essay examines the relationship between religion and democracy/democratization
through social systems theory perspective developed by German sociologist
Niklas Luhmann. In order to advance our analysis and to make some helpful
suggestions, two sides of this have firstly to be emphasized. One is
the concept of democracy, and the other is the operations of functionally
differentiated systems, such as the political and the religious ones.
The origin of the former can be traced back to religion, or “religiosity”,
or let say, monotheist tradition. The latter relates to our topic on
the theory of social evolution and that of system differentiation. Issues
concerning the processes of democratization, the consolidation of democracies,
and their discontented consequences need to be reconsidered in the sense
that the concept of democracy and its operations within systems utilize
a paradox which must be hidden while forming and maintaining systems’
identities. This constitutes both positive and negative sides of the
development of democracy, and also results in its crises such as those
encountered by so called “matured” democratic Western countries
and by some third-wave democratizing ones. Between them exists a similar
problem which will be discussed in this essay, that is, the concept
of democracy and its development increasingly erodes its own root when
the differentiation of subsystems and the evolution of society both
go too far. This by no means indicates that there should not be any
evolution or differentiation within society. Instead, it is only an
observation on our present situations in which attempting at offering
some possible, but suitable questions about them.
systems theory, paradox, social evolution, John Calvin, Martin Luther,
evolutionary processes of the Western history demonstrate the changing
interrelationships between religion and politics, and also effect modern
political institutions. We may agree that modern concept of democracy
originates from the ebb and flow of the relationships between church
and state, or from their differentiation within society in terms of
systems theory since the Middle Ages. To some people the question of
which kind of evolution and differentiation that renders this modern
concept of democracy possible is not very important. They may simply
recognize and admit that the separation of the political and the economic
systems has sufficed to explicate this concept formation. In so doing,
however, the idea they accepted cannot explain effectively why in some
countries of the third world the tendency to establish democratic regimes
with their economies dominated by political powers had failed or suffered
for years. The reasons are twofold: one is about their conventional
political institutions. The other is perhaps that despite the liberal
market economy might contribute to democratizing processes; its capacity
for maintaining and continuing the democratic operations needs to be
questioned. The present situations in Taiwan and the future developments
of Mainland China will be good examples for our investigations. In addition
to the differentiation between the economy and the political, there
are other aspects requiring more attention. Although the liberal market
economy contributes to democratization, it often contradicts the latter
on some important issues. Individualism, for example, provoked by liberalism
and its economic impact on private life lead increasingly to a certain
political indifference which is indeed necessary for democratic operations.
This can also be found that it is not liberal economy, but some religious
organizations and movements on which some countries depend in order
to set the processes of democratization in motion. These religious organizations
and that those political parties are recourse to religiosity, can provide
impetus for and play important roles in the democratizing reformations.
This by no means argues that religion and democratization are always
complementary to each other, or that the former always contributes to
the latter. We should also notice that religion sometimes has negative
effects on or even hinders the democratic developments in these countries.
In spite of this, it should not be good reasons to overlook the relationship
between them, and to avoid of researching on them. Quite the contrary,
the questions can be such: “how do we understand it?”, or in other
words, “who is the observer?”, and “how is democratization possible
proposition of this research starts from the above questions, and its
main argument is: democracy needs to be regarded as nothing but
the capacity of the political system to observe itself, hence develops
as a self-description of the political system. Since the concept
of state has often been opposed to that of society, this to some extent
can be viewed from another way that the
“state” is a contingent formula for the self-description of
the political system since the latter
differentiates from other functionally subsystemswithin society. That is to say, within society which is
characterized by functional differentiation there is no such a single
institution or subsystem which can exclusively represent the whole society
and speak for it. As a functionally differentiated subsystem it can
only thematize those communications which are invoked by other subsystems
(=its own environment), or in terms of systems theory, this thematization
to a great extent can only be its own operations “from within” the
system itself. With regard to our subject, when the political system
can be recognized by others as democratic, it must have something which
can be described as democratic, whether by the system itself or by other
systems. Before it can be thematized by others, it has already to be
a self-referential operation repeating recursively the distinction “democratic/not
democratic” within itself. In other words, the political system has
to produce its own politically “democratic” communications, these
communications can then be communicated by other systems in order to
understand whether these are democratic or not. Therefore, the political
system needs firstly to describe itself as democratic, whether succeeds
or not, in doing so it must utilize a paradox and hide it from its own
operations. This paradox presents itself in the concept of form, or
a distinction. It is this form or distinction, let say “government/opposition”,1 in which the paradox lies, that cannot be solved by itself, unless to
which applies another distinction, for instance legal/illegal, morally
right/wrong, etc., by other observing systems. Although a traditional,
but simple version of “paradox” has been mentioned by Greek philosopher
Eubulides in the fourth century BC and then by Epimenides who makes
known to us the Liar Paradox, its modern form demonstrates enormous
utility to system formations, according to Luhmann.
speaking, the political system, if needing to be democratic, has to
repeat the distinction of “government/opposition” within itself,
in order to exclude every communication which cannot be included in
its “democratically political communication”. The paradox lies in
this distinction insofar as the two sides of it cannot exit simultaneously.
