Orthodoxy, Oppression and Social Harmony

This week, we are looking briefly at Eastern Orthodoxy and the way it has been formed its unique political climate. The experience of Eastern Orthodoxy can be an important source of wisdom for the contemporary Western Church and Christians generally as they seek to adapt to the vast and sometimes revolutionary social change which Western society is experiencing as the Modern Age draws to a close. The task this week is to set the stage by looking at one single concept that was of historical importance to the Eastern Orthodox view of the relationship between government and the church.

Symphonia East and West

Beginning with the Emperor Constantine, the Christian faith had a special position within the Roman empire. It eventually became the established religion of the empire. Under these circumstances, a doctrine known as “Symphonia” developed. The root in Greek for symphonia means “to speak with” or “a harmony of sounds or voice” The Greek is the root from which we get our word “symphony,” an extended musical piece performed by an orchestra made up of many different instruments making an harmonious sound in unison.

Transposed into political thought, the idea is that the spiritual realm, made up of the Catholic Church, and the political realm, made up of the Roman Empire, as the two primary social institutions of the Empire, should work together to create and harmonious, peaceful, and just society. In the East and in the West, until the fall of Rome in the West and the triumph of Islam in the East, this doctrine of Symphonia was at the root of the relationship between the Roman emperor, the political establishment, and the church.

In the West, after the fall of Rome and the rise of the Christian empires of Europe until the Modern Age, the fundamental unity of church and state with each function overlapping the other and complementing it retained its force until the Protestant Reformation, and even after the Reformation the nations of Europe sponsored established churches and the majority of their inhabitants belonged to the state church.

In the Eastern part of the Roman Empire things were different. Beginning in the 7th Century Eastern Orthodoxy (hereinafter “Orthodoxy”) found itself confronted by militant Islam and substantially within the boundaries of a growing Islamic empire. In the end, Constantinople and the Eastern Empire was defeated and became part of the Ottoman Empire by 1453. Within this empire, Orthodoxy, unlike Roman Catholicism, was a restricted faith, subject to special taxes, economic disadvantages, and persecution. It had to apply Symphonia in a much different way in order to survive within the boundaries of the Islamic Caliphate. Naturally, the result was survival at the occasional cost of integrity.

The Russian Experience

In 998 AD, Orthodox Christianity came to Russia at the invitation of Prince Vladimir (980-1015) and became a central feature of Russian society and culture. Eventually, as the Byzantine Empire disintegrated, the center of Orthodoxy began to shift from Constantinople to Russia and Moscow. Even today, at least nominally, the largest Orthodox community is in Russia.

In Orthodox Russia, the Tsar and his family were intimately bound to the church, and the doctrine of Symphonia continued to be the foundation of political theology and of the practical relationship between the church and the state. Unfortunately, as one writer put it, by the time of Czar Nicholas II, the Russian nobility was corrupt and unable to take wise political steps and the Russian Orthodox Church was similarly incapacitated by its ossification as an institution. [1]

After the Russian revolution and for the next eighty years, the Russian church was faced with an historic crisis. It was attacked by the Soviets, persecuted, its properties taken over by the state, and its seminaries and monasteries closed. Many priests and others were martyred, as was the Romanov royal family. This created in crisis in Russian Orthodoxy that continued for most of the 20th. Russia exited the Soviet Communist era an economically, spiritually, morally, and politically bankrupt society. It is still in the process of recovery from its eighty-year detour into Communism, if indeed it will ever recover.

When the Communists came to power in Russia, Lenin and his successor Stalin, motivated by militant atheism and the desire to destroy any institution that might hinder the progress of their revolution, shut down many churches and monasteries, and sponsored atheist organizations such as the League of the Militant Godless to wage war on Christian faith. The Donskoi Monastery became the Moscow Antireligious Museum and the Kazan Cathedral in Leningrad (today, St. Petersburg) became the Museum of the History of Religion. In 1931, Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral was blown up in a public display for all the world to see. [2] Just as in the areas controlled by Islam, Orthodox Christians were a persecuted and disfavored minority. To one degree or another, this was true in Russia until the near the fall of Communism. [3]

Thus, unlike the West in which the Christian church had a privilege status in society, Eastern Orthodoxy was forced to live under the constraints of hostility, opposition, disenfranchisement,  and often corrupting political influence. This was true in both post-Byzantine Eastern Orthodoxy and in post-Revolutionary Russia. Under conditions of oppression, the doctrine of Symphonia could be construed to make collaboration the best (and only) means of preserving the Christian faith. Just occasionally, this collaboration resulted in the church taking self-destructive stands, and the church was much embarrassed by disclosures of its occasional collaboration with the Soviet State. On the other hand, one might ask, “What other course of action could they have taken?” In fact, had the Eastern Church not acted as it did, it would most likely have been extinguished.

Symphonia and Russia Today

This issue is of continuing importance today as the Patriarch of Moscow has leant some degree of support to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, which may well in the long run at least somewhat discredit Russian Orthodoxy in Russia and certainly in the Ukraine and the West for some time to come. As the Washington Post recently observed:

For Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ally in the church, Patriarch Kirill, Ukraine is an inseparable part of a greater Russian world — one with Moscow as its political center and Kyiv as its spiritual hub. Because of this, Kirill, 75, has offered a full-throated endorsement of the war, doubling down even as the world recoils at widespread reports of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. His pro-war stance has angered other church leaders, in Ukraine and across the Orthodox faith, many of whom have condemned the war and urged Kirill to reconsider his support. [4]

Underlying difficulties caused by the activities of the Patriarch Krill and his alliance with Vladimir Putin is an historic difficulty involving the Russian and Ukrainian churches. Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian church was under the patriarch of Moscow, a situation that changed only in 1990 after the fall of Communism and Ukrainian independence. Under Soviet Communism, the Ukrainian church had been a part of the Russian church without its own independent patriarch. Obviously, as a part of Putin’s desire to reunify the Soviet Union, the Russian Patriarch has a desire to unify the Russian Church to include the Ukrainian Orthodox Church once again. It is my guess that, even if Russia proves successful, the destruction and defacement of Ukrainian Churches by the Russian Army will result in hostility for years to come.

