Global problems are rapidly overwhelming the capacity of governments to make farsighted decisions. How will today's leadership crisis be solved?
No NEED is greater today than that of competent leadership! The technological advances of the 20th century have created unprecedented new problems and unexpected perils that have seemingly outpaced' mankind's ability to cope. The big question of the 1990s will be that of human survival! Never before in history has the threat of human extinction been greater.
Today's bewildering problems are crying out for solutions, for capable leaders who will make right decisions. Yet most governments seem adrift, or they struggle in vain against onrushing tides of rapid change. Mounting global crises testify to the general failure of modern leadership! Why? Make no mistake! This world is on a collision course with the future! We, are rapidly nearing a time of decision. Forces are even now impelling mankind toward a crisis unparalleled in human history. Will wise leaders act in time to avert it?
Lessons of History
"History repeats itself," declares the old saying. And, in a certain sense, it is true. History is a great teacher. It teaches by example. In history it is possible to discover cyclical rhythms, a recurrent ebb and flow of events. The general course of the future is thus written in the chronicles of the past. As wise king Solomon observed anciently: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9). The reason? History is simply a record of the principles of human nature, written on time. The basic urges and drives of human nature are abiding and fundamental. They manifest themselves through time in largely predictable patterns. One of the recurrent cycles or patterns evident in history involves the cyclic nature of leadership. Periods of dynamic and enlightened rule by reasonable, fair-minded men are generally followed by periods of decay and crisis under weak or misguided successors-and ultimately by periods of despotism and barbarism under unstable, self-seeking tyrants intoxicated by ambition. The experience of history teaches that governments endure only as long as they respond successfully to challenges. When well-meaning but weak leaders fail to act swiftly and effectively against serious challenges that have arisen, an evil alternative will invariably present itself. If problems are not wisely solved when they are small, they grow and eventually become unmanageable by normal means. A cry then arises for someone to take command- someone who will have an effect on events. And quite often at that critical moment, a strong man brandishing a solution presents himself, seizing the opportunity to make an "emergency" assumption of powers. It is the consequence-and penalty- of weak and ineffectual leadership. Historically, freedoms have been suppressed in the name of law and order. "Necessity is the argument of tyrants," observed British prime minister William Pitt (the Younger) nearly two centuries ago. And it is just as true today!
Opening the Pages of History
The pages of history illustrate this cyclic nature of leadership. And notice the disturbing parallels with our world today! Travel back nearly 25 centuries to the city of Athens in ancient Greece. Under the great statesman Pericles (495-429 B.C.), Athenian democracy reached its zenith. The Periclean Age was the "golden age" of Greece, renowned for its literary, artistic and philosophical contributions. But when Pericles died of the plague in 429 B.C., no worthy successor appeared. Unnurtured, the spirit of Athens began to die. Immobilized by incompetent leadership, Athens witnessed her military power and creative energy melt away. The exhausting Peloponnesian War with Sparta finally broke the power of Athens. A committee of pro-Spartan Athenians known to history as the "Thirty Tyrants"-with Critias at their head-assumed power over Athens (404 B.C.). Reigning through terror, these despots attempted to suppress dissatisfaction by political trials, banishments and executions. This short-lived tyranny marked the end of the glorious Athenian empire and the beginning of the decline of Greek civilization. Ancient Rome has similar stories to tell. In the years following the Third Punic War with Carthage (149-146 B.C.), many Romans began to recognize the need for reforming their whole inadequate system of government. The problems facing the Roman Republic were formidable. Paradoxically, Rome's conquests had created new social and economic difficulties. Rome was festering with discontent. From within and without, the great city was beset by dangers. Rome's leaders proved unequal to the task. The increasingly incompetent and corrupt Senate the chief policymaking body of the Roman state-seemed paralyzed. The government was neither able nor just. No capable leader came forward to save the republic. Instead, a succession of men, each with his own ineffective ideas, engaged in struggles for power that plunged Rome into a state of ferment. The republic was torn by political strife. The inability of the Roman government to reform its political system and to rule effectively led to the disintegration of the republic, a reign of terror, the establishment of military dictatorship and the extinction of constitutional government. Similar examples in the ancient and medieval worlds are abundant. But let us skip forward, now, to another tragedy in late 18th-century France.