For example, the government cannot be the governing and also the opposition
party. Furthermore, the recognition of this distinction while using
it has also to be excluded from its inclusion. It is necessary for the
political system to operate like this when attempting at making democracy/democratization
possible. As far as the form of this distinction is concerned, it transfers
from “theocracy” or external references, through “human reasoning”
in the development of societal differentiation and social evolution,
to a kind of “system rationality” characterized by self-referentially
closed and normatively open operations, emerging from functionally differentiated
modern society. Accordingly, the possibility of democracy/democratization
lies firstly in the separation of church and state, and then passing
to “human rationality” as the legitimacy of ruling, or the secularization
of the concepts of equality and human rights, etc. After this, comes
the next step which is concerned here will be depicted with the theory
of systems differentiation and that of social evolution. It argues that
in such a functionally differentiated society human rationality to a
great extent cannot be an effective element which covers all operations
within society. This task has increasingly been taken by the concept
of social system which is constituted of and only of communication.
Modern society bases itself on the functional differentiation into several
societal systems, and these subsystems are horizontally, but not hierarchical
differentiated in the sense that human beings are actually excluded
from those social systems. Hence, there is no longer need to consider
that society is composed of people. Instead, it is social system which
can communicate only “about” its environment while knowing nothing
about it through its own operations. Human beings, or the psychological
systems, are part of this environment, and also of the other social
systems. In other words, every social system uses specific code or distinction
to include all of human beings. For example, the modern political system
which self-describes as democratic divides the population into voters/non-voters,
or the religious system believers/non-believers, etc. To this view,
every system is operating within the society, not beyond it. This is
also why we have to reconsider the role of the political system (=state)
“from within” society, not paralleling with, opposing to, or beyond
it. Accordingly, in order to understand the essence of democracy and
its operations, it is necessary for us to inquire the operations of
“system rationality” and the paradox hidden by the political system.
This to some extent becomes the foundation of modern democracy in its
developing from theocracy, through human rationality, to system rationality.
To what extent can we say this “system rationality” (=paradox) becomes
our new “God” will be investigated and answered in this discussion.
the paradox is hidden from systems operations is the necessary condition
when the political system describing itself as democratic. On the other
hand, this induces also problems in the course of democratization. We
would like to argue that this paradox and its repetitions within
the political system firstly produce and then stabilize the concept
of democracy, whereas in the sense of its secularized version, this
changing form of paradox happens to be the consequence, let say
disenchanted “religiosity”, of the differentiation between the religious
and the political systems. For this paradox cannot be recognized
when the political system observing other systems, its “democratic”
content can become the subjects of thematization in other societal systems.
A result is that the politics self-describing as democratic and paving
the way toward it gradually escapes from its religious roots. This is
influenced by the tradition of humanitarianism on one hand, and by the
legacy of natural law on the other. Later this also corresponds to the
advent of modern liberalism, which leads to the secularized version
of freedom and equality characterized by modern democracy. Emphasizing
on this escaping from or lacking of religious roots does not suggest
a kind of resurrection, nor is it a kind of nostalgia. We are claiming
that while relegating to human rationality based on natural law, the
semantics of democracy and its structures, e.g. some basic human rights
and liberty, gradually lose its self-referential closure and openness,
and render its own modern crises possible. The distinction of government/opposition
has been on the one hand thematized by the political system itself,
of course in some different ways, and then communications invoked by
this distinction enter into its environment, including other subsystems,
becoming thematized by the whole society. Keep this in mind, we can
understand better how democracy and democratization is possible, and
think better what this means to our society when facing with consequences
of systems differentiation and social evolution.
Luther discusses his thoughts on secular regime in his On the Limits
of Secular Authority (1523):
me what lies in within the limits of your authority, and I will obey.
But if you command me to believe, or to surrender my books, I will not
obey. For then you will have become a tyrant and overreached yourself,
commanding where you have neither right nor power (Luther, 1523; edited
by Hoelzl & Ward, 2006).
concept of democracy dates back to the medieval period, and is influenced
by Religious Reform. Liberty of faith comes out first and is emphasized
when the relationships between church and state have been changed. To
a great extent this stress on liberty of faith constitutes the foundation
of modern concepts of human rights and liberty. However, this says nothing
but that not all religions are conducive to the politics or democracy/democratization.