This incident illustrates a difficulty that plagues the notion of Symphonia, as applied in Orthodoxy as well as Luther’s Two Kingdoms doctrine as applied in Western Churches: There is a danger of the Church either becoming:

  1. Too spiritually intertwined with the politics of the secular state and therefore supportive of the state with which it is intertwined (Symphonia danger); or
  2. Too spiritually separated from the politics of the secular state and therefore supportive of the state as a distinct power (Two Kingdom’s danger).

In either case there is a tendency for the church to be used by the state to achieve its own political purposes, tacitly support political behavior by the state that is unwise or violent, and in the end become discredited in the eyes of society. The experience of the Eastern Church in Russia and the Lutheran Church in World War II Germany are two vivid examples of the problem.

Reflections for Memorial Day

In America, contemporary Christians, liberal and conservative in leanings, sometimes adopt a form of subconscious Symphonia, where we expect the state and church to live in a kind of harmony with the values of Christian faith in some sense being body in society. Both are tempted to support and be used by a political regime that actually does not share their values. This way of thinking is inclined to view the success of the policies and political party they support as advancing the Kingdom of Heaven, and too often this way of thinking is used by politicians to manipulate their followers.

Following up on my blogs regarding Royce, it seems to me that a dialogical view of the relationship between Christianity and the state is a more productive way of viewing things. No state will ever embody the fullness of the kingdom of God to which Christians look forward as a transcendental ideal. Christians need to bring the specific tools and ideals of the Christian faith into a continual dialogue with the state in such a way as to promote a wise, caring, just, and harmonious society.

A Place for Symphonia?

The doctrine of Symphonia has fallen out of favor in recent years. In a later blog I hope to cover some contemporary voices in Orthodoxy and their contemporary views on political theology. For now, it is enough to indicate that there may be a place for a kind of “Reimagined Symphonia” in Christian thinking. In a pluralistic society, Christians are but one voice as are the voices of those of other religions and secular voices as well. On the analogy with a symphony orchestra, government, religious and other groups (what are sometimes called “mediating institutions”) are all instruments in the “orchestra” of our society and of creating the “music” of social harmony and a just and fair society. A plurality of voices is what makes our society dynamic and able to achieve peaceful and positive change.

All the voices that make up a diverse society need to be heard in the formation of public policy, and when they are heard, they should be seen as contributing to the health of the polity. (Of course, the voices should be wise, courteous and loving and not foolish, strident, and divisive. “Speaking the Truth in Love” is forever difficult to achieve) In our society, powerful forces want to silence religious voices, perhaps especially the voices of traditional Christian faith and morality. This is a mistake, as the eighty years of Soviet Communism proved. A better and wiser course is given in the notion that we should all work together to create a free, just, and wise social order. We will not always or even generally agree, but a wise government listens and serves as best it can all of the social components of society.


This is Memorial Day Weekend. It is an important and appropriate that Christians join with the rest of our nation recognizing the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf by past generations. The future will not be a rerun of the past, but those who with humility and wisdom appreciate the sacrifices of the past and attempt to learn from its successes and failures have the best chance of creating a society “Of the People, By the People, and For the People.” This means all the people, not just those in power and in a position to dominate society.

Copyright, 2022, All Rights Reserved

[1] See, Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissents (New York: Sentinal Press, 2020), 22.

[2] Gene Sublovisch, “Russia’s Journey from Orthodoxy to Atheism, and Back Again” in Religion and Politics October 16, 2018 https://religionandpolitics.org/2018/10/16/russias-journey-from-orthodoxy-to-atheism-and-back-again/ )downloaded May 19, 2022). This is a review of Victoria Smolkin’s A Sacred Stace is Never Empty: A History of Soviet Atheism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).

[3] This is a long and complex story. During World War II, Stalin, wanting as much social support for this military as possible, began the process of allowing greater religious freedom in Russia. Under Khrushchev, this progress was halted to some degree. In the late years of the Soviet Union, the process of allowing greater religious freedom continued. Nearly all religious Russians are Orthodox, though other Christian groups, Islam, and other religions are part of the Russian religious landscape.

[4] Erin Cunningham, “How Russia’s War in Ukraine is Dividing the Orthodox Christian World” Washington Post, April 24, 2022 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/24/russia-ukraine-orthodox-church/ (downloaded May 19, 2022). I think it is important to recognize that the Russian Orthodox Church stands almost alone in its support of Putin and this war.

Royce 4: From Loyalty to Beloved Community and Beyond

This is my final week on Josiah Royce and the early pragmatists. Peirce, James, Dewey, and Royce are important figures in American thought, and especially in the case of Dewey, have a continuing influence on American public policy. Each struggled with a problem at the root of American democracy: What is the proper way to coordinate between individual self-interest and the needs of the community? Dewey, in particular, subscribed to a form of socialist thinking. Peirce leaned towards incrementalism, inclined towards careful change in institutions after investigation and analysis. [1]James was an individualist and, as we saw, against largeness and oligarchic or imperialistic organizations generally.

