Societies that did not embrace the value of life, that were continually locked in warfare, that did not grant equal rights to all their inhabitants, and that had a huge, uneducated population, were certainly not going to put much effort into social welfare programs. All social welfare programs in America and Europe today are products of the last 100-150 years. Prior to that, if you were destitute, it was your own bad luck – the government wasn't going to help.
Even worse were international relationships. Multinational peacekeeping forces, foreign aid, the World Bank, etc., were completely unknown in antiquity. If you asked Rome for foreign aid, they would send you five legions. "We'll take care of your problems" meant "We'll invade and take over your country." Rome did not want to make the world a better place for mankind. Rome was interested in building its empire. This was the reality of the ancient world.
For example, look at Genghis Kahn, the brilliant leader of the Mongols in the 13th century. He and his successors built and maintained one of the largest physical empires in human history. His view of the world is in keeping with most of the great world leaders throughout history:
"The greatest happiness is to vanquish your enemies, to chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth, to see those dear to them bathed in tears, to clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters." (Genghis Khan, as recorded by the chronicler, Rashid-ad-Din)
This key fundamental value – social responsibility – was simply not part of the ancient world.
Perspective on Ancient Values
The values expressed in the ancient world are considered completely uncivilized to us today.
It is not that all human beings throughout history were evil people who spent their lives killing babies, waging war, and watching blood sports. The average person of antiquity was simply trying to get through the day – to survive. While a few individuals in antiquity preached the importance of peace and education, the vast majority of humanity believed and practiced otherwise.
Greece, Rome and virtually every other nation have certainly contributed values to civilization: art and architecture, engineering, philosophy, government and science. However, we definitely did not inherit – even from these most advanced civilizations – a sense of morality or values. The vision of a utopian world which we all share – peace, caring and harmony, built on these six fundamental values – did not come from these ancient nations.
To the Source
So what is the source of the values and ethics we envision for our ideal world?
To solve this mystery, let’s look at a quote from Paul Johnson, a Christian historian:
One way of summing up 4,000 years of Jewish history is to ask ourselves what would have happened to the human race if Abraham had not been a man of great sagacity, or if he had stayed in Ur and kept his higher notions to himself, and no specific Jewish people would have come into being. Certainly the world without the Jews would have been a radically different place. Humanity might have eventually stumbled upon all the Jewish insights. But we cannot be sure. All the great conceptual discoveries of the human intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they had been revealed, but require a special genius to formulate them for the first time. The Jews had this gift.
To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so a personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind. Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.
Above all, the Jews taught us how to rationalize the unknown. The result was monotheism and the three great religions which profess it. It is almost beyond our capacity to imagine how the world would have fared if they had never emerged.
Johnson is saying that the basic "moral furniture" of the modern mind is attributable to the Jews. Based on what we saw of the state of the world in antiquity, it is not beyond our capacity to imagine. Without these values, humanity could well have destroyed itself once it obtained the technological know-how.