Contrary to this, the evolution of religious system offers both positive
and negative effects on its becoming the basis of political legitimacy.
So far as the political system describes itself as democratic, the role
played by religion includes both sides. Generally speaking, in discussing
the contents of democracy, human rights and liberty are of no possibility
to be neglected. However, the concept of “the sovereignty of the people”
somehow is possible unless we refer it back to theocracy or divine-based
sovereignty. The earliest formation of people’s sovereignty induces
mainly from the debates on “the rights to resist”. In other words,
it concerns to what extent and under which conditions can the governed
have the rights to show resistance to the governors when oppressed by
them. To this point, at this time the legitimacy of ruling obviously
comes from religion, or relates to it operations.
& Ward (2006) claim that the difference between Luther’s early
and late thoughts on church and state perhaps provides a point of departure,
when considering the development of modern political thoughts. In his
earlier writings, Luther prioritizes religion rather than state or secular
regime. However, he also anticipates “modernity in terms of equality,
proto-democratic forms of political action, individualism and freedom
of conscience” (2006: 64). It is important to note that the Reformation
not only presents the tension between church and state, but also influences
the Western political thinking. In facing the corruption of the contemporary
religious institutions, Luther attempts to clarify the relationship
between church and state, the spiritual and the secular regimes. After
Augustine (354-430 C.E.) distinguishing the “Kingdom of God” from
the “Kingdom of the World”, it has become the focal point lasting
for hundreds of years until now. It is the most contestable problem
which needs to be solved, although fails. In spite of it, for the solution
and its failure will not be our concerns, we argue that this distinction
refined by Augustine exactly furnishes the religious and the political
systems of society with features of autopoiesis, the possibilities of
independence and then interdependence. This is important for our investigations
on modern democracy and democratization. The question will be: How do
the autonomous but mutually dependent operations consist in the concept
of democracy? This can be answered properly with a general theory of
social systems and that of social evolution. So far as Augustine’s
Two Kingdoms is concerned, they both epistemologically include their
own political systems. However, it cannot say that they, the religious
and the political systems, are functionally differentiated since they
do not present any equality to each other. It only suffices to say that
they are hierarchically differentiated. Both have to depend on religion
(God) for acquiring their own legitimacy of ruling, either in the Kingdom
of God or that of the World. The latter cannot be independent from religion
and retain its autonomy. To this point, with respect to the development
and management of religious affairs, the Kingdom of the World not only
contributes nothing to them, but also should not intervene in them.
Augustine, Luther also concerns only religion. What he mainly expects
is to establish and to maintain a “Kingdom of God” (Thornhill, 2007).2 However, to him and differing from his predecessor Augustine, the relationship
between these two kingdoms should be equal. It is not quite right to
claim that the state should be subordinate to the church. In his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nationality (1520),
Luther on one hand rejects the viewpoint that the spiritual regime is
higher than the secular counterpart, on the other hand, he also doubts
that the Law of the Church should be superior to the secular laws. In
his view, the opposition of these two kingdoms was probably utilized
by Roman Catholic Church as a lie and a kind of hypocritical tool by
which it could avoid of those potential threats to its authority on
Earth. For Luther there are no evidences which can be found in the Scriptures
denoting their oppositions (Hoelzl & Ward, 2006: 66). To the eyes
of Luther, “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and
there is no difference among them, save of office alone”, and
further, “we are all consecrated as priests by baptism” (Luther,
1520). To divide these two kingdoms indicates that they are functionally
differentiated. It says that since all Christians are equal in the sense
of the political, whoever becomes the leader of this Christian kingdom,
the power he possesses is totally the same with all other Christians.
Hence, the Kingdom of God and that of the World do not differ in nature,
but are simply realized in different functions. This view is also distinct
from those influenced by the Roman Catholic Church in medieval times,
for the clergies are only sanctioned by the laws of church, not by the
essay of Luther has been regarded as providing the source of legitimacy
for those being governed and oppressed by the Roman Catholic Church
in German. However, this right of resistance provoked by Luther does
not extend to those laypersons, thus it does not result in a radical
transformation of the political regime. As a result, it then becomes
the foundation for establishing the Holy Roman Empire. According to
Hoelzl & Ward, the later writings of Luther present an attitudinal
change of thoughts on the relationship between church and state, which
suggests that only those Christians with true faith belong to the Kingdom
of God and those are not belong to the Kingdom of the World. Since then,
we approach the prototype of the functional differentiation between
religion and politics. It is meaningful to note that for Luther these
are two kinds of governance. Those belonging to the Kingdom of God need
no secular laws, for they just need to follow the spiritual teachings.
