The Makings of the Utopian Power State

By Joe Boot/ September 2, 2020

Topic  Politics

“The left wants power because that is essentially their state of grace in their secular religion…. They want to run peoples’ lives so they can design utopia for all of us and that’s what turns them on.” – U.S. Attorney General William Barr

There are few more odious men that emerge from the pages of European history than the first truly ‘modern’ intellectual, the professional hypocrite, Jean Jacques Rousseau, famed author of The Social Contract. David Hume, who knew him well, by bitter experience called him, “a monster who saw himself as the only important being in the universe.” Voltaire thought him, “a monster of vanity and vileness.” Diderot, after knowing him for many years described him as, “deceitful, vain as Satan, ungrateful, cruel, hypocritical, and full of malice.” He is perhaps most tellingly summed up in the words of the woman who he claimed was his only love, Sophie d’ Houdetot. In old age she said, “He was ugly enough to frighten me and love did not make him more attractive. But he was a pathetic figure and I treated him with gentleness and kindness. He was an interesting madman.”[1]

Following Plato, Rousseau was a utopian dreamer, yet without doubt was a debauched narcissist, who whilst presuming to lecture others on education, family and state, abandoned all five of his own children in infancy to a hospice where they almost certainly died. In many ways, his thought paved the way for the French Revolution and influenced the Russian revolution, as well as playing a real role in inspiring both communist and fascist regimes in the twentieth century. He was an intellectual forerunner of Karl Marx and saw in the state the key to Utopia. Paul Johnson has written:

Rousseau’s state is not merely authoritarian: it is also totalitarian, since it orders every aspect of human activity, thought included. Under the social contract, the individual was obliged to “alienate himself, with all his rights, to the whole community” (i.e. the state) … The function of the social contract, and the state it brought into being, was to make man whole again: “Make man one, and you will make him as happy as he can be”.… You must, therefore, treat citizens as children and control their upbringing and thoughts, planting, “the social law in the bottom of their hearts.” They then become “social men by their natures and citizens by their inclinations; they will be one, they will be good, they will be happy, and their happiness will be that of the republic”.… He did not use the word ‘brainwash,’ but he wrote: “Those who control a people’s opinions control its actions.” Such control is established by treating citizens, from infancy, as children of the state, trained to “consider themselves only in their relationship to the body of the state”…he moved the political process to the very centre of human existence, by making the legislator, who is also a pedagogue, into the new Messiah, capable of solving all human problems by creating New Men.[2]

Rousseau sounds positively contemporary in this depiction, and it is perhaps not surprising that his utopian thought has so decisively shaped our political and social order. Today’s cultural Marxists, busy with their ideological subversion and demoralization of the West in the name of social justice, have Rousseau to thank for their core ideas. God’s people need to be on their guard here as well; when anti-Christian utopianism is imported into mission theology in the name of the reign or kingdom of God, a socio-political religion replaces Christianity. When considering the mission of God and reign of Christ, it is then imperative that Christians understand the difference between utopia and the kingdom of God, lest they be found advancing the cause of other gods and another faith.

The Utopian Imperative

The term Utopia originates with Thomas More’s ideal society and it means “no place.” More, a Roman Catholic who was sainted in 1935, was in fact far from biblical in his thinking. His treatise is a plea for the abolition of private property and the establishment of communism. In More’s work, ‘nature’ demands control by the state, and the state becomes man’s re-creator, provider and preserver. As with all utopians, “unity” was More’s supreme goal, and unity could only be achieved through state control. Peace comes through the state – the humanly-wrought oneness into which man is absorbed. More saw himself as an elite ruler in a new order in which men would be manipulated to remove all social divisions. It is not surprising that Lenin found inspiration in More’s ideas.[3]

By contrast, true Christian orthodoxy cannot produce such utopian illusions. The Creator, Redeemer God, in His complete word, has declared the future of His kingdom and rule, established by His will and power. Since God governs history, the Christian, in faith, obedience and confidence, moves toward God’s predestined future (Eph. 1:3–14; Prov. 16:4). The triune, sovereign Lord, who by His providence and power sustains all things at every moment (Heb. 1:1–3), is the one in whom the Christian trusts. Bereft of such security, the non-believer must posit an entirely different worldview. Utopianism, which denies God’s predestinating purpose, is more than a political idea; it is a philosophy of life, a religious theology. Man takes the place of the mythical, non-existent God of the Bible. Instead of seeing man’s environment as a good (though fallen) creation under the providence of God, utopianism perceives man to be in a chaotic universe that perpetually threatens to crush him. The noted British utopian dreamer, Julian Huxley, encapsulates the modern humanistic temper:

So far as we can see [the universe] rules itself…even if a god does exist behind or above the universe as we experience it, we can have no knowledge of such a power: the actual gods of historical religions are only the personifications of impersonal facts of nature and of facts of our inner mental life.[4]

