony of powers” implies that there is one Christian society that is ruled by two powers: the monarch and the church. Yet, even this is subject to endless misunderstanding. The monarchy is NOT the state. The state is NOT the government. Anglo-American political theory has confused the three things. The monarchy, traditionally, was an icon of religious authority. He did not rule in the modern sense of control: medieval political thought and law was the abbreviation of local customs.

 

A bureaucracy is the “government,” and has legitimacy only to the extent that is serves the customary life of the people. In Russia for example, the St. Petersburg bureaucracy had no relation to the common population, something endlessly mocked by Gogol, Dostoevsky and Ivanov.

 

The state is another matter and, especially in Germany, refers to the character of the people: the collective nature of language and custom that exists prior to the development of any government. Hence, state, government and monarchy are three things, the monarch exemplifies the state, and is meant to control the government. Nicholas I of Russia was frustrated that the bureaucracy continually stymied his directives and hence, he created his own organization, a sort of privy council answerable only to him.

 

More to the point, the symphony is the unity of the Christian people under the monarchy, but the monarchy as described above. In the west, the symphony was abandoned with both the rise of feudalism and the Gregorian reforms. The church was a sealed-off corporation that functioned within secular society. For the east, nothing was secular. Christ came to save the whole man, and that includes culture, the state and the economy.

 

 

Do you believe in the restoration of the Orthodox Tsar?

 

Many of the greatest Russian saints predicted this. Laurence of Chernigov and Seraphim of Sarov, just to name two. I believe in the restoration of monarchy in the way described above. It functions within the national culture, not above it. If it is to rule more than one ethnic group, then it is to be a federal structure with maximum autonomy for its component parts. Liberal democracy is extremely unpopular in Russia. It is associated with bandit capitalism and the oligarchical stripping of the economy.

 

Old Russia was based around local autonomy, with all elective institutions, including the judiciary. The tsar did not rule absolutely, as it had not the capacity to extend its power in such a way. Russian society was based on elective institutions at the communal and volost (or county) level, and after 1861, the zemstvo, or the local government that was in charge of most social services, and was structured into two houses, an upper and a lower, for the noble and common, respectively. In many cases, the Russian tsar was elected by the boyar Duma or other bodies. This was the case with Yaroslav the Wise, Ivan IV (who was begged to rule), Boris Gudenov, Michael Romanov, Peter I,  Anna Leopoldovna, Elizabeth, and, at least negatively, Catherine II (since Peter III was so loathed by the population). The Roman, Byzantine and Russian idea had no strict policy of succession, though Emperor Paul insisted on hereditary right after the reign of his mother, Catherine II.

 

 

Do you see any eschatological threat in the current rise of Islam and the call for a restored Islamic caliphate?

 

Many Orthodox writers referred to the rise of Islam as the rise of Antichrist himself. Islam destroyed the Christian faith throughout its most significant areas: the middle east and north Africa. There can be no theological conciliation between the two movements, yet, Islam’s role against the new world order has been mixed. In some cases, Islam has been a tool of western dominance, as was the case in Chechnya and Bosnia. In others, it has made war upon it. I oppose the spread of Islam, yet, I do not see it as Antichrist per se.

 

 

Does the Orthodox conception of the autocelphalous church sit well with the national anarchist emphasis on regional devolution and decentralisation?

 

It certainly seems that way. The chief governing body is the synod: this is not the same as the western term “council” which derives from the Latin “curia” or court. A synod is an organic connection of all aspects of the faith to all aspects of society; a true community of agreement.  A council is something that is created artificially. The Orthodox synod exists at the parish, monastic, diocesan, patriarchal and ecumenical level (that is, the seen ecumenical synods of the ancient an early medieval worlds). Bishops do not “rule” the church. They merely reflect its tradition and are called to defend it. The bishop functions with a synod representing all parts of the diocese. Bishops and parish priests were elected. In Russia, this was the case until Peter I stripped the parishes of this ancient right.

 

This was corrected to some extent in the writings of the Slavophiles, including A. Khomiakov and I. Kireyevsky, both of whom were explicitly national and religious anarchists. In fact, in reading these two men, as well as their compatriots K. Aksakov and Y. Samarin, I saw the concept of anarchist “authority” supreme over the statist drive for “power.” Power and authority are two different things. The Slavophiles rejected the government as described above, and accepted only the commune, volost system and boyar Duma as the legitimate ruling authority, all elected and all deriving from the peasantry in a bottom-up movement. Social bonds are informal and affective. Written law often stresses rational cohesion and external arrangement over its inner spirit, which is far more important.

 

 

What do you think of the current EU project?

 

I’m happy to say that it seems to be unraveling. Whether we look at NAFTA or the EU, it seems that “free trade” requires massive government bureaucracies and subsidies to function.

 

 

Can there be an alternative vision of a united Europe more consistent with Orthodoxy?

 

I’ve already mentioned this. The concept of the Byzantine Commonwealth: there is one order and one law, yet many manifestations of it. Culture is worthwhile to the extent it reflects the singular reality of the church, the canons and God himself. Yet, this does not imply a papal vision of rule, but rather the diversity of manifestations of the same law. Greek, Serbian and Russian traditions are very different, yet, they reflect the same canons and doctrine. This is healthy.

 

 

What do you see as the historical, cultural, and social-polictical consequences of the western churches adoption of the Filioque to the historic Christian greed?