Somehow this kingdom is so perfect that it cannot be completely realized
in the secular world. The reasoning is that since this perfect kingdom
cannot be established in this world, then it needs a secular sovereignty
to govern the affairs of this secular world. This is Luther’s “theory
of two swords”. Consequently, every Christian is divided into two
parts, one is baptized Christian belonging to the Kingdom of God, and
the other is still sinned, which belongs to and has to be governed by
the law of the secular world. Christians can only prove themselves through
their own faith; they need no other forms of sovereignty except the
spiritual one to govern them. At the same time, Christians are also
sinners and have to be sanctioned by the secular laws. The result is
that insofar as faith can only be proved through God, religion then
becomes a private affair. This is usually called the internalization
of Protestantism, referring to Max Weber, etc. For Luther this privatization
of religious faith, i.e. individual conscience and religious freedom,
constitutes the limits on the secular regime.
this extent, Luther transforms St. Augustine’s theory of Two Kingdoms
into a kind of functionally-differentiated based theory of two swords. This of
course is a proto-typical one. Not until combining with Locke’s humanism,
following John Calvin, and the law of nature does this functional differentiation
reach its possibility in modern society? Despite this, his thoughts
on religion and the political thus become the Protestantism’s primary
concerns, and religion has also been privatized since then. This associates
with the later political deism, constituting in the secularized foundation
of modern Western democracy. In fact, the emphasis on the equality among
Christians by Luther in his essay forms the modern roots of democratic
operations in the Protestant tradition, demonstrating by Puritanism,
especially in the constitution of America. The reasoning behind this
tendency toward democracy is that since all Christians are also baptized
clergies, there should not be any difference among their spirituality.
Therefore, there should be no one can claim possessing higher position
than others, unless obtaining others’ consents and through election.
This later Luther considers church as a kind of “invisible community”
(Gemeinde), constituted of Christians. They are sanctioned by faith,
not by law. His thoughts reflect the long-lasting views on the relationship
between the Old and New Testaments. Generally speaking, the Old Testament
stresses on the law which contracted by human beings with God, whereas
the New Testament stresses on the faith, the role played by the law
becomes not so important to obtaining salvation. However, the Reformation
renders this tension more radical and the tendency toward privatization
of religious faith after Luther’s writings leads to its successive
developments increasingly combining with deism. One of the consequences
is the positivization of the law. Those discourses on faith, liberty
of conscience, and rights to be equal, etc., which originated from Luther’s
writings, find their ways to be secularization, and become the most
important concepts of modern democracy.
spite of this, we can still distinguish Luther’s “Two Swords”
from St. Augustine’s “Two Kingdoms”. Borrowing from St Paul’s
“body metaphor” Luther argues that there are equal relations among
various organs in the body. They can only be functionally different,
not hierarchically differentiated. Hence, he suggests that the secular
sovereignty has to be seen as a part of Christ’s body. Although it
executes the secular power, it also belongs to the Kingdom of God, whereas
the church is also part of this body, they only differ in functions,
not in statuses. In the essay, Luther does not confirm very clearly
whether Christians have the rights to resist the secular regimes or
not. Even in his On the Limits of Secular Authority, Luther suggests
that when suffering, Christians should “suffer wrongs gladly”, for
they have Holy Spirit in their hearts, until death. In this essay, he
expresses his views on the secular laws. Luther claims that those belong
to the Kingdom of God do not need these secular laws, for they do more
than required. Hence, the secular laws are only given to those unbelievers.
Thornhill (2007) argues that Luther’s thoughts on these two kingdoms
relate to his anxiety about theocracy (2007: 35). Luther believes that
theocracy always involves the Jewish religious knowledge of the Old
Testament. Therefore, he thinks that obeying the law of the Old Testament
will bring salvation is a complete misunderstanding of it.
his On the Limits of Secular Authority, Luther to some extent
gives the modern form of differentiation between religion and the political
through his transforming the contents of Two Kingdoms. This transformation
becomes the primary resource of thoughts on church and state in the
17th and 18th centuries. He says:
point to be noted is that the two parts into which the children of Adam
are divided, the one the kingdom of God under Christ, the other the
kingdom of the world under secular authority, have each their own kind
of law. Everyday experience sufficiently shows us that every kingdom
must have its own laws and that no kingdom or government can survive
without law. Secular government has laws that extend no further than
the body, goods and outwards, earthly matters. But where the soul is
concerned, God neither can nor will allow anyone but himself to rule
(Luther, 1523; edited by Höpfl, 1991: 23).
and state are different entities, they have respective laws. This by
no means is to say that they have to be entirely divided or separated.
Quite the contrary, it is because these two entities are independent
to each other, they have to depend on each other in regard to the secular
and spiritual affairs. This functional differentiation between them
must be established on the basis of their self-referential, close operations.
