Utopian Dreams versus Fallen Man

“It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life must be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away with limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” – C. S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory

I suppose I don’t have a whole lot to add to the quote.

I will note briefly that it points to the main distinction between the Christian and Progressive worldviews. The Christian sees the world as fallen, broken, desperately in need of a savior. Attempts to find peace, harmony, redemption, or salvation through popular movements are doomed to fail. Those offers exist only to individuals, and to each through Christ. Even if all men on the earth became Christians, we still would face the struggles of our fallen and sinful nature.

The progressive worldview is that we can indeed overcome evil in this life. That enough focus, energy, intelligence, and commitment to the right programs will indeed lead to peace and harmony for all. That the ills of the world are reactions to bad behaviors of others – if we could but eliminate the first bad behavior the second wouldn’t exist. Poverty causes crime. Despair causes fanaticism. Sexual repression causes lust. Frustration, anxiety, and disillusionment lead to substance abuse. If we could just rid ourselves of the former, the latter would disappear.

It’s actually quite a clever little game. As progressive policies continually fail to deliver, their advocates can always claim that we just haven’t done enough. A little more, and we’ll get over the hump.

I am in violent agreement with Lewis, “the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away with limited objectives.” I want to see government policies that outlaw the unnecessary cessation of unborn human life. But I also know how to try to impact individual lives, trying to save individual babies. I want to see a United States uninfected by drug abuse. But the war on drugs is a massive failure, and I think we’re all better off making a difference in somebody’s life, not trying to fix the whole thing at once by fiat. I’d love to see global governments unite to crack down on human trafficking and the sex trade. But I also know that there are ways to help individuals now without waiting for the comprehensive solution.

We can do meaningful good today. We can impact lives today. We can change somebody’s future today.

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” – 2 Cor 6:2

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4 Responses to Utopian Dreams versus Fallen Man

  1. jefe de jefed says:

    What does nomasir mean? And who made you the social/political philosopher of the 21st century? Thw nerve! Aren’t you a math guy?!?

    • nomasir says:

      There are three questions in there, which I’ll answer in reverse order:

      (1) Yeah, I’m a math guy … guilty as charged.
      (2) Nobody. I suspect you and the handful of others who read this blog aren’t enough of a following to qualify me as a social/political philosopher.
      (3) This one is ambiguous. By “what does nomasir mean?” are you asking what I mean in this post? Or are you asking “what does the word ‘nomasir’ mean?” If the former, then I suck as a writer – the post should speak for itself. If the later, Nomasir was a character in “the Richest Man in Babylon” a book by George Samuel Clason. In the book, Arkad was the richest man in Babylon – who got that way through consistent, stable, sustainable financial management – not trickeration and skull-duggery. Nomasir was his son.

  2. Eric says:

    I wonder if Lewis had recently read A. Conan Doyle before writing this; his comment is remarkably similar to one by Sherlock Holmes, that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

    I would agree that people often follow a questionably logical path of reasoning from observation of suffering to belief that a particular course of action will remedy that suffering. I also agree that the problem gets interesting– and often dangerous– when that course of action involves government collectively restricting, or mandating, or whatever.

    But although Lewis is certainly eloquent, I think he makes too great a leap from simple desire to improve our situation to Utopian fanaticism. (I am particularly amused by the suggestion that vegetarians and Marxists sit together on the quackery scale.) I completely agree with the effectiveness of “working quietly away with limited objectives.” But how is abolition of the slave trade a limited objective? Similarly, how is a global government crackdown on human trafficking a limited objective? And is a person here, a person there, really the best that can be done to address problems like this?

    My point is that, as I have found myself saying before, “the problem is messy.” There are not just two extreme approaches, with uber-libertarianism at one end and fascism at the other. There *is* useful stuff in the middle, even at times getting the government involved, some combination of which has at least the potential to yield a *better*– not *perfect*, but better– situation tomorrow than exists today. I don’t know what that right combination is, and no one else seems to either. And maintaining a scientific and objective yardstick to try, evaluate, and discard/select approaches is extremely hard. But to dismiss all of the interval of ideas except one endpoint seems equally ideological (i.e., unscientific).

    • nomasir says:

      “I think he makes too great a leap from simple desire to improve our situation to Utopian fanaticism” – I imagine that the leap belongs more to me than Lewis. He is simply speaking his opposition to Pacifism by taking down the various arguments in favor. I made the larger step.

      (As an aside, I don’t think he meant to place Marxists and Vegetarians in the same scale of quackery. Simply that they are absolutist in their ideologies believing they have found some new truth that will lead to a better life. The Vegetarians never committed genocide to have their way though.)

      You may find it hard to believe, but I’m not an ultra-libertarian. I don’t think the government should do nothing. While I’m a big supporter of … wait for it … stigmergy, we needn’t limit ourselves to indirect reaction. While this works very well in economics (free markets forever!) there’s no reason we can’t all agree to take collective action. (See the current gulf oil spill, for instance. I have no problem with the government amping up to get the thing stopped.)

      However, in a democracy (mobocracy), this often becomes the majority enforcing behaviors on the minority. We ought to be a republic instead (I know, we “are” a republic – but we sure don’t behave like one).

      So, I have no issue with taking collective actions to address social ills. The people are free to do so as they wish. My issue is with forcibly confiscating resources from certain people, whether directly (via taxation) or indirectly (via inflation) to live out Utopian dreams that always fail. It is truly a matter of faith to continue invoking ever more progressive policies that continually fail and think we’re on the right path.
      —–
      I remember a few years back after Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson got married, she made some silly statements to the press about wanting to help people have better marriages like hers. Some sort of “hey guys, this is easy, if you would all just love each other the way we do.” Of course, they stayed married for about 5 minutes and she wisely ducked for cover and didn’t answer questions about prior statements.

      I’ve said before that the existence of socialists, communists, fascists, progressives, and theocrats doesn’t daunt me. The fact that Christians participate in their nonsense does. It is inconsistent with a Christian worldview, in my opinion (and I do read my Bible).

      Christian involvement with progressivism is tantamount to “I know how you, rich person, ought to commit your resources for the good of the whole, better than you do, so I’m going to take them from you and redistribute as I see fit.” Does God ask various people to give up their resources for the poor? You bet. But I find nothing Biblical about using force (even if not violence) to this end. Who made the progressive Christian judge over his brother?

      Further, these policies have continually failed to produce good results. So I conclude that progressivism is sound from neither a theological nor empirical basis. What is left?c

      I’m not a social darwinists, but I think everybody has a right to be if they want to. We ought to have this battle in the hearts and minds of men, not at the ballot box. We ought to convince people to solve the problems themselves, rather than forcing everybody down the same path. I truly believe the human spirit is immanently more creative left to its own devices than a government bureaucracy can ever be. The solution, to the extent that it exists, will not come from the top, but from within, and, in my worldview, from above.

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