 

There are many ways to approach this. The basic argument is that in claiming that the spirit proceeds from the Son and the Father, the unity of the Godhead is stressed over the persons. Hence, the church is seen as an abstract unity bound by an equally abstract law. This was the position of most of the Slavophiles.

 

Another way to approach it is to say that, in holding that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, and the pope is the Vicar of Christ, then, naturally, the Spirit proceeds from the pope. I find it curious that the liturgical renovations which removed the epiclesis from the Eucharistic service (for example) occurred at about the same time as the filioque was officially adopted.

 

Another way to view it is to say that in imagining this unity of God rather than the personhood of God, it led to the creation of a closed, corporate church of the west that was distinct from and apart from cultural life, speaking a language completely different from it.

 

 

 

What is the Orthodox teaching on Usury? What do you think of alternative monetary reform theories like Social Credit?

Do you see any value in Catholic social theory like Bellocs and Chestertons theory of Distribtionism and the medieval economic model of Guild Corporatism?

 

These are really one question. Usury is condemned in Orthodoxy. In the west, St. Jerome, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, and pope Leo the Great condemned it out of hand. In the east, it’s the same: Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom and Theodoret, just to name a handful.

 

In synodal form, usury was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 348, and more importantly, at the First Ecumenical Synod in canon 7. Local councils in both east and west condemning usury in various forms are too numerous to mention. St. Basil goes so far as to say that usurers cannot take holy orders unless they give their money away.

 

The Byzantine empire permitted interest on loans. Part of this was because the rate of interest stayed quite stable for many centuries. The state also capped the amount of interest that could be charged, and justified it in two ways: first, that interest represents the generative power of the capital being created (that is, the capital will create much more value over time), and, of course, that it be commensurate with the risk of the lender. Byzantium, however, also sought to protect the peasant’s right to land and limit the power of the moneyed aristocracy that remained a constant threat to the monarchy. In no way, however, is this anywhere near the usurious regime that we are forced to live under today. These empires were known for maintaining strict royal control over the currency. The late Byzantine empire saw its economic position erode as it gave this authority to Venice in exchange for both financial and military support. This was Byzantium’s death knell.

 

I have no difficulty with social credit and guild socialism or corporatism. Dostoevsky called himself a “Christian socialist” more than once. In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the corporate organization of the economy is treated in detail. Modern, bourgeois capitalism is not consistent with Orthodoxy at any level. Solzhenitsyn spent quite a bit of time explaining how socialism and capitalism were the same far more than they were different: they both were materialist, obsessed with production and technology and thought that happiness came through money and its power. They both create a huge state that oversees production. They both create a wealthy ruling class. They both tolerate no organized opposition. They reject the virtues in favor of “efficiency.” They both see man as a cog in a great wheel of production. They see man really as a bundle of nerve endings, at root, seeking satisfaction in the latest technological inventions or labor saving devices (that never seem to save labor).

 

There are many varieties of socialism, that of Proudhon or even the Slavophiles, that are not materialist and not statist. The socialism of the Ukrainian nationalist Ivan Franko or the Serbian anarchist Svetozar Markovic are two other examples. In the west, these names remain unknown, as “socialism” is seen as synonymous with Leninism.

 

 

 

Is there an Orthodox teaching concerning land reform and taxation as regards the biblical concept of the Jubilee and similar to that advocated by the American social reformer Henry George?

 

 

 

St. Basil wrote quite a bit on social justice, as did Ambrose. Famously, Basil states in his work on this topic:

 

Those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor; yet surely, you seem to have great wealth! How else can this be, but that you have preferred your own enjoyment to the comfort of the many? For the more you abound in wealth, the more you lack in charity.

 

And again:

 

For in truth it is the height of inhumanity that those who do not have enough even for basic necessities should be forced to seek a loan in order to survive, while others, not being satisfied with the return of the principal, should turn the misfortune of the poor to their own advantage and reap a bountiful profit.

 

And elsewhere: “If we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our needs, giving the surplus to those who have little, then no one would be rich, no one would be poor, and no one would be in need.”

 

St. Ambrose states:

 

How far, O ye rich, do you push your insane desires? Are you the only one who lives on th earth? Why do you dispossess your fellow man and claim the natural world all for yourselves? The earth was made common for all, so why do you arrogate to yourselves the exclusive right to the soil?

 

I think this sums it up, and in general, this is the basic consensus of the patristic idea. I find it humorous ow middle class Orthodox love to cite the fathers, with the notable exception of these inconvenient passages, often explained away as being “products of their times.” There is no connection between capitalism and the bourgeois ethic on the one hand, and the church, on the other: they are opposed to one another.

 

 

 

Is Orthodoxy compatible with what is sometimes referred to as Radical Traditionalism?

 

Yes and no. This kind of traditionalism is quite explicitly Platonist. However, it is also universal. It normally rejects Christ’s unique status and holds all ancient religious to be the same at their foundations.  Apart from this, this kind of traditionalism is an effective attack on the smug assumptions of the university dons and talking heads. Even Seraphim Rose was schooled on the work of Guenon before becoming Orthodox. Many of us, in fact, have tread the same path: from Plato to some kind of traditionalism to Orthodoxy. It seems that they naturally lead to each other, building on each other and, importantly, completing each other. Radical traditionalism however, remains incomplete.