Boris Johnson officially becomes Great Britain’s prime minister later today. His life story is most interesting.
He was born in 1964 in New York City to British parents. His father was studying economics at Columbia University.
At Eton College, prior to attending Oxford, he won honors in English and Classics, edited the school newspaper, and was secretary of the debating society. He played rugby in college, where he was elected president of the Oxford Union and studied ancient literature and classical philosophy.
Johnson married after college and began work as a journalist. After fabricating a quote for an article, he was fired. He secured work at The Daily Telegraph and continued his career in journalism and the media until he was elected mayor of London in 2008 and reelected in 2012.
He was elected to the House of Commons in 2015 and endorsed the campaign to leave the European Union (the so-called “Brexit”) the next year. He served as Foreign Secretary from 2016 to 2018. Yesterday, he was chosen to become prime minister.
Johnson is fluent in French and Italian and conversant in German, Spanish, and Latin. He also studied Ancient Greek in school. I found his biography of Winston Churchill to be fascinating.
His private life has been chaotic at best. He and his second wife are divorcing, and he is living with his current girlfriend; he may have fathered two children out of wedlock. He is an extremely divisive figure in the UK, popular with many and vilified by others.
Winston Churchill on democracy
How did such a polarizing person become prime minister?
In the United Kingdom, voters elect a party to office—in this case, the Conservative Party, which won the most Parliament seats in the 2017 election. The party’s leader, Theresa May, announced her resignation after failing to lead the UK out of the European Union and will leave office later today.
The British system has no “vice-prime minister” or other person who automatically ascends to the office if vacated. Instead, the party in power holds an internal election to choose its next leader. Yesterday, the Conservative Party chose Boris Johnson.
The next election in the UK is scheduled for May 2022. However, if Johnson is unable to lead Great Britain out of the EU by October 31, his declared deadline, he may be forced to resign.
Before we Americans criticize the British for political confusion, we should note that our own system is challenging as well. For example, Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony today could offer no substance beyond the report he has already issued, or it could veer into new territory with enormous political consequences for either party.
The fact that we have no idea this morning what we will learn later today highlights the unpredictability of a democratic system. As Winston Churchill famously noted, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Three seismic shifts
In The Conservative Sensibility, noted author and columnist George F. Will describes our Founding Fathers’ vision for the nation they forged.
According to Will, they intended to create a republic that did not attempt to define and deliver happiness but that “set people free to define and pursue it as they please.” He therefore believes that “government’s proper function is to protect the conditions of life and liberty, primarily for the individual’s private pursuit of happiness.”
In the generations since, our society has experienced three seismic shifts that have moved us significantly away from the culture Will describes.
First, the Industrial Revolution and the Technological Revolution have produced a quantity and quality of consumer goods unprecedented in human history. The capitalistic economy upon which they stand requires the ever-increasing consumption of these goods.
The agrarian workers at our nation’s founding would not recognize our economy and the consumer culture it has produced. As a result, the “pursuit of happiness” Thomas Jefferson and the Founders envisioned has become more materialistic and consumeristic than ever.
Second, Darwinian evolution taught us to expect that life will continually evolve and improve. Each generation therefore assumes that it is entitled to even more “happiness” than those who came before.
Third, American pragmatism and postmodern relativism have taught us that truth is what works for the individual. We no longer feel constrained by biblical morality or objective truth. We can define “happiness” in whatever way we wish, regardless of the consequences for society.
“The king is not saved by his great army”
God’s vision for us stands in stark contrast to such materialistic individualism.
The psalmist observed: “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength” (Psalm 33:16). Rather, “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (v. 18). Because God is “our help and our shield” only when we “trust in his holy name” (vv. 20, 21), we can best serve our nation by serving our Father.
You and I may have no role in today’s congressional hearings or yesterday’s prime minister election, but we play a direct role in the spiritual future of our country. We are alive “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
Scripture is clear: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). If our nation were as dependent on Jesus as you are, would we be “blessed” today?