Ted Grimsrud—April 22, 2023
As long as I have cared about Christianity and politics, which is about as long as I have been a pacifist, I have thought that we need a political philosophy that captures key elements of the biblical vision of human social life. None of the main options one encounters in a political theory class (such as liberal democracy, communism, or monarchy) seem to come close to doing that. That leaves pacifist Christians with a kind of disembodied political philosophy—which is surely part the reason that pacifism seems too unrealistic. To try to fit pacifism into a philosophy of liberal democracy where a core principle is that the meaning of the state rests on its monopoly on legitimate violence is like trying to fit the proverbial round peg into a square hole.
Not long after I embraced pacifism, I learned to know a couple of anarchists. They helped open my eyes to a possible option. Then, when I took a class on the history of political theory in graduate school, I was pleased that the professor treated anarchism as a legitimate theory within the cacophony of theories that have been articulated in the western tradition. He didn’t spend much time on anarchism in the class, but that recognition of anarchism as a serious political philosophy planted a seed for me. I am still trying to make sense of Christian pacifism as a realistic and important set of convictions for people of good will. In this post, I want to reflect on the possibility that something like anarchism (or, more precisely what I will call an “anarchistic sensibility”) actually may help us imagine better the political relevance of pacifism.
What is anarchism?
The term “anarchism,” similarly to “nonviolence,” is a negative term that in its most profound sense speaks of a positive approach to human social life. Though the term “anarchism” literally means against “authority” (arché), it is at its heart—as I understand it—not mainly against something. It is for freedom and for decentralized ways of organizing social life that enhance human well-being. Anarchism has an unfair, though not totally unfounded, reputation for being violent, even terrorist. There indeed have been numerous acts of violence in the name of anarchism, perhaps most notably in the US the 1901 assassination of President McKinley at the hand of a self-proclaimed anarchist (though one who had few links with other anarchists).
The great thinkers in the anarchist tradition, however, generally were not people of violence nor advocates of terrorist tactics. Late 19th and early 20th century writers and visionaries such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin (perhaps the most pro-violence of the lot), Peter Kropotkin, and Emma Goldman had ambivalent feelings about violence, but for all of them, the main concern was imagining how human life might be organized in ways that enhance human freedom and self-determination. Still, what probably united classical anarchists as much as anything was a strong antipathy toward the state. There is a sense that the spirit of anarchism is not unfairly described as a spirit of rebellion versus centralized nation states as much as any one commitment. To achieve political life that is genuinely free and self-determined, the state must go—root and branch.
However, it could be that the anarchism represented by these thinkers is too state-centered. Maybe we would do better with a political philosophy that has anarchistic sensibilites if we did not equate politics with state-politics. This may be the key to developing a Christian political philosophy as well—to imagine it as having not simply to do with how we might run the state. In several articles and a PhD dissertation, political thinker Ted Troxell has helpfully brought together Christian theology, anarchist thought, and what he calls “postanarchism.”
“Postanarchism” is a term that has arisen in the 21st century to refer to attempts to apply postmodern or poststructuralist thought to anarchism. This is not a way to be finished with anarchism but rather to apply these new styles of thought to anarchist theory in order to make it more relevant to our contemporary context. Troxell mentions one important postanarchist thinker, Todd May, who differentiates between what he calls “strategic” and “tactical” thinking. Strategic-thinking-oriented anarchism focuses on one particular theme, the state, while a more tactical-thinking-oriented approach questions that unitary focus and seek to broaden the scope of applying anarchist thought.
One especially important theme, according to Troxell, where this increased flexibility becomes key is our response to macroeconomic issues related to the dominant neoliberal regime we live in that is not strictly state-centered. In general, a more tactical approach creates possibilities of heightened creativity in navigating the particular issues facing people seeking a more humane politics in the contemporary world. Postanarchism, as presented by Troxell, also makes a closer link between Christianity and anarchism seem more possible.
As a rule, not without reason, anarchists have seen Christianity as part of the problem. However, ever since the rise of Christendom in the early Middle Ages, a few Christians have joined the resistance to the domination system (note, the early Franciscans’ voluntary poverty; the Anabaptists’ radical anti-Christendom witness; the pro-labor and antiwar activism and unconditional hospitality of the Catholic Workers, and the overtly Christian influences on the Civil Rights Movement). Troxell suggests it is even possible to talk about “Christian anarchism.” However, this is an anarchism that agrees with postanarchism in not focusing on overthrowing the state. Christian Anarchism instead will seek to find ways to live out an alternative witness to a peaceable world as a way to anticipate the hoped-for kingdom of God.