Royce is important for a number of reasons, most importantly because  of his diligent attempt to reconcile individualism with community. It is Royce who conceived the term, “Beloved Community,” which inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of what ought to motivate Americans in overcoming the problems of race and economic inequality. His balanced approach was indicated by his support for the First World War, despite being inclined towards a pacifism. He was a proponent of social and organizational change, but also for preservation of the best of the past and of tradition. His work is supremely wise and balanced. If for no other reason than the last, Royce has a view that ought to be heard today.

From Communities to Individuals to Community

For Royce, the virtue of loyalty involves the willing devotion of a human person to a cause greater than oneself. [2] “Loyalty is the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of an individual to a cause.” [3]. Any cause results in a community, for a cause by definition is social in nature. In order for a cause to exist, it must be embodied in a community that advances the cause.

The implication of this for the relationship of individuals to community are many. First, loyalty means “willing devotion.” This implies that any human community is first and foremost the result of human decision and no true community can be created by force. In Royce’s thought, the voluntary societies which have such an important role in American society and politics are just that—voluntary. They cannot be commanded into existence. Second, loyalty to a cause is personal. It is the loyalty of a human person. For Royce, the incredible diversity of people and their different families, experiences, education, vocation, hobbies and the like mean that there will be many different kinds of persons and many different kinds of causes within American society. Finally, loyalty involves devotion to a cause greater than ourselves. In other words, loyalty draws us out of our isolated individuality into community.

Courtesy and Conflict Among Loyalists

Royce is aware that in a society such as America, with many different nationalities, faith communities, political parties and lobbying groups, the emergence of community can and does involve the reality of conflict. In a complex society, people will be loyal to many causes, some of which are opposed to one another and have difficulty communicating peacefully. This calls for the virtue of courtesy. Courtesy is an essential expression of loyalty. Thus:

The true value of courtesy in ordinary human intercourse lies in the fact that courtesy is one of the expression of loyalty to loyalty, and helps everyone who either receives or witnesses courtesy to assume himself a loyal attitude towards all the causes that are represented by the peaceful and reasonable dealings of men to men. [4]

There’s no aspect of loyalty more important for contemporary American political discourse than the insight that courtesy is essential in a free society in which people join together to support sometimes differing causes. We cannot truly be loyal to our own causes unless we can be courteous to those whose opinions differ. If a free society cannot inculcate this virtue in its citizens, it is doomed to unfaithful and unreasonable discourse. It only takes a moment’s reflection to recognize that much contemporary American discourse has this characteristic. A glance at social media is sufficient to see a great deal of vulgar discourtesy and unreasonable and unpeaceful commentary.

Practically speaking this virtue of courtesy is assisted by implementing a few simple rules:

  1. First, respect the loyalty that others have towards their causes even when we do not share the same enthusiasm for the cause or cause they support.
  2. Second, be more critical towards the causes to which you are loyal than to opposing causes and
  3. give the benefit of the doubt to those who are loyal to their own causes.

Life-enhancing and Life-denying Communities

In the beginning, Royce declines to discriminate among causes, preferring to begin his analysis with a definition that embraces all loyalty, misguided, evil, wise and good Although all communities involve the creation of social entities, since not all causes are good causes not all communities formed to support a cause or an equal footing. To give an obvious example, there’s a considerable difference between a church form to advance the gospel and a criminal organization formed to advance a criminal conspiracy. There is a difference between a political party formed to advance the best interest of a society and a political party formed for the purpose of enslaving the majority of the people for the benefit of the few. There’s a difference between a society formed to advance the cause of peace and one form to advance the cause of war. Communities formed for criminal, antisocial, or violent purposes are not on the same footing as communities form to advance some legitimate benefit of society.

A community may begin its life formed for the benefit of a society, it may become outdated, ineffective, unable to adapt to change, or corrupt and no longer be beneficial or work for the common good of society. History is filled with business and other organizations formed to advance a public benefit that became unable or unwilling to adapt to change in the society of which they were a part. History is filled with organizations that over time became ineffective in the way in which they addressed issues. Finally, any society may become corrupted and no longer work for the benefit of those society. History is filled with organizations that began well and ended corrupt.

An Individual Plan of Life

The need to avoid misguided loyalties requires that each individual develop for his or her self a “plan of life”. [5]The process of developing a plan of life is by no means easy, since our society and every society provides multiple encouragements to give loyalty to various causes. It’s important to recognize that there is a positive aspect to what might be called, “becoming socialized into a plan of life.” Every society either consciously or unconsciously steers its members into a plan for their lives.

In this vein, Royce demonstrates devotion to individual choice, while recognizing that we all need education and instruction into social norms. when he says’

I, and only I whenever I come to on my own, can morally justify to myself my own plan of life. No outer authority can ever give me the true reason for my duty yet I, left myself can never find a plan of life. I have no inborn ideal naturally present within myself. By nature I simply go on crying out in a sort of chaotic self – will, according as the momentary play of desire determines. [6]

Human beings need socialization, traditions, expectations, family instruction, and other socialization into the kinds of causes and communities that our society finds life-enhancing. However, there is a tension that has to be recognized and an interplay that needs to be supported: every individual has to own for themselves the precise causes and communities within a greater society to which they will belong and give their devotion. In fact, our moral self-consciousness and our capacity for healthy social engagement is a function of our social life. As Royce put it, “our moral self-consciousness is a product of our social life. This self is known to each one of us through its social contrasts with other selves, and with the will of the community.” [7]

In this view, the inevitable conflicts of social life are not negative; they are the means by which we human beings grown and develop our identity. As Royce so eloquently puts it:

In brief, it is our fellows who first startle us out of our natural unconsciousness about our own conduct; and who then, by an endless series of processes of setting us attractive but difficult models, and of socially interfering with our own doings, train us to higher and higher grades and to more and more complex types of self-consciousness regarding what we do and why we do it” [8]

