Alexander the Great, whom Daniel pictures rather unflatteringly as a he-goat, was Aristotle’s pupil. Alexander was an idealist.
4. The Idealist Generation
Alexander was not just an idealist, he was also a Stoic. Like so many after him: Julius, Cato, Marcus Aurelius, Washington (to name a few). Perhaps he was the first great Stoic. “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion“, “There is nothing impossible to him who will try“.
Alexander was a practical philosopher, he was as interested in thinking as he was in doing.
He was not your common-or-garden variety conqueror, he analyzed and educated those he conquered, even as he made them slaves. He “Hellenized” the world around him. Alexander’s extraordinary efforts resulted in Judah speaking Greek by the time of Jesus, and the Gospel being written almost exclusively in Greek. This common Greek dialect also enabled the Gospel to spread fairly effortlessly into the world.
Like Alexander, idealistic generations are capable of extraordinary action with long-lasting implication; but don’t be fooled into thinking that idealistic philanthropy is necessarily a good thing. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Many idealist generations have thundered ahead in blissful ignorance of the implications of their mass actions.
The idealist generation alive today we call the Millennials, born 1984-2008. The Hipsters of Social Media, iTunes and the so-called 99%. This is a generation that thinks with their mouths, listens with their eyes and looks with their fingers.
This generation is extremely collaborative with a similar brand awareness and entitlement of their grandparent generation, the selfish generation.
And here we see a pattern emerging, the selfish and idealist generations are similar in the same way that the pessimist and cynical generations are. So we see two great and opposing forces driving the 4 generation types:
The Selfish and Idealist generations fall under the Stoic mind, the Pessimist and Cynical generations fall under the Skeptical mind. And over the play of time these two forces pull against each other in an ongoing, 80 year tug-of-war cycle; creating a manufactured equilibrium. It is a multi-generational ploy of divide and conquer.
We can see this phenomenon taking many different western forms: Froyd and Jung; Bulls and Bears; Democrats and Republicans; Rationalists and Existentialists; Conservatives and Liberals; the list goes on and on. Satan’s tactic is divide and conquer, but the Biblical picture is unity from self-sacrificial love.
Daniel’s Picture of the idealist generation (Daniel 7):
“terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
Daniel’s picture sets this generation apart, because it is the ruling generation. From the Stoic emperors of Rome to the founding fathers of the USA, stoicism is the most deceptive form of self-righteousness that exists.
Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations wrote: “Nature gives all and takes all back. To her the man educated into humility says: ‘Give what you will; take back what you will.’ And he says this in no spirit of defiance, but simply as her loyal subject.” (Book 10:14).
Stoicism is extremely productive in science, discovery, industry, politics and economy; partly because it has loosed itself from the fetters of religion and guilt. But in doing so it has also loosened itself from an accountability and relationship with God; and so ends up doing a lot more harm than good both to itself and to the generations that follow it.
In Daniel’s symbolism we see a very destructive force, it is consumer driven but also leaves an unintended footprint of destruction. Idealism is a worldview that is arrived at through a number of complex steps. It feels very right and noble; but it is a false humility, a deception. It is beautifully pictured as both arrogant and boastfulness from a position of false humility.
Humility in the Gospel is a very different thing, it is truly selfless. It honors Christ and others, it does not honor self.
As CS Lewis said, biblical humility is not thinking little of oneself; biblical humility is not thinking of oneself at all, it is thinking of others!
We are to be like Christ who “did not consider equality with God as something worth grasping at, but rather made himself nothing, he gave himself away even to beyond the point of death“ Philippians 2:6.
As I said earlier, the truth is further removed from any of these worldviews than they are from each other.
400 years after Christ, Augustine, the great philosopher and apologist, stood a lonely guard against the heresy that threatened the church at the time. Augustine’s influence was profound in the forming of the early church, and most of it was very good.
But he failed to draw a clear distinction between Stoic idealism and Gospel truth. Largely, I believe, because he was unable to make that distinction for himself, so deep rooted can this worldview be.