Turning Fallen Man into a Law unto Himself
Having looked at the silver rule of law and golden despotism in our last two posts, in this important series of posts, we turn our attention in this post to bronze democracy, which is represented by the bronze stomach and thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmarish image. It is here that the value of human forms of government really begins to depreciate in the eyes of God. Whereas Nebuchadnezzar’s nightmarish image’s head of gold represents the despotism of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon and its silver breast and arms represent the rule of law in Mido-Persia, the bronze stomach and thighs represent the Greek Empire, which not only has the distinction of being the world’s third great Gentile world power, but also of being the birthplace of democracy.
An incredibly important truth to be observed from the outset of one’s consideration of bronze democracy in comparison to gold despotism and the silver rule of law is that kings and law both serve as deterrents and suppressers of man’s fallen nature. On the other hand, democracy, the rule of the majority, actually crowns human nature, turning fallen men into a law unto themselves. No wonder God views it as an inferior form of human government.
To understand the birth of democracy in ancient Greece, we must begin with a look at Greek history. Greek civilization emerged around 1000 B.C. It was a primitive culture born in poverty. It was comprised primarily of small farming communities. During this time, neighboring families, clans, and tribes felt compelled to join together for their mutual protection and preservation. All of these independent and autonomous communities eventually became known as “poleis.” The Greek word “polis” is the word from which we get our English word “politics.” As a result of the Greek polis, competition between communities was fostered, with each trying to excel the others. Consequently, members of a polis strove for excellency, which historians credit with the rise of classical Greek civilization, a civilization that today’s scholars argue was vastly superior to all that preceded it in the ancient world.
It is hard to argue that nothing better motivates fallen man to strive for excellence than self-glory. To excel above others, and in doing so to make a name for one’s self, is a lofty goal shared by the vast majority of fallen humanity. Of course, this takes us back to man’s usurpation of God’s place beneath the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, where man decided to seek his own glory rather than God’s, for which man was created. It also reminds us of the motive of Babel’s ill-fated tower builders, who sought to make a name for themselves rather than to glorify the name of God.
Another thing that is hard to argue against is that the Greeks did accomplish great things during the classical Greek period, something attested to by the ruins of the Acropolis seen on the rocky outcrop above the present-day city of Athens. We must remember, however, that fallen man’s ability to accomplish great things for his own glory was attested to by God Himself at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:6). At the same time, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is the “RUINS” of the Acropolis that is seen above the present-day city of Athens. The classical Greek world disappeared and has been buried by the sands of time for centuries. Its deterioration and demise was inevitable, because of its faulty foundation. It was built on the sinful nature of fallen man and man’s pursuit of vainglory.
Over the course of time, the poleis united into Greek city-states, such as Athens and Sparta. These city-states were headed by aristocrats, those deemed to be of the higher class of society, because of their heredity or exploits. This meant that the only way of obtaining political power among the ancient Greek city-states was to win the support of their aristocrats. However, all of this changed under the unprecedented rise to power of the Athenian Cleisthenes, who is called “the father of democracy.”
Having failed to win the support of the aristocrats of Athens, Cleisthenes employed a never before thought of strategy for obtaining political power. He sought the support of the masses in hopes of overturning the existing political system, which was controlled by the aristocrats. Championing a place for the common man in the government of Athens, the people rose up under Cleisthenes’ battle cry to demand an equal voice and vote with the aristocrats in the governmental affairs of their city. The aristocrats quickly found themselves backed into a corner by majority demand and the political rules of the game were changed forever by Cleisthenes.
While most modern-day Americans are completely ignorant of it, a similar thing once occurred in our own nation. It is known today as “Jacksonian Democracy.” Before the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828, the presidency was held by blue-blooded Virginian aristocrats. These men believed, as did all of our Founding Fathers, that the common man was incapable of self-government, which explains why our nation was founded as a representative republic rather than a democracy. That our Founders were no fans of democracy, the rule of the majority, is easily proven by the following quotes from some of our Founding Fathers.
- “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” (John Adams)
- “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” (Benjamin Franklin)
- “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.” (Alexander Hamilton)
- “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” (James Madison)
Andrew Jackson, unlike his opponent for the presidency in 1828, the incumbent president, John Quincy Adams, who was accused by Jackson of stealing the presidency from him in the electoral college of 1824, was no aristocrat. Instead, General Jackson, “Old Hickory,” was a populist candidate, a popular national hero who was credited with leading our country to victory over the British in the War of 1812. It was his popularism with the common man that catapulted Jackson into the White House in 1828, resulting in John Quincy Adams bemoaning the fact that election to the highest office in our land had deteriorated into nothing more than a popularity contest.
President Jackson, like the ancient Athenian Cleisthenes, championed the right of the common man to have an equal voice and vote to that of the aristocrat in all governmental affairs. Just as Cleisthenes forever changed the political rules of the game in ancient Athens, so did Andrew Jackson in 19th century America, so much so that one Virginian blue-blood lamented the fact that all future presidents would be, like Jackson, the candidate most proficient in pimping votes from America’s electorate, an electorate made up primarily of uneducated and exploitable voters.
