Consulting the dictionary: concepts and definitions of “sectarianism”part ii

In Defence of Associative Specificity – Concerning (Inherently) Anarchist “Sectarianism” Part I.


From, translated by Act for Freedom Now!
According to the Diccionario de uso del español1 María Moliner,2 it is defined as:
Sect: Doctrine taught by a teacher and followed by his adepts. Particularly, the doctrine and the group of its adepts. desp. Doctrine considered erroneous, or that departs from the traditional or official, and, especially, that which is considered pernicious for its followers: “Destructive sect”. A group of the followers of a sect.
Sectarian: -a (adv. sectarian) 1 adj. and n. (of) Follower of a certain sect. 2 Applied to one who fanatically follows a doctrine, and its attitude, opinions, etc. → *Intransigent, * partisan.
Sectarianism: m. Quality or attitude of sectarian.

If we consult the Indo-European Etymological Dictionary of the Spanish Language, it reveals that the noun “sect” (sectam) is the feminine of an obsolete participle of the Latin sequor (“to follow”) that comes from the Indo-European root *sekʷ-.3 The Oxford Latin Dictionary also agrees with this meaning.4 And, in the same vein, the Encyclopedic Theological Dictionary is also in agreement with this meaning; therefore, it is inferred that “the sect has as its first point of reference, not a particular doctrine, but […] membership to a group with a identity which is well-defined and distinct from the broader social environment […] The opposition is then manifested at the level of doctrine, morals, ritual and discipline and structuring of the group”5.
However, around this elucidation there are strong discrepancies, since the Indo-European root sek actually has three meanings that give rise to three Latin verbs: 1. secare (to blind/cut), 2. sequor (to follow), 3. siccare (to dry). The latter comes from the Latin word siccus (“dry”) which has a very different Indo-European root (*seik). However, secare or sectum (“to cut”), from which the Latin word sectio (sector/section/segment) derives, does seem to be related to the Latin and Spanish voice “secta”, as well as the verbs sequor, sequi, sequire (“to follow”, “to continue”, “sequence”). In this sense, the Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue Latine. Histoire des mots by Alfred Ernout and Antoine Meillet, offers us a certain “solution” by combining the verbs sequor (to follow) and siccus (“dry”), concluding that secta could rather derive from the verbal frequentative sector.6 In this regard, it is curious – without falling into wordplay – that the feminine noun “sedition”, which comes from the Latin seditio, seditionis (“estrangement”, “disunion”, “going far away”, “departure from an established power or a common march”), from which also comes “revolt”), although derived from a completely different Indo-European root (*ei, meaning “to go”), is closely related conceptually to the notion of “sect” understood as the “doctrine that departs from orthodoxy” or “sections itself from the established”.
In the religious context, these nominatives (“sect”, “sectarian” and “sectarianism”) are widely documented in the Jewish religion. Specifically, upon their return from exile (in the 6th century B.C.E.), the idea of a single God became popular among the Israelites and, hand in hand with this monotheistic conception, any group that departed from the religious hegemony began to be adjectivized as a “sect” or “faction”, considering it a “disloyal practice”. In this sense, the Bible mentions the Sadducees, Pharisees, Nazarenes and Christians as factions of Judaism. When they departed from the orthodox ideas and practices of Judaism, they were called “sectarians”.