Contemporary theologian, Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, has written a book, Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel, that articulates a vision that has in mind not the overthrow of present structures so much the subversion of them. This subversion emphasizes creating alternative communities that embody the way of life that is to come. The hoped-for revolution will lead to social transformation, but through love, forgiveness, and patience not violence and terror. For Christian anarchism, radical living in the present is made possible by trust in God’s guidance of history that will lead to an authentically anarchist social reality.
The Anabaptist contribution
The Anabaptist tradition has been occasionally recognized as a kind of prefiguring of anarchism, though rarely have there ever been overt connections between anarchists and Anabaptists. In recent years, especially in light of a decentering of the idea of overthrowing the state, it has become more common for Christian anarchism to see Anabaptist emphases as relevant. An Anabaptist critique of the state would not include a call to abolish the state, though the state indeed is all too often characterized by Jesus’s charge of tyranny. However, even so, it plays a necessary restraining role in protecting people from the resultant destructive chaos likely to ensue were the state abolished before people were truly ready for the self-determination anarchism hopes for. Recognizing that abolishing the state is not an immediately desirable outcome is thus a common stance that Anabaptistic and a postanarchistic sensibilities share.
As part of the decentering of the state and state power, we could see a point of contact in thinking about power more generally. An Anabaptist reading of the New Testament notes the use of power in the plural—the “powers and principalities”—with the sense that it is appropriate to reject the notion of power in the modern world that sees it as centralized and univocal and rather recognize that power should be seen as multifaceted. Postanarchists also understand power to arise “from many different sites” in ways that interact to form our social world.
To recognize power’s decentralized manifestation in the world supports seeing social action as oriented toward efforts to construct humane spaces for creativity and peaceable living more than to directly overthrow the existing order. The efforts of the Anabaptists over the centuries have been focused on creating alternative faith communities and in the context of those communities to develop strategies for meeting human needs and express human creativity and, in a sense, letting the state take care of itself.
Troxell calls this positive focus on creating space to be human outside the domination of the state “a structural indifference to the state.” With this, the state is not necessarily rejected as unimportant on a practical level so much as it is not the central emphasis for the community’s political involvements. In a parallel manner, postanarchism is uninterested in typical anarchist strategies of creating a “vanguard movement” to take down the state. Instead, since there is no centralized source of power that must be taken control of, the focus may be turned toward the decentralized politics of direct involvement in the day-to-day work of humane engagement. The goal is to construct a politics that embodies decentralized power all the way down.
When the focus is to construct decentralized spaces to be humane more than concentrated efforts to overthrow the state, the emphasis will be on the practices to sustain that humaneness—another point of close connection between Anabaptist thought and postanarchism. Anabaptist peaceable practices are similar to what some postanarchists call “micropolitics.” A central practice is that of patient listening to various points of view. This listening is a key element in processing conflicts. Inspired by the Anabaptist emphasis on the importance of the Bible, we may seek a reading of scripture that highlights ways that the Bible actually might support an anarchistic sensibility. The points of congruence between Anabaptism and postanarchism may be linked with such a reading.
The Bible’s “anarchistic” politics: Old Testament
The Bible provides much material for idealistic hopes, and we should take that material seriously. One of the main functions of the Bible is to hold before us a vision of genuine healing and shalom. At the same time, the Bible does give us pictures of human fallenness, of imperfect communities, of power politics. The tension between the imperfect and the ideal remains very much in place.
From the start, the story expresses a deep suspicion of centralized political power. At first this is a bit subtle. Only if we notice what is missing in the creation story will we recognize its subversive tenor. The creative force and center of power in the universe is not anything hinting of human kingship or empires. It is a free, humane, relational God whose creative energies stem from love not domination. The human politics in the rest of Genesis are familial, decentralized, local, and often surprising. Younger sons at times take priority. Injustices at times are forgiven. The God at times sides with the weaker and more vulnerable members of the community.
In Exodus, the Bible’s anti-imperial sensibility becomes explicit. The paragon of power politics, the god-emperor Pharaoh of Egypt is shown to be corrupt and overtly opposed to the God of the Hebrews (that is, according to the story, the God who is the Creator of the Universe—so this is a cosmological statement). God intervenes to liberate the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and gifts them with a blueprint for a just and humane society—the law codes (Torah). Though Torah certainly contains many ambiguities and reflects its own time and place of origin, as a whole, it may fruitfully be read as an exercise in anti-imperial politics. The vision of communal life in Torah is a counter-vision to the notion of life expressed in Egypt’s ways of domination. So, the exodus story includes both a critique of centralized, unjust power and a vision for an alternative community of freed slaves, an alternative vision for human life.