Our self-awareness and identity as human persons are established as we interact with others, who may be critical of our plans, behavior, beliefs, customs, or other social aspects of our identity. They may even actively oppose certain of our most treasured ideas and behaviors. In this way, our fellow human beings train and shape us to transcend our current level of individualization. In our internal and external dialogue with opposing views, we refine our own identity and commitments. As solitary beings, achieve no social growth. It is only by entering into society and the inevitable conflicts and comparisons of that society that we become true individuals. [9]

Levels of Community

There is, however, a deeper issue to which loyalty must address itself: The danger that a particular cause or community may begin to become so ultimate to its members that it is unable to recognize the limits of their cause, turn inward, and become instrument of cultish isolation, intolerance, and even oppression. Here we see the root of what these blogs have often called the problem of “Moral Inversion.” Moral inversion is likely to occur when a particular individual or group of individuals make ultimate a cause that is not truly ultimate. For example, I may belong to a family and be so loyal to my family that I do not recognize my family’s responsibility to its neighborhood. I may become so loyal to my neighborhood that I cannot understand the value of loyalty to my town or city. I can become so loyal to my town or city that I cannot be loyal to my state or nation. In each of these cases my subordinate loyalty has become something negative. This problem is especially difficult where politics and the power of the state are involved.

To avoid this problem, Royce recognizes that there are levels of loyalty, and our loyalty to any given less than ultimate ideal cannot become ultimate without dangers to society. Royce finds this ultimate loyalty in our devotion to loyalty itself and into the gradual merger of our lesser loyalties into the ideal community of the Beloved Community, which is a kind of secular adaptation of the nature of the Christian Church, if indeed the Beloved Community can be separated from that heavenly vision that Christians have always celebrated as their transcendent ideal—the heavenly city come down from God. [10]

Higher forms of community create a spiritual transformation in our loyalties and a greater and deeper love of all of our communities, as they are relativized by what I will call the “Transcendent Community” of the ideal society. [11] I would argue, and I think that Royce would agree, that no merely human community, no existing cause can be healthily sustained without it being related to a higher ideal which relativizes and renders penultimate that loyalty. In our society, many people regard politics as ultimate and the achievement of what they conceived to be adjust economic and social order to be the ultimate good. Over the course of the 20th century great evils were done by search people, all devoted to cars that in itself wasn’t evil but which became so by becoming ultimate. I think we see in the West today the growing danger of another outbreak of the kind of fanaticism that created the holocaust and the great human suffering under Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pot Pol and other leaders of penultimate movements become ultimate to their followers. Each of our human causes and communities is important on its own level, but it is not ultimate.

The Morally Inverted Leader

The kind of moral inversion of which this series often speaks results from a kind of person who has been collectivistically socialized into a kind of revolutionary individualism that is actually anti-social and destructive of persons and society. Here is how Royce puts it:

For the highly trained modern agitator, or the plastic disciple of agitators, if both intelligent and reasonably orderly in habits, is intensely both an individualist and a man who needs the collective will, who in countless ways and cases bows to that will, and votes for it, and increases its power. The individualism of such a man wars with his own collectivism, while each, as I insist, tends to inflame the other. As an agitator, the typically restless child of our age often insists upon heaping up new burdens of social control, control that he indeed intends to have others feel rather than himself. As individualist, longing to escape, perhaps from his economic cares, perhaps from the marriage bond, such a highly intelligent agitator may speak rebelliously of all restrictions, declare Nietzsche to be his prophet, and set out to be a Superman as if he were no social animal at all. Wretched man, by reason of his divided will, he is; and he needs only a little reflection to observe the fact.[12]

I must end here only to mention that a study of the quote above and a deep internalization of its meaning will explain the behavior of many organizations that regularly create violence during our election and other seasons and the true motives of their misguided leaders. There is no area of our political life in which Royce’s views need to be heard more important than this one.


I find Royce a difficult but rewarding philosopher as regards the problems we face in our society today. When we reach the end of these blogs, and I begin to summarize what I have learned, his views will receive another look and place of honor.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs All Rights Reserved

[1] Of all the thinkers reviewed in this series, Peirce is the most difficult to locate. For an interesting take on his likely political thinking (and a most revealing and important review of his thinking about education for political leadership see, Yael Levin Hungerford, Charles S. Peirce’s Conservative Progressivism Boston College Electronic Thesis or Dissertation, 2016http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107167 (downloaded May 19, 2022).

[2] Josiah Royce, Loyalty (Long Island, NY: Sophia/Omni Press, 1908 [2017]), at 46. Hereinafter, “Loyalty.”

[3] Id, at 18.

[4] Id, at 69.

[5] Id, at 23ff.

[6] Id, at 23.

[7] Josiah Royce, The Problem of Christianity, Volume 1 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library) https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-problem-of-christianity-volume-1-barnes/id1280398775 (downloaded May 17, 2022), “hereinafter, Problem of Christianity”.

[8] Id, at https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-problem-of-christianity-volume-1-barnes/id1280398775 (downloaded May 17, 2022).

[9] Id.

[10] (See, Revelation 21:1-4)

[11] Id, at https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-problem-of-christianity-volume-1-barnes/id1280398775 (Downloaded May 17, 2022). In several passages, Royce speaks of the spiritual warfare of modern society which creates an intolerable burden on the conscience of the individual which burden grows; and the moral individual cannot bear it, unless his whole type of self-consciousness is transformed by a new spiritual power which this type of cultivation can never of itself furnish.” I think that this and other passages which speak of the spiritual aspects of the kinds of individualistic and collectivistic ideologies that have dominated the past two centuries prevent moral wholeness in he individual.”

