Everyone who knows their political philosophy, knows that the main difference between conservatism and communism lies in utopianism – communism supports it, conservatism rejects it. The striving for utopia is old. No-one knows when it started, but the idea of the “perfect society on earth” has always had a strange appeal on humans. However, conservatives, being realists, reject utopianism: We don’t think we can great the perfect society. As a matter of fact, conservatives have always found utopianism – the idea that humans can turn the world into paradise – to be harmful. In this post, I am going to explain why.
The main reason can be summarized as follows:
Those who believe utopia to be possible are willing to do anything to achieve it.
Let that sink in. Doesn’t it kind of make sense? If it is possible to create a perfect world, then we should do whatever it takes to achieve it. It’s basic economics really: The bigger the reward, the more work you’ll be able to put in to earn that reward. You may be willing to work 1 hour for say $25, but if someone wants you to work 4 hours, you want $100. Now, what if the reward is infinite? What if someone offered you an INFINITE amount of money? How many hours would you be willing to work, and what would you (not) be willing to do, to get that? The entire cost-benefit analysis gets screwed up, as the benefit is so big it can’t be measured – it’s infinite. And that, dear readers, is what communism offers – or claims to offer. If you believe in the promises of communism, then you’ll be willing to sacrifice anything to reach the “worker’s paradise” that is promised. Anything.
And that is why communism leads to totalitarianism.
Think about it: Wouldn’t it be OK to restrict freedom of speech a little, if it led to paradise? Sure it would – I mean, you get paradise in return, of course it’s worth it. And wouldn’t it be OK to do away with a few dissenters, who might otherwise threaten the coming paradise society? Sure, can’t let them stand in the way. Oh, and what if you had to do away with a little bit of material wealth, just temporarily for a while, just so we can be happily ever after? No problem.
The focus on paradise allows the government to infringe on basic democratic rights – “just give up your rights and paradise will be just around the corner”.
Now suppose someone said “Give up your right to vote and the economy will grow 2 % faster”, or “Give up your right to vote and unemployment will be cut in half” – you probably wouldn’t agree to it. Why? Because now suddenly, the benefit isn’t infinite anymore – it’s measurable. Once goals become measurable, people become less willing to give up essential freedoms, and they begin to ponder other ways of reaching these measurable goals (maybe we could just cut down on regulation to reduce unemployment?). However, with immeasurable, infinite benefits, that isn’t nearly as easy. Utopianism is blinding. It makes us ignore our rights and instincts. Anything can be done in the name of paradise. Those on the far-left like to claim that the fact that every communist country that’s ever existed has been a dictatorship, is just a coincidence. Or that it’s a result of external factors. Or that those weren’t “real” communist countries. And, even among more moderate leftists, you will hear things like “communism was a good idea, applied badly”, or “the concept is good, the leaders were evil”. That to me shows that they just don’t get it – communism is not a good idea, because it assumes that every negative human trait (you know, those traits that makes paradise on earth an impossibility) was caused by capitalism and can be removed. It assumes that humans really have a perfect “core” that has been corrupted by a bad economic system. Therefore, all we need is a state that can remove these traits, and we will get a perfect world – a utopia. Now if this means re-education camps, sending dissidents to Siberia and just in general oppressing free thought – so be it. This flawed assumption – that humans are good – is what makes communism flawed. The totalitarian governments and genocides are just natural consequences.
Another, slightly minor problem with utopianism is that the bar is set so high that no-one can ever be happy. If you believe paradise on earth is achievable, then you certainly have no right to lean back and be proud of your accomplishment until said paradise has been achieved.
Then, what about liberalism?
Liberalism is not communism. Every once in a while you’ll hear a talk show host (FYI, I hate talk show hosts) claim that Barack Obama is a communist, or that all liberals are secret commies, or that liberalism and communism is the same thing. That’s just not true. What is true, however, is that it’s hard for a liberal to make a credible case against communism. A liberal – who does not believe in utopianism, and who recognizes that society will always be flawed – basically has to make the following “sell”: “You get the same high taxes and lack of property rights as in communism, but the whole ‘worker’s paradise’ thing – forget it, that just aint gonna happen”.
I don’t think even Billy Mays could sell that.
And that is why moderate leftists have a hard time against the radicals in the long run.
Sweden is a good example of this: A prime example of moderate leftism throughout the 1950’s and most of the 1960’s, the Swedish Social Democrat government resigned to communistic policies in the early 1970’s with the introduction of “employee funds” – the term might not mean a lot to most of you, so let me explain: This policy meant that a proportion of any company’s profits would be used to buy shares in the company. These shares would then be controlled by the labour union. Basically; every year the labour union’s share of the ownership would increase, until finally the company became “worker-controlled”.
