The Religion of Fools

It has long been said that anti-Semitism is the Socialism of fools; perhaps so, but my variant is that Socialism is the religion of fools.

Seriously, how dumb do you have to be to believe that the solution to our problems is to have the government run (and, in that ideology’s purest version, own) pretty much everything? Dumb enough to believe in the “new man” who will triumph over his “base” instincts that favor self-preservation and personal enhancement. Dumb enough to believe that people will work just as hard in a system that purports to distribute goods equally, but actually distributes them based on political power. Dumb enough to believe that the folks who do such great jobs of innovation and customer service at the Post Office, the DMV and the VA should be given control over all aspects of our lives. Dumb enough to ignore Socialism’s history of systemic failures and mass murders – even as the same shortcomings play out in real time before our eyes in Venezuela. 

In short: really pretty dumb.

Socialism has grown in popularity as belief in God has faded. We humans need to believe in something beyond our all-too-mortal selves, and many have decided that Socialism, which is often mischaracterized as a belief in the common good, is that higher value. If we could all stop being so darn selfish – a premise that necessarily led to the Socialist emphasis on the creation of the “new man” – then from each according to his ability to each according to his needs would result in the greatest good for the greatest number. That’s the theory, anyway.

And you can sorta, kinda, see Socialism appealing to many of the same charitable instincts that are fostered by Christianity, Judaism, and other great religions. After all, Socialism’s visions sound pretty idyllic, heavenly almost – everybody working hard for the common good; nobody getting too rich (“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Mark 10:25) and none poor (“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Mark 10:21).

But Jesus’s exhortations are to personal charity; his concerns are for the souls of the individuals to whom he is speaking, and more broadly of individuals everywhere. Implicitly voluntary, personal acts have a different moral weight than acts (like paying taxes or working at an assigned task, each on penalty of imprisonment) that are compulsory. Why would God – however conceived – judge us favorably for merely having done what we were compelled to do?

To people who believe in Socialism, the answer to that question is that they are behaving virtuously simply by voting (or fighting) for Socialism – even though once the new system is in place (if they prevail), everybody will, of course, do what people everywhere do as a matter of course under whatever system rules: figure out how to game that system to their personal benefits. If the system is Socialist, each individual’s value-maximizing answer will be to do as little work as he or she can get away with and figure out how to get what he or she needs, and isn’t getting from the State, in other ways – which calls to mind an old Soviet joke: ‘in Soviet Russia we have a fair deal – they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work’.

Christianity, at least as I understand it, knows that there is no possibility of a “new man”; mankind has Original Sin, an acknowledgment that each of us is by nature a flawed, self-centered being. Whether or not you favor the Christian explanation for why that is so, its fundamental insight is undeniably true. We cannot be otherwise than who we are – each of us has a unique and all-too-brief purchase on life, and to take advantage of our opportunities our every instinct tells us to preserve and enhance our own lives.

Well, not every instinct: we also have urges to protect both the ones we love and the ideals that we think represent the best expression of who we aspire to be. It is the balance between those perpetually competing instincts that defines our humanity. The idea of banishing our more self-serving urges is as foolish and impossible as that of ignoring our more selfless ones.

So there is, and will be, no “new man”, ever. They shoulda known that.

***

Margaret Thatcher famously said that “Socialism works until you run out of other people’s money.” Her comment points to the fact that Socialism has an appeal even to those who are not (foolishly) starry-eyed idealists: in the short run, it promises many people something for nothing. The poor people in Venezuela voted for Hugo Chavez, thinking they would dine at the tables of the rich; now there is little food – or even electricity – for any but the ruling Socialist elite. Chavez’s daughter is reported to be a billionaire, and doubtless has most of “her” money squirreled away safely in other countries.

I don’t think that most of the impetus for the surge in popularity of Socialism among American millennials comes from the kind of class warfare that allowed Chavez to prevail in Venezuela, though. Many of the hip Bernie bros. who so proudly swear their fealty to the twentieth century’s biggest intellectual mistake are children of privilege, (mis-)educated in what purport to be our finest schools.

By buying into Socialism, I believe that they are choosing a different system of economics and belief than the one that fostered the growth of this country because that different system seems to fill a hole in their spirits. The sadly fading Judeo-Christian worldview is all about defining each individual’s responsibilities to God and his fellow man – and his personal freedom to make the choices that will define the fate of his soul. In its place, Socialist millennials are choosing a system based on State compulsion rather than personal freedoms, and one based on a flawed understanding of history, economics and – above all – human nature, that is a poor substitute for the wisdom of the ages.

I just hope they figure all of that out as they grow up.

M.H. Johnston          

4 comments to The Religion of Fools

  • KH  says:

    How many millennials can the readers of this blog forward today’s post to?

  • Anonymous  says:

    Have you thought of rapping instead of writing?

  • Jeff C.  says:

    While you hope that the Socialist Millennials figure out the flaws of the Socialist system as they grow up, the larger problem is that too many already grown up Democrats believe in that misguided philosophy.

  • Vivian Wadlin  says:

    Bravo. I am forwarding this to a newly minted priest among others. Most of the quasi-socialists I know are old enough to know better, very well situated financially and just too lazy to question their world view. Obviously, I live in NY.

    I was noting this morning that no one talks about economics and politics with a view of the nature of man, and then I read your thorough explanation. It was as a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary political world.

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