There is a striking tactical quality to opposition and the exercise of power that is common to people regardless of their political philosophy. The achievement of political power in the larger scale leads to attempts to put our beliefs into practice and enforce them on others. Those we disagree with, when they are in power, do the same thing. Whatever institutions we control, we will use them for our own purposes and according to our own plans. Whatever institutions are not under our control, and are under the control of rivals, we will disparage and try to attack their legitimacy, lest our own plans and ideals be threatened. The same phenomenon is true whatever institution we are looking at, and the more complicated and divided the institution, the more problematic the legitimacy of different parts of the same institution.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, there were many works written in English and other languages (even Latin and French) that dealt with the subject of legitimacy of rulers. Part of this struggle was due to the fact that in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation that religious and civil leaders lost a great deal of the legitimacy that they had possessed before. For many centuries both civil and religious authorities had fought against each other and sought the legitimacy that the other provided. Civil rulers sought to have their political power supported by divine sanction. Religious leaders claimed to be the only source of that legitimacy, and needed the protection that civil leaders could provide. This co-dependent relationship changed once the Roman Catholic Church lost its much-vaunted monopoly on religious power.
The response to this change was different in different areas. In some areas like England, civil authorities attempted to capture the religious establishment and place it under royal control, but this meant that the support to the crown suffered whenever the crown made ill-advised and controversial decisions. For the kings of England, religion only served to divide their realm as people were unhappy on both sides. A similar phenomenon happened in the petty German kingdoms as well as the French monarchy, and even later on in Spain and other lands. The combination of church and state, in the absence of sound biblical religion or virtuous civil government, brought problems to both of them. One response of a lot of unhappy people was to write books, a lot of books, with biblical allusions to contemporary political difficulties. Come to think of it, these writers and pamphleteers were not too different from bloggers today, people not unlike me.
One of the dilemmas that anyone who is unhappy with religious leadership has to deal with is the fact that whether one is dealing with biblical history or political history that no mass movement succeeds without the strong influence of leadership. When an institution is corrupted, there must be leadership to counteract that corruption and to make a new beginning. Sometimes leadership that is strong in one area is weak in another, such as exploitative leaders with a lack of understanding of social justice who nonetheless have strong doctrinal positions that seek to be in line with the Bible. A belief in and a practice of the whole truth of God is not an easy or a straightforward matter, and few us are able to master or even begin to master virtue in all of its complications and tangles.
Even the most radical of egalitarian philosophies, in practice, has always required some sort of leadership that could easily become autocratic once victory in warfare (whether electoral or cultural or military) had been attained. Communism, with its theories of the proletariat of the masses, has always been ruled by corrupt and tyrannical dictators wherever it has achieved victory. The radical Presbyterians of Europe had their Calvin, their Knox, and their Cromwell (even their Iretons ), all of whom were known for being autocratic people. A rhetoric of liberty is certainly a noble thing, but its reality is a vastly more difficult matter. All of us are offended and bothered by certain sins, though which ones they are will depend on our own personal weaknesses as well as our own sensitivities, and we will all tend to seek to use power to enforce our own personal preferences, unless we are people of extreme restraint that can scarcely be believed or understood by others.
However our hostility to abuse of power and tyranny, there is a very real danger for all of us in some fashion that we may live long enough to see ourselves as our own worst enemies. We may fight against tyrants and abusers and bullies all of our lives only to realize that we too have been corrupted by the same evil that we have fought so hard against. This is a hard realization to face, and an even harder one to counteract. The vindication of liberty against tyranny does not merely consist in flowery rhetoric, but in the painful self-examination and reflection that allows us to face down the tyrants and abusers inside of us all, so that we may not become the monsters that we have devoted our lives to fighting when the opportunity comes for us to become leaders ourselves. May be find our rhetoric vindicated by our nobility of character, so that we may not bring discredit upon our ideals and principles. Life is too short for us to betray that which is most important, the well-being of those whom we lead and serve.