Given that the Labour union in Sweden is so tightly connected to the at-the-time governing Social Democrat party, this pretty much amounted to a nationalization of the private sector.
Luckily, these communists-masquerading-as-social-democrats were voted out in 1976 (losing power for the first time in 44 years!) before the employee funds had accomplished its goal. The point is that while the Social Democrats were themselves not a communist party (as a matter of fact, the party had taken a strong stance against communism), in the end they had a hard time keeping the radicals at bay, and the communist flank of the party gained more and more support among the grassroots. The employee funds can be seen as the end result of this trend.
But can’t we see this kind of trend among conservatives too? Unfortunately, yes… which brings us to:
Utopian conservatism really shouldn’t exist. The term itself is a contradiction, as conservatism by its nature is anti-utopian. Yet, within the conservative movement, there are a few individuals who can only be described as utopians (whether they call themselves that is a different manner).
These people tend to say things like “If only we’d do X, the world would be perfect”, “If only we could get rid of Y, all our problems would be solved”.
Most of these are found among the Tea Party wing of the party. While the Tea Party stands for good things, a few of them seems to think that if we only cut taxes, got rid of Obama, sent Nancy Pelosi to the moon etc, the US would turn into paradise overnight. The truth is, as social conservatives always try to emphasize, that the US is suffering from bigger issues than just a few elected officials. America’s problems are cultural – the representatives themselves may have been elected as a result of that culture, but that doesn’t mean removing them will remove the culture. And, even if we could change our culture, most of our problems really stem from the fact that as humans we are a sinful race. This goes back to the Fall of Man – and the fall of man won’t be undone, no matter how you vote.
Speaking of social conservatives, there are a few utopians among us as well. These are the people who blame all the problems in America on secularization, rap music and Lindsay Lohan. These “Utopian SoCons” tend to idealize the past: “If only we could go back to the time before women joined the work force, before children were unruly, before drug use, alcoholism and ungodly music ravaged our homes…”
If you are one of these SoCons, then I have a few quick facts for you:
1) Never in the history of mankind have a majority of women been housewives. That’s just a myth – women have been responsible for child upbringing, yes, but never “housewives” in the modern sense. That was a luxury reserved for the upper classes.
2) Women “joining” the workforce (they were always sort of a part of it as I mentioned above, but you know what I mean), was mostly a good thing. Some negative side effects, yes, but overall a good thing. It meant women had an opportunity to leave their abusive husbands (and there were A LOT of those in the 19th century) and it gave them a chance to fulfill dreams and develop themselves outside of the home. God has an individual plan for all of us – some women are called to be in the home, some are not. The fact that now everyone can fulfill God’s plan for them is a great development. What is not a great development is the pressure on women to join the workforce when they have small kids, and it’s absurd how society today seems to look down on homemakers. However, giving women the opportunity to provide for themselves without a husband was one of the greatest things that happened in the 20th century. Members of organizations like Vision Forum and Quiverfull talk about how women in the workforce has destroyed and ripped apart families – and they couldn’t be more wrong. Think about it: Marriages are supposed to come out of love for one another. But before women joined the workforce, many of them would marry out of necessity – those who didn’t marry would live in poverty, and so girls had to find a man to marry, just to have someone who could provide for them. Women today are not forced to marry, and so there is a greater chance that they will marry someone they actually love (which is the way God intended).
3) Children have always been unruly, and every generation seems to think that their children are worse than the children of the past. What really has changed is the way we deal (or not deal) with unruly kids. Is today’s way better or worse? I agree that it is worse overall, but that doesn’t mean parents were perfect a century ago. Being critical of today doesn’t mean you have to idolize the past, and that is something we have to keep in mind.
4) Whenever you’re about to criticize any type of music… don’t. Pick your battles. There are lyrics that are bad and ungodly, but there is never nor will there ever be any genre of music that will ever be inherently evil. I’d say Christians are responsible for at least half of all the secularization in the past 100 years, simply because we can’t get our priorities straight.
5) Drug use is a relatively new thing, but alcoholism certainly isn’t. It just wasn’t something people talked about before – overall, a lot of the things we don’t think happened before the 1960’s or so did in fact happen, but they were too taboo to talk about (mental illness is another good example – those who claim that it has increased in the past 50 years ignore that mental illness was even more taboo in the past).
Society will never be perfect. We should never act the way utopians do, giving people false hope and promising things that will never be achieved. Otherwise, we really are no better than the liberals.
Having said that, Lindsay Lohan really is annoying. Thanks for reading.
Photo credit FallacyFilm via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)