[12] Id, at https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-problem-of-christianity-volume-1-barnes/id1280398775 (Downloaded on May 17, 2022).


Royce 3: Truth and Loyalty

Three years ago, wandering through a church library, I discovered Josiah Royce and his interest in community. Royce coined the term “Beloved Community” which was important to Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. He is an important, if often forgotten, American voice in making progress in both political and religious thought.

Josiah Royce was born in a small community in California, and his first work involved California. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1875, and then did a year of postgraduate study in Germany reading Kant and other German philosophers. In 1876, he entered Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Royce received his doctorate in 1878, taught in California, and then went to Harvard as lecturer in philosophy. In 1885, he was appointed as an Assistant Professor, and in 1892 a Full Professor. He continued at Harvard until his death in 1916. Royce was sympathetic to Christian faith, and one of his major works, The Problem of Christianity, is an attempt to create a philosophical basis for modern faith. This week examines his most popular work, “Loyalty,” which was first published in 1908. [1]

Pragmatic Idealism

Royce was a a friend and colleague of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, who encouraged him to seek a career in philosophy. Royce is often thought of as the last American idealist philosopher. In fact, Royce represents a merger of idealism and pragmatism, which resulted in his calling his mature philosophy both “Absolute Idealism” and “Absolute Pragmatism.”

For Royce, human knowledge arises from the pragmatic search for truth upon which we can resolve doubt in some area. Truth, in this view, is the view considered to be true at the end of a process of inquiry by the community devoted to such investigation. Truth is found when the community of inquirers of any particular inquiry has reached consenus. This constitutes the “Absolute Pragmatism” of Royce. It is absolute because the end of the inquiry occurs when all inquirers agree as to the solution of the problem.

One the other hand, Royce was impressed by the fact that truth discovered displays a remarkable coherence with reality itself, and so there must be some connection between human ideas and the external world. In his famous argument from error, Royce notices that even when our ideas are erroneous, we intend to find something we call “truth,” which indicates that the object of our search exists. This, in turn, indicates that truth must already exist in the world of ideas. This represents Royce’s “Absolute Idealism.” Royce believed that the universe is “constituted of these ideas, a kind of “noetic truth” that human beings seek and believe they will find at the end of a process. This is true in the area of religion, morals, and politics as much as in the area of science.

At this point it is worth asking the question, “Does reality itself give us some reason to believe that mind ‘goes all the way down?’” as a scientist would put it. In a qualified way, I think the answer is probably, “Yes.” I have several reasons for thinking that this might be true.

First, there is the mysterious nature of mathematics. Mathematics (at which I was never any good) has features that indicate that it has a noetic or mental reality. Most mathematicians, when they make mathematical discoveries, think that they have “found” something that was already there. This element of discovery seems to me a strong reason to believe in the noetic reality of mathematical truth.

Second, scientists are frequently amazed at the way their discoveries happen to explain relationships in the material world. New theoretical discoveries seem to ideally explain some relationship that exists between the constituent parts of the reality being investigated. Albert Einstein’s famous discovery of relativity theory expressed in the famous equation, E=MC2  is a case in point. As the existence of atomic energy indicates, energy does equal the mass of an object times the speed of light squared. The theory expressed in the equations of physics seems to express an existing, invisible, noetic relationship mirroring physical reality. There are many other examples. This intelligibility of the universe seems to “go all the way down” as it were, so that even at the subatomic level, where the distinction between matter and energy begins to disappear, the ability of science to uncover relationships that seem to have “always existed” is remarkable.

Third, and this is a feature of reality that quantum physics caused science to confront, our own minds appear to be part of the universe we human beings observe. My mind and I are not somehow “outside of the universe looking in” but a part of the flow of reality examining other parts of that flow. The universe must at least have some form of a “mental potential,” otherwise it is hard to explain the human mind’s ability to understand the flow of reality surrounding it in any way at all. As physicist and philosopher David Bohm put it, “The mind may have a structure similar to the universe.” [2]

Finally, and this is where we come to currently debated scientific matters, our universe is intelligible in some mysterious way because it is at least partially “made up of” information. Some physicists are of the view that reality is made up of information and the universe is something like a giant computer. In the words of Physicist John Wheeler, “the it is a bit.” [3]

One does not need to go as far as Wheeler and some current theorists to be of the view that intelligibility is fundamental to reality. The world as we know it is made up of matter, energy and intelligible relationships between them. This intelligibility seems to be an irreducible component of reality. Wherever one finds matter and energy, science  finds intelligible relationships (meaningful information) that illuminates some aspect of the reality constituted by that matter and energy

For these reasons, I think it is fair to propose that, at the end of the enterprise of human knowing, we will understand that, in some way, “mind” or “order” or “ideality” in the form of irreducible comprehensibility, is a fundamental aspect of our universe. In the words of physicist John Polkinghorne, we live in “a world of deep and beautiful order—a universe shot through with signs of mind.” [4]

Morality and Moral Theory

Royce is also of the view that there is an irreducible moral quality to reality. Royce examines this moral reality in his most read book,  Loyalty, where Royce sets out an ethical theory based on the fundamental virtue of loyalty. His theory has four basic components:

  1. The fundamental ethical imperative is “Be Loyal.”
  2. One cannot be loyal in the abstract, but must be loyal in specific, concrete chosen circumstances and causes.
  3. Each individual must choose for him or herself the specific causes to which they will remain loyal.
  4. Finally, in the end, each individual must be loyal to loyalty itself, an approach that will bring persons into an ever-expanding commitment to the virtue of loyalty. [5]

For Royce, loyalty is the willing devotion of an individual to a cause outside of themselves. [6] In other words, loyalty is essentially social and binds us to a community of other persons. If loyalty is a virtue of personal choice, it is inevitably a virtue of communal participation.