The community is meant to operate in a way that prevents a return to slavery. The anti-slavery dynamics of Torah include both a rejection of centralized power (initially, no human king and no permanent military; when allowance for the possibility of human kingship is made, precautions are still provided to prevent aggrandizement of power and wealth) and an affirmation of the center of power being the community and not some kind of small elite.
Along with Egypt, later empires are also critiqued throughout the Bible. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome are often presented as God’s enemies, as oppressors of the Hebrew people (and so many others), and as the sources of most of the world’s violence and injustice. The entire project of the exodus, Torah, and the sustenance of the community of God’s people is framed from the beginning in terms of God’s work of blessing all the families of the earth. Resistance to power politics is one of the main aspects of this work, along with constructing communities that model genuine justice and empower the vulnerable.
One of the most politically significant parts of the Bible is the account of the post-exodus community. Though gifted with Torah as guidance to just living, it struggles from the beginning to actually embody such just living. They end up with a homeland, gained by morally ambiguous means, including a great deal of violence. What’s not ambiguous is that in time, this territorial kingdom departs from Torah’s guidance for just living. As the kings and power elite imitate the ways of the nations and exploit the vulnerable, prophets arise who reemphasize the perennial relevance of Torah and the politics of decentralized power and empowered self-determination. In the end, the territorial kingdom is destroyed, and with it that model as a channel for God’s promise is ended. So, the relevance of Torah is multifaceted, in many ways hinting at an anarchistic sensibility—especially in its critique of centralized power, attention to the needs of the vulnerable, providing guidance for shared power in the community, and empowerment of the prophets as a source of insight and direction from leaders outside the elite establishment.
The Bible’s “anarchistic” politics: New Testament
It is possible to read New Testament politics as being in continuity with the Old Testament when we recognize how central to the story is the failure of the territorial kingdom as the locus for God’s work among human beings. The Hebrews were given the Land as a place to embody Torah and fulfill their vocation to bless all the families of the earth. For various reasons, they failed to do so. The leadership class became corrupt, and Torah was disregarded. Ultimately, the territorial kingdoms were destroyed by a couple of the great empires, Assyria and Babylon. The key message of this tragic story, though, was that the destruction of the territorial kingdoms was not actually a defeat for Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews. This destruction was actually a vindication of Torah and of the warning God gave the people back when they entered the Land in the time of Joshua: Disregard Torah and your kingdom will fall.
When the territorial kingdom had been established the people gradually turned from Torah. At the last minute of this kingdom’s existence, the law books were rediscovered. With Torah back in hand, the community managed to find sustenance for their peoplehood. They didn’t need a king nor a territorial kingdom to witness to the truth of Torah and to bless all the families of the earth. The political message of the Old Testament thus ends up being an affirmation of peoplehood and politics apart from existing as a territorial kingdom.
With that anti-territorial kingdom message in mind, the political dynamics of the New Testament make more sense—and it’s easier to see continuity between the two testaments. Jesus framed his ministry as an expression of the kingdom of God. But politics of the kingdom of God as presented by Jesus has to do not with a territorial kingdom but with embodying Torah in decentralized, shalom-focused “assemblies.” The common life and witness of these assemblies was about politics in the same ways that the original Torah-centered community following the exodus was—practice generosity, justice for the vulnerable, non-acquisitive economics, no centralized power elite, reconciliation rather than retaliation when there is conflict.
Both testaments show optimism that the dictates of Torah that especially empower vulnerable people are followable. Certainly, we read of many failures to embody the way of Torah consistently, but the main responsibility for such failures generally lies with the powers-that-be in the community and with the impact of the great empires on the people (from Egypt to Rome). Human nature is not the problem so much as the imposition of power politics from the top down. The Bible, as a whole, undermines the domination of hierarchies in human communities. Do not be like the tyrants of the nations, Jesus insisted.
An Anabaptist reading of biblical politics has much to gain from a conversation with postanarchists. The potential of useful connections with postanarchists may also be present with other anarchist thinkers as well. Anabaptists suggest a line of continuity from the formation of the people of God around the liberating work of Yahweh (with the prophetic word and not human power politics at the center) through the failure of the geographically bounded kingdom option through the continuation of peoplehood based on Torah and not the sword culminating in Jesus as king, reinforcing a politics of servanthood. Many of the classic anarchist thinkers and practitioners (maybe most especially Peter Kropotkin) have sought a similar kind of politics.
