How the Christian Religion Revolutionized the Classical Perspective regarding the Ideal Government

The Journey to Modern Democracy

Today, most countries worldwide are democratic; meaning that they have a system of government characterized by majority rule. Notably, democracy, as it is known today, has not always been so; it is through centuries of political revolution that it became refined. The journey towards democracy can be traced as way back as the classical period. Since the classical era, there has been a debate regarding what is the ideal government. It is this debate that birthed the concept of democracy, which through centuries of political revolution has been refined to its modern definition and application. This research seeks to examine the journey to modern democracy starting from the classical period. Specifically, the inquiry will explore how Christianity revolutionized the classical perspective regarding the ideal government as described by Plato, how the revolutionized view dominated the western world as evident in the writing of Calvin, and how it was later refined to become the modern democracy as seen in Rawls’ political views.

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Classical Perspective Regarding the Ideal Government as Described By Plato

            One of the greatest philosophers of the classical period is Plato, known for his famous political philosophy work the Republic, in which he shares his views regarding the ideal government. In the Republic, Plato expresses his opposition to a democratic government. Whereas Plato advocated for freedom whereby he considered it a “true value,” he is against democracy because he believed that it leads to excessive freedom. According to Plato, excessive freedom, which he defines as people doing whatever they wish without any repercussion, can lead to anarchy. The second reason Plato does not support democracy is his opposition to the idea of equality. In this context, equality refers to everyone having the right and equal capacity to rule. Plato was concerned that equality can bring to politics all types of power-seeking individuals, who are not motivated by the public good but rather their personal gains (Sabine & Thorson, 2018). Thus, Plato believed that democracy is highly susceptible to corruption and it opens the gates to power to all types of individuals including demagogues, potential dictators. As such, it can lead to tyranny.

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            Plato’s classical political thinking, especially his stand against democracy is influenced by his pessimism toward human beings and the state of the Greek political arena at the time. Plato believed that most people are corrupted, irrational, have egoistic passions, are driven by their appetites, and are informed by false beliefs. The only reason they choose to obey laws or be just is their lack of the power to act criminally and the fear of punishment (Sabine & Thorson, 2018). Since democracy depends on chance, Plato believed that in most cases it will yield an unfit ruler. Moreover, according to Sabine and Thorson, Plato’s review of the ancient Greek political arena led him to the conclusion that it is unstable and characterized by practices such as tyranny and anarchy. He insists that since democracy depends on chance, it opens the gates for incompetent rulers. According to Plato, ruling is a craft and, as such, requires expert rulers and such leaders cannot merely come by chance. Plato stresses that expert rulers must be carefully selected and undergo in the course of extensive training. Based on these premises, Plato recommends that the ideal government is one ruled by a philosopher (Ryan, 2012). Plato considered philosophers to be competent in decision-making and, as such, qualified as competent rulers.

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            Thus, the ideal government according to Plato is ruled by a philosopher-king. Plato argues that philosophers possess the capacity to distinguish between true and false beliefs. They are motivated by the common good and love knowledge. Moreover, they are master theoreticians but also master practitioners, which renders them most qualified to heal society of its ills (Wolin, 2016). Even though Plato had so much faith in philosopher-rulers, he still believed that they too were susceptible to corruption. According to Wolin, he insisted that to ensure that they would remain incorruptible, the ones selected to rule should not be selected in their adult ages. Instead, they should be chosen among the most stable, brightest, and most courageous children in society. They should then undergo sophisticated and prolonged training entailing gymnastics, music, mathematics, dialectic, military service, and practical state management. Moreover, they should possess superior theoretical knowledge concerning concepts such as justice, nobility, and the common good. They should as well be superior in practical matters. Thus, according to Plato, the ideal government is one headed by the described philosopher ruler.

            A review of Plato’s view regarding democracy reveals that the main reason he is against democracy is his skepticism of human beings. Plato believes that most humans are irrational and are driven by their appetites, hence their corrupt nature. His skepticism is based on his evaluation of people’s behavior during the era. Admittedly, the people were not as civilized as they are today. Hence, his skepticism is understandable. Based on this evaluation he does not believe that a government by the people for the people is ideal as it can only lead to anarchy. Plato does not believe that all people are equal; he considers some people superior to others. He also believes that freedom is dangerous for a state as it renders it susceptible to anarchy. It is evident that Plato’s definition of freedom and equality is flawed. Freedom in the context of democracy intends to allow people to enjoy their natural rights and equality refers to all people having equal rights. Nonetheless, Plato’s views were crucial in the journey towards democracy as they served as an invitation for a debate on the topic.

Christianity Influence and How the Revolutionized View Dominated the Western World as evident in the writing of Calvin

            The spread of Christianity revolutionized the classical political perspective. The revolution is evident in the writings of John Calvin, who is regarded as one of the fathers of modern democracy. Before, delving into Calvin’s writings, it is important to gain an understanding of how the spread of Christianity impacted government and ruling in the Western world. Christianity started spreading in the 1st century spreading gradually across Western Europe. By the mid-16th Century, which is when Calvin was born, the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the papacy had spread vastly across Western Europe, whereby it had deeply involved itself in the political, social, and economic life. Eventually, the increasing power and wealth corrupted the church as a spiritual force. This, among other factors, led to the Protestant Reformation, which was a religious upheaval that splinted the Catholic Church causing the emergence of Protestantism (Hoffman & Graham, 2015). Notably, one of the greatest leaders of the reformation was Calvin.

