Sunday, December 02, 2012

Who will rule?

Ultimately, that's the perennial question of human history.  On this date in 1804, a new emperor began to rule in France:
In Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte is crowned Napoleon I, the first Frenchman to hold the title of emperor in a thousand years. Pope Pius VII handed Napoleon the crown that the 35-year-old conqueror of Europe placed on his own head.
The Corsican-born Napoleon, one of the greatest military strategists in history, rapidly rose in the ranks of the French Revolutionary Army during the late 1790s.
That earlier French Revolution was a bloody exercise in utopian futility.  What began as opposition to the excesses of monarchism ballooned into rejection of all traditional sources of authority, including the Church. 

It was no accident Napoleon crowned himself.  Just as the Revolution rejected authority, he chose to recognize none other than his own.  Seeking to replace monarchical rule with anarchistic individualism led to an even worse form of regime that would ravage not just France, but most of Europe.  And though Napoleon was eventually overwhelmed, the ideas that metastasized in the Revolution and under his rule spread and took root across that continent.  Sadly, by framing the French and American Revolutions as analogous (which they are anything but), various thinkers allowed those ideas to eventually infect and reshape society in the New World as well.

This is why more than one student of history points to this era as the beginning of the decline of Western Civilization.  Rather than root out corruption and reform the civil and religious order, the radicals completely threw it out.  The effort devolved from cries of "equality" into a Reign of Terror and chaos, and became the archetype of Man's continual, quixotic effort to rebuild himself.

This is really the lesson.  Rejecting any authority but our own is the essence of Man's sinful nature, that wants to rule God's place.  When God's authority is not recognized, the issue becomes who can impose their will on others.  We forfeit the equal dignity of the imago dei and guarantee a Darwinian society where some are more equal than others.

"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  (Joshua 24:15)

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