Loyalty and Individualism

This social aspect of loyalty, places Royce in opposition to all systems of virtue that celebrate and are founded on individual will and self-authentication. This puts Royce in immediate opposition to Nietzsche, who is the object of criticism in Loyalty. All purely individualistic ethical systems based on will are doomed to failure for a number of reasons. First power is always dependent upon good fortune and luck, and many who begin life in the search for power will end in failure. Secondly, one who seeks power will never be satisfied, for the desire for power is insatiable. Third, the one who seeks power puts him or herself at odds with the universe itself, which leads inevitably to a clash between the power seeker and reality itself. [7]

I might add that since we human beings are social by nature, the one who seeks a solely personal power in the end is doomed to isolation and a failure of true humanity. Think of a Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler or Stalin all alone at the end with no friends, no allies, nothing. It is likely that this will be true of the next conqueror to visit human history. It is not just true of military conquerors, but also of those in business, law, religion, politics—in any human social endeavor. Since the time of Greek tragedy, wise people have  understood that Fate treats ill those who defy the Fates.

Loyalty on the other hand inevitably draws us out of our isolation into a community. Our loyalty to a cause inevitably involves joining with others who possess a similar loyalty. In addition, our loyalties draws us into contact with those who have different, and perhaps opposing loyalties. As we must confront these other loyalties, we are forced to adjust and negotiate our own loyalties to place them into a harmonious relationship with others. This inevitably involves the social skill of dialogue and discussion, of tolerance, of compromise, and of growth. These are virtues much needed today.

Only persons can exhibit loyalty, and so loyalty to be loyalty requires the free choice of each individual member of a cause. Because we are finite, we cannot possibly be loyal to all possible causes, we must follow those causes that come into our path and of which we are able to be a part. For example, I cannot be loyal citizen of France, but I can be a loyal citizen of the United States. I cannot be a loyal member of my neighbor’s family, but I can be loyal to my own. I cannot be loyal to each and every religion in the world, but I can be loyal to my own. I cannot be loyal to every company in the world, but I can be loyal to the one for which I work.

Limits of Loyalty and Loyalty to Loyalty

Here we come to the most frequent critique of Royce: There are a lot of bad causes to which people have in the past and will in the future give their loyalty. For example, members of organized crime organizations can be incredibly loyal to their group. Many members of the Nazi Party were loyal to the party even to death. Every teacher has seen youth cover for a cheating student out of a sense of loyalty to their classmates. The list of misplaced, negative, even evil loyalties goes on and on. The fact that we can have misguided loyalties is a strong argument against the primacy of loyalty as a virtue. [8]

There is a second phenomenon that we all observe in loyalists. Occasionally their loyalty is blind and unwise. For example, there is a certain kind of patriotism that is blind to the faults of the nation and willing to defend what is not defensible. Closer to home, there are parents who are loyal to their children, defending behavior that is not truly defensible. There are businessmen who exhibit loyal to their company or firm to the point that they cannot see or oppose unwise or immoral behavior. Blind or excessive loyalty is a constant threat to the true virtue of loyalty.

Interestingly, we can appreciate the value of this kind of misplaced or misguided loyalty even while denying its ultimate value. In response to these objections, Royce developed his notion of “loyalty to loyalty.” Loyalty to loyalty requires judgement. If one is to be loyal to loyalty, it is necessary to develop discrimination as to the kinds of causes to which one will be loyal and the limitations to any given loyalty. I should not be loyal to a political party that advocates killing innocent people. It can be difficult to determine the extent to which any given loyalty should be served. For example, I may be loyal to my nation but still called oppose a war that is unjust. I may support my employer but refuse to engage in illegal or immoral behavior. The virtue of loyalty must be exhibited with wisdom and discrimination.


Next week, I will finish with Royce with a blog on the way in which loyalty draws the loyal person into a series of constantly expanding and deepening loyalties and how the principle of dialogue functions in Royce to create a climate in which one can live peacefully and productively with those with different loyalties. There is no virtue more needed in our democracy than the virtue of recognizing and honoring other people and their loyalties, even when they are opposed to our own deepest convictions and loyalties. Only a hierarchy of loyalties can prevent my own loyalties from becoming idols or justifying in my mind fanatism with respect to my loyalties. This is a big topic which will be covered next week.

Copyright 2022, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Josiah Royce, Loyalty (Long Island, NY: Sophia/Omni Press, 1908 [2017]).

[2] David Bohm, “The Super Implicate Order” in The Essential David Bohm Lee Nichol ed. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2003), 157.

[3] Archibald Wheeler, “Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links” in Proc. 3rd Int. Symp. Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, (Tokyo, Japan: 1989), pp.354-368. “It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe.

[4] John Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship (New Haven, CT: Yale University press, 2007), 8.

[5] Loyalty, at 86.

[6] Id, at 46.

[7] Id, at 44.

[8] In point of fact, while I appreciate Royce’s argument in Loyalty, I am personally persuaded that self-giving love (agape) and not loyalty is the fount of virtue. Love by its nature cannot tolerate injustice, unfairness, or violence against the other, and always whishes the best for the other. It seems to me that it is a much better foundation for ethical reflection than loyalty. This argument must await a future blog.

John Dewey: the Politics of Individualistic Pragmatism

John Dewey (1859-1952) was without doubt one of the most influential American thinkers of his day. His work as a philosopher included educational philosophy, political philosophy, and other important works. He also a popularized pragmatism as both a method and way of looking at the world. Dewey’s pragmatism, which he called, “experimentalism,” relied heavily on both Peirce, under whom he studied, and William James, who was also influential in this thought. Dewey’s experimentalism incorporates aspects of Peirce’s belief that philosophy ought to emulate science as a fallible enterprise of solving concrete theoretical problems, an enterprise in which defined, limited and provisional problems are solved in an experimental and scientific way.

