By Mark Hendrickson
We don’t hear much today about the religious doctrine of damnation—the belief that everlasting punishment awaits sinners. How much of that is due to religionists moderating their theological views or simply the ongoing secularization of society is an interesting question.
Regardless, although such harsh judgmentalism may cause uncomfortable tensions between people, it generally is harmless. We have a separation of church and state that, while protecting the free exercise of religion, doesn’t confer the ability of any sect to impose its doctrines forcibly on others. Religionists may condemn us verbally or in their hearts, but they have no power to control or punish us. That’s the Creator’s prerogative, and we’ll just have to wait until we leave this world to see how accurate those bleak pronouncements of damnation are.
There is, however, a doctrine of guilt, condemnation, and punishment that threatens every American’s earthly well-being and happiness. I’m referring to the political left’s fanatical embrace of certain quasi-religious doctrines—specifically, that Americans collectively are guilty of various sins that merit condemnation. The progressive punishment for our sins is to subject us to a stern totalitarian agenda that offers the only salvation from our alleged sins.
In this humanist “religion,” progressives, socialists, pagan environmentalists, et al., have assumed a moral superiority that they believe confers upon them the right to act as judge and jury, to pronounce America and Americans “guilty” of alleged sins and to condemn and punish us by forcing us to submit to their elitist plans.
The form of that punishment—indeed, the only way for us to expiate our “sins” in their eyes—is for us to submit to the progressives’ own radical socialistic central economic plan that offers salvation if we “transform” our society into a progressive utopia. The essence of their all-encompassing central plan is to impose government control over our thought, our speech, and our lives.
Let us briefly review a few of the guilt trips that leftists are using to justify imposing tyrannical measures on the American people to achieve their utopian vision.
1. White Guilt
Epoch Times contributor Larry Elder gave a marvelous talk last week at Principia College during which he powerfully debunked the myth of white guilt. (You can read more in Elder’s book “What’s Race Got to Do with It?” and in his interviews with The Epoch Times. See also Brandon Tatum’s views.)
Leftists seek to impose collective guilt on white Americans—many, both living and dead, who have steadfastly fought for, promoted, and defended racial justice—for the sins of certain white individuals, most of whom have long been dead. Blind to the reality that there are racists among all races, the collective condemnation of an entire race is itself racist. It also illustrates the perversity of “social justice”—collectivist remedies that unjustly trample the rights of innocent individuals.
Trying to punish so-called “white guilt” is also unwise and counterproductive. Once you start trying to indiscriminately punish a whole race of people for the past sins of others, you have opened a Pandora’s box. Think of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East—the more they try to settle old scores, the more the present generation suffers. Do we want our children to shoulder the same burden of hatred, injustice, and violence that so devastated the lives of our ancestors, or can we love them enough to break the cycle of conflict? (Indeed, imagine what a hostile place the world would be if white Americans were to seek vengeance against the descendants of the often cruel and unjust oppressions of their own ancestors.)
2. Success Guilt
Dennis Prager wrote about this just last week. Both Jews and Americans have shared a cultural history that was to a considerable degree shaped by their religious faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Both of these related cultures have achieved outstanding success relative to other societies and cultures in the world. Sadly, success has triggered the envy, resentment, and hatred of many who were born into societies where those cultural values and the success they tend to spawn have been absent. How dare those Jews and Americans accomplish so much! They must be punished for such effrontery.
3. Capitalist Guilt
Prager alluded to this, too, in his column. Anti-capitalism has been around for nearly two centuries—ever since capitalist entrepreneurs found ways to lift the masses of people out of poverty. The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises published a book titled “The Anti-Capitalist Mentality” in 1956 in which he diagnosed the feelings of inferiority that anti-capitalist intellectuals struggle with. Many of these highly educated intellectuals just can’t stand seeing the masses of people richly reward entrepreneurs who serve their needs and desires while at the same time placing relatively little value on the intellectuals’ abstract philosophies and academic ideologies. Billionaires (unless they’re pigging out with government subsidies) are society’s benefactors. They deserve our gratitude, not our hostility.
The anti-rich-people animus stems from gross economic ignorance, such as persistent belief in the long-defunct 16th-century Montaigne dogma, which falsely asserted that one man’s gain is another’s loss. More than two centuries of capitalist history have shattered that fallacy.
4. Profit Guilt
Indeed, as even Karl Marx understood, capitalism excels at producing wealth, and yet Marx and his followers today decry the profit-making process that has made possible today’s unprecedented wealth for an unprecedented number of people.