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`           Calvin existed in a time when the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church had caused people to prefer a government in which the church did not have any involvement. Whereas Calving supported the reformation, he did not advocate the church and the state to be completely separated. According to Lewis and Ministries (2014), Calvin believed that God is sovereign and, therefore, should rule both the church and the state. Calvin based this premise that both church and state are spiritual entities and, as such, must be under God’s authority. He further argues that the church and state’s missions are mutually inclined as they both seek to produce model citizens. Calvin proposed a model in which the state rules the church’s environments to maintain domestic tranquility to allow the church to execute its evangelism mission Lewis & Ministries, 2014). Therefore, in Calvin’s proposed model, the state has jurisdiction over the church when it comes to matters of the ruling but both are equal spiritually.

            Although Calvin advocated for a distinction between the state and the church, in his proposition the two entities overlapped. In his proposed model, for a person to hold any office they had to be upstanding church members. Hence, even though a democratic election process was to be observed, the church would still have an involvement in deciding who rules. Calvin’s defense for the qualification for one to have a good standing with the church to qualify for office is that the church and the state share a common purpose but there is a distinction in the said purpose. He held that the state is supposed to adjudicate temporal matters under God while the church specifically adjudicates spiritual matters. This way, both the church and the state are mutually spiritual as they are combining efforts to fight evil (Lewis & Ministries, 2014). Thus, Calvin envisaged a form of government in which the church and the state served as a united force to protect the people against evil.

            Calvin was blatantly opposed to tyranny. According to Lewis and Ministries (2014), he saw tyranny as the devil that lingers around stalking a state seeking to possess it. He viewed absolute power as corrupting and, as such, insists that power should not be entrusted to a single person or a few individuals. Calvin was also against the hereditary ruling as he views it as an infringement of liberty (Blythe, 2014). He viewed the ideal state as one governed by elected representatives. However, he insists that in the said government liberty must be regulated based on moderation and properly established foundations. Nonetheless, he believed that all people are created equally as emphasized in Genesis 1:27. Unlike Plato who stressed that rulers must be selected based on competency, Calvin pleaded with the general public that when electing leaders they should do so with a pure conscience, having no regard for any other factor but God’s honor and glory and the state’s safety and defense. Moreover, unlike Plato, Calvin believed that the ideal government is democratic. The only conflict is that although, Calvin believed that the people should elect their leaders he still believed that God had already decided who the leader should be as he is their guidance (Blythe, 2014). This is evident in his citation of Romans 13:1-2.

Romans 13:1-2 states that “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

            Calvin’s political views demonstrate how Christianity revolutionized the classical political perspective as demonstrated by Plato’s view regarding the ideal government. Unlike Plato, Calvin advocates for democracy. However, he insists on the collaboration between state and church but argues for the separation of the two entities. Calvin insists that the two entities share a common mission, which is why they must collaborate. Notably, the type of collaboration described by Calvin causes an overlap of the two entities hence his idea of state and church distinction is flawed. Nonetheless, it was a milestone toward modern democracy as it introduced the concept of state and church separation.

Modern Democratic Government as seen in Rawls’ Political Views 

            After several centuries the rudimental democratic government, which was highly influenced by the Christianity worldview underwent a refining process to become the modern democracy as evident in John Rawls’ political views. Rawls was born at the end of the 20th century, which is about three and half centuries after Calvin. His 1971 publication, A Theory of Justice, defined a democracy characterized by liberty and citizens being involved in governing affairs. The publication is a conjunction of two ideals. One, individuals should have the liberty of thought and speech. They should also have the freedom to live their lives as they wish as long as they do not harm others. Two, individuals should determine the laws by which they are governed. In this regard, they should do so through majority rule and they should have equal opportunities to participate in the said democratic decision-making process (Ryan, 2012). Thus, according to Rawls, a just society is one characterized by each person having an equal claim to basic rights and liberties.

            Rawls also argues for the separation of the church and state. Unlike Calvin’s argument in which the two overlap even though he insists they are separated, Rawls advocates for a wall of separation between the two entities. Rawls argues that a wall of separation between the two is necessary. He provides three key reasons to support his argument namely cultural pluralism, institutional stability, and public reason. First, Rawls asserts that the fundamental aspect of any truly free nation is ineradicable pluralism of religious beliefs, cultural values, personal worldviews, et cetera. He also argues that the only way to ensure the stability of a government and avoid disagreements between various religions is to separate state and church. Lastly, Rawls believes that since in a truly free state every individual has freedom of worship, the church and the state should be separated to ensure the right is not infringed (Adams, 2020). Based on the three premises, Rawls insists that it is important that there exist a wall of separation between church and state. Notably, Rawls’s political views depict the modern democracy where people enjoy civil liberties and political rights. Additionally, there is a clear separation between church and state.


To sum up, the journey to democracy has been long, dating back to the classical era. Sparked by the classical era’s philosophers such as Plato, the debate regarding the ideal government has been a spirited and rewarding one. The classical era as demonstrated by Plato’s political views rejected democracy citing that it can render a state susceptible to anarchy and tyranny. It also insisted on nations being ruled by individuals who demonstrated expertise in leadership and decision-making. The spread of Christianity revolutionized the classical era political thinking by introducing the aspect of church involvement in state ruling. Moreover, Christianity introduced elements of freedom and equality to democracy. The reformation sparked the debate regarding the separation of church and state. After about four decades, the rudimental democratic model of governance influenced by Christianity underwent a refining process leading to modern democracy characterized by individual rights and civil liberties as well as a clear separation between church and state. Therefore, Christianity revolutionized the Classical perspective regarding the ideal form of government leading to the shift from the aristocratic form of government to church government and later democratic civil government.

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