This has been implicated by Luther in his essay. Equal spiritual quality
leads no difference in the political or hierarchical positions. Hence,
just as Luther has emphasized, the relationship between the Kingdom
of God and that of the World is functionally differentiated, no more
and no less. Accordingly, with regard to the spiritual affairs, Christians
need no secular laws, whereas for the material or secular dimensions
they need to be governed by the laws. Nevertheless, since governed by
Christians, there should not be one or a few who can be superior to
others. Luther claims that “No one can or should lay down commandments
for the soul, except those who can point it on the way to heaven. But
no human being can do that; only God” (Luther, 1523; edited by
Höpfl, 1991: 24). However, people have to decide what to believe by
themselves. In other words, people are responsible for their own faith.
Salvation cannot be obtained through depending on others or obeying
the laws, rather, it requires that people have to affirm their own faith.
Luther disagrees that there is need to enforce other people to believe,
for “faith is free, and no one can be compelled to believe”
(Luther, ibid: 26). Therefore, the governing should not enforce the
governed to change their faith in that “faith is
something that God works in the spirit” (Luther, ibid: 26). Following
this, faith becomes not only a kind of freedom, but also an action without
any unwillingness, and hence an individual affair of conscience. This
for Luther will not decrease “the authority of the secular regime”.
However, in the last part of the essay, he indicates that the rights
to resist the given authority can be executed only if the secular regime
If he then
takes away your goods and punishes you for your disobedience, then blessed
are you, and you should thank God for counting you worthy to suffer
for the sake of his Word. Let the fool rage; he shall surely find his
judge. But I say to you: if you do not resist him and let him take away
your faith or your books, then you will truly have denied God (Luther,
1523; edited by Höpfl, 1991: 29).
we can see this prototype of defending religious freedom influenced
by the Reformation. Luther’s discussion confirms that Christ is the
governor of church. Under Christ, all Christians are equal. Since the
Kingdom of God and that of the World are constituted of same elements,
this confirmation of Christ as the governor of church indicates that
He is also the governor of the World. Luther suggests that if all Christians
can recognize this equal relation, and admit Christ the only governor,
then “No one desires to be another’s superior, for everyone wants
to be the inferior of the rest. …Nature will not tolerate superiors
when no one wants to be, or can be, a superior” (Luther, ibid:
33). However, complemented by Luther, this cannot be done in that “there
are no people of [the latter] sort, there are no true Christians either”
(ibid). Besides, the governing executed by clergies and bishops is simply
a kind of “service (Dienst) and duty (Amt)”, it should be regarded
as a privilege or power. They are just continuing and spreading the
Words of God, leading Christians, and overcoming heresies, nothing beyond
these. This functional differentiation between the Kingdom of God and
that of the World becomes the prototype of the differentiation between
the religious and the political systems in our modern society. Actually,
we can see that there exists what Weber calls “elective affinity”
between Luther’s thoughts (religion) and democracy (the self-description
of the political system). This is not only the foundation of modern
democracy, but also the primary element which will hinder its development.
The latter will be discussed in the last part of this essay.
theological thoughts of John Calvin (1509-64) are influenced by Luther.
His reform on Geneva would not be so smooth without the great efforts
of Luther and Zwingli. Although Zwingli has great impact on the formation
of the constitution, we focus only on Calvin and his contributions,
since he provides the possible grounds for active political actions,
to the form of government/opposition. Calvin’s views on church and
state are different from those of Luther. He also suggests that church
and state need to be independent to each other; however, he ascribes
their authorities to God, instead of Christ as the body metaphor. Therefore,
they have to cooperate in order to glorify God. Calvin claims that the
secular authority should adopt the opinions of church and should abide
by the decisions made by church clergies. In his mind, these two kingdoms
have their own laws, however, it will be valid when the secular one
has been confirmed and supported by the church. Accordingly, what Calvin
claims is a kind of theocracy with the aim to establish Geneva as a
theocratic and flawless “church”.