It’s tragic that so many Americans don’t understand two crucial aspects of profits: First, profits are new wealth; the only way for a society to get richer is through the production of additional value—value that is signaled by profits. Second, because entrepreneurs in a capitalist system compete to best serve the people’s wants, while businesses in socialist systems have to produce what their political rulers—a socialist society’s elite—command. Obviously, people are going to be better off when production is oriented toward their preferences than the government plan’s dictates.
5. Prosperity Guilt
A core value of today’s environmentalism is the misanthropic and incredibly wrong belief that human prosperity is an evil that will render Earth uninhabitable. These ideologues are ignorant of the environmental “Kuznets curve.” It’s a total myth that the more prosperous people get, the more polluted their environment gets. The way the world really works is that after an initial increase of pollution as poor societies climb out of subsistence standards of living, the increasing wealth of those societies enables them to direct wealth and effort to the cause of environmental protection. The felicitous result is that economically advanced countries pollute less than developing countries.
Alas, so fanatical are greens in their belief in the evil of humanity that they remain willfully blind to two great environmental blessings that have come to the present generation: First, that temperatures have modestly risen above the grimly cold Little Ice Age, making life safer; second, that the CO2 enrichment of Earth’s atmosphere over the past century has produced a huge greening of the planet. We should celebrate, not mourn, but the funereal guilt-mongers want us to mourn.
So, here’s the upshot of all the guilt trips that leftists are foisting on us: In the grip of their beliefs—their fanatical, unquestioning faith in the guilt of the American people for the above-listed “offenses”—the left condemns all who dare to dissent from their catechism. We dissidents are, ipso facto, bad people; thus, we deserve to suffer and be punished for our sins.
There’s no nuance in the leftists’ thinking, no mitigating factors, no sense of context; non-leftists are wrong—period. Consequently, the United States gets no credit for the considerable progress we have made and continue to make. Instead, we’re deemed guilty because we haven’t yet fully realized our ideals. As I’ve written before, to leftists, the perfect has become the mortal enemy of the good.
If, by the way, you object to my characterization of leftists as “fanatical,” perhaps “messianic” would be a more appropriate adjective. Think of Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) who, when unveiling the grand socialist central economic plan known as “the Green New Deal,” described the proposal as “a mission to save all of creation.” All of creation?! If that isn’t messianic, then nothing is. Be aware of how often leftists use the religious language of salvation. Often when they promote their vision, they assert that their policies are necessary to “save” us—and tragically often, to save us from imaginary problems (e.g., wealth, success, a greening world, etc.).
This messianic zeal has congealed into a hatred of conservatives, libertarians, Republicans—literally any American who dissents from the leftist agenda. The left has become a Leninist movement, embracing hatred of their political opponents with all the fervor that Lenin himself mustered.
The hatred that the left feels toward their political opponents is manifest in their aggressive attempts to obliterate, destroy, and smash those opponents by canceling and silencing them. It’s seen in their blatant effort to do an end-run around democracy by resorting to such machinations as D.C. statehood, packing the Supreme Court, dictating election rules to states, ramming through legislation with zero opposition input or support, etc.
Under the intoxicating influence of what I’ve termed “the three meta-errors” of progressivism (faith in government competence, belief in human willpower, and the tyranny of good intentions), the left feels perfectly justified in arrogating totalitarian powers to themselves. They may call it “democratic socialism,” but it’s anything but democratic.
Like Marx, Lenin, and other past socialist revolutionaries, today’s left believes that the end justifies the means. They seem to have convinced themselves that by dictating a radical top-down central plan on the American people, the result will be a bright, utopian future. Don’t hold your breath.
If you want to find the utopia that the left desires, go to Washington, D.C., take a hard left, and look for it between the unicorn farm and Atlantis. No radical social plan animated by hatred for people and based on mutilations of truth can possibly bless the human race. If you need to see it in black and white, check out “The Black Book of Communism”—communism being the end of the road that Marx said starts with democracy and passes through socialism. The human race has suffered enough from the socialist/communist virus.
To advocate socialism today can only be explained by a rejection of reason and an adherence to a secular faith that elevates hope over experience. The fanatical adherents of this quasi-religious dogma, having judged American society guilty of cardinal sins, have condemned us to a state-imposed hell that’s becoming increasingly totalitarian by the day.
The good news is: We Americans are not guilty of the sins with which the left has charged us. There is, then, no justification for condemnation and no need for the totalitarian agenda that they’re pushing. As has ever been the case, America and Americans will flourish if we remain free of dictatorial government plans and controls.
Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.