The saying, “Every nation gets the government it deserves” has been tossed around quite a bit of late. On some social media sites you see it attributed to John Calvin. It seems however that it actually came some two hundred years later, being first said by the French writer and philosopher Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821).
This aphorism may well have some elements of truth to it, and I want to explore it further both in biblical and theological terms, as well as in political terms (we do have the US presidential elections coming up in just nine months after all).
On the biblical side of things, how far we go with this saying of course will in part be determined by our theological stance. Those with more Calvinist leanings for example will tend to say that leaders are there by divine appointment, even the bad ones like Hitler and Stalin. And Paul of course gives credence to that view as well, as in Romans 13.
But I am not here wanting to re-enter the massive debate on divine sovereignty vs human responsibility. While God sets up and takes down leaders, he has also ordained the political process and expects us to be involved in it. Thus we have a real role to play in determining who will lead us, at least in free, Western nations.
And that raises questions such as: Did Obama get re-elected in 2012 because so many millions of evangelicals refused to vote (thinking – foolishly, I believe – that they could not vote for Romney, thus guaranteeing that we got the much worse Obama), or because it was the express will of God?
As with all these issues, we might best answer by saying: a bit of each. People made choices and got stuck with the consequences, while God was at work behind the scenes bringing about his purposes as well. That God can and does use evil rulers and nations to serve his purposes is of course well established in Scripture.
For example, Assyria is referred to as God’s “rod” in Isaiah 10; Cyrus is called God’s “shepherd” in Isaiah 44; Nebuchadnezzar is said to be “my servant” in Jeremiah 27; and Babylon is referred to as God’s “hammer” in Jeremiah 51, and so on.
But even if God puts an evil ruler on the throne, or at least allows him to be there, is there ever a place for people to resist such evil leaders? Again, it is a tricky area, with entire libraries penned on such topics. But I think we can resist evil and oppressive governments. But I argue that case elsewhere, as in this two-part article:
The trouble is, unlike in Old Testament times where we had clear and unequivocal words from God’s prophets to God’s people about what God was doing with the nations, today we do not have that same sure word. I for example can only give my opinion on such matters, but I am not inspired – only perspired.
So we need to be a bit more humble and circumspect when one leader comes or another goes today. For example, a good case could be made that Obama is God’s judgment on America. I would not doubt that at all, but I have no authoritative and inspired word from God to say that with absolute certainty.
So is Obama the leader that we deserve (if you are an American)? Will Trump or Clinton (if they get in – heaven forbid) be the leader we deserve? Again, I cannot say with any assurance and certainty. Maybe. Maybe not. Thus we need to move carefully here as we try to reflect biblically and theologically about the political goings on and current affairs of our day.
But one can also address this question purely in terms of politics and social realities. Given that most electorates in the West are rather dumbed down, politically naïve, and ideologically illiterate, it is often the case that people vote in all sorts of governments that are certainly less than desirable, and doomed to cause great harm, at least in the long run.
The 2012 re-election of Obama is a clear case in point. He was destroying the nation, yet most Americans didn’t seem to care. Indeed, why did they vote for him not once, but twice? Clearly by the time of the 2012 election, Obama and the Dems simply acted like Santa Claus and promised folks a lot of free stuff (Just like Bernie Sanders is doing right now).
So many Americans have stopped working and have become dependent on government handouts (the entitlement mentality) that one can argue things this way: half of all Americans now depend on the government teat, and they simply voted for more free stuff (and the other half of Americans have to work to pay for all this).
As I wrote in a piece the day after that shock election result, this is a recipe for national suicide:
When Mitt Romney made the remark recently about 47 per cent of the electorate relying on money handed to them from the government, and therefore people who will only vote Democrat, he was 100 per cent correct. Why would anyone getting free government handouts – taken from the other 53 per cent of hard working productive Americans – want to stop the gravy train?
They have become addicted to and dependent on the state as a cradle to grave welfare provider, and it is a great system for them: no or little work in exchange for government handouts. We have entire generations now who have an entitlement mentality, and they will be hard pressed to be moved from it.
That is the one clear yet bleak message coming out of America yesterday. But it is not just me who has noticed this. Plenty of other commentators are saying exactly the same thing. One of them put it very simply, if crassly: “Nincompoops Elect Nincompoops For Free Stuff…Case Closed”.
In his article, “In a country of children where the option is Santa Claus or work, what wins?” Rush Limbaugh says this: “Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus. It is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus. People are not going to vote against Santa Claus, especially if the alternative is being your own Santa Claus.”
Soviet-born social commentator Alexander Boot wrote an important piece back in 2012 (before that election) in which he looked at the de Maistre quote. Boot says it was aimed at Tsarist Russia. He then says in his article:
What was true about an absolute monarchy is even truer about a democracy, and truer still about the modern version of it. People cast their votes for parties that tell them something they want to hear. And what people want to hear is greatly affected by the kind of education imposed upon them by the same elite from which the candidates are drawn. There’s a circle there, and it can only be vicious.
Keep running inside that circle for a generation or two, and you get not democracy but spivocracy – the rule of those only out to feather their own nests. If by chance they drop a few feathers into others’ nests, then so be it. If not, that’s fine too. They are highly specialised creatures, our politicians, designed to do one thing only: get reelected. Bono publico be damned; it’s their own bono they pursue.
Just look at the way they handle the economy. First one set of spivs spend the country into an economic disaster, all in the name of looking after the less fortunate. This is the shorthand for robbing the more fortunate, which is to say most of us, but we don’t mind. We’ve been taught to accept virtual language as real. We don’t really deserve anything better.
And then the next set of spivs pretend to be doing something about it, whereas in fact they are just papering over the cracks until the next election they hope to win. We accept that too, and some of us, those who write for the Telegraph, seem to believe the wet tissue paper over the cracks is actually rock-solid. Others, those who write for the Guardian, don’t want any tissue paper at all; they want wider cracks. They also want us to join the euro, it’s never too late. That way it’ll be the EU’s headache, on top of the migraine, not to say brain cancer, it has already.
He then offers nine practical measures to get the economy sorted out, and concludes this way:
You see, if they as much as hint at any such measures, they’ll never get elected again. And why not? Because we the people have been corrupted over several generations to recoil instinctively away from any roll-back of socialism.
We’ve been taught there’s nothing better, so we won’t vote for any candidate, or any party, that fights the hydra of socialism, rather than rapping it gently on one of its heads. And our politicians know that socialism equals state power, they equal the state, ergo don’t touch socialism or else.
As a result we get the kind of economy we deserve, the kind of life we deserve – and the kind of government we deserve. Joseph de Maistre, ring your office.
For those interested, he takes these sorts of thoughts much further in his 2014 volume, Democracy as a Neocon Trick.
So, are Westerners today getting the government they deserve? It certainly seems so politically speaking. And perhaps spiritually speaking as well.