In the wake of the French Revolution, the French monarchy was declared abolished and a republic proclaimed in 1792. Here, it seemed, was an enormous opportunity for the early modern world to set out on a bright new path toward a better future. But France's new leaders vied with one another for personal power, seemingly oblivious to the explosive social forces that were continuing to build in the country. Dangers of every kind — internal and external — threatened the government with destruction. After a decade of turmoil and ineffective leadership, the crisis had reached a point where it could be overcome only by drastic action. The French Republic ended in military dictatorship. In a bold move, the dynamic Napoleon Bonaparte seized total power. Vested with dictatorial authority as First Consul, Napoleon took the destiny of France into his own hands — and set the country on the road to eventual defeat and ruin. Our own 20th century provides numerous and different examples, with their unrealized "solutions."
Notice what occurred in czarist Russia early in this century. Upon the abdication of the weak Czar Nicholas II in March 1917, a moderate provisional government was formed, headed by Aleksandr Kerensky. But the new government — like the czarist regime — was unable to cope with Russia's mounting social, economic and political problems. The measures taken by the provisional government were ineffective in countering the steadily deteriorating situation. There were endless discussions about what "ought" to be done — but no vigorous action. The weak and disorganized Kerensky government proved powerless to control the restless forces swirling around it. As a result, the militant Bolsheviks (Communists) toppled Kerensky's government and seized supreme power November 7,1917. Old dreams of building Russia into a representative democracy were dashed. Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, was named head of the first Soviet government and ruled with a firm hand until his death in 1924 — to be succeeded by the even more authoritarian Josef Stalin. But we have to go back no further than the memories of many readers of this magazine to find two of the most telling examples of political paralysis. Look at what occurred in post — World War I Italy. Following that conflict, Italy was plunged into a period of growing disorder. Unemployment, strikes, riots and general unrest tore at the fabric of society. Italy fell further and further into chaos. The government was unable to establish order. It proved wholly impotent in the face of new social conditions. Events were allowed to move totally out of hand. As Italians looked for a way out, Benito Mussolini seized an opportunity. Late in October 1922, his blackshirted Fascist militia made its dramatic march on the city of Rome. The government was brought down and Mussolini was handed full emergency powers. Fascism had come to Italy. Similar events were played out more slowly in post — World War I Germany. Following Germany's defeat in that war, a system of democratic government — the Weimar Republic — replaced the old empire in Germany. But Germans quickly discovered that it is easier to write a democratic constitution than to make it work. The new republic was plagued almost from the start by a variety of political, social and economic concerns. As the years passed, the problems grew. The collapse of the stock market and the Great Depression in the United States shook Europe's economic fabric. Germany was hit hardest of all. Increasingly hard times fueled the fires of political pandemonium. By 1933, more than eight million Germans were unemployed. Tensions moved relentlessly toward the breaking point. The disunity of weak and visionless political parties spelled political paralysis and rendered a drastic solution of the crisis inevitable. The National Socialists under Adolf Hitler — exploiting German fear and discontent — moved to capitalize on the impotence of leadership. Thus was born the "Third Reich," which would ultimately turn German dreams into one of the most terrible nightmares of all history.
Power by Default
Situations such as the above are found in abundance among the chronicles of the past. History is a graveyard of civilizations, a record of declines and falls of empires and societies. The lessons are clear. A society, if it is not to stagnate and disintegrate, needs the continual watchful guidance of effective leaders, courageous and reasonable men of decisiveness and intellectual energy who will seize opportunities to sanely change things for the better — lest power fall into the hands of unreasonable men who lead only to ruin. Students of history often wonder how the barbarous dictatorial regimes of history ever came to power in a "civilized" world. The answer is simple: Either because of imperfect systems of government, or reasonable men waiting too long to solve the problems, unreasonable men get control by default. History is made up of unscrupulous, self-seeking men just waiting for the chance to seize absolute power. The experience of history shows that when leaders prove inadequate in the face of overwhelming social conditions, a feeling of hopelessness and insecurity grips the people. People need leadership, and a discontented populace easily drifts toward the acceptance of unconstitutional methods. No other apparent option is left. Of course, in such situations, the people — not wholly ignorant of history — always hope that "it will be different this time," that this strong man will exercise "enlightened" power. It is the triumph of false hope over experience.