John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont. After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Vermont, Dewey earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied under Charles S. Peirce. Thereafter, Dewey taught at the Universities of Minnesota, Michigan, and Chicago. After a dispute in Chicago, Dewey finished his career at Columbia University in New York City, where he chaired the philosophy department until. retirement. After his retirement, Dewey lived another twenty-two years and continued to write articles and books not only on philosophy and logic but on art, education, science, and social and political reform. Among his many books are Democracy and Education, Reconstruction in PhilosophyThe Public and Its Problems, and Freedom and Culture. [1]


Like his mentor William James, Dewey was a defender of a kind of individualism, that makes the individual, and his or her self-development, the supreme end of political thinking. This radical individualism translates into a kind of radical democratic theory in which the individual becomes that center of all political calculation. However, this individualism might be better termed a “communal individualism,” whereby the individual finds his or her full self-actualization as a part of a society. This individualism does not deny government the ability and even duty to plan and control a great deal of the activity of individuals, especially in the economic arena. [2]

For Dewey society is composed of individuals and it is the individual that sits at the foundation of any democratic society:

Society is composed of individuals: this obvious and basic fact no philosophy, whatever its pretensions to novelty, can question or alter. Hence these three alternatives: Society must exist for the sake of individuals; or individuals must have their ends and ways of living set for them by society; or else society and individuals are correlative, organic, to one another, society requiring the service and subordination of individuals and at the same time existing to serve them. Beyond these three views, none seems to be logically conceivable. (Emphasis added) [3]

For Dewey, both the individual and the social are fundamental to society and exist in a mutually beneficial, organic, and “correlative” relationship. [4] Individuals are not a kind of atomistic unit, but are formed by a society within families and a variety of social institutions. [5]

Pragmatic Communitarianism

One review of his thought locates Dewey’s philosophy as follows:

Dewey elaborates a version of the Idealist criticisms of classical liberal individualism. For this line of criticism, classical liberalism envisages the individual as an independent entity in competition with other individuals, and takes social and political life as a sphere in which this competitive pursuit of self-interest is coordinated. By contrast, the Idealists rejected this view of social and political life as the aggregation of inherently conflicting private interests. Instead, they sought to view individuals relationally: individuality could be sustained only where social life was understood as an organism in which the well-being of each part was tied to the well-being of the whole. Freedom in a positive sense consisted not merely in the absence of external constraints but the positive fact of participation in such an ethically desirable social order. [6]

One might say that there is a complementarian relationship between the individual and social institutions, with each relying upon the other for its full and healthy expression. Individuals cannot emerge without a sound society in which they can flourish, nor can society flourish without well-formed individuals.

Mediating Institutions

For Dewey, the modern bureaucratic and administrative nation-state with the kind of powers common in America and Europe is a relatively new institution in human history. It is the result of a long struggle of society to liberate itself from subservience to feudal and other orders. Now, it exists, at least in part, to give support and freedom to other social institutions:

As the work of integration and consolidation reaches its climax, the question arises, however, whether the national state, once it is firmly established and no longer struggling against strong foes, is not just an instrumentality for promoting and protecting other and more voluntary forms of association, rather than a supreme end in itself. Two actual phenomena may be pointed to in support of an affirmative answer. Along with the development of the larger, more inclusive and more unified organization of the state has gone the emancipation of individuals from restrictions and servitudes previously imposed by custom and class status. But the individuals freed from external and coercive bonds have not remained isolated. Social molecules have at once recombined in new associations and organizations. Compulsory associations have been replaced by voluntary ones; rigid organizations by those more amenable to human choice and purposes—more directly changeable at will. What upon one side looks like a movement toward individualism, turns out to be really a movement toward multiplying all kinds and varieties of associations: Political parties, industrial corporations, scientific and artistic organizations, trade unions, churches, schools, clubs and societies without number, for the cultivation of every conceivable interest that men have in common. As they develop in number and importance, the state tends to become more and more a regulator and adjuster among them; defining the limits of their actions, preventing and settling conflicts. [7]

It is extremely important to understand this statement. Because human beings are by nature social animals, the freedom that humans gained during the modern era, did not and will not change the fundamentally relational and communitarian nature of society. What changes is that instead of externally imposed social relationships the foundation of society are voluntary social relationships and societies through which human beings develop and express their individual capacities. Government’s responsibility is to secure the status and freedom of the many voluntary societies of which any given political unit is composed.

In other words, once a nation, like the United States of America has achieved its status as the supreme governing body over a territory, it becomes the duty and primary responsibility of that governing body to secure the freedom and security of the various persons and social groups of which it is composed. Governments should not be monopolists of either political or economic power, as they are under both communism and national socialism, but regulators and guarantors of freedom for all those persons and institutions within their boundaries. In essence, governments must learn to serve the social organs of which it is made up, and especially what we would call “Mediating Institutions.”

