GALACTIC CHURCH AND STATE
The Galactic Republic of Star Wars is arguably my first introduction to government in any way that mattered to me. I don’t think school has ever made it that interesting to see a government functioning and malfunctioning. It’s portrayal of the values and pitfalls of democracy and shared power is a reflection of the times we live in, where power is viewed critically and people who hold it are viewed even more critically.
Here I will be focusing on an aspect of the prequels I find interesting in the debate about the connection between religion and state: The relations between the Jedi Order and the Galactic Republic, especially the Galactic Senate. The tenuous relationship between these two is a very good picture of various governments in the real world, past and present, and shows what happens when religion becomes an organ or puppet of the state.
In the prequels we find a prestigious and powerful Jedi order, they are committed to help guide the Galactic republic. As its spiritual leaders they decry abuses, support peace initiatives, and if necessary, use violence to resolve disputes, within certain limits ofcourse. All this depends on them being independent of the government apparatus, thus they can’t be tied unnecessarily to bureaucracy.
Then comes the separatist crisis, which leads to the clone wars. Civil war breaks out in the republic. The Jedi choose a side: The galactic republic, or so we think. Palpatine is a genius, he saw the state of the republic and the Jedi, and used it against them. The republic had stagnated. As is creaturely nature, selfishness and corruption had taken advantage, the republic looked more like the UN during the cold war era than it looked like the United States it was supposed to be: rivals battling each other on every front but the battlefield, rarely using legitimate means. This didn’t end like the cold war however, it ended in an actual shooting war when the Confederation of Independent Systems, informally known as the separatists, declared their independence from the republic.
The Jedi couldn’t see the situation, they were blind. Even Master Yoda said the Dark Side clouded everything. Even more acute though was not their blindness to Palpatine and the Dark Side, it was their blindness to the state of the republic, it was this blindness that Palpatine used against them. While the republic government grew fat, lazy and immobile, the Jedi became blind and deaf to both the republic and its citizens. As the republic failed, the Jedi began taking a lot of its responsibilities, it stretched them thin: the blind leading the lame. Even without Palpatine’s machinations a similar situation would have developed, even if it would have taken longer.
They made a big mistake: Religions don’t run civil governments. Whenever a religion takes civil government responsibilities, there is always abuse, because they are doing something they are not equipped for. Note that I’m not saying that religions don’t have a say in civil discourse, true religion is a counterbalance to the state. They keep the state in check, like prophets. They represent the state to a higher power, like priests.
When religion becomes an organ of the state, you can expect what happened to the republic to happen there. The Jedi became military generals, inflicting as much damage as they healed, they were heroes, but they sacrificed their independence in the process. It was inevitable from the first movie, that’s why it’s so tragic, they were going to fall, and fall hard. In a war, especially when it is an existential war, where your nation’s very existence depends on it, the government assumes quite a lot of power, bordering on totalitarian. Usually a lot of this power is in the premier or president, in this case, Chancellor Palpatine.
It is this concentration of power that, when abused, can lead to the end of a nation’s soul. In the process of militarization, the Jedi were incorporated into the military hierarchy. This compromised their independence by tying their future to that of the republic government, if the republic government should fail, so would they. But this is against what the Jedi represent, they are not an organ of the state, their future should be independent of any state. Exile is better than destruction. To me I don’t think they had much more options, their presence in the war prevented many abuses, but it still cost them everything in the end, their numbers dwindled, and the state became the “god” of the society, the narrative was: the state holds your future, protect it.
The state had become too powerful. If it was a government functioning well, that is fine, we know that there is a great chance that a win would mean the government would release a lot of its power. The republic however, was a corrupt, inept government. That much power given to them spelled the end of freedom for the republic, and the Jedi’s complicity sealed their fate, Palpatine will never give up that much power, he destroyed them with it. The state, for which Palpatine is now its sole representative, became “god”. Loyalty to Palpatine became the individual’s life principle. Church and State are merged, and there begins the dark age of the galaxy.
- This article was previously posted on my blog