McDonalds, Benevolent Dictators and World Peace

Last week many different things happened, but with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine another one of humankind’s great theories came to an end. The theory was on it’s last breath already, with the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, but with this current conflict, it will have difficult finding any future evangelists. What theory am I talking about?  An interesting observation by a fairly brilliant human (Thomas Friedman) made in 1996, noted a correlation between the presence of McDonalds in a country and world peace. Stated simply:

‘Countries with McDonald’s within their borders do not go to war with other countries with McDonalds within their borders.’

Milton Friedman

Born out of the idealistic pre-9/11 90’s, the logic behind this theory is that once a country gets to the place where companies like McDonalds and Starbucks start to open up branches it demonstrated a level of economic stability in the country and commitment to the global marketplace where those making decisions would do everything to avoid armed conflict and the economic devastation that follows after it. So, while you might have countries like Russia, the United States, Germany and China funding conflict in other countries, they would do everything to keep it from happening within their own borders.

Put more simply, this could be seen as a belief that free trade could save the world. Whether a person was a pure capitalist or a one world government socialist, you could find both tribes putting some hope in the desire of humans to pursue their own prosperity and that of their country as a powerful force that would keep the atrocities of large scale global conflicts from ever happening again. While one country might risk this kind of conflict, the thinking was that surely multiple countries would not head in this direction with each other.

This theory was tested many times in the past 2 decades. Multiple times between Pakistan and India, the Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 and other tensions around the world before war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, but it is difficult to compare those to what we’ve seen over the last month or so. Russia, against dire economic warnings slowly built up a huge force on the Ukrainian border and ultimately invaded, a conflict which continues as I write this with possible far-ranging consequences outside of the borders of those two countries. All Christians should answer the call to regular prayer for the many innocents suffering and who will continue to suffer whenever armed conflicts occur.

The flaw that existed with this supposed peace theory (which was really nothing more than observing a short trend) was it didn’t acknowledge that we live in a world where sometimes people’s approaches to their own and their country’s best interests are far from rational. We also find that the same kind of poor decision-making and short term thinking that marks disastrous decisions that we see in our own lives and the lives of those close to us can also be present in the decisions of global leaders.

The fear of the modern world has been focused on hateful or irrational men with power, whether they were the leaders of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or unstable leaders such as in N. Korea. The assumption being that the population of the world would move towards a kind of common ground, understanding each other better as time went on and it was only those who are isolated and on the fringe (lunatic fringe) who might be the real threats.

When I was studying the forms of government both in high school and in Political Science 101 it was common to discuss the positives and negatives of various forms of government. I remember one teacher saying that the best form of government to live under was the benevolent dictator, but it was also very risky, because even if the person in charge acted perfectly on behalf of all of their citizens, there was no guarantee that the next dictator who succeeded them would do the same.

If we are honest, this could be applied to any functional form of government. Monarchies, Democracies, Republics and Socialist states might all function well for a season with the right leaders in charge, in a way that is not much different than our fictitious benevolent dictatorship. As Christians, we should pray for good governance. We should vote for those who seem to be the closest to a good, benevolent leader, but we should be careful to never put our ultimate hope in any human government to bring lasting peace and prosperity on this earth.

God’s Word doesn’t promise us peace in this world, instead it promises another kind of peace:

“Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.””

‭‭John‬ ‭16:31-33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This was one of the last promises of Jesus to His followers before He would soon be betrayed and handed over to be crucified. Jesus told them they would be scattered, that they would abandon Him and that they would have tribulation and yet He says they will “have peace.” Why do they have peace? Because He has overcome the world. This was the message He gave prior to crucifixion. His followers, after hearing these words would see their dear friend and teacher tortured and killed unjustly. In that context, they were to have peace and to take heart.

These are relevant words for all of Christ’ followers. In this world, we will have trouble and tribulation. We will sometimes be scattered and sometimes we will be alone. In spite of all these things, even today with all the things we see around us, we should have peace and take heart. Not because the world is getting better. Not because some economic theory has promised us world peace and not even because some of us might have a chance to live under the rule of some mostly benevolent leader. Instead, our hope is in the one fact that was true when the words were spoken and are still true today, Jesus “has overcome the world.”

Because of this, we place our hope in eternity, not within the boundaries of our time on this earth. We long for an end to all suffering and we desire for peace and love for one another with our fellow travelers on this earth, but we remember with certainty that even when those things are not possible, we have something better promised to us on the other side of eternity. That is not a theory of man, but a fact of God.

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