Society as a Process

One feature of Dewey is his steadfast commitment to Darwinism and a vision of nature and society as embedded in a process of continuous change and development. This involves a vision of human maturation and human society as unceasingly in a state of dynamic change:

The tendency to treat organization as an end in itself is responsible for all the exaggerated theories in which individuals are subordinated to some institution to which is given the noble name of society. Society is the process of associating in such ways that experiences, ideas, emotions, values are transmitted and made common. To this active process, both the individual and the institutionally organized may truly be said to be subordinate. The individual is subordinate because except in and through communication of experience from and to others, he remains dumb, merely sentient, a brute animal. Only in association with fellows does he become a conscious centre of experience. Organization, which is what traditional theory has generally meant by the term Society or State, is also subordinate because it becomes static, rigid, institutionalized whenever it is not employed to facilitate and enrich the contacts of human beings with one another. [8]

Individuals are embedded in society in such a way that ideas, emotions, values, and other features of a healthy culture are transmitted and made “common.” As human beings join together in cooperative enterprises, they free themselves from static, rigid conformity and are enriched in the process of social progress. “Freedom for an individual means growth, ready change when modification is required.” [9]

Democracy and Education

John Dewey was not only a political philosopher; he was also, perhaps even primarily, and educational philosopher. In fact, his best-known work is on education, Democracy and Education. [10]  The fundamental premise of the book is that the reality of personal death requires that societies have systems of education. One generation succeeds another, and any form of social progress involves the transmission of past experiences to a future generation:

The primary ineluctable facts of the birth and death of each one of the constituent members in a social group determine the necessity of education. On one hand, there is the contrast between the immaturity of the new-born members of the group—its future sole representatives—and the maturity of the adult members who possess the knowledge and customs of the group. On the other hand, there is the necessity that these immature members be not merely physically preserved in adequate numbers, but that they be initiated into the interests, purposes, information, skill, and practices of the mature members: otherwise the group will cease its characteristic life. [11]

The necessity for education born of human finitude is true of even the simplest of societies, but grows as a society, such as ours, grows more complex. Any society continues only so long as it transmits its underlying values to a new generation of its members. This brute fact explains a great deal of the difficulties our society is having at the present time. There has been a massive failure by our educational systems to transmit the underlying an understanding of an appreciation for the values of our society to the next generations. A focus on what was wrong with the American experiment and American society has been taken to such an extreme that the succeeding generations do not have an understanding of the history, democratic tradition, personal and social skills, and other elements needed for our society to endure. The result is growing authoritarianism in political thought, debate, and action.

Human beings and human society are dependent upon the communication of the aims, beliefs, aspirations, knowledge, common understanding, and the like, so that a functional degree “like-mindedness” comes to exist among members of the society. [12] Communication of all types, between parents and children, between children and adults, between teachers and students, managers and workers, artists and admirers, etc is absolutely necessary for a society to continue and prosper. In placing communication at the center of society, Dewey is not merely talking about communication of information, but also communication of meaning and purpose, a communication of the heart of a society as well as raw information about that society, its institutions, and past accomplishments and failures.

While all persons and institutions in a society bear some responsibility for the communication of the past to the next generation, in a complex society, there must be formal education. Certain institutions must be formed and persons recruited to undertake the transmission of what is important for society to continue. A complex society has no alternative but to create a system or systems of formal education:

Without such formal education, it is not possible to transmit all the resources and achievements of a complex society. It also opens a way to a kind of experience which would not be accessible to the young, if they were left to pick up their training in informal association with others, since books and the symbols of knowledge are mastered. [13]


As sympathetic a reviewer as Bertrand Russell noted that, in the end, Dewey’s philosophy is about power, and in that sense, “Nietzschean,” though not as crudely Nietzschean as that of Nietzsche. [14] Dewey’s philosophy is essentially “modern” in that is dominated by a kind of materialistic application of Newtonian and Darwinian principles to society and education. The idealism of James, Peirce, and Royce is missing, as is the recognition of limits in political matters. His emphasis on process is important, and it will be the subject of the next set of essays as we look at Alfred North Whitehead and the Process Philosophers whose impact would be felt throughout the 20th Century in both philosophy and theology.

From Peirce and James, Dewey has a “scientific and instrumental” view of knowledge that always includes a kind of fallibilism that recognizes that our ideas, however well attested by reality and however comprehensively accepted, can always be wrong and in need of revision. This excludes any sympathy for totalitarian undertakings in philosophy, politics, education or any other field of inquiry. This part of Dewey’s philosophy is of increasing importance in our society in which there are so many loud voices, left and right, who are certain of the truth of their own opinions and contemptuous of the opinions of others

Finally, his emphasis on and interest in education is perhaps his most enduring contribution to American thought. It is for all of us to remember that the accomplishments of the past and present will be lost unless they and the characteristics that made them possible are transmitted to a new generation, for all of us will eventually pass away and with our passing our capacity to form the future of the world.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved.

[1] Scott London,  “Organic Democracy: Political Philosophy of John Dewey” https://scott.london/reports/dewey.html (downloaded April 29, 2022).

[2] See, John Dewey, Individualism Old and New (New York, NY: Capricorn Books, 1930. This is one of Dewey’s more popular books and more clearly than others sets out his political and social prejudices and beliefs.

[3] John Dewey, Reconstruction of Philosophy (New York, NY: Henry Holt & Company 1920), 187 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/40089/40089-h/40089-h.htm#CHAPTER_VIII (downloaded April 29, 2022), hereinafter referred to as “Reconstruction.”

[4] Id, at 188. The term “correlative” means  “related,” “reciprocal” or “corresponding” and is used to indicate that there is a relationship between individuals and community such that one cannot be found without the presence of the other.

[5] Id, at 200.

[6] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Dewey’s Political Philosophy” Wed Feb 9, 2005; substantive revision Thu Jul 26, 2018 at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey-political/ (downloaded April 29, 2022).

[7] Reconstruction, at 202-203.

[8] Id, at 207.

[9] Id.

[10] John Dewey, Democracy and Education, transcribed by David Reed and David Widger (The Project Gutenberg EBook of Democracy and Education, by John Dewey https://www.gutenberg.org/files/852/852-h/852-h.htm (downloaded April 29, 2022), hereinafter, Democracy and Education.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1945), 827.