Paul Henri Dietrich in, The Encyclopedia of Diderot, tackles the complexity of theocracy; show casing its flaws and the dangers behind pursuing one. He defines theocracy as, “a government in which a nation is submitted immediately to God, who exercises his sovereignty over her, and who makes her know his will by the organ of the prophets and ministers to whom he is pleased to manifest himself.” What Dietrich seems to suggest throughout the encyclopedia entry is that the difference between a “true theocracy” and an imposter is the actions of the priests. He does not credit the inability for a theocracy to work by discount the belief in God, but on the contrary, Dietrich does overtly show bias towards Judeo-Christian ideology. He argues, “the Hebrew nation provides us with the only example of a true theocracy,” because “Moses was only the organ and the interpreter of the will of heaven,” and that God “reserved for himself the sovereignty over the Israelites.” This suggests that the Hebrew’s had a true theocracy because their priest was true to God and under his command. To reinforce this point, Dietrich discredits many other religions that attempted to have a theocracy. He categorizes the religious attempts to form a theocracy as “imposters,” though often doesn’t give explicit reason why they are not considered true theocracies, it can be interpreted that the lack of authenticity is due to the religion/priest. For example, he mentions Muslims by stating, “among the Arabs, Mohammed made himself the prophet, legislator, pontiff, and the sovereign of a crude and subjugated nation […] We know that Mohammed claimed to have received these laws from the mouth of God himself.” Dietrich, with the juxtaposition of the term sovereign/sovereignty when regarding both Moses and Mohammed, leads the reader to understand that the difference between a true theocracy and an “imposter” is the priest’s claim not of divine knowledge, but their claim of power.
The claim of power returns to the forefront when Dietrich discusses Christianity’s desire for theocracy. He’s simply addresses that “although Jesus Christ had declared that his kingdom was not of this world, in centuries of ignorance, one saw the Christian pontiffs struggle to establish their power on the ruins of that of kings,” expanding that pontiffs were “profiting from the superstitious stupidity of the people.” From this point on in the essay, it is obvious that though Dietrich may have bias towards a Judeo-Christian religion, he see’s theocracy as a tool of destruction. He continues by confronting the idea that religions should form a separate theocracy, “independent of the civil power” and expresses, “it is left to the wisdom of sovereigns [kings] to repress these ambitious and idealistic pretentions, and to contain all member of society with the just boundaries that reason and the tranquility of the states prescribe.” Dietrich is proposing that in order to govern humans, we must stay in the realm of human power and understanding. He directs the readers to the past, and explains that “men gathered together in society would want no other monarch than the Supreme Being,” because it is natural to want the All Powerful to run your nation, but Dietrich quickly notes that the problem arose when “these priests had no trouble governing men in the name of mute and inanimate idols of which they were the ministers […] The priests, prideful of their power, abused it strangely; that was their incontinence.” Dietrich is bring the readers attention to the fact that a theocracy leads to a government and societal system that allows no restraints on the leaders as well as encourages blind ignorance from its citizens.
The attitude expressed by Dietrich is an obvious reflection of the thoughts of that time. The main complaint presented against theocracy is the power of the people in charge, or in other words, the lack of power the average people amid the society have. This is an blatant precursor to Immanuel Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” essay, which prescribes the need for “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Dietrich shows theocracy as a form of government that encourages this tutelage, in which citizens do not partake in learning and discovering on their own, but follow blindly a priest who could easily be lying or manipulating the masses for personal gain. Even worse, if one operates under a theocracy, both the leaders and the followers could fall into the trap of superstitions, or become over zealous, meaning they'd not only be falling into "self-incurred tutelage," but also losing sight of the truth within their religion. Some thirty years after Dietrich writes his entry, Kant writes “the cleric: [says] do not argue but believe,” and Dietrich seems to grappling with that idea in-depth by portraying theocracy as a form of government that takes the freedom of knowledge and supplements discovery with superstition. Interestingly, Kant argues that a complete monarch is the only place the type of freedom needed for an enlightened society can be reached, and even though Dietrich does not explicitly agree, it can be interpreted that he would prefer a monarch to a theocracy simply because the system would not be founded on denying access to knowledge, or subject to fall into superstition.
Similarly, the focus on freedom of learning during the time most likely influenced Dietrich, through the growth of publishing and expanding common knowledge through writings. Dietrich, no doubt, is calling warning to the threats of theocracy because of its ability to, for no reason beside divine revelation, prevent further knowledge about the world. During this time there are great advances, as seen with Robert Hooke in his collection, Micrographia, where he exposes nature in a way that allows it to be accessed by the public as well as provide explanations for things that used to be assumed as out of reach from human understanding, therefore requiring a divine understanding. In Hooke’s observation of the Flea, he ends with “there are many other particulars, which, being more obvious, an affording no great matter of information, I shall pass by, and refer the reader to the figure,” which is dramatically different from what you would assume from Dietrich’s depiction of a theocracy. The power in a theocracy, as Dietrich suggests, is in the followers inability to know what is actually wanted from the divine figure they worship. But here, in this time period, there are people such as Hooke that give you as much information as possible and tell their followers to look upon the evidence themselves. This tension arising with theocracy, as Hooke implicitly addresses, seems to connect with a larger theme of who has the power to educate. Depending on who has the power, history itself could be re-written, because with a theocracy, you give the priests power to set the individual in John Locke's metaphorical room, and attach to the individual a perception that is not actually created by their own experience, but the interpretation of history that was created by someone else. If a theocracy was operating, it would be in direct discord with Hooke's desire to present information into that metaphorical room in which the individual could experience it. Therefore, in a theocracy the power is with the priests, and the fear associated with that is their ability to manipulate the masses. To counteract theocracy, in the age of enlightenment, the question of who has the power to educate becomes one of great importance, as some will suggest its the fathers, others the writers, but Dietrich and Hooke seem to be of the popular mindset that the individual should have the power to educate themselves.
Though Dietrich seems to suggest that if a true theocracy is possible, it was in the ways of Moses and not in the ways of any other religion, but Dietrich underscores the entry with a pressure on theocracy as an inept way to govern. Dietrich is a man influenced by Hooke, laying the foundations for Kant, developing ideas regarding freedom of knowledge all throughout his entry.