This epithet gained even more force in the context of the monopoly of fundamentalist Catholicism. The Catholic Church considers itself “the only universal society instituted by Jesus Christ which has a legitimate claim to the allegiance of all men”, and therefore it claims to be “the sole guardian of the whole teaching of Jesus Christ, which must be accepted in its entirety by all mankind”.7 Assuming itself to be the possessor of the “universal truth”, any dissent was understood as a “sectarian” position and condemned as “heresy”. Thus, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Arianism, the Albigensians, the Hussites and Protestantism of later date, would be inscribed as “heretical sects” in the Epistles of the New Testament. Particularly, the Epistle to the Galatians (5,20), mentions “quarrels, dissensions (and), sects”, as “works of the flesh” and, Simeon Peter (alias St. Peter), in his Second Epistle (2,1) warns about the “false teachers who will introduce pernicious sects”.8
Among the “Protestant” denominations, particularly in Germany and the United Kingdom, where state churches or national churches exist (this is also the case with the National Church of Iceland and the Danish People’s Church), any dissent is likewise labeled a “sect”. Obedience to civil authority in religious matters is a necessary prerequisite, going so far as to affirm that only “the preaching of the Word of God, the legitimate administration of the Sacraments and the historical identification with the national life of a people entitles a denomination to consider itself a Church; in the absence of these requirements, it is nothing more than a sect.”9
Even the Anabaptists, one of the Christian millenarianist movements that have most rejected the label of “sect” and which, paradoxically, has been labeled as such – by the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Russian Orthodox churches, among others – when they imposed communism in Münster,10 hardened the persecution of the “sectarians” by demonizing the exogroups; that is, any dissidence to the regime. That theocratic-communist city-state – so defended by Tolstoy from his delirious conception of anarchism – was transformed into hell and purgatory for the “sectarians” in the name of “fantasies of a final and destructive struggle against ‘the powerful’ and of a perfect world in which selfish interest would be abolished forever”.11
If we review some glossaries of socio-political terminology, we can see that the notions “sect”, “sectarian” and “sectarianism” have always been inscribed in a pejorative spirit regardless of the conceptual affiliations of their authors. Emerging in the field of religious confrontation, these words became “modular” and were transplanted – with all their axiologically negative connotations – to a wide variety of ideological fields. Thus, they were introduced into the political lexicon, gaining significant presence in the Marxian vocabulary in the 19th century. However, there is evidence of their use (and abuse) in the 18th century. The rabid anti-Semitism of the most prominent philosophers of the Enlightenment testifies to this. In his Essai sur les mœurs et l’ esprit del nations12 (1756), Voltaire unburdens himself by endowing racism with “intellectual” authority and lashes out with hatred against the “Jewish sect”.
For the author of Envy and Society, sociologist Helmut Schoeck, the terms “sect” and “sectarianism” have “a pejorative meaning, because sects have always been in opposition to majority groups” (my italics).13 His counterpart, Karl-Heinz Hillman, does not object in the least to this definition by specifying that a “sect” is a “religious or political community which, opposing a larger social organization (religious denomination, party), separates itself from it” (my italics).14 While Arlotti’s Technical and Scientific Vocabulary of Politics confirms the exegesis by calling “sect” (in its first meaning) a “group of persons professing the same doctrine”. AND, “B. In a special s., more usual and always pejorative, it is said of a group of men who adhere strictly to a very definite doctrine, and whom this adherence unites strongly among themselves, at the same time separating them from the others” (my italics).15
In the field of the sociology of religion, various types of religious organization (church, denomination, cult and sect) are distinguished, although difficulties arise as to their definition and delimitation. Thus, not only do we come across different meanings of the word “sect”, but we also find different uses of the term. Max Weber, in his revised edition of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1920), delved into the binary opposition between “Church” and “sect”. He defined the “Church” as “an institute of grace which administers religious goods of salvation as a custodial foundation and membership in which is (ideally) compulsory” (italics in original).16 Whereas he described the “sect” as “a voluntary association composed exclusively of (ideally) ethico-religiously qualified persons, into which one enters voluntarily if one is accepted by virtue of religious confirmation” (italics in original).17 Or, in other words, the “Church” as an institution of salvation that privileges the extension of its influence and the “sect” as a contractual group that emphasizes the intensity of life of its members. Therefore, “by its meaning and essence it must necessarily renounce universality and base itself on the free agreement of its members.” (italics in original).18
Weber thus made clear the opposition between the orthodox and heterodox ideal, orthodoxy being understood as a monopolistic organizational and doctrinal structure that privileges its hegemony (“Church”) and the heterodox perspective of those who, from multiple and varied interpretations, do not want to be part of a whole and associate freely (“sect”). In this sense, it refers to the “ecclesia pura” that seeks the “sect” in contrast to the “Church”. According to this Weberian reflection: “The sect has the ideal of the ‘ecclesia pura’ (hence the name ‘puritans’), […] from whose bosom the mangy rams are excluded so that they do not offend the gaze of God”. For this reason he “rejects ecclesiastical indulgences and the official charisma”.19
The Protestant sociologist and theologian Ernst Troeltsch – who was a disciple of Weber – in his efforts to refine the Weberian typology, distinguished the discrepancies (between “sect” and “Church”) from the objectives. To this end, he pointed to the Church’s ability to adapt to society, establishing ties of “engagement with states.” Conversely, he identified that the “sect” distances itself from society and rejects adaptation and dialogue, reaffirming “its questioning of the social order”. Troeltsch fully agrees with the reflections of his teacher and colleague who asserts that “the church is an institution”; he also agrees with the assessment of the “sect” as “a voluntary society”.20 However, he adds to his analysis the category of “mysticism”, which for Troeltsch “leads to the formation of groups on a purely personal basis, with a non-permanent form, which also tends to weaken both the significance of the forms of worship and doctrine as well as the historical element” (my italics).21
In an analogous direction, the objectives of the Marxian Church are revalidated. It is not by chance that Friedrich Engels ends his introduction to The Class Struggle in France with an analogy between the development of Marxian ideology and the rise of the Christians in the Roman Empire (from being a sect to being the State religion).22, in: Marx-Engels-Werke (MEW) Band. XXII, p.p. 526-527.] Such considerations clearly show us how Friedrich (the main investor and founder of the Marxian Church) imagined hegemony in the State and society. Thus, the Marxian ideology would triumph because its ideas, values and objectives would be the dominant ideas, values and objectives, imposed by means of the State religion. Once “this maturity is reached, all sects become essentially reactionary” (St. Charlie, dixit). In other words, the anarchic (equivocist) heresy would have the deserved ecclesiastical condemnation. In such a way, all its radicalism would be extirpated, its passion sterilized and its practices castrated; sending the “sectarian” to ostracism, to the stake or to the madhouse.