In this view, ‘nature’ is as capricious as the pagan gods of Greco-Roman mythology or as man’s own inner life of evil thoughts. As Thomas Molnar puts it, “our vision of the universe inevitably influences our vision of society and, hence, our organization of society. If the universe is hostile to us, we conceive of society, our little universe, as also hostile.”[5] Having jettisoned the God of the Bible, utopians are confronted by a threatening world of flux. They see no God to give purpose, direction, or rationality to life. This world of chaos in which man’s ‘freedom’ runs wild jeopardizes its own existence by its unpredictability. Man lives in terror, a victim of fate and full of self-pity. Man in a world without God has an insatiable desire for control, rooted in the hope that man can be liberated from unpredictability into the true freedom of necessity! As the Marxist Utopian J. B. S. Haldane put it, “There is no supernatural and nothing metaphysical…freedom is the recognition of necessity. This is a paradox, but a truth.”[6]

But when man frees himself from the sovereignty of God, he discovers a serious problem: absolute autonomy (self-law) leads logically to total anarchy of thought and to social chaos. To avoid this disaster, the individual is inevitably plunged into a collectivity that will assume the role of God in creating, predestinating, saving, guiding and providing for the newly liberated man. The new man-god is the collective agency for organizing man’s liberty and salvation. This collective divinity is a Nebuchadnezzar-sized idol that steadily lays claim to all the attributes of the God it has replaced. The utopian devotee may not seem religious, since he rarely mentions God, judgement, salvation, heaven or hell. But he constantly formulates new doctrine, ceremonies and sacrifices. Huxley, the key writer of UNESCO’s founding framework document, is explicit:

If we translate salvation into terms of this world, we find that it means achieving harmony between different parts of our nature, including its subconscious depths and its rarely touched heights, and also achieving some satisfactory relation of adjustment between ourselves and the outer world, including not only the world of nature, but the social world of man. I believe it to be possible to “achieve salvation” in this sense, and right to aim at doing so, just as I believe it possible and valuable to achieve a sense of union with something bigger than our ordinary selves, even if that something be not a god but an extension of our narrow core to include in a single grasp ranges of outer experience and inner nature on which we do not ordinarily draw.[7]

Huxley blends secular terminology with the language of pagan spirituality. The union with something bigger than the self is the whole, the one, the ideal of man divinized in and by his unification with himself (nature). Huxley goes on to argue that purpose lies in ‘science,’ namely the endless possibilities of the evolution of man by socialization, organization and technology, through which man gains power over nature (himself) to deliver and save him from suffering and pain, (intolerable to all utopians, including those found in Eastern and pagan spirituality). The possible implications of such a utopian vision were foreseen by George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984, where he envisages the problem confronting all Utopian dreams – fallen man’s exercise of power is demonic – only power for the sake of power is expressed when man usurps the prerogatives of God. Orwell has O’Brien declare in a noted passage:

Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what Kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less, but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain…already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child, or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card…there will be no loyalty except loyalty toward the party. There will be no love except the love of Big Brother…there will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no employment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always – do not forget this Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on the enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.[8]

Here we have a powerful image of man’s sin coming to self-conscious realization where man, as the new divinity, gains the sensation of pseudo-omnipotence in the collectivist order. Playing at God, total terror and total destruction are the reality as the new man-god brings his perverse wrath to bear on the world. This is his route to godhood – the exercise of naked power. He starts with the rejection of God (anarchistic vision) and then proceeds to a re-making of man as nature (god) incarnate through the Parliament of man, the federation of the world, as Tennyson referred to it. The solution to man’s disunity, his alienation from himself, is therefore seen in a collectivist order, and ultimately a world-state.

This concept reflects more than mere idealism or a sub-stratum of Western thought. It is a logical necessity born of a lasting, deep religious hunger in those who have rejected the God of Scripture. Man needs order, certainty and salvation, and where God’s governance is denied, man will attempt to mimic it. Wherever man has sought an immanent (not transcendent) source of power, a theology of state has developed, and a new doctrine of God has been fleshed out. Although explicitly theological language is often jettisoned, the new doctrine is expressed in the terminology of the social or scientific revolutionary or in that of the new occultist spirituality.

All that impedes the revolution is the propaganda of priests, the family and the church. Consequently orthodox Christianity is seen as the ultimate enemy of utopia. As J. L. Talmon expressed it, “The messianic trends [of the nineteenth century] considered Christianity as arch enemy…their own message of salvation was utterly incompatible with the true Christian doctrine, that of original sin, with its vision of history as the story of the fall, and its denial of man’s power to attain salvation by his own exertions.”[9] So, man has replaced God and His word, and needs a new doctrine of God and a new word. In this re-imagining process, he transfers the key attributes of God to man and his agencies. Because man is a sinner, these utopian schemes must always be dystopian in their outcomes.

[1] Cited in Paul Johnson, Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (New York: Harper Perennial edition, 2007), 26–27.

[2] Johnson, Intellectuals, 25–26.

[3] R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many, 269–71.

[4] Julian Huxley, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Twenty-Three Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1944 reprint), 133–134.

[5] Thomas Molnar, Utopia: The Perennial Heresy (New York: ISI, University Press of America, 1990), 240. I wish to acknowledge my great intellectual debt to, and extensive dependence upon, the incisive analysis of utopian thinking offered in Molnar’s book.

[6] Huxley, I Believe, 111–112.

[7] Huxley, I Believe, 134.

[8] George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Signet 1950 [1949]), 195.

[9] J. L. Talmon, cited in Molnar, Utopia, 20.