“If the doctrine of equality be true, ‘we must consider envy to be as sound a guide in politics as reverence by religious men is considered to be in religion’.” – W.H. Mallock, cited by Russell Kirk in The Conservative Mind, 403
“Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities” (Jude 8).
As I (finally) turn the last bend in my nearly year long walk through Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, easily one of the biggest takeaways is the historic conservative commitment to the goodness of hierarchy. Some conservatives have known this more clearly and fought for it more explicitly than others, and sure, some (if not many) were muddled and retreating from the point even as they instinctively knew there was something good from the past that they couldn’t quite put their finger on.
But I would boil it all down to the goodness of hierarchy, or if we want to put it a bit more flamboyantly, the goodness of inequality, or perhaps even more defiantly, the goodness of authority and dominion. This authority and dominion is the foundation of freedom, safety, and provision because dominion insists upon responsibility, ownership, and therefore true, Christian love. There can be no love where there is no responsibility, and there is no responsibility where there is no authority. And apart from this kind of responsible love, there can be no long term flourishing, fruitfulness, creativity, or dare I say it, progress.
Our Radical Rebellion
The root of our radical rebellion goes back to the Garden of Eden. Adam despised the authority of God to command his obedience without clear reasons given. God had the right to command Adam’s obedience because He was God, Adam’s Maker, the Lord of All. He owed Adam nothing, no explanations, no reasons, no promises. Adam’s existence itself was pure grace, an undeserved gift. Breath in his lungs, a beating heart, the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures of the world were a pile of Christmas presents that would take forever to unwrap. Adam owed God perfect obedience. But Adam, the original John Lennon, imagined a world without heaven and hell, a world without God, the original filthy dream, and so he defiled his own flesh and the flesh of all his descendants. He rejected God’s authority and in so doing, abdicated his own authority and rejected fruitfulness for the barrenness of envious equality.
That is the core of our human condition, our rebellion, and all so-called political and social radicalism. It is the hatred of God’s authority every instance of His authority revealed in the created order. God has spoken this world into existence with certain hard edges, definitions, identities, including the fixed nature of male and female, the image of God in human beings from conception to natural death, basic logic, gravity, and the meaningfulness of human language. All of this is deeply offensive to natural man as it reminds him day after day of the authority of his Maker, that we did not make ourselves, that He made us and so defines everything about us and the world around us. All of creation proclaims His Lordship, His Dominion, His Name that is above every name. And man naturally hates that.
Multiplicity of Hierarchies & A Word Study
But there is more. His authority and lordship have established multitudes of hierarchies in the world and in history: hierarchies in the animal kingdom, hierarchies in the mineral world, hierarchies in human society. No created hierarchy is absolute. Only God’s authority and hierarchy is absolute, unchanging, utterly fixed, which is why created hierarchies may be better termed inequalities – glorious inequalities, created inequalities, the goodness of difference. But we are not talking about bland, meaningless, random differences. We are talking about intentional, meaningful differences — differences that are better for some things than others. A hammer is different from a tea cup, and those differences are strengths and weaknesses depending on the use. We are talking about different abilities and therefore different authorities and different possibilities, gifts, blessings. A tea cup has authority to carry tea; a hammer has authority to knock a nail into place. These are their respective domains, spheres of authority and dominion and therefore, spheres of flourishing and fruitfulness.
The word “dominion” is from the Latin word dominus, which means “lord” or “master,” and it is where we get the verb “dominate,” which has taken on various negative connotations except in the realm of sports where an athlete may still be said to perform gloriously by “dominating” the opposition. In that athletic context, everyone knows that what is being is said is that the winning team/athlete played with prowess, expertise, passion, and won (presumably) within the rules/limits of the game, but it need not mean that anything demeaning or abusive occurred to the losing athletes/team. A hammer dominates in the task of driving nails. A teacup dominates in the task of drinking tea. It is glorious, awe-inspiring, astonishing to see a Simone Biles dominate in her floor routine, to see what God made her capable of.
The Greek word for “lord/master” is kurios and a verb form of that word is katakureiuo which is used in the Septuagint for God’s assignment to man and woman made in His image to “take dominion” – (Gen. 1:28, repeated in the Septuagint in Gen. 9:1). The same word is used to describe Israel conquering Sihon the Amorite and taking possession of his land at the beginning of the conquest of Canaan (Num. 21:24, cf. 32:22). Likewise, David prays that presumptuous sins would not “have dominion” over him (Ps. 19:13, cf. 119:33). David sings that the Messianic king shall have “dominion” from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8, 110:2), and foresees that the upright will have “dominion” over their enemies (Ps. 48:15). It’s striking that the same word is used in Jeremiah 3:14 to describe God’s call to His people to return to Him so that He can “marry” them. To be their “lord” is to be their husband, their redeemer. Adam and Eve would take dominion of the world together, but that would begin by Adam learning to take dominion of His wife first, causing her to flourish and be fruitful, maximizing the glory she was made for. Yes, Jesus warns His disciples not to “lord” their authority like the gentiles (Mt. 20:25, Mk. 10:42), and Peter echoes the same point admonishing elders not to rule selfishly but to exercise their authority as examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4). But we know that Peter is not dismissing godly dominion of elders since only a couple chapters previously, he lifts up Sarah as a godly example for all wives to imitate in her submission to Abraham, calling him “lord” (1 Pet. 3:6). All of this is to simply make the case that dominion is good thing – long live godly dominion. Even though it certainly can be sinfully misused, it is the means by which God intends for the world, families, churches, societies to be well loved, cared for, protected, and caused to flourish to their greatest potential.