Could this pattern be repeated in our modern "civilized" Western world? Global problems today are severely taxing the abilities of world leaders. The potential exists for upheavals on a scale unprecedented in human history. Yet the great urgency of our time is not generally realized, not even by leaders who are supposed to understand such things. Few governments today seem to have the capacity for intelligent and effective response to challenges and problems. With few exceptions, today's parliamentary leaders are unremarkable individuals, whose limited vision and strength of purpose are further diminished by elected representatives with whom they must work. They appear to be locked in a paralysis of inaction, shackled by short-term politicking, the victims of multiple forces pushing-in-conflicting directions. The problem is profound. From the record of history — and, even more so, prophecy — the outcome of such irresolution is plain. This world is headed for a time when leaders of major nations will not be reasonable men. For the sake of order and survival, unreasonable people will obtain control by default and make decisive, confident decisions to meet extraordinary crises. They will move history in new and perilous directions of their own choosing. If events continue on their present course, we must sooner or later enter a new age of political despotism and social and religious barbarism. The world will find itself at the mercy of leaders who, though morally disqualified, will exercise enormous power — power divorced from reason, power that will bring unparalleled ruin on the world! Understand this: What we call "civilization" is largely a veneer, a facade, a pretense. World War II shows that the line between civilization and barbarism in Europe and Asia is a fine one indeed! Civilization has been built on the sandy foundation of denial of basic human behavior patterns, of repression of the dark side of human nature. When times are good, the pretense of civilization holds. But as economic and social conditions deteriorate and human nature is unleashed in its full fury by self-willed, bellicose, intemperate men governed only by passions and prejudices, civilization rapidly crumbles to dust!
Bad News — Then Good!
Bible prophecy confirms the reality of the dangers that history indicates lie ahead. Jesus Christ revealed that we are headed into a time of tribulation "such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21). It will be the most awful international catastrophe in earth's history! It will be a time when "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (verse 7). And — if not supernaturally cut short — it would be a time so perilous that "there should no flesh be saved [alive]" (verse 22). Bible prophecy also tells us that the days ahead will be a time of despotism on a scale unmatched in history! Most prominent among the end-time tyrants will be one symbolically called "the Beast." The Beast is a great dictator revealed in the Apocalypse or book of Revelation. He is to rule over 10 nations or groups of nations, centered in Europe, just before the return of Jesus Christ (Rev. 17:12-13). More than 25 centuries ago, the prophet Daniel recorded a description of this coming despot: "And in the latter time... a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty... and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people" (Dan. 8:23-24). This tyrant is portrayed as proud, insolent, merciless, a manipulator, cunning in the art of political maneuvering — the epitome and culmination of the worst in despots throughout history. He and others will plunge the earth into a new and terrifying — and thankfully brief — Dark Age! To save humanity from total destruction Jesus Christ will return to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). He will return to a world in ruins, foul with corruption, the victim Of its own false ways. He will "destroy them which destroy [or corrupt] the earth" (Rev. 11: 18). He will then establish God's kingdom over all nations, replacing the governments of man. Man will then learn the supreme lesson — that human beings, cut off from God and rejecting his knowledge, do not know the way to peace (Isa. 59:8). The reason? This world's problems are essentially spiritual in nature. They cannot be solved through the use of mere physical knowledge alone. That's why leaders may use all of their productive skills and knowledge and ingenuity — and still be unable to master the problems that confront them! They might prolong the life of their societies by competent action — but never indefinitely! Apart from God, leaders can only grope in darkness, struggling in vain against forces far beyond their ken. Mankind through history has rejected the only knowledge that would allow its governments to succeed — the revealed knowledge of God and his way! Man's attempts to rule his own way, apart from God's revelation of essential knowledge, have proved utterly disastrous. Man has proven his complete incapability of ruling himself! God is permitting the world to go its own way, to learn for itself the bitter lesson that the Satan-inspired way of rejecting the laws and government of God can in the end bring nothing but calamity. Most would never believe it — now. The good news Jesus Christ brought is an announcement — a proclamation that the imperfect, humanly devised governments of this world are soon to pass into history, to be replaced by the world-ruling perfect government of God! It is going to happen — but only after mankind learns some hard lessons through bitter experience! Moreover, Jesus Christ is not going to do this ruling by himself! He is coming to set up a highly organized WORLD GOVERNMENT, with many positions of authority — positions that will be filled by former humans who, in this life, have qualified for a position in the kingdom or government of God. They will not be elected by men, nor will they selfishly seize power — but rather will be appointed and set in office by God's appointed ruler, Jesus Christ. Then the earth will at last have leaders who will not be overwhelmed by events, and who will not be corrupted by great power — leaders who will understand that true leadership comes through serving others (Mark 10:43-45). A new age is coming! This "present evil world" (Gal. 1:4) is soon to pass away. In place of this world's civilizations, all nations will learn the great lesson that God's government is the only way that will produce the lasting peace and prosperity that all peoples seek!