New Stuff
« To All Who Are Thirsty... | Main | Music and Light- The Greatness of the Musical Gift (ThinkJump Journal #109 with Kim Gentes) »

No Society Lasts Forever... Or Does It? - a Brief Detour into Politics and the Kingdom of God

The last several years of my life I've been studying and reading much about history, anthropology and anthropogeny (the study of human origins). Machu PicchuFor my part, I am not very interested in the present political configuration or expressions that take the center stage in US politics. However, I do often reflect on politics from a historical perspective and consider our present situation in that light. In that context, I was very interested in a recent post made by a good friend.

Without reciting the entire post, I will summarily quote its primary parts of interest:

"No Society Lasts Forever…

...When in history, has a society sustained indefinitely that is driven by greed, wealth and power? When has a society thrived and sustained that was driven by a so-called, progressive ethic and morality (whatever feels good to me and is mutually consensual)? When has a society sustained indefinitely that was focused on military might, war and violence? When has a society flourished, and is still around after a couple thousand years that was focused on peace, passivity and playing nice with everyone? When has a society flourished when it was about being conservative, rigid, and holding to the letter of the law? The answer: Never…None of Them! And so, history repeats itself.  As long as we, or any society, put our focus and the majority of our time, energy and money on what we can have, and want to have here and now, it simply will not sustain….no matter what position you are supporting. It has something to do with serving the “created” rather than the “Creator.”....

...I would encourage you to give the above questions I posed some honest thinking and consideration, and see if they stir something in you besides endless accusations, vitriol, slander and hatred. Life is not only about winners and losers..."

The remainder of my article here is a discussion about such societies as being pointed out above, and my follow-on response to the broader questions embedded in the post above.

First, I'd say that while the questions being asked are often put as anecdotal evidence that none of those system are sustainable, the historical record may be a little more unsatisfactory.

Asked--- "When has a society sustained indefinitely that was focused on military might, war and violence?"

Using the word "indefinitely" is certainly a disqualifier across all societies. The biggest example of such a society would be Ancient Rome. Roman ForumEven then, it morphed through various political orders as it's influence expanded. Culturally Rome places its founding at 753BC with the institution of the Roman Republic in 509BC. This transformed into the Roman empire just before the time of Christ (either on 46BC or 27BC, depending on whether you mark Caesar's dictatorship or Augustus emperorship as the beginning of the empire). But the Roman system, throughout its lifespan, existed as military political machine. It grew primarily as the result of its military expeditions and annexations of the territories around the Mediterranean. It maintained those holdings in strength until the initial split (east/west) in 395 AD and the fall of the west Roman empire in 476 AD. Political heirs of the Roman empire survived right up until 1453 AD when the last remnant of Byzantine empire collapsed with the fall of Constantinople to Mehmed the II and the invading Ottoman empire.

Military might proved it could build and sustain this society for almost 1000 years (if you take the Roman Republic days through to the fall of the Western empire). The influence it made and culture it spread, it did so through war and subjugation. I am not saying it was wonderful society. I am saying it was sustained through its activity (military force) and flourished in the context of the world in which it dominated. Rome's brilliance (and often believed downfall) was its capacity to conquer, subjugate and administrate various people's, cultures and languages into its vast political, economic and religious network. More than any other power, it mastered the art of managing a society of societies.

Rome's enemies were uncountable, since it went to war with just about every culture it encountered. Eventually, the political engine of the Roman empire became so entangled by its own internal self-interest that the vast mechanism of its government was eventually used primarily to serve the governing elites (Emperors, generals and others). With little of interest left to conquer in their known world, and the resulting lack of incoming spoils (and energy) of those conquests began the slow disintegration of the vitality of the Roman structure.

Was it indefinite? No. But it lasted in strength for nearly 1000 years. And its legacy as a single thread of rule spanned from 500BC to 1453AD. Might may not be right, but it was effective for nearly 2 millennia.Note 1

Asked--- "When has a society flourished when it was about being conservative, rigid, and holding to the letter of the law?"

