In theaters this week is a new film about an FBI agent who goes undercover to find and stop white supremacists. While the movie looks like a standard thriller the title is unusual: Imperium.
Imperium isn’t a word we hear very often today. It comes from the Latin for “command” or “empire” and referred to the supreme executive power in the Roman state, involving both military and judicial authority. The word would later be adopted for the term imperator (emperor), a title for the supreme authority within a state.
Today, in Western nations, the state itself is often viewed as the imperium. As Jonathan Leeman points out, the state alone has the power over life and death—the power of the sword.
So if you want to start a business or a school, you need the state’s permission. The same is true for soccer clubs, trade unions, or charity organizations. They exist by permission of the state, and the state regulates them. They don’t regulate the state. They don’t have imperium.
While the state has ultimate power over soccer clubs and trade unions, does it have the same authority over churches? No, it doesn’t. As Leeman explains,