publishes his first version of Institution of Christian Religion in 1536, in which he discusses the relationships among the freedom of
Christians, the authority of church, and the civil governments, and
gains great success immediately. However, in the later versions his
thoughts on church and state have been changed. Since then, he concerns
not the “invisible church”, but the “visible” one. The reason
given by Höpfl is that at this time Calvin has obtained important position
in Geneva, and drafted Ecclesiastical Ordinances as the foundation
of local reforms. When Calvin comes back to Geneva, he transforms his
focuses from “invisible” to “visible’, and combines obviously
with his political ideals and activities (Höpfl, 1992: xix). Out of
these are topics such as education and civil responsibility. Hence,
“everyone has the rights to be educated” becomes characteristic
of Calvinism. In 1559, he established “Schola Genevensis”, which
was the predecessor of the Université de Genève, in which John Knox
(1505-1572) was educated and became a Calvinist. The reason to be educated
is that Calvin thinks people should participate in the politics, and
help preventing church from damages. After 1543, Calvin clearly indicates
that the reformed Church should be governed by clergies, and maintains
a great degree of independence and authority (Höpfl, 1991: xx). What
he prefers is “aristocracy or a mixed polity, compounded of aristocratic
and democratic components”, not a kind of pure monarchy. The concept
of democracy here indicates not the modern form of it; instead it is
congregational in ecclesiastical terms. This so called democracy means
making everyone under surveillance, including both higher and lower
classes. The reasoning is that the basis of surveillance lies in the
equality among all Christians. It is similar to Luther in the sense
that their spiritual equality leads to the political equality. Therefore,
so far as the principle of equality is concerned, mutual surveillance
or reminding becomes an important element in the aristocratic or democratic
regime. Of course, this form of church organization established by Calvin
in Geneva then turns to be the primary form of organization adopted
by reformed Church and Presbyterianism. And it is also the prototype
of modern form of democracy. Calvin’s political stance and his attitudes
toward political participation have been respected by his followers
and churches; to a great extent they are also the primary resources
of the rights to resist the secular authorities. Höpfl mentions that
the concept of political participation of Christians has not been emphasized
by Calvin in his first version of Institutes. However, in the
later versions, he not only prefers aristocracy or mixed form of polity,
but also makes more clear people’s rights to overthrow the tyrannical
are two presuppositions in Calvin’s theological thoughts, one is a
vigorous and independent Church, and the other is godly magistrates
(Höpfl, 1991). He requires that it needs to sanction the power to be
evil of the secular authority, while at the same time serving God’s
affairs without any limitation. There is only one absolute power, which
is the power of God. All other secular powers are derived from this
absolute power. Hence, all authorities have to be based on this precondition,
and therefore all are limited. Given similarity between Luther’s and
Calvin’s thoughts on church and state power is that they consider
the secular states are all limited, they cannot go beyond their ascribed
duties. Since these duties are given by God, they have to be obeyed
by all Christians. As long as these authorities do their “jobs”,
they are sharing God’s glory and nobility. However, once they cross
the boundaries, they become intruders. In his discourse on the limits
of the secular authorities, Calvin goes far more than Luther. Education
becomes the means to eliminate the evil inside every human being. Luther’s
“swords” turns out to be “schools” in Calvin’s thoughts. The
duality of the secular governments (both spiritual and secular) indicates
that they have to “discipline”, lead, and put limitations on their
relationship between church and state is not irrelevant; rather, they
are mutually connected. However, this connected relation has to be understood
in the sense that these two different entities are self-referentially
close but operationally open. His contributions on the constitutions
of Geneva present another prototype of the differentiation between religion
and the legal system. He takes for granted “the government has to
be sanctioned by the constitutions”, insofar as the constitutions
have to be derived from God or enacted in conformity with faith. To
this point, obeying the constitutions by the government means that “the
church cannot stand firm unless a government is constituted as prescribed
to us by the World of God and observed in the early church” (Kelly,
1992: 13). In Wendel’s discussing Calvin’s thoughts, he concludes
that it is always necessary for religion and the political to be interdependent
and independent to each other. His views to some extent do not go beyond
Luther’s suggestions of functional differentiation. The political
is not necessarily subordinate to religion; rather, they have their
own boundaries drawn by themselves:
could no more speak of an annexation of the Church by the Magistracy
than of a preponderance of the Church over the civil power. The distinction
between the two powers was the foundation of the entire edifice.
Each of these autonomous powers, States and Church, was conceived as
issuing from the Divine will……it is therefore inaccurate to speak,
as people often do, of a theocratic confusion of powers……each power
had, theoretically at least, its well-defined domain. (Wendel, 1963;
quoted in Kelly, 1992: 14)
the power of church and that of state have to be complementary. In Institutes, Calvin claims that man is doubly governed, one is civil,
and the other spiritual. The existence of the secular governments lies
in the foundation that man is essentially imperfect.3 He
……civil government has its appointed end, so long as we live among
men, to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound
doctrine of piety and the position of the church, to adjust our life
to the society of men, to form our social behavior to civil righteousness,
to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility
(Institutes, 4.20.2; quoted in Kelly, 1992: 15).