My concern is not so much with converting anarchists to Christianity or to convert Christians to anarchists. I don’t even know yet if I want to call myself a full-fledged anarchist. More so, I want to work at a way of reading the Bible that would challenge Christians to embody a radical political philosophy. And with that, I suspect more awareness of the anarchist tradition, including the recent thought of postanarchists, would be very helpful for that task. And if doing so would make biblical and theological resources more available to anarchists and other activists, so much the better.
5 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as a Christian political philosophy? [Questioning faith #22]”
“At first this is a bit subtle. Only if we notice what is missing in the creation story will we recognize its subversive tenor. The creative force and center of power in the universe is not anything hinting of human kingship or empires.”
The subtlety is not necessarily the absence of political power and kingship, but its presence in ancient idioms and expressions that most modern Christians compartmentalise as “religious” language and matters to safely depoliticise it.
The creation is at the beginning. The most interesting question is “the beginning of WHAT?” The “heavens and the earth” is the answer. But, what are the “heavens and the earth”? The heavens can be understood in a cosmological sense as the sky or skies, or the expanse above the land, but the cosmology system of the bible is ancient and does not concord with the physical world as we know it, and this “creation account” does not appear to be referring to that. But the heavens are also the position of elevation of power, political power. We pray to our “Father” (a term of political seniority) who is “in heaven.” When a man is elevated politically, he is exalted to heaven, and he becomes a god. When his political power falls, he falls from heaven down to earth, and he falls like a prince and dies like a man because that is what and who he is (e.g. Ps. 82:6-7). Importantly, when a person is granted political power, he not only ascends to heaven, but he also becomes a star in the sky (e.g. Is. 14:13). Thus, the creation of the heavenly bodies to rule the land is not without political meaning: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:14-15). When the saints rise from the dust of the earth in the New Covenant, they are “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Dan. 12:3). And when the Second Temple priestly class is destroyed, “the power of the holy people has been completely shattered” (Dan. 12:7) when “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Mat. 24:29).
The heavenly bodies are the rulers – men – who dwell in “heaven” and who rule and who administer “signs and for seasons, and for days and years” i.e. the Levitical and sacrificial calendar system of observances and ceremonies. This priestly class is to give “light” to the “land” but not the sea. yet, these heavenly bodies were doomed to firey judgement: “the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Pet. 3:10).
The sea is the nations: “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (Rev. 17:15). The creation separates the land from the waters (Gen. 1:9), and creates “man” as the ruler of the “animals” (Gen. 1:26-28). It cannot simply be assumed or taken for granted that these “animals” are not other human beings who are being ruled over by the heavenly bodies and by “man” in this “creation” order that has its beginning here.
These elements are repeated and/or paralleled in the story of “man” (“Adam”) and his family, and in the story of Israel and her priesthood. The “man” is separated from the dust of the “land” and taken into a land that has no productive vegetation. He is given a “helper”, taken from his own people, his own “flesh and bone” in the same way that the priests are taken from the tribe of Levi to be the “helper” of the covenant people. “Man” is given the priestly task of tending and keeping the garden. When “man” with his “helper” fails, he is ejected from the garden presence of God, but the seed line continues. Cain, the seed of the woman, also fails, and also is ejected from the presence of God, and there are other human beings around who he fears may kill him. Seth becomes the new seed of the woman and his line produces Noah, the man of the garden, the one to save humanity. But he also fails. And the seed line goes to Abraham, and Jacob. Jacob becomes Israel and from his flesh and bone the tribe of Levi are taken out of the covenant people to become their helper. But this covenant man with his helper fails and is cast out of the land.
But, that “creation” of Israel and her covenant and her system, her heavens and earth creation are temporary: they are rolled up like a scroll (Rev. 6:12-17) and decreated, when “the power of the holy people has been completely shattered” (Dan. 12:7), when the second temple falls and when the end comes like a flood destroying the Second Temple and Jerusalem (Dan. 9:26-27). It is Israel that are “O heavens” and “O earth” (Is. 1:2) that are called to account for her rebellion. As Moses has called the people of Israel and their leaders “heaven” and “earth” (Deut. 31:28-32:1), so Isaiah calls the people of Israel heaven and earth says that they will be torn down and replaced with a new “creation” a “new heavens and a new earth” (Is. 65:17). This new creation is the new Jerusalem (Is. 65:18). That heaven and earth would pass away at the fall of the Second Temple, but the new covenant would remain forever (Mat. 24:35). In that new creation, that new Israel, government and rulership remain: “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mat. 19:28). In that new creation there are still rulers and governors, ruling from heaven, shining like stars from heaven: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mat. 13:43). Indeed, the saints were already resurrected and elevated to heaven and sitting on thrones in Eph. 2:4-6.
