Saturday, 30 December 2017

Why the Monarchy?

On the basis of Judges, it's often been argued that during Iron Age I Israel was organized into some sort of tribal confederacy. When I read Judges, I am struck by how little this is borne out by the text. The text seems to assume that there was some sort of shared identity, but that tells us little about their social organization. We find for instance in Judges 4-5 some expectation that the tribes should act in each other's mutual defense, but a significant theme in these chapters is that this expectation was not borne out in actual practice. Indeed, in Samuel, the lack of such higher-level organization is presented explicitly as a barrier to what we might call "national security," and this is presented as a crucial argument for the introduction of a central authority in the form of the Saulide monarchy (my own tendency is to think of Saul more than anything as a powerful Benjamite warlord than as the leader of a Judahite state, but that still can be thought to represent some degree of growing central authority). This is all quite congruent with the archaeological material, which gives us the sense of a generally decentralized society in the central hill country during the 12th and 11th centuries, followed by evidence of state formation in the 10th (state formation perhaps begins in the south towards the end of the 11th century, and by the 10th century it is quite clearly underway). Evidence of external threat is harder to detect archaeologically, but it is not unreasonable to think that at least some persons in the central hill country considered the Philistine city-states to constitute an existential threat.

My interest is in thinking about this dialectically, specifically as Lonergan and those who have followed him have worked out the functional specialization of dialectic (a specialization that is necessarily informed by feminist, Marxist, critical-race, queer, etc., thought). The lack of security can be seen as a failure to meet the vital needs of the community, for whatever else security might be it is certainly a vital need (i.e. those things necessary in the first instance to survive and more fully to thrive). For Lonergan and those who follow him, this provides evidence of a breakdown in social values. Social values guide our relationships with each other, and thus our organization, and insofar as the ends of organization is to secure the vital needs of the community the failure to meet those needs indicates that something social has gone awry. Whether the establishment of the monarchy was the best way to address this social breakdown is a different question. One could argue that with the attendant monarchy's ills--such as an increase in hierarchy and social inequity--made the cure worse than the disease. Nonetheless, it does seem reasonable to think that at least in part there was an effort to correct a deficiency in social values that was at least felt to undermine the security of the community.

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