Eunomia refers not just to the condition of having good laws, but adherence to those laws. In Sophocles’ Ajax, for example, Eunomia means loyalty to divine law (Soph. Aj. 713). In the seventh century, the elegiac poet Tyrtaios of Sparta connected this divine law with human law, when he eulogized Eunomia as the divine right by which kings rule (Tyrtaios frs. 1-4 West, IE2.). In a democratic polis, such as Athens, eunomia also came to refer to the citizen’s obeisance to the laws (nomos), which creates good order. At the beginning of the sixth century, the Athenian statesman Solon eulogized Eunomia as a civic virtue (Solon fr. 4.31-38 West, IE2).

Although the concept is equally applicable to monarchic and democratic poleis (city states), eunomia seems to have retained an aristocratic connotation, which may have stemmed from her Spartan roots. Tyrtaios (cited above), became the classic Spartan poet, for example, and his poems were recited to Spartan troops as late as the fourth century. Eunomia’s association with oligarchies throughout the Greek world is attested by Pindar, who invoked her as the guardian of Aitna, Corinth, Opus, and Aigina, cities in which oligarchic systems prevailed (Pind. N. 9.29). The fifth century Athenian conception of aristocratic eunomia as the opposite of democratic isonomia (equality of rights) may have also derived from these monarchical Spartan roots, through the influence of the pro-Spartan oligarchs at Athens. In an interesting twist the Ionian cities rejected the Athenian oligarchs’ offer of eunomia (in 411), in favor of Spartan eleutheria (freedom). This use of eunomia certainly suggests that the concept was regarded as an oligarchic prerogative at the end of the fifth century. ~Amy C. Smith

These ancient associations of eunomia with an aristocratic and anti-democratic ethos carried into the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, where the opposition between orderly, monarchical rule and ochlocracy was brought into even sharper relief. By the late ninth century, St. Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, conceived of eunomia as the reign of principles of authority and justice in a Christian oikumene. It is therefore a symbol of a very ancient conception of what constitutes good government, namely authority, stability, peace and the administration of justice. Freedom, even when the word itself is not simply thrown around as a cheap slogan, generally serves as a distraction from these superior goods, if it is not actually subversive of them, and it is only from the prior cultivation of these goods that freedom of any recognisable kind can come. Needless to say, overthrowing these things in pursuit of freedom or other secondary goals reaps the harvest of Jacobins: blood, terror and endless strife.

My adoption of eunomia as the symbol and theme of these writings and observations is a very deliberate response to the contemporary glorification of our own peculiar modern democracy. As I regard eunomia as the term for the chief political goods towards which all political organisation rightly aims, I invoke it in opposition to the contemporary regime that actively promotes and embodies few or none of these goods. To the extent that our contemporary regime provides us with some of the vital political goods, it does so in the breach: the leadership of the regime is actively and consciously dedicated to destabilising those institutions, peoples and customs that are established in the world, meddling in the affairs of others, which is fundamentally unjust, and provoking wars to the general misery of all nations involved. Far from inculcating willing obedience, the regime stupifies, misleads and misinforms. It can temporarily exploit popular confusion to win some brief enthusiasm for its policies, or blackmail its subjects with invocations of a patriotism it perverts and perhaps despises, but it cannot claim genuine loyalty to itself.

In using this term eunomia, I am aware that I am anachronistically opposing what came to be seen as an anti-democratic principle to a system of modern democracy for which isonomia as such has little meaning, and I am also aware that I am crediting the democratists with some democratic authenticity that they probably do not really possess. But I have chosen eunomia as this symbol as a way of reminding the partisans of democracy that their precious elective regime could not exist in either its ancient or modern forms without the triumph of the rule of law and a well-ordered society. The farce in the Ukraine is a perfect example of the results of a marriage between lawlessness and democratic rhetoric.

Moreover, it is to remind our contemporaries that sane societies thrive very well without democracy and even without isonomia, but they cannot survive the loss of respect for law and authority. No one could claim that Iraq has ever enjoyed much in the way of eunomia, certainly not in recent decades, but it is hard not to see that that poor country is rapidly accelerating away from the standard of eunomia day by day. The approach of elections only ensures that it will continue to move farther away from that standard, and as it does the prospects for the emergence of some sort of free society are reduced to virtually nil.

A well-ordered, or eunomic, society would be one in which respect for these things was paramount and, what is more important, the objects of that respect would be worthy of receiving such honour. It profits us nothing to pretend that we would enjoy eunomia if only dissenters would be silent and salute Mr. Bush, as the talk-radio jockeys and their followers would have it–his administration is a gross manifestation of dysnomia, and silence in the face of its dreadful rule is complicity in its corruption of our country.

In a society such as ours, ravaged by wave upon wave of subversive and false notions about human nature, social order and political society, it is impossible to credit our contemporary establishment with the legitimate authority that past establishments have possessed. It is also exceedingly difficult to show respect for a misrule of law in which regulation has so invaded every aspect of life that almost all laws are tainted with the image of petty bureaucracy, much less to defer to a system dedicated to harrassing precisely those most inclined to respect authority while facilitating the success of those who routinely flout the law, whether they are coming from abroad or work at the heart of government. The society most obsessed with liberty is ruled over by one of the most powerful, lawless and effectively intrusive governments in history, and this is not an accident or a contradiction. Those preoccupied with liberty are bound to lose it, because, like the mass-man of Ortega y Gasset, they have no idea where it has come from or how to obtain it, and they are open to every corruption and ruination of their inheritance provided that this corruption is done in the name of preserving liberty. Thus the common, unimaginative friend of liberty, in American history most of all, is often the keenest supporter of war and the warfare state. Less surprising is the alacrity with which the zealot of democracy becomes the lackey of the “strong president,” against whom these democrats will allow no real criticism.

An old essay by C.S. Lewis comes to mind in which Prof. Lewis discussed an imagined law of priorities in earthly goods. His immediate purpose was to encourage people to set all earthly goods second to the one true good of worshipping and obeying God, without which all other goods were useless and would not be obtained for long in any event. More pertinent to the discussion today, he noted that those who set peace as the most important thing were often those most likely not to enjoy peace. Likewise, I suggest that those who set so much store by the attainment and preservation of liberty (an admirable goal in itself in an age of the expanding state) are most likely to lose that liberty.

Those who would arrange authority and liberty according to new priorities will find that both principles, when observed with restraint and with greater attention focused on authority, endure and mutually reinforce each other. This is not, strictly speaking, advocacy for the classical or Montesquieuesque mixed government model, but an application of the moral psychology of the Platonists and the Fathers to the problem of government. As intellect should govern the passions, so a legitimate and traditional authority must govern a society, and both must be governed by the memory of God. This is obviously not a new suggestion, but in light of the sheer failure of modern democracy to attain, or even to seek, the fundamental political good of eunomia it is vital to offer this reminder.