We're in Trouble
“Is it possible for a human being to become perfect?” I asked the class. Most students agreed it wasn’t. Some believed we could strive for perfection and that’s a good thing, but each of us would always fall short.
“How about creating a perfect society?” I asked.
“How can you create a perfect society with imperfect people?” said a particularly sharp girl with the perfect rhetorical question.
I was setting them up for lesