When I first began writing for Carolina Review, one line of our mission statement caught my eye: “We believe any attempt to establish utopia is bound to meet with failure and, more often than not, disaster.”
The truth of this statement is borne out again and again throughout history. Mankind has tried to establish utopia over and over again, and all attempts have been doomed to failure.
Very early in the Bible, the book of Genesis reports that man attempted to build utopia in Mesopotamia, at Babel. This attempt ended in such an abject failure that “Babel” is now a term for man’s failure to create his own utopia. And modern archaeology backs up the basics of this story: When man settled down from his nomadic existence, he merely created a whole new host of problems for himself. Instead of finding food, food now had to be grown through back-breaking labor. Where he could once get a balanced diet by hunting and gathering, he now had to work to obtain proper nutrition. Instead of possessing only as much as he could carry, man accumulated possessions and all the trouble that these bring. Eventually, the early Sumerian civilizations were overrun by invaders, their cities laid waste and their people scattered and replaced by new peoples. History flowed on.
Fast forwards to the twentieth century, and many men in many countries were once again promising to lead their people to utopia. Leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Mao Zedong promised a land of plenty if the people would just put their faith that the ideas of Marx would see them through. Instead, after taking power from the old tyrants, the new hope only became a new form of tyranny. The ruthlessness of the Tsars was replaced by Lenin’s proclamation that protecting the revolution required “terror unrestrained by any form of law.” As Marxism begat Leninism which begat Stalinism, as the flow of refugees from South Vietnam turned into a flood of boat people fleeing the new communist rulers, as China made a great leap forwards into overpopulation and mass starvation, as the righteous cries of Viva La Revolucion turned into righteous cries of Cuba Libre, and most of all as the world’s great communist power collapsed on itself in spectacular economic and political ruin, it became apparent to the world that communism was a false hope. The hopes for classless utopia and equality in all things would not happen. In fact, they could not happen.
So man turned to other ideologies. In the 1920’s, another man had the idea that since international socialism was a false promise, a different form of socialism was needed. Rather than an international revolution, this man preached utmost loyalty to nation and a faith in its destiny to rule the world for a thousand years. Two decades later, the arch-enemy in the east had overrun much of the German nation. Germany’s Drang nach Osten had turned into one of the greatest mass expulsions in history, as millions of Germans had been driven from their homes in the east. Even the Nazi’s most hated targets now had their own state in their ancestral homeland. Germany was in ruins, and its former demagogues met their fate either by their own hand or the hand of the hangman. Once again, man-made utopia was a false hope which only lead to greater human suffering than before.
As Dave Breese writes in his excellent book Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave, “Fascism, Nazism and Communism sounded in the mouths of their respective polemicists like very different things. As it turned out, they were merely different names for the same political excuse used by a dictator to grab a country, throttle it into submission, kill everybody who disagreed with him, and then smilingly inform the world that nothing had happened.”
The truth is, all ideas that promotes a man-made utopia on this earth are doomed to failure. The technological revolution replaced physical problems with new moral and spiritual problems. The American Dream became an ideology of hedonism and materialism, and the same is true of the ideology that free market capitalism will save the world. Its counter-weight in the eastern world, militant Islam, has begotten pervasive cruelty in an attempt to force human society to become virtuous. The creation of colonial empires in the name of the “civilizing mission” led instead to the enslavement of many peoples. Later, the leaders in these colonies who promised their people happiness through independence instead became a whole zoo of psychopathic dictators. The fall of communism failed to deliver any new utopias: Eastern Europe became host to problems of organized crime, corruption and violence, while most of central Asia is still under the control of men who believe themselves to be demi-gods in suits and ties. Attempts to spread democracy around the world have met with varying levels of success, but democracy is no closer to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” than it was in ancient Athens.
As Breese writes, “The mind of man has been so created by God that it cannot function as an autonomous entity. It must have an ultimate truth, a final authority, a god it sees as a fountainhead of all values and from which all final truth is derived.”
And yet, all man-made ideologies are doomed to failure because all man-made ideologies are created by imperfect, self-centered human beings. When man puts his faith in his ideology, what he is doing is setting up an idol. Man-made ideologies have all been “gods that failed.” Any attempt to use man-made ideas to create utopia is doomed to failure. Any future ideology which promises to bring heaven to earth should be warned against, and treated with the utmost suspicion.