Whom glory had in ken,
Though all your thunder-sworded thanes
With proud hearts died among the Danes,
While a man remains, great war remains:
Now is a war of men.
The men that tear the furrows,
The men that fell the trees,
When all their lords be lost and dead
The bondsmen of the earth shall tread
The tyrants of the seas."
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Western Culture underwent a dramatic shift away from traditional structures of society and government toward a more egalitarian and democratic mindset. No longer were the lower classes at the mercy of the aristocrats, nor were the middle-classes beholden to the whims of a King. In America, an aristocratic class never developed, all but ensuring the development of some manner of government by popular representatives.
When Chesterton penned those lines of The Ballad of the White Horse, he was not so much speaking from the past as he was speaking to his time, beset by the barbarianism of Modernity. Christendom had no leaders, no "thunder-sworded thanes" to protect others from the dangers of Modernity. The traditional role of the aristocrat was to defend his own from harm, and in the absence of such leadership, Chesterton saw that it fell to the "bondsmen of the earth" to fight the encroaching barbarism and atheism. King Alfred calls upon these simple men to use the common skills and virtues to "tread the tyrants of the sea." Alfred gives them courage and inspires them fight. Prepared to fight and die, they rally and charge their foes, and the simple virtue of the peasant overcome the hardened warrior in the White Horse vale.
We have few generals and leaders who speak with moral authority and clear conviction. Relative to preceding generations, we are woefully undereducated and illiterate. Our abilities are few and our vision nearsighted. Yet, all is not lost. Our God is great and he uses what is weak and lowly to do mighty things. Reluctant Gideons though we may be, history has shown what even three hundred men can accomplish in the face of thousands of determined foes.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.- 1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5