While growing up, one of the more difficult concepts to understand was the idea of how the Emperor of Japan could have been, essentially, ‘god on Earth.’ The concept seemed fundamentally alien and easily dismissed as a primitive cultural practice without any merit… It was an echo of what the Persians and Egyptians did, treating their Pharoahs as literal gods.
What does such a thing even really mean?
Can this ever be logical, or rational? And moreover, can even the idea of ‘Divine Right of Kings’ be treated as an honorable and respectable institution?
Lately I have been reading some Julian Evola, specifically Against the Modern World in which he divides the book into two parts — the Traditional & Modern worlds. His vast knowledge of mysticism and traditional spiritual views is absolutely stunning and he is able to tackle the question with quite good grace — my view of the situation is greatly affected by Evola and some of the very miscellaneous information here, if not specifically cited to elsewhere, can (most likely) be found in Evola’s book… OK, OK, I know, something might slip in; this is just a blog after all…
If we look at the traditional way that a King or any leader is treated in the world, especially in Proto-Indo European cultures, the King traditionally was as a bridge between Heaven & Earth, the spiritual & nature. The Roman term for the head of the religion, Pontifex, literally means ‘Bridge’ and was such a role as the Emperor who also fulfilled the ceremonial rites. We also see that the Egyptians (who can traditionally fall into the P. I. E. [proto-indo-european] community by some measures) treated their Emperor as reincarnation of the son of Horus who likewise fulfilled daily rituals to fulfill this.
What is more important and relatable: everywhere from the Vikings to the Persians to the Indians, traditionally there is the view among P. I. E. cultures that a certain segment of the population is celestial and somehow linked to the gods, and is purer and overall more superior; a natural born aristocracy. This is seen as the Brahman & Kshatriya castesin India, and in Zoroastrian Persia there was also the dichotomy of the ‘noble’ classes (the Emperor, Clergy, the Warriors & the farmers of dry land) versus the unnoble (all other occupations, such as fisherman, herder, even merchant). In the Viking world, there was the belief that men who proved themselves to be King, and were of such lineage, had the blood of the Gods flowing throw their veins — the blood of the gods was not a distant concept but rather it was a reality. Men of distinction could claim direct descent from the gods.
Likewise, the view of the Japanese was that the royal family of Japan had the blood of the gods within it.
To form a better bridge between us understanding this phenomena and putting it into a useful and logical way for us to take in, let’s look to China, Korea and to Christian Europe & the Islamic world:
The Chinese, being traditional Confucianists, take a more moderated an cultivated view of this. As opposed to believing that there is a literal blood distinction between a certain class of people and the commoner, the Confucianists merely believed that the Emperor was the Son of Heaven, and ruled with the Heavenly Mandate (태명, 天命). This was something that couldn’t be disobeyed and gave the full right to rule but likewise it was something that occurred by choice of Heaven, and could be lost by disregard for Heaven.
That is to say: a differing family could become the next Imperial Family should the current one fail.
Likewise: in Europe or the Islamic world there was the idea of the Divine Right being that the Kings were inherently born into such positions as the will of God. God mandated that some men have earthly power and that they ought to be obeyed, just as he mandated the religious authority of some. A useful summary of the European concept of it can be found at the Wikipedia page, pay attention specifically to the Catholic points which are perhaps the most developed of them.
In the Islamic world, for a period the Caliphate was based off of the idea of a literal succession of people from the Prophet Mohammed, not of literal blood in the Sunni case but of literal blood ties in the Shi’ite one; after such a succession was lost the ideas would go back to Kings legitimizing themselves largely by their piety and their duty to spread the word of Islam, which necessitated great campaigns and excursions abroad. For the greatest part of Islamic history next to the Caliphate we see the Ottoman Empire since the 15th century occupying and controlling Mecca & Medina which made the Ottoman Sultan a most Holy Figure who had in his titles the great prestige of being the Protector of those places.