is that the secular government must exist, and it has to protect religious
freedom, and assures peace of the secular world. Following Calvin’s
thoughts and Wendel’s comments, we can find that the distinction of
church and state has either been realized in Church, or in the secular
state. On Church side, the distinction of church and state repeats itself,
and this leads to St. Augustine’s theory of Two Kingdoms. On the side
of the secular state, this distinction also reproduces itself in it,
and this leads to the thoughts of Luther, of Calvin, and of successive
thinkers, including Protestantism, Presbyterianism, and so on. The so
called “the foundation of the entire edifice” perhaps can be understood
as the unity of the distinction of church and state, which is termed
“paradox” above mentioned. In other words, the distinction of church
and state cannot be observed with itself, to this extent it can only
operates so as to be introduced into one of these two sides. For Calvin,
the real Church is simply an ideal, which cannot be realized in this
secular world. As far as this is concerned, it needs to cooperate with
the secular authority. Through ascribing legitimacy to the secular state,
Church or the spiritual world can maintain its own particularity and
a kind of autonomy. When we say that authority must come from somewhere,
be it sacred or profane, by this means that the paradox, the unity of
the distinction, the distinction of church and state, has been repeating
within either side. In other words, this repeating of the distinction
within itself must hide the paradox which renders this repeating possible,
and this makes necessary structural couplings between the religious
and the political systems. Hence, the distinction of church and state
can continuously be represented within either side. With regard to the
later developments of Calvin’s theology, his suggestion that the primary
function of the secular authority should be protecting religious freedom
and stabilizing external conditions, after combining with natural theology,
results in the secularization of the concept of freedom or generally,
can be seen, in the last chapter of Institutes, Calvin discusses
the civil government and claims that the secular authority has to be
sanctioned so as not to intrude in the Kingdom of God. This view represents
this distinction of Church and state in the secular world. As German
sociologist Niklas Luhmann says, “Die Religion selbst findet keineswegs
im Jenseits statt.”4 Put is more exactly, since we
cannot obtain a satisfying solution to this distinction repeated within
itself, the result is that we can only turn into the secular side, which
self-describes as the state (=the political system), in order to search
for the representation of this distinction. This asymmetrical feature
of the binary code renders possible the concept of democracy such as
human rights, freedom, and the like, which can be secularized in the
course of social evolution and system differentiation. As Kelly indicates,
not only those followers of Calvin, but also many Western liberalists,
they do not know very well the one they are following is John Calvin.
This means that the processes of secularization have increasingly eliminated
the foundations of the modern concept of democracy, hence will endanger
it in the future. The mechanism underlying this perhaps can be uncovered
through a general theory of social systems and that of social evolution.
Calvin, those liberalist philosophers and sociologists widely spread
his thoughts in the sense of “disenchanted” or secularized form.
On the issues of liberty and resistance, the political theology of Calvin
turns out to be the most important part embedded in the Western political
thoughts, despite of ignoring its theological origin (Kelly, 1992: 31).
It should be note that the combination of Calvin’s political thoughts
with natural theology is nothing but a historical contingency. And it
is also plausible to say that the separating of the contents of freedom
and human rights from their religious and theological implications is
no more than a chance. In order to clarify these problems and to make
provisions to our future, it needs to investigate how the distinction
of Church and state represents itself within either side. This helps
us know better what the situations are, just as Kelly says:
argue that the practical implications of Calvinist views of personal
liberties and societal structures came to play a major part in modern
governmental arrangements because its theological assumptions about
God’s transcendent law, man’s fallenness, and God’s redemptive
purposes for humanity were in general accord with a healthy functioning
of society or even with ultimate reality. This view however would take
one beyond the line of reporting the events of legal and ecclesiastical
history, into the realm of interpretation by faith---a valid area of
discussion, but somewhat beyond our present (Kelly, 1992: 142).
caused by secularizing the concept of democracy is also eroding its
own modern foundation. With the advent of the concept of nation-state,
the danger presents itself in the form of “de-differentiation” of
the political system. The reasoning is that firstly, the debates of
church-state relationships lead to the differentiation between religion
and politics, and then become the basis for functional differentiation
of modern society. Secondly, since it is possible to follow this form
of differentiation, the distinction of governing/governed applied by
the early political system can possibly be transferred to that of government/opposition,
this further divides it into three subsystems: the politics, the opposition,
and the publics. This three-tiered structure constitutes modern form
of democracy, and renders processes toward it imaginable. Lastly, once
the political system associating with the concept of nation-state, in
so doing generates the crises of de-differentiation in that the political
system attempts to represent society not from within but beyond it. We can see better and clearer only if we take into considerations
this paradox which must be hidden from system’s operations of observations.
Accordingly, this article claims that the possibility of initiating
democratization lies in the differentiation between subsystems and also
in the internal differentiation within subsystems. Furthermore, its
legitimacy comes firstly from religious system, and then with secularization
transforms to the legal system. However, this transformation indicates
one thing that has to be hidden from recognition. It is the distinction
of transcendence/immanence used by the religious system, which is also
utilized as a paradox which cannot be solved by it. However, this distinction
can be communicated by the political system with its own self-referential
operations, which means the political system will communicate about
this distinction as political one through second-coding processes. By
this the political system is capable of understanding this distinction
and presents it as its source of legitimacy without referring to its
spiritual origin, and then again when differentiating from the religious
and the legal systems, the political system can develop its own discourses
on initiating democratization or on the consolidation of democracy.
being devoid of its religious origin, democracy, which now becomes the
self-description of the political system, increasingly risks its own
stakes. Democracy does not guarantee the conditions which makes it possible.
