“Few Men desire Liberty; most Men only wish for a just master.” Sallust
You are supposed to read that and ponder how wonderful it would be, how morally necessary it is, to pursue liberty. But genuine liberty is a major pain in the ass. There’s a very good reason for that: Genuine political and economic liberty is contrary to God’s revelation. It’s unnatural in the sense that we aren’t designed for it, and nature does not support it. God can give you a just master, and it would be a sign of His favor. If God gives you liberty, it’s the first step toward wrath.
Liberty as popularly conceived and lauded in Western literature refers to a political and social structure that has never worked, because the philosophical assumptions ignore our fallen nature. If you take seriously the moral nature of the Fall, you will never ask for a democratic process in government. You’ll beg for tribal feudalism. You’ll understand the concept that no one should have any significant authority over your daily life unless they are related by blood or covenant. You’ll understand that it is utterly impossible to prevent a democratic government from degrading into the most oppressive and dehumanizing mess possible. You’ll want the protection from heartless bureaucratic demands that are inevitable in democratic systems.
If you take the revelation of God seriously, you will pray for a just master as the best possible life in this world.
Part of the reason for the myth of democracy is because of just how awful Western feudalism was. Think about it for a moment. The Germanic nations invading the tottering remains of the Roman Empire were not civilized; they were barbaric to the fullest extent. But they were organized, and their social structure is what became the Medieval feudal system we all read about in history books and as portrayed in popular fiction.
There was nothing noble about the Germanic noble class. Most of what we can point to as “noble” in the Middle Ages was due to the influence of the Church trying tame the invaders without completely alienating them. It was a cynical ploy to protect the Church from losing everything. The Church cajoled, manipulated and puffed up the rulers of the barbaric hordes in exchange for keeping her influence and property. In the process, true biblical nobility was virtually lost. Only a few shreds of moral dignity survived.
For their part, the nobles found the Church a valuable ally in maintaining their control. However, their acceptance of this new mythology was highly variable. The one thing Western nobility got right was having no fear of death, particularly a death in pursuit of what little transcendent values the noble class held. They would gladly die in pursuit of doing the right thing, as they viewed it. The Church gave lip service to this, and it was something already inherent in German traditions, so in this new “Christian” context if was deeply confirmed.
This fearlessness was matched by a rather casual attitude toward physical property. For a nobleman, it was a simple matter that their position entitled them to as much as they wanted to use, so their reflex was to think there was more where that came from. As the Middle Ages wore on, their tastes got more expensive and their sources grew tight. They discovered there were limits and it was quite frustrating.
This is where the middle class merchant’s discovery of how profit worked gave them an advantage. Profit arose in part from being very careful with the use and exchange of property. They took something in abundance in one place to some other place where it was rare and exchanged for something in abundance there but rare back home. It was profitable; it created wealth that wasn’t there before. Similar profits came from adding value to raw materials and manufacturing things they cleverly designed. Nobles seldom bothered with such things, but they did lust for the wealth they saw accumulating in merchant hands.
The merchants on their part despised the rough-n-ready extravagance of the nobles, particularly in terms of violence to life and property. They used their wealth to buy off the nobles, and thus was born the rise of middle class politics. Everything was a calculated gamble, just like trading. This was about the time we had the Renaissance, Reformation and later the Enlightenment — all born from the surging power of the merchant class, AKA the middle class. Even beauty was a matter of calculus. However, what matters most is the calculus of a government that was structured to favor middle class habits and values.
That’s what liberty meant for them, and it’s how we got today’s materialist mythology of “liberty.” At the same time, it was the source of the most dehumanizing and oppressive idolatry of Mammon ever seen in human history. It’s the fullest realization of the prophetic image of Babylon.
Yep, there’s still more to come on this.