All this is not to detract from your points. Government and governance are taught in the bible including for the New Covenant age, in the New Creation, in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Yes, they are not like the nations and not even like the old creation of Israel and her priesthood and her Torah. Much of the new creation is like the old creation and its Torah, including the hostility to the style of patriarchy, polygyny, dynasty, tyranny, violence and centralisation. Yet, under the new creation the division, the “dividing wall of hostility” between the old Israel and the nations is broken down (Eph. 2:11-22) as the people of God are united into one new body. The kingdom of priests is now the entire body of Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-10), and we are sons of God (Rom. 8:14) and brothers of Christ (Rom. 8:29), and Christ is the head of every man (1 Cor. 11:3). In the new body, all in Christ are citizens, equal members of the assembly, and therefore are co-governors and co-sovereigns, as members of the ruling political family. And the style and manner and content of this sovereignty and rulership are what we are taught by Christ as the new way of government and governance. That is the new Christian political philosophy, and it operates in independently from the old powers, and on many levels, to bring the healing of the leaves of the tree of life to the nations.
Thanks for the interesting read, Ted. It turns out my uninformed assumptions about anarchism — that, like its root word anarchy, it entails disorder and chaos – were misguided.
Wow! This is a great resource and layout of how to proceed on very critical issues, especially at this juncture in how civil religion has developed, esp. on the right! I’ve read it slowly to grasp and retain as much as possible, will re-read at least parts of it and have several comments, but am out of time for now. But a number of important intersections, etc. to comment on later. Thanks for the good, thoughtful research and writing, Ted!
*** “The goal is to construct a politics that embodies decentralized power all the way down.” ***
Among many stand-out statements here, this one I thought might best encapsulate the key principles of a “Jesus-following” (akin to “Christian” but a preferred term to many) political philosophy. It needs to be one which is integrated with the rest of good theology, and with the various structures of society which tend to organize and guide our lives.
Each of these has their own level and form of “politics”… the same ethical and relational principles should guide these “non-political” associations and organizations as do, ideally, the overtly political ones (civil government). Generally de-centralization is important, including in churches, one of the “modeling” locations for wider application!
I’m a member of a congregational church (within UCC), and believe congregational (de-centralized) rule is important, preferable to either the hierarchy of a “strong” pastor, with underlings, or a hierarchy of priests (or pastors), bishops, cardinals, etc. There are certain operational, or “maintaining control” advantages to the more hierarchical structures, but not worth what it means and tends to lead to in our context and overall.
Most people realize that “the Church” should not be intended to run civil governments. Especially not in a pluralistic society, which means not just the USA, but most countries, if not all to some extent. History has shown the major traps and failures of that. However, a properly Jesus-following collective of churches can and should exercise prophetic influence such to keep civil government from straying too far from commonly-held ethical/moral principles. A classic case where this potential was in play but failed was the “German Christians”, of largely Lutheran Germany, from the appointment of Hitler as chancellor in 1933 through the critical next year or two. (This is when strong, united resistance, non-violently, might have yet worked.)
The “resistance” became the “Confessing Church” which DID hold out against Hitler’s centralization of power and subsequent evils, but was far too small a force. A very few observant, principled Christian leaders within Germany or Switzerland (Karl Barth, after expulsion from Germany in 1935) spoke strong warnings promptly, particularly in 1933 (Barth’s “Theological Existence Today”) and 1934 (The Barmen Declaration).
It is crucial that more, especially “conservative” or “traditional/orthodox” Christians in America understand this history, see the strong parallels in America today, and follow the principle of as little centralization of power as possible; as much of governance as possible left to the lowest relevant sphere, from individual, to family, to community, to regional (county, etc.), to national level. And ultimate allegiance to God only, not to any party, politician or set of attitudes and policy positions (as in Christian Nationalism)!!
