Rushing Us To Ruin
Adam gets political
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected… Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.” GK Chesterton
Last time, I wrote about Adam’s sin being impatience. He wanted to eat from the tree which gave him knowledge for which he wasn’t ready. He was in a rush.
Adam would have loved the 21st Century. Almost everything these days is instant. Want a Netflix subscription? You can be watching Stranger Things within minutes. Pay the money. Create a login and password and you’re in.
In fact, even that login and password stage now feels tiresome, and the next ‘great leap forward’ should be cracking the problem of ID and passwords.
The Great Leap Forward
In fact, there’s a worrying phrase: The Great Leap Forward. It embodies the most horrifying aspects of 20th century politics, which used shock treatment to rapidly accelerate change. This particular phrase refers to a plan from Chairman Mao’s government, aiming to move the country from an agrarian economy to a more vibrant collectivist communist society. This policy lasted four years, beginning in 1958 and resulted in such severe famines that around 30 million people died of starvation. (Some say it was ‘only’ 15 million, others 55 million.)
And, as GK Chesterton pointed out, those progressive revolutionaries who rushed the nation to utter ruin are now ardently defended by the conservatives and the Party leaders.
In the Soviet Union, Stalin had employed similar tactics to attempt accelerated results in productivity, deporting entire populations of countries, systematically starving others or ordering the liquidation of an entire class of people who owned land. Because there is no desire to wait - in fact, waiting is morally wrong because we pursue the Greater Good - any kind of ethical norm can be, and must be, transgressed.
Et Tu, Mikhail
To some brought up in the 1980s, one might assume that Mikhail Gorbachev was a free-market capitalist who rejected Marxism. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union by Vladislav M. Zubok, I’ve been learning that Gorbachev was only different from his predecessors in that he was not prepared to use repressive coercive violence to enforce the will of the Party. But he remained a passionate believer in Leninism, which seemed to him self-evidently true.
Like the early Leninists, Gorbachev assumed that his plan to modernise the society’s economy to create consumer goods could be achieved in a short time frame if the political will could be mustered.
So Gorbachev attempted a plan to modernise the Soviet economy with a plan known as ‘500 Days’. Could the statist far-flung, complex Soviet system be modernised, incentivised and partially privatised in less than two years?
Meanwhile, in France
Governments and political systems which explicitly reject God as revealed in Scripture are doomed to keep making the mistakes of Adam. Demanding rapid change and societal upheaval leads to death and ruin. We saw this in the French Revolution which didn’t just reject Roman Catholicism, but Christianity itself, turning churches into temples to the goddess Reason. Seriously. Look it up.
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
In short, we shouldn’t be surprised when a godless great leap forward goes horribly wrong - especially when arranged by men without chests, or hearts.
It’s not just a 20th century problem in the East. American politics has gone this way. The media gives every president ‘a hundred days’ to do something dramatic and impressive. Surely commentators and pundits must know that American politics was set up by men (with chests) who knew that rulers and legislators needed to be slowed down? The complex systems of checks and balances are not a bug. They are not even a feature. They are the feature. And it is one to be celebrated, not evaded.
Adam did not rejoice in his own limitations, and those put on him by God. And look where he ended up.
Give Me Death or Liberty. Ideally Liberty.
These ideas form part of the conversation I had with Barry Cooper in the latest episode of Cooper and Cary Have Words about libertarianism, conservatism and political ideology from a Reformed Christian point of view.