It cannot necessarily reproduce what it needs to secure its operations.
As a self-description of the political system, it is not the function
of the politics to remain democratic. This can be seen from the cases
of Taiwan and the so-called socialist democracy, China. In the case
of Taiwan, the possibility of differentiation of the politics and religion
occurred in the 1970s. Although it was also the period of rapid growth
of Taiwan’s economy under the control of the quasi-Leninist regime
of KMT, there were no effective anti-authoritarian movements until the
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT). Before that, as we can see, the
possibility of democratization cannot be initiated even we had a planned
economy and also succeeded in those years. Some may argue that it is
the liberalization of economy which brings the democratization of the
politics; however, this can be contested if we view from a theory of
social evolution and of systems differentiation. Liberal economy did
bring the necessary reform required by the people to the government.
However, liberal economy does not necessarily need a kind of Western
mode of democratization to legitimate political governance. The case
of China will be suitable to reflect on this. Until now, after the gradual
liberalization of economy since Deng Xiaoping’s (???) bold reformation, China, a socialist
democratic regime, tries hard to couple her authoritarian character
and one party politics with socialist democracy, and pave way to her
own China’s mode of democracy. Although differences may exist between
these two cases, from the experience of Taiwan, we can observe how and
to which direction China might go.
initiation of democratization needs not only the liberalization of economy,
it requires something else. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT)
played a very important role in promoting ‘effectively’ the processes
of democratization. Several announcements concerning religious freedom,
rights to self-determination, the popular voting institutions, etc.
are formally claimed by PCT printed on every kind of propagandas. The
1970s symbolized a period of the differentiation between the politics
and religion, and then resulted in the internal differentiation of the
political system in 1980s when the opposite political party, Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP), was established. In 2000, also under the auspicious
of PCT, Taiwan completed the transformation of government from KMT to
DPP, and then again from DPP to KMT in 2008, peacefully. The efforts
made by PCT cannot be ignored and simply explained with some kind of
external factors in analogy with other social movements, of the latter
did not succeed in their own actions. Hence, the reasoning will be that
what renders democracy/democratization imaginable lies in firstly the
functional differentiation within society, and then in the internal
differentiation of the political system. Their respective operations
as a self-referential systems apply different distinctions as a paradox
in order to maintain the boundaries with their respective environments.
In the religious system, it is the distinction of transcendence/immanence,
in the political system, government/opposition, and then government/opposition/the
publics. These two situations do not yet occur in the case of China.
Of course, there is a question worthy of contemplating. What we are
talking about is always Western democracy, is there any possibility
of thinking in other ways? Do we need a Western democracy? Or, is there
any option for the future of democracy? This is what China debates now.
the danger of de-differentiation occurs in Taiwan since 2008. It emerges
from the political system which still describes itself as the state
and operates beyond the society. The democracy of Taiwan suffers from
being unable to consolidate. To this view, democracy can only emerge
from communications within society. The problem lies in the state which
still regards itself opposing to the society, thus in tension with it
can intervene into other areas. Democracy provides a secular legitimacy
for the state to justify its intervention, covered with terms such as
modification, adjustment, adaptation, and the like. In order to observe
better those situations encountered by our democratic societies, it
is necessary to consider those from the theory of social evolution and
the theory of system differentiation. These two aspects to some extent
co-evolve through the time of world society in terms of Luhmann, but
develop toward different social and factual dimensions within those
subsystems’ own time. The modern concept of democracy and its initiation
in different contexts put emphasis on the secular version rather than
the opposite one. This by no means indicates that we have to recover
the sacred foundation of this concept. Instead, what has to be noticed
is this situation our societies have confronted needs to be reconsidered,
or it might be getting worse when the society, or the political system
requires democracy but do not know on which it is based. Through the
lens of social systems theory, we suggest that there is a tendency toward
the resurrection of non-democratic behaviors while still labeling them
as democratic. This is what Luhmann concerns the crisis of “de-differentiation”
in modern society. And this can also explain that to what extent religion
can be the impetus and the source of legitimacy while initiating the
process of democratization or pursuing the institute of democracy. Perhaps
the case of China and its relation to Taiwan may provide us some insights
when the former claims it as democratic in terms of socialism, whereas
the latter gradually loses its capacity to self-describe as democracy
in Western terms.
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