Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The French Revolution - Freedom vs. Authority

After the fall of the Bastille everything was chaos in France. The administration, the army, the navy; the peasants set fire to their employers’ houses and lands, thus stopping their own source of bread. The People believed themselves to be the new owners of France. They saw themselves as free to regulate the Church, the Army and the Navy, to make laws and collect taxes. No power was available to make impositions on their National Assembly. They could even change the names of the Seasons and change Dates!
Against the seductive force of this democratic logic the voices of moderation and wisdom couldn’t operate. The belief in the essential goodness of human nature which was the fount of these theories was in fact the source of the terrible disasters which now began to assault France. The desperate need for authority was drowned in enthusiasm for democratic freedom. Who could be in authority if all were equal?

For a better understanding, read this excerpt from J.I. Packer's essay "Freedom & Authority"...
"AUTHORITY" is a word that makes most people think of law and order, direction and restraint, command and control, dominance and submission, respect and obedience. How, I wonder, do you react to such ideas? Have they any place in your vision of the life that is good and sweet? If so, you are unusual. One tragedy of our time is that, having these associations, "authority" has become almost a dirty word in the Western world, while opposition to authority in schools, families and society generally is cheerfully accepted as something that is at least harmless and perhaps rather fine… What goes on here? What is happening to us?
The answer to these questions is pinpointed by the fact that "freedom" is today almost a magic word  — freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom of speech and freedom of religion—freedom in one form or another has been a worldwide passion, encouraged and catered to at every level.
Longings for freedom from restrictions, from the dead hand of the past, from disliked pressures, obligations, systems and what not are for many people the strongest of life’s driving forces. Freedom — "getting out from under" as we say — has become modern man’s obsession. And freedom is always seen as involving rejection of authority! Authority is equated with fixed limits, freedom with cutting loose from all that. Hence the crisis of authority which marks our time.
This way of conceiving freedom has its roots in philosophy: in dreams of the perfectibility of man… The effect is that all forms of authority are seen as cell walls, which makes the quest for freedom feel like a Great Escape from some ideological prison-camp. Undisguised contempt for restrictions and directions have become almost conventional, and anyone who respects authority stands out as odd.
The truth, paradoxical yet inescapable, is this: there is no freedom apart from external authority. To say "I am my own authority, a law to myself" is to enslave myself to myself, which is the worst bondage of all. Only as I bow to an authority which is not myself am I ever free.
Basically there are two ways of conceiving freedom, and we have pointed to the first already. It is to view freedom as secular, external and this-worldly. It is essentially a matter of breaking bonds and abolishing restrictions and hardships. It seeks freedom from or freedom not to.
The second approach to freedom is distinctively Christian. It is evangelical, personal and positive… This definition starts with freedom from and freedom not to — in this case, freedom from the guilt and power of sin, and freedom not to be dominated by tyrannical self-will — but it centers on freedom for: freedom for God and godliness, freedom to love and serve one’s Maker and fellow-creatures, freedom for the joy, hope and contentment which God gives to sinners who believe in Christ.


  1. In reference to the Fourth Commandment, Martin Luther says, "If we only would believe that deeds done in obedience to the Fourth Commandment really do please God and are richly rewarded, then our lives would be simply flooded with blessings and we would have what our heart desires."

    Donald Livingston

  2. We love authority because it brings order and our God is a God of order. The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt, but God did not leave them but appointed a leader over them.-Judah

  3. There might be chaos with incompetent or corrupt authorities, but there is even more with no authority at all. This was proven in the French Revolution when things went from bad to worse when the king was deposed. God's authority is the only realm within which we can be truly free.
    Laura Swanzy

  4. If you veiw authority as law and order and a have to your not going to like and your going to have people who rebel against the leader.If you veiw it as for your benefit and your safty it will be much easier for those who are put over you.
    Lenard Caputo

  5. True freedom is freedom to love God and to serve your neighbor. When law is taken away all order and communication is taken away also. As the French took away the law their communication and order was gone and chaos replaced it. Joseph Martinez

  6. If you think about it, it was almost the exact same situation as Germany after World War I. The people were in chaos and didn't like the government so it allowed for people like Napoleon or even Hitler to come to power.
    Where there is no vision, the people perish.
    John W.

  7. There are two different types of freedom. Freedom that comes from man which leads us to bondage, and freedom that comes from God which allows us to praise Him and serve our neighbors. Lauryn Caputo

  8. God is our authority, although, authority is looked at as a negative sometimes, but if you view it for your good and safety it can be a positive. Having authority over yourself you may think “I don’t need anyone I am my own authority” that is the worst authority you can have, in God’s kingdom that is where we are free of ourselves.
    Evan Kirk

  9. Even though the French thought that they had freedom they were not truly free, because they had no authority. True freedom is to be under Gods loving authority. -David Hill

  10. Because I am a christian I am not a slave to doing my own will anymore and pushing what I selfishly want. I am now free to love God and to serve my neighbors, which makes for a much better life.

    John O'Connor

  11. Some people might view freedom as freedom from restrictions, obligations, and authority, but Christians view freedom as freedom from guilt and the power of sin and freedom to not be dominated by self-will. This means that we are now free to serve our neighbors.

    Joel R. Frost

  12. The old man thinks that freedom is being able to be autonomus. Every day we need delivered from ourselves so that we can be truly free to love our neighbors.

  13. The natural man thinks that free means doing whatever you want and having no authority over you. The opposite is actually true. When you strive to make yourself free you cut yourself off from all gifts and the forgiveness of sins, but the only real freedom is living in the forgiveness of Christ and under the authority of God.
    - Emily Hier

  14. After reading this article by J.I. Packer it makes me realize that there is the old man, who naturally hates any type of authority, thinks of freedom as a way to get around authority. But I am thankful that we have a new man who is truly free under the authority of God's Word and free to serve.

    - Ruth Hill

  15. Most people’s definition of freedom is, 'doing whatever I please, whenever I want, and whoever I want to do it with' or ‘I don’t have to obey the law’. As Christians, that is not our definition. True freedom is being free from ourselves to serve and love our neighbors and only Christ can free us. The French did not understand the meaning of true freedom, so many people were killed. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1
    - AnnMarie

  16. The old Adam would normally think that freedom is doing whatever you want or doing whatever makes you happy, but really you enjoy yourself alot more when you're looking on the cares of your neighbors. The more you serve and do your vocation (whatever is set in front of you) the happier you will be, and by Gods grace you will come to see authority as a blessing instead of a "cell wall."

  17. Paul

    There is not freedom without authority and we have god and our parents as our authority. We as Christians believe freedom comes from getting forgiven and being set free from our old Adam.

  18. Our authority comes from God and without it we can have no true freedom. As a christian, freedom comes from being forgiven and becoming freed from ourselves.
    Josh M.

  19. In the French revelation there was no authority and thus chaos ruled. And in our lives if there is no authority there will be chaos.
    God has put our parent’s uncles and pears in my life to have authority over me to save me from the world the flesh and the devil.


  20. I'm gLad I have outside authority from some one else I can have freedom from myself. That is why we have teachers, parents and brothers, sisters, principals, freinds, and president to have authority over us. By Leanna H.