Government: An Insufficient Savior

Venturing into politics is dangerous these days. I’m more of a political idealist than a true partisan. This puts me in stark contrast to the average American, who seems to be more attached to a party and seems to express their political ideas on the basis of feelings rather than thought, and the feelings being discussed are moving from frustration to rage. Consider, for example, the raw emotion we saw after the last election. I’ve seen elections where my candidate lost, I’ve seen candidates win that I thought were bad for the country. Yet, I’ve never seen an absolute meltdown like what the aftermath of the election of 2016 by many on the left. Talk radio hosts and conservatives made fun of the response by many millennials, and these reactions are dangerous, and ultimately religious.

There is a lot of debate about how to define what is or is not a religion. One of the major themes in religious epistemology is defining religions westetn atheistic systems of thought (such as Marxism or Nazism) are often defined with terms such as “Pseudo-religion,” to preserve religion solely to our traditional use of the word. Whether or not we should preserve this dichotomy,[1] moderns seem to view government rather than God as their hope of salvation. Whether one believes in some version of socialism, or one is an ardent supporter of extreme libertarianism such as expressed by Ayn Rand, the post-modernist increasingly views utopia as a future heaven, and dystopia as a future hell.


This trend is the reverse of past political religions; the ancient roman cults praised the current Ceasar, while vying for power, the Nazi’s intentionally created a messianic aura for Hitler, changing the slogan Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Gott (One people, one reich, one God) into Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer. Yet today, we have reached the place where we can no longer view our leaders realistically; Trump must be Emmanuel Goldstein, the symbolic enemy of the state in 1984, by modern estimations similar things are true of Winston Churchill. We are often disappointed when we realize that our leaders (and our governments) are made of men with the same kinds of character we have. In short, if utopia forms the progressive or libertarian search for salvation, then this pursuit is ultimately futile.


Take, as a case in point, the current opioid epidemic. Problems with narcotics have plagued nations for several centuries. Numerous different approaches have been taken, from the various wars on drugs in various countries to more permissive approaches. None has succeeded. Some policies, it is argued, have softened the attendant harms of addiction (such as imprisonment), but not the harm that opium addiction is, in and of itself, and even attendant harms (such as, for example, accidental overdoses) can’t be claimed to have been eliminated anywhere. Nor can we argue that our war on opiates has failed because insufficient money has been spent on the programs, they have not. Corporations (in an attempt to prevent injuries, and attendant rises in their insurance rates) and civil governments spend astronomical amounts of money to deal with problems related to addicts. Whatever else government might be able to do, what Government cannot change is the human heart of someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for a drug hazed escape from the pains of this life.


Nor has government ever been free of scandal or the abuse of power. In my more than thirty years I have seen both parties embroiled in various scandals, sometimes these are real and sometimes these are drummed up (and both parties are guilty of misrepresenting their opponents from time to time in the media). Throughout our history, the process itself has been compromised numerous times; voter intimidation has existed from the era of Jim Crow by the KKK through the Black Panther voter intimidation case in Philadelphia. Voter fraud and voter registration fraud does not start with Acorn, it was perfected in the city machines run by men like “Boss Tweed” in New York during the nineteenth century. False news isn’t a new idea either; the founders in the early years of the republic found the press was willing to make things up for political advantage and circulation. Concerns about money in politics and bribery go back to the spoils system of Andrew Jackson. Government, in short, is perverted by the same forces that pervert private industry, churches, and institutions of higher learning: they are perverted by our humanity. The problems of our government come down to the problems that dwell in ourselves.


Utopia is the salvation and eschatological hope of modern progressives, dreams of utopia go back to Plato’s Republic, and yet that dream fails, oftentimes (such as in the former Marxist states associated with the Soviet Union, Chavez’s Venezuela) in brutal totalitarianism. The human need and yearnings simply cannot be met by human institutions, despite centuries of attempts. In the end, like all substitutes for the living God it leaves us wanting.


[1] Personally, I disagree with this assessment, I think Atheism (or better, “philosophical naturalism,” since the rejection by the west of the existence of God is based in a larger set of positive beliefs) is a religion. The argument that it isn’t a religion creates unnecessary categories and books on religion sometimes include chapters on atheism, but must do so with persistent hemming and hawing. Treating Naturalism as if it is not a religion the point of differentiation is somewhat dependent on Western structures; many religions view what the westerner will consider the “supernatural” as being a part of nature. In a sense, then, this is somewhat self-referentially absurd in ways similar to Christians who claim Christianity isn’t a religion, along with similar statements by some Hindus,  Buddhists, etc. Confucianism is, interestingly in a similar category.