The longest running state that we know of on earth is China. In my understanding of their history, they have been a political state longer than any other. Great Wall of ChinaAnd their form of society and political organization could have largely been characterized by the quoted phrase "conservative, rigid, and holding to the letter of the law". Initial reading in the history of China will explore its early dynasties, that began as far back as 2000BC. Cultural, societal, religious and philosophical rigorism became the milieu that would mark all phases of Chinese progression from clans to dynasties to empires to the authoritarian collectivist state of the last century.

Has the Chinese society "flourished"? That depends. It certainly has flourished in terms of population. It has become the single largest country on our planet. It certainly has changed, but it remains uniquely a collective culture and people whose identity as "Chinese" has pervaded for literally 3 millennia.Note 2

Stated: 'It has something to do with serving the “created” rather than the “Creator.”'

It doesn't escape me that many of the questions were asked as a matter of rhetoric to outline the assumptions about the nature of human behaviour and societies.

The introductory statement "No society lasts forever.." is mostly true. Although, as I mentioned about the Chinese, I think their society provides the exception that proves the rule. Why those societies rise and fall is often certainly attributed to the reason arrived at in the original post to which this article is responding - self-focus. Christ's ultimate antidote for our tendency in that direction was simple and clear- "love your neighbor as yourself". Our personal application of this will lead to proper orientation of the human life around our creator's design for us. But I am not sure that any socio-political organization can properly encapsulate such a dictum. In fact, I don't believe it ever will. The scripture actually makes this point pretty strongly--

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).

The inference here is that we have one commander and Chief who can adequately assume rule and reign over our geo-political planet- Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion, until he returns to assume such role over us, we should not impose our own structures of "righteous" rule. Our attempts on earth to create political entities that will embody our religious and personal principles (societies that attempt to 'ascend to heaven') has always led to failure, and worse, renewed self-interest. This is, I believe, what was attempted at the tower of Babel (Gen 11).

So what do we do? Our Prince of Peace actually prescribes an exacting formula in this regard when he taught us to pray-

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
  on earth as it is in heaven."

In one sweeping paradox, Jesus diffuses our carnal desires for the power of political reality ("your kingdom come, your will be done") while conversely infusing our hopes for His "heaven on earth" rule and reign ("on earth as it is in heaven"). He is, in short, saying that we won't find our answers in earthly political systems, but rather in personal ("if you forgive other people") and community ("forgive us our debts") repentance and humility as a palpable manifest action that we can take to see God's "kingdom come".

Quoted from above --- " Life is not only about winners and losers."

Very true. It's not only about winners. But I believe, in the kingdom perspective, it is about losers. I believe that in one very real sense we are all "losers". Not trying to be morose at all, but just in the sense that we are all sin-filled and broken people. As Jesus says further in the prayer direction of Matthew 6-

"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you."

Jesus' answer for our sinfulness is not to banish and reproach us, but to instruct us in two things- forgive others and receive His forgiveness for us. In a very real way, I think the Lord's prayer is something of a political manifesto- a new way to be human (as the song goes).  We can engage in a truly helpful, and spiritual, political process from a kingdom perspective  by simply praying as it directs and doing as it says.



  1. There are a number of excellent sources for information on the Roman Republic and Empire. The primary starting point for most people should be the classic text by Edward Gibbon- "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Another excellent modern history book that includes Rome as part of the broad sweep of human history is JM Roberts brilliant "History of the World". Beyond that you can branch out to read a couple directions of materials: first, source materials from the time period, such as Polybius' "The Histories", Tacitus' "The Annals", and Plutarch's "Parallel Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans". Each of those (and others) provide additional insight beyond what is covered by Gibbon in his broad survey. The second direction is current popular writers who place the Roman story into modern language and concepts, some even in narrative. These include choice writings such as  Mary Beard's "SPQR", Adrian Goldsworthy's duel books on "Caesar" & "Augustus",  Tom Holland's "Dynasty", and even Lars Brownworth's "Lost to the West".
  2. My research of China has been limited. Most of my understanding of their state development comes from reading Francis Fukuyama's "The Origins of Political Order". I've read the main groupings of books attributed to Confucius as well, to get a sense of the back drop of some core Chinese cultural basis. Aside from Fukuyama's excellent work on the Chinese state, I'd recommend reading (again) Roberts "History of the World" for broader context into which China interacted with Western society across historical development.


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>