Speaking like this one might think I’m a Republican…. And many years ago, I did vote Republican at least some of the time. But the Republican Party of the last several years has abandoned consistency on this principle, along with others, so thoroughly that one can hardly find an elected Republican who DOES stand for this and resists the powerful temptation of gaining enough control at a given level to enact things clearly against majority opinion and will (especially at the state level), and with even dubious moral (including “biblical”) backing.
So is the emergence of a definite Democratic Party control, in both the states and nationally, the proper antidote? Hardly!
I’m not sure I will go as far with formal “anarchism”, even of “postanarchism” variety, as you may Ted, but I’m largely uninformed and hope to soon learn more re. it… how it fits with the rest of my paradigm in the push for “deliberative democracy” and the structures that enable it. What I WILL say, in order to wrap up this long comment for now, is that direct efforts to undo our “two-party plutocracy” are not at all likely to work. (As in a previous comment, I’ll mention again that the serious and entrenched level of dysfunction of our electoral system, with its two major parties, is laid out well in the very readable book, “Forward” by Andrew Yang.)
Rather than marginal reforms, our “salvation” lies in gaining and keeping momentum toward mechanisms such as ranked choice voting, citizen councils, participatory budgeting (mostly on municipal levels currently) and open primaries. They DO have ability to get further traction and get to levels of “critical mass” toward widespread implementation and the enablement of a truly decentralized government at all levels, including national. (And not one that will automatically or necessarily abandon vital aspects of regulation, which does require sizeable bureaucracies but which can have more citizen-involved oversight.)
This seems to me to follow much closer the Jesus/Paul/early Church (pre-Pastoral Epistles) principles than any current national party, major or minor, and anything deeply articulated and widely promoted even in theory form.
I’ll add a couple thoughts to my comment of April 29. There are so many good thoughts to respond to that even 2 or 3 comments can’t cover them… and I’m saddened that more comments have not been generated here. I’m thinking of reblogging it on my blog, Ted, if you don’t object. (I’ve been so inactive on it for a long time that its readership has dwindled but it will get some new readers, for sure.)
First, I understand why a seriously thought-through “philosophy of…” [fill in the blank] article generally doesn’t get a high level of reading or comments, and that is part of our problem!
A comment in affirmation of your pointing out the role of Anabaptists, including and especially Mennonites. As you probably recall, my mother was raised in a Mennonite home though not a lot in a Mennonite “community” beyond extended family, due to location. So I didn’t see a great deal of Mennonite “culture” and organizations, etc., but a bit here and there, including some as a young adult via fellow students in my Christian college, some formal studies, and extended family reunions. I’d add to your points that Mennonites have long done pioneering and important work on various levels of conflict resolution, beginning at the romantic/married couple or two-person level. This is an important complement to their general posture toward “the state”.
Also of real importance are their principles of broader “peace-building” and of “simple living”, respect for natural resources, conservation, etc. (My own ancestors on my mother’s side came to the USA as farmers, like many others, and established farms here… among other contributions, bringing the later-vital hard red winter wheat here from Georgia [Russia]).
It’s been hard for Mennonites (to my limited knowledge) to find common cause with Catholics over points in which some Catholics share important principles of social ethics, equity in economics, etc. This is true going the other direction also, from the indications I see. And it’s true broadly for most Protestants. Sure, progressives support ecumenical efforts and dialogs, generally unlike conservatives, but the level of actual cooperative efforts is disappointing to say the least.
As a case in point, there is a Catholic (Italian)-founded organization long active in the US, though relatively small, called the Focolare movement. It is highly ecumenical and not actually “Catholic” as to control or membership, though it has had Vatican support. But Protestants generally either don’t know of it or perhaps view it either askance or as unimportant. So they don’t get involved, as most Catholics do not either. But Focolare is all about small communities and about how to help people live together peacefully and productively… supportive, I believe, of decentralization in the ways you speak of.
Then there is a largely Protestant organization of some age also, promoting principles of community from a Christian point of view, called Parish Collective. I don’t believe Catholics tend to either know of it, nor involve themselves in it. Now, I realize that Catholics have many charities as well as the Catholic Worker movement and a good number of Catholic Worker communities. The “theory”, via Dorothy Day and others of decades ago and since, expresses well “Catholic social teaching”. This is basically what Protestants also at least outwardly affirm of Jesus’ teachings, if not actively applying it. But we don’t see active cooperation or much collaboration between Catholic and Protestant. And this is different than mere “ecumenical dialog”. We need to broaden ourselves and actively look for key places where cooperative efforts would be synergistic… the “whole being greater than the sum of the parts”.