Gustavo Rodriguez,
Planet Earth, October 19, 2021.
(Excerpted from the booklet “In Defense of Associative Specificity”).
  1. Surely, this explanatory segment will be boring (and even petulant to many comrades), for which I apologize in advance. I confess my supreme ignorance, so I have no other recourse than to go through the books on the subject at hand.
  2. Moliner, María, Diccionario del uso del español, Editorial Gredos, Madrid, 2007, p. 2674.
  3. Roberts, Edward A., (trans.) Bárbara Pastor, Diccionario Etimológico Indoeuropeo de la Lengua Española. Colección Alianza Diccionarios, Alianza Ed., Madrid, 2013, p. 152.
  4. Oxford Latin Dictionary; ed. P. G. W. Glare (2nd Edn.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012.
  5. Pacomio, Luciano, Diccionario Teológico Enciclopédico, Verbo Divino, Navarra, 1995.
  6. Ernout, Alfred and Meillet, Antoine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue Latine. Histoire des mots, Klincksieck, Paris, 1951, p. 608.
  7. Weber, Nichola; Sect and Sects. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 13, Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1912. Available at: (accessed: 10/18/2021).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Kalb, Ernst Kirchen und Sekten der Gegenwart (Churches and Sects of Today), Verlag der Buchhandlung der Evang. Gesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1905.
  10. From the early days of the year 1533, the Anabaptists led by the “prophet” Jan Matthys, decreed “Christian communism” in Münster. To this end, they ordered the inhabitants of the city to put their money into a communal fund for the purchase of food, the distribution of propaganda and the recruitment of mercenaries for the defense of the regime and the eradication of any subsidies. To ensure the new social order and community life, the library was burned and communal dining rooms were created, where the population was fed while the Bible was read to them; they also ordered that doors and windows of all houses remain open 24 hours a day and capital punishment was decreed against “sectarians”. In the spring of 1534, after the capture and execution of Matthys by forces loyal to the Church, his disciple Jan Bockelson (John of Leyden) would proclaim himself king of Münster, giving continuity to the communist theocracy. Under his rule, terror reached its peak, making executions a daily spectacle, while consolidating the communism of “goods and women”. Thus, the Christian communists led by Jan Bockelson, would go so far as to execute anyone who tried to flee the city, hide food in their homes and all adolescent women who refused to marry under the regime of forced polygamy implemented by the prophet-king.
  11. Cohn, Norman; In Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Pepitas de calabaza ed., Logroño, 2015, p. 401.
  12. There is a Spanish edition: Ensayo sobre las costumbres y el espíritu de las naciones, Biblioteca Hachette de Filosofía, Buenos Aires, 1959. To appraise Voltaire’s rationalist racism in its right dimension, it is highly recommended to take a look at his Diccionario filosófico, Akal, Madrid, 2007.
  13. Schoeck, Helmut; Diccionario de sociología, Herder Editorial, Barcelona, 1985.
  14. Hillmann, Karl-Heinz; Diccionario enciclopédico de sociología, Herder Editorial, Barcelona, 2001.
  15. Arlotti, Raúl; Vocabulario técnico y científico de la política, Editorial Dunken, Buenos Aires, 2003.
  16. Weber, Max; La ética protestante y el espíritu del capitalismo, Navarro Pérez, Jorge. ed., Villacañas, José Luis. pról., Ediciones Istmo, Colección Fundamentos Nº 135, Madrid, 1998, p. 268.
  17. Idid.
  18. Ibid., p. 312.
  19. Weber, Max; Economy and Society. Esbozo de sociología comprensiva, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, 2005. p. 932.
  20. Troeltsch, E.; The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, George Allen & Unwin Ltd-The Macmillan Company, London-N.Y, 1950. p. 993.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Engels, Friedrich; Introduction [to Karl Marx, Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich 1848 bis 1850