What Cleisthenes spawned in ancient Athens and Andrew Jackson in 19th century America, is best summarized by another populist American president, Abraham Lincoln. In his famous Gettysburg Address, Lincoln uttered these famous words, “…government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people…” Although most modern-day Americans believe these famous words represent the heart and soul of our Founding Fathers, our Founders would actually have been aghast at such a statement, believing such a government to be unsustainable and doomed to collapse because of the uncontrollable passions of the common people.
Many Americans believe that democracy is the child of Christianity; that is, the product of the Christian Faith and the form of human government most preferred by Jesus Christ. However, democracy was born in a pagan civilization among pagan people who practiced pagan religions, a point proven by Greek mythology and the multiple gods of the Greek Pantheon.
The ancient Greeks, unlike modern-day Christians, did not believe in an eternal paradise awaiting them beyond the grave. Instead, they believed fame to be man’s only hope of immortality. If man hoped to live forever, then, he must perform such great exploits during his lifetime that his name would be forever remembered upon the earth. This concept of immortality was fostered by the famous Greek poet Homer, whose Odyssey and Iliad, which served as the central works of classical Greek literature, told of the great exploits of the Homeric heroes Achilles and Ulysses.
This concept of immortality among the Greeks created an inherent problem in the democracy conceived by Cleisthenes in ancient Athens. Although it trumpeted a most appealing idea to the masses; namely, that all men, not just aristocrats, ought to have an equal place at the bar of immortality, the truth dictated otherwise. The truth was that only those extraordinarily gifted, financially well endowed, and given the needed opportunities to excel had any real hope of obtaining notoriety, much less fame. Thus, a democracy founded upon the promise of equal opportunities to obtain fame and immortality for every individual was destined to lead to the disappointment and disillusionment of the masses. In turn, the people would turn on their democratic government for failing to produce its promised fame and immortality for each and every common man. How similar to this is the protests of present-day Americans, who blame our government when its promised “American Dream” fails to come true in their lives?
The democracy conceived by Cleisthenes would have proven short-lived or even stillborn were it not for another and far more famous Athenian. It is Pericles who is generally credited as the founder of democracy today, since he gave it a far more sure footing and solid foundation. While it is inarguably true that democracy’s longevity in our world is attributable to the longer-lasting foundation laid for it by Pericles, Pericles himself was careful to credit earlier Athenians, especially his great-uncle Cleisthenes, with the establishment of the world’s first democracy.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the pregnant Agariste, the niece of Cleisthenes, had a dream that she was about to give birth to a lion. A few days afterward, she bore a son, who her and her husband Xanthippus named Pericles. Truly, the roar of Agariste’s dream has been reverberating in our world ever since in the form of Periclean democracy.
Astutely aware that individual glory was only obtainable by a select few, not to mention a personal endeavor that was not conducive to the kind of community essential for the endurance of democracy, Pericles came up with a way for the masses to strive jointly rather than individually for fame and immortality. In addition, it called men into community with one another, as each persons’ only hope of achieving their own glory.
Pericles taught his fellow Athenians to strive together for the glory of Athens, so that their city and eventual empire would become the envy of the whole earth and be remembered throughout time as the most glorious kingdom the world had ever known. By this, Pericles exclaimed, all Athenians would share in Athens’ glory and obtain fame and immortality for themselves. Periclean democracy, unlike Cleisthenes’ democracy, really did offer the hope of immortality to all Athenians. It didn’t matter if you were an aristocrat or a commoner, an extraordinary individual or a very ordinary individual, a man of means or a poor man eking out a meager existence. Everyone had the same opportunity to obtain glory by working together for the glory of Athens.
In his famous Funeral Oration, given in honor of Athenian soldiers who had fallen during the Peloponnesian War, Pericles explained how these brave warriors had earned immortality—“praise that never grows old”—by making the ultimate sacrifice for the “common good” of their glorious Athens. He went on to challenge his fellow Athenians to follow their examples by pursuing the same kind of immortality, an immortality no longer reserved for epic heroes alone, like Homer’s Achilles and Ulysses, but to all Athenians willing to “look upon the power of [their] city and become her lovers,” so much so that they too are willing to sacrifice all for the greatness of Athens.
How eerily similar this all sounds to Babel’s ill-fated tower builders, who called the people of the world together in order to make a name for themselves by building a great tower (Genesis 11:4). Pericles, likewise, called the people of Athens together in order to make a name for themselves by building a great city. In both instances the motive was the same, the glory of man rather than the glory of God, for which man was created.
Even more eerie to us than the similarity between Pericles and the builders of the Tower of Babel ought to be the similarity between Pericles and our former populist president’s MAGA Movement. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 by calling Americans to come together at the polls to “Make America Great Again!” Once again, the motive is the same as that of Babel’s tower builders and the Athenian Empire building Pericles; it is the glory of man rather than the glory of God. The only difference is Trump called us together to build for our own glory a greater America, not a great tower or a greater Athens. It is imperative, therefore, that we ask ourselves what is the proper motto and motive for Christians in today’s America. Is it, as Trump touts and the MAGA Movement contends, to “Make America Great Again”? Or should it be: “May America Glorify God Again”? I believe it is the latter, not the former. What do you believe?