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Utopian Folly: Liberalism’s Philosophical Problem

Conservatives are good at attacking liberal policies and promoting their own.  Rarely, however, do conservatives try to undermine the basic political theory and philosophy on which liberalism rests. It is no surprise that most conservatives balk at these fields. Yet, I would like to engage liberalism at its core to show why the political philosophy of the left is hollow at best.

Modern American liberalism rests on two fundamental tenets: that utopia is possible and truth is relative. This comes from the history of the Progressives at the end of 19th century and beginning of 20th.  But Progressives during that time were far different than their leftist counterparts of today.  They believed that they could help society by eliminating communal ills and staving off socialism.  Progressives like Jane Addams fought to make America better.  Liberalism today inherited the Progressives’ underlying philosophy, but little else.

Conservatives have two avenues of criticism against liberalism; Christian doctrines and America’s founding documents are antithetical to liberalism’s utopian and relativist claims.

First, the importance of Christianity’s response to liberalism comes from messianic thought and the concept of original sin.  According to Christian thought, only God can establish Heaven on Earth, or as the prophet Isaiah put it, “[T]hey shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Liberals support their specific economic and foreign policies only because they believe governments can create that utopia. They envision social welfare programs that they believe can eliminate poverty or international organizations and will end wars through diplomacy.  President Obama exemplified this thought when he was a candidate. During one speech he said, “[W]e will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Christians should criticize this liberal thought because the Left thinks that governments, not God, can solve the world’s problems.

Another important Christian doctrine that abrogates a government-led utopia is original sin.  This belief holds that humanity has a fallen nature with a proclivity to sin.  St. Augustine of Hippo described this phenomenon as libido dominandi, the lust to dominate. Man is incapable of creating Heaven on Earth because people are inherently sinful; their nature means evil will always exist until the eschaton.  If one wants a secular version of this though, consult the works of Hannah Arendt, who wrote on man’s nature and the banality of evil in Eichmann in Jerusalem. She makes the argument that the Nazis were not special in their level of evil, but that all of man is capable of wrong.

The second important principle of liberalism also comes from individuals living at the turn of the century, especially men like John Dewey.  Their basic idea was that truth does not exist, and they applied this to public policy by saying it should constantly change.  Setting aside the logical tautology of stating there is no absolute truth, this holds epistemological issues for Americans and Christians. Using the Declaration of Independence, Americans have to soundly reject this belief. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  This was/is his sine qua non of being an American. The Christian must reject the relativism of liberalism because of Christ’s words, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Debates like this on theory are necessary because people’s worldviews shape how they view government policies. Liberalism is based on a paradigm that is antithetical to original American and Christian beliefs. Without this foundation, the left has nothing to stand on. Their policies make little sense unless they are trying to bring about utopia or if truth is relative.

Treston Wheat // Georgetown University // @TrestonWheat

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Comments

  1. Yes, the pursuit of Utopia, or what I call the “100% solution”, leads Liberals straight down the path to hell, except that they inadvertently take all of us with them. I recently personified in a graphic the Liberal obsession with Utopia that you might enjoy…
    http://wp.me/pMW8w-1ja

  2. I find it doubtful that a non-trivial proportion of liberals are attempting to build a utopia or think that truth is relative (I for one believe neither). Never mind the fact that there are no overarching “fundamental tenets” of American liberalism. Yes, utopia projects were common in the 19th century, and yes, modern liberal thought can in part be traced back to these movements, but that hardly implies that liberalism treats utopianism as axiomatic. Therefore, your take down of these premises hardly challenges liberalism, it at best challenges fringe liberal groups. Modern American Liberalism draws heavily on New Nationalism, the New Deal, the Great Society (welfare state, not utopia) and social liberalism. None of these movements treat truth being relative.

  3. There sure are a lot of underlying assumptions in these arguments, namely the existence of Yahweh. If he’s just a myth, is Liberalism still bad? It’s like Pascal’s wager in reverse: if there isn’t a god, isn’t it safer to just take care of every human being in any way that we can rather than rely on heavenly justice?

  4. rippletoad says:

    You first gotta prove Christianity true, before you can use that as an absolute moral scale.

    I am a conservative atheist, by the way.

  5. The problem I have with this article is the same as I have with most conservatives. The minute one starts saying Im right because god says so, you lose the argument. Now there are several other ways to attack liberalism. My favorite is with math. Because no matter wht you believe, numbers dont lie. If “conservatives” would lay off the losing battle of anti homosexuality and abortion nonsence and just used some common sense logic to impress their point to everyone. Then the democratic party would basically wither and die. Yod be suprised at how many people are conservative but give 2 shits if youre gay.

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