Rome and Darwin Come to Washington

Perhaps you’ve noticed that buildings in Washington D.C., with their columns and facades, are reminiscent of Roman architecture. Interestingly, some early American political writers called themselves by Roman names. The authors of The Federalist, a collection of 85 essays written in favor of the Constitution, did not use their real names.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote the essays under the pseudonym, “Publius.” George Washington was known as “Cincinnatus,” a Roman general and patriot who gave up supreme power and went home to his farm after war. In fact, there’s an enormous marble sculpture of our first president — wearing a toga!

The word “Senate” is also borrowed from the Romans. Our early constitutional framers looked to some elements of the Roman Republic and its form of civil government — not to its pagan religious practices — as a model for their political ideas. America’s moral foundation was clearly based on biblical ideals. Reason was viewed as a gift from God, limited in its ability to make absolute assessments of what was right and wrong, a result of men and women being created in the image of God.

Reason was not viewed by the majority of founders to be an independent source of truth. Yes, there were people who took the reason-only approach, but they were a minority. They were living off the borrowed capital of biblical Christianity as most rationalists do today. Natural Law could not function without the revelatory light of Special Revelation.

This was not true of France in the 18th century. Reason was elevated to god-like status. “Europe disintegrated because the goddess of Reason, whom the French revolutionaries placed, in the shape of a Parisian streetwalker, upon the altar of Notre Dame,”1 became France’s new authority. She was “carried shoulder‑high into the cathedral by men dressed in Roman costumes.”2 The church of Notre Dame was reconsecrated to the “Cult of Reason.”

With the advent of Darwinism in 1859, the moral basis of government and culture lost its anchor. (Charles Darwin’s birthday was celebrated in many churches across the country yesterday.) The secular religionists had put their trust in technology and the Darwinian worldview of promised evolutionary advancement. Survival of the fittest had become the new ethical standard. The American industrialist Andrew Carnegie embraced the social implications of Darwin’s theories and applied them to the world of business.3

“That light came in as a flood and all was clear. Not only had I got rid of theology and the supernatural, but I found the truth of evolution.”4

John D. Rockefeller, using Darwinian logic, believed that “The growth of a large business is merely the survival of the fittest.”5

The problems our nation face today, and those of Europe, can be traced back to the claim that God has been displaced with the operating assumption that given enough power and money, everything can be fixed. It might be time for our nation’s leaders to take a look at the demise of Rome.

  1. Richard Hertz, Chance and Symbol (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), 100. []
  2. Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (1976) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, 5 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1984), 5:122. []
  3. James Rachels, Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 63–64. []
  4. Quoted in John W. Whitehead, The End of Man (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1986), 53. []
  5. James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1985), 271. []