The world’s economy breathed a bit easier this week after the European governments agreed to shoulder Greece’s debt.
With the understanding that Greece would adopt a set of reasonable austerity measures, the Europeans promised to make good on all loans the nations and world banking system has made to Greece. This meant that the country would not default, which possibly would have dragged the fragile economies of Portugal and Spain to ruin. The fear was that this might prove too much for Italy, triggering a collapse there. Were that to happen, moderately well-managed economies of several other nations might follow these smaller nations into the abyss. At this point, the growing contagion would probably seriously affect the major economic world powers.
The world’s leaders stared at this approaching train wreck and sighed when they seemed to have averted the disaster.
Their relief was short-lived.
Greece decided to put the matter up for a national referendum. The Greek government evidently lacks confidence that it speaks for its own people, and can assure the world that the country will accept the austerities required for an infusion of European money.
What we need to notice is that Greece is only one dramatic example of a growing global reality: governments are finding it difficult to govern. They fear the wrath of their people as much as the looming economic disaster. Governments are paralyzed because they are not sure their people will follow their direction.
That is why in October, the traditional month for economic horrors, the world’s people were terrorized by rumors of a catastrophic global meltdown.
The crisis is far from over. In fact, it appears to be only beginning.
For months, people around the world have been protesting in the public squares of their great cities.
Some say they were angry about the growing global inequity between the rich and poor. Others are upset with the international banking systems’ lack of accountability to national governments. Yet others seem hostile against the very notion of government itself.
One thing for sure, the world’s people are frightened. The target of their unrest varies, as do their stated values. However, these global protesters have at least one thing in common: an intense anger toward, and a profound distrust of, authority.
The people seem to fear the potential of tyranny, which leads to a distrust of all authority, even in its most innocent and benevolent forms.
This profound distrust of authority allows a dangerous amount of people to romanticize, or at least to tolerate, a state of anarchy.
Unfortunately, anarchy, not sometimes, but always, leads to tyranny.
The mobs are driving us toward what they most fear.
Although most of people are leery of strong government, governments rarely produce tyranny. What produces tyranny is lawlessness. When a people become weary of societal chaos, they began moving toward the extremes of the political spectrum. At the end of this process, the differences between the left and the right becomes little more than the colors of their respective parties. In such times, the most hated voices, whether in religion, politics or everyday life, become those who seek moderation, compromise and grace. The warriors of the extremes emerge to lead their troops to battle, and each side works to eliminate the middle.
The truth is; it is the boring moderates who create societal stability. Even in a dynamic and creative culture, there must be a time when everyone in that culture knows when to stop yelling, to back down and to compromise. Otherwise, the culture’s center cannot hold. This is true of all social entities of any size, from families to nations.
In healthy times then, moderation is viewed as a virtue. In chaotic times however, the moderate is seen as a coward, a man without conviction.
Healthy government -- whether in a family, church, or nation – is, more than anything else, a process of conflict resolution among individuals based upon principles common to those individuals and the management of the tension between the individual good and the common good of all those who belong to the society being governed. Government thus works within the parameters of what is possible in a given society and aims the energies and vision of its people toward productive common pursuits,as well as protects the rights of the individual to seeks their individual pursuits.
Thus, every society has a right to define itself, including what is required for an individual to belong to the group. However, every healthy group must also have defined internal boundaries, lines that delineate between individual rights and corporate responsibilities.
Without individual freedom, there is no healthy personhood; without a sense of the common good, there is no healthy community.
When a government consumes the individual, the individual has the right to resist the government. When the individual refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of government, the government has the responsibility to contain or expel the individual. The balance must therefore be maintained. The individual needs self-determination to flourish. The state needs the loyalty, respect and responsible cooperation of its citizens to flourish.
This balance between individual freedom and societal stability is difficult, not only because of human sin but because we differ on how the balance works.
Some tolerate a small loss of personal freedom in exchange for a stronger sense of the common good; others prefer less emphasis on the common good in exchange for greater personal freedom.
These differences create political parties and form the political cultures of the world’s nations.
People differ over how they define the society’s common good.
People differ over the extent to which they are willing to accept personal responsibility to maintain the common good.
In Europe, for example, even political conservatives are usually in favor of a much more complex social infrastructure than Americans. Therefore, European parks, mass transit systems, educational opportunities and basic health care availability allow a broader proportion of the citizenry in European nations to benefit from a common infrastructure than in our country. However, this comes at a cost that most Americans view as too limiting to the individual’s privacy and economic freedom.The difference between these approaches to government is not really about democracy and socialism, as we often hear in our heated political campaigns. It is over our different definitions we offer for the concepts of “common good” and “individuality. “
None of these differences are new.This debate has been going on for a long time and has produced very different ways of thinking about democracy and capitalism.
What is changing in the world is a loss of belief in a “common good,” and in the legitimacy of governments and other kinds of authority to maintain and protect the common good.
So, the global protest movement is not about whether we will have an American system, a European one or something else. The protest movement is not that sophisticated.
The global protest is about raw fear and a profound distrust of authority.
The world’s people fear the loss of their individual and national souls. They worry about whether their children will eat, or get an education. Sometimes they fear without even knowing the specific reasons for their fear.
That is why the protesters come from both the right and the left and why they are made up of both nationalists and internationalists.
They are united only by their common fear and distrust that anyone; especially anyone who represents any sort of authority can solve their problems.
As this spirit of anarchy spreads, the policeman, the clergyman, the doctor and the judge seem alike, in that each seeks to define and address society’s issues in ways no longer viewed as legitimate. The training, credentials, and experience of the world’s “experts” are being swept away as utterly irrelevant.
Nor is that the end of the matter.
The credentialing agencies that maintain the various authorities of society -- the medical establishment, the church, the state and other institutions traditionally viewed as having legitimate power-- have lost much of their right to speak and act.
The apostles warn us of this time and identified the Antichrist as a personification of the spirit of lawlessness.
So this season of chaos is not about Greece. It is not even about Europe. It is about the legitimacy of law itself.
Never has the second Psalm’s opening line been so relevant as today: “Why are the heathen so furiously raging?”
The October terror shouts back its reply: because there is no center. All is sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Without God, law has become a grinning pumpkin, staring blindly at a world that has just now grasped its awful secret:
It has lost its power to hold people together in a healthy state of order.
How can it?
Without its traditional foundation in spiritual reality, it hardly even exists.
For all these reasons, this chaos will persist until despotism -- another kind of corporate admission of the loss of law -- promises to remove it. Then despotism will persist until the world’s legitimate king finally declares that time shall be no more.
Until then, we each must make a choice: to live in peace by following the prince of peace, or to gape in horror at the world's Great Grinning Pumpkin