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Romancing Utopianism

I detest the notion of a new dawn in which
Homo sapiens would live in harmony. Thehope this utopia engenders justified the bloodiest exterminations in history.


François Bizot[1]

In his brief butweighty tract Communism: A History,[2] Harvard historian Richard Pipes observes whatothers before him[3] have noted — the driving force behind Marxistregimes of the 20th century was nothing less than to “creat[e] anentirely new type of human being” (8-9).   The underlying goal wasnot economic, but ontological.   Acquisitiveness is a trait cultivatedby capitalist societies, according to Marxists, but it can be stripped fromman’s consciousness by careful reconditioning.   Man can be broken,remade and purged of all self-interest and recalibrated to submit joyfully to“the collective” in the form of the state.   The goal of the mostconsistent Marxists, therefore, was a political order resting on a pliant,virtuous populace.   This goal was more poignant in China than theSoviet Union.   Mao was the force behind Communist “brainwashing” and“reeducation.”   The goal was not merely to change Chinese behavior(by offering sufficient incentives — anybody could do that) but to changecitizens’ very consciousness.   The most dramatic and harrowingexample of this program, however, was Pol Pot’s Cambodia.   Theleaders of the Khmer Rouge got their training in Paris (Pol Pot himself flunkedout), where they imbibed the writings of the Romantic Jean-Jacques Rousseau,who depicted man as born free, virtuous and happy in the “state of nature” butsubsequently corrupted by human society and its institutions.   PolPot was convinced that if he could restore the “state of nature” in Cambodia —annihilating all vestiges of the previous civilization — he could create theNew Man and the New Order.   To that end the Khmer Rouge forciblyabandoned all cities for the countryside, created a totally agriculturalsociety, jettisoned the calendar and started at “Year 0,” forced children tobetray parents, obliterated all non-statist institutions like the family andchurch, and tortured and murdered most Cambodians linked to the old regime(“The killing fields”).   The philosophy was: If humans are not withthe program, we must annihilate them and create humans who are with theprogram.

Mao, Pol Pot’sideological mentor, thought he could create a utopia, the New Orderobliterating the dark, exploitative capitalist past.   No task wastoo hard:   “We shall teach the sun and moon to changeplaces.   We shall create a new heaven and earth for man” (130), Maodeclared.    This astounding, harrowing utopianism can beaccomplished only at the expense of multitudes of human lives. [4]   All statist utopias end indystopias.   Every attempt to create heaven on earth in the endcreates a living hell.   Why?   Man made in the image of isnot plastic; he is deeply resistant to fundamental change apart from theregenerating work of the Holy Spirit.   Man cannot change man;only God can change man.   Of course, if like the Marxists, oneloses hope in the power of a sovereign God to change humanity, he must vestthat sovereignty in the power of man — and generally in the secularstate.   No more pernicious formula for inhumanity could be devised.

“Christian” Utopias

Though lessdestructive, ecclesial and familial utopianism also dehumanize.   Themad attempts to create the “model church” occupied by model Christians — theGreen Berets for Jesus — is a perversion of the Biblical conception of thechurch (1 Cor. 12:22-24).   Ecclesial utopias, ruled by tyrannicalideologues that are quite certain that they (and few others) understand TheTruth (just as the Marxists believed they understood it) decimate lives,shipwreck families, and damn souls.   All in the name of godly faith.

Familial utopians(usually fathers) covet the “perfect family,” and are willing to wreak havoc onwives and children — and themselves — to produce that idyllicfamily.   The wife is not permitted her own opinions but must marchin lockstep to her dictator-husband; the children are treated and expected toact as miniature adults (an Enlightenment trait); the church must bow to thewishes of the dictator-husband.

Then there are theultra-conservative political utopians, mirror images of the ultra-Left:“America is an evil nation, and we should shout ‘Glory!’ when any tragedybefalls her”; “George W. Bush is an idolater who may have known about 9-11beforehand”; “The Christians in Congress are imposters since they voted forbills that didn’t dismantle the state as quickly as we want”; and other suchstupidities.   These folks (thankfully, they are few) would findsomething to criticize in Heaven — utopia is always the impossible dream,always just beyond the grasp.

Utopians inpolitics, family or church are a menace.

Beware theutopians.

[1] François Bizot, The Gate (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), 6-7.

[2] Richard Pipes, Communism: A History(New York: Modern Library, 2003).

[3] For example, Mikhail Heller, Cogs in theWheel: The Formation of Soviet Man (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988).

[4] Stephane Courtois, The Black Book ofCommunism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990)