It is also important to note that in Protestant theory the King is often also the Head of the Church, and in the ideal political-religious synthesis proposed by Spinoza of the Netherlands and Hobbes of England, the only possible way for there to be a proper functioning state is that the Head of State (the King) would also be the Head of the Church.
The ‘Divine Right of Kings’ in medieval Europe and beyond, and also in the Islamic world, was not more greatly cultivated than it had been in previous times. If anything, it was a far more neglected idea that lost its spiritual significance that it traditionally had, and many of these families could be viewed as partly dependent on previous Traditionalist views that certain families were destined to loom over others. This idea would have been well preserved in the traditions of the cultures, considering also that Christianity & Islam both incorporated some aspects (and even spiritual aspects at that) that are traceable to pre-Christian and pre-Islamic times. Not to mention, what no doubt made this an even easier thing to stomach was that the disparity in education, culture and living standards between a Noble family and a non-Noble one would be so different it is hard to envision anyone outside of a differing Noble family questioning the ‘natural’ right of a Noble one.
We should also point out: in Islamic tradition, building a Mosque is considered one of the Holiest things that one can ever do, and it is said that the person who builds a Mosque and thereby spreads the word of Allah receives the greatest gift in Heaven. Thus came about the title and idea of ‘Sheikh’ which exists both in the Sunni & Shi’ite worlds. Sheikhs are people that are so spiritually attune and enlightened that they can experience God and Faith in ways that normal people cannot, and they are great blessings themselves on to the Earth. A Sheikh doesn’t have to build a mosque or be so bloody rich as to be able to build a mosque, but it sure helps. Needless to say, people who were Sheikhs were not likely to ever be peasants (though this had occurred early, early on in Islam, examples like the freed slave Washi).
We also must understand that in both Protestant and Catholic traditions it was common for the second, third and other sons of Kings and Nobles to pursue lives in the Clergy — a tactic meant to help secure the right to rule of the first son, but also demonstrating a clear link between the power establishment and the religion.
More or less, a link between the Religion and the Rulers remained. Yet, the link in the medieval West & Near East had been greatly diminished and remained for centuries much like China: a tentative agreement between the two on the nature of Kings, but not one that was persistent in any idea of the King’s “Godhead” but rather one that hints at his “Godliness” and his certain role of being above reproach.
But remember: such traditions grew out of ideas that the Emperor, or the King, or even the mere ruling class as a whole, had an inextricable link to the gods through a series of rites and ceremonies. The Egyptian, Persian, Japanese, Indian, Germanic and Roman leadership did not sit on their laurels and collect the tax with zero risk unto themselves but were forced to perform daily rituals and tasks that linked themselves to the gods and to the well being of the state.
If these tasks were neglected or ill performed, it meant that there was the room for great calamity and dissent to grow. Neglect or abuse of these positions was viewed as a literal disaster…
They were not God-Kings in the sense that they were literal gods upon the Earth, but that they were as links between the god and the earth.
More than anything: they represented a communicative tool between Godhead and earth, and they represented the maintaining of a structure between the two; the Noble was followed because he represented a timeless principle and order of leadership…
I would also like to leave you with something from Book III of Plato’s Republic — in which Plato says that, essentially, there is no need for the government to legislate on most manners because good people will conduct themselves in a good fashion… But that theirs is the most important thing to do: to fulfill the sacrifices and ceremonies to the gods, which Plato considered to be of gravest importance, and something that would be a huge part of the lives of Rulers of government.
Clearly: the world was viewed as being held together, literally, by ceremony and ritual that insured being blessed from above.
And I ask you: what is politeness and culture other than its own ceremonial and ritual undertakings that are meant to be repeated (or avoided) to insure good results (and eschew bad ones)?
We should investigate the idea of ‘ritual’ and the idea of ‘ceremony’ and what these mean in the human psyche and let that be a meditation for us for the day.
Now, this has been a rather long and somewhat unorganized post but I feel this information is quite important to understanding history, and understanding the traditionalist view; I also think that herein lays some interesting ideas for understanding history and the entire culture of autocracy, aristocracy and… simply how government works.
Thanks for reading.