He Made It This Way But We Despise Authority
God is the Lord, the Master of the Universe. He has commanded the worlds to come into existence, and He upholds them all by the Word of His power. All things exist in obedience to Him. This lordship and dominion is good and very good and glorious, even though it has been infected by sin and death in this world. Nevertheless, God has established many echoes and reflections of His glory and authority. And these go together. The glory of a created thing is its authority, it’s lordship, wherever it may be said to dominate, flourish, displaying its prowess – doing what it was made for – for the good of the world and the glory of its Maker. Certain created things “dominate” with their colors, their sounds, their beauty, their majesty, their strength, their intricacies, and so on. They dominate and rule by their inequalities, by their differences, by a multiplicity of hierarchies. And along with these abilities and gifts and inequalities come various assignments authoritatively established by God.
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16).
But sinners hate the thrones and dominions and principalities and powers. Sinners hate the inequalities and hierarchies. They “walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Pet. 2:10). They despise authority. Listen to that. Read it again. They despise authority. They speak evil of the “glorious ones,” great ones, masters, dominions, powers. They hate all inequality. They hate that some are smarter, some are stronger, some are richer, some are faster, some are better at some things than others. But these are powers given by God. These are authorities given by the Lord. They are not fixed, they are not ultimate, but they are given and they are given for our good. We ought to rejoice in them. Why take more money from the one who is better with money? Why take away the leadership from the one with more wisdom? Why penalize people for their God-given powers? This is like refusing to use your right hand because you’re better with it and it makes your left hand feel bad or dumping trash in the Appalachians because they make people from Wyoming feel bad. This is the barrenness of equality.
And to bring this all right down to a simple point: I don’t believe conservativism is likely to make significant headway in our modern culture until the common man on the street understands that conservativism is centrally the celebration of biblical hierarchy and inequality and difference. The message we need to get out is the glory of inequality and hierarchy and difference. Liberalism worships equality, a pan-sexual goddess of envy, lust, and eternal enmity and petty rivalries. But true conservativism worships the Creator God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and long live His dominion, His Kingdom, and His power. And long live all the kings and priests in His dominion. Long live the lordship of gracious husbands, the lordship of faithful pastors, the lordship of godly magistrates, the lordship of mighty motherhood, the lordship of craft competence, scientific ingenuity, athletic prowess, and all other created and God-given inequalities, responsibilities, and differences.
God requires impartiality before the law. The image of God must be honored and defended in all people. And in Christ, all are sons in the Son, all are heirs of the promises to Abraham. But we are not interested in the mass-leveling, power-wealth redistributing, socially-suffocating equality of the Left. Our message has been unclear. And if we are all proclaiming a message of equality, the Left has the better message. But what they are offering is a dead end, stagnation, an eternal hemorrhaging of joy and creativity.
Biblical lordship is not at all by flat fiat, by barking orders, by capricious domineering – that is the way of Darwinian destruction; biblical lordship is rather by exercising wise dominion. Biblical authority bleeds. Biblical dominion lays its life down to bring glory from the ashes, light from the darkness, form to the formless. This is done by studying God’s Word and the world as God has actually made it, remembering its frame, rejoicing in its differences, glories, and variety of abilities, understanding more and more what things are for, and glorifying those giftings and differences.
Understood rightly, biblical dominion begets dominion. If we may steal a word from the Marxists, biblical dominion empowers. The deep irony is that the worship of equality can never empower anyone or anything. The whole point is to flatten, penalize, and despise every form of difference and inequality. Only dominion can beget dominion. Only authority can beget authority. Taking dominion of an uncultivated space of land causes it to flourish and dominate with its beauty and fruitfulness. Wise rule lifts up what/whom has been entrusted to its care causing them to rule their domains wisely as well. This is the way of love, innovation, creativity, prosperity, and blessing. Insistence on equality is insistence on fear, envy, gridlock, hatred, and barrenness.
Yes, in a fallen world, all human authority is exercised with a mixture of sin and evil. And so perhaps the most difficult commands in the Bible are the ones that require obedience to fallen authorities. Wives submit to your own husbands. Children obey your parents. Slaves obey your masters. Citizens be subject to your rulers. Obey those elders who rule over you. Obey the kind and just and wise authorities, as well as the evil and unjust and foolish authorities. Why? Because God said so. Let that sink in. Let it prick your pride. Let it make you flourish.
And yes, in the Lord, qualifies all of it. He is the One who gives it, and He stands behind it all. And He is the One who delivers His people from all oppression and abuse of power, but He does this by raising up new authorities, new powers. He has not come to obliterate authority and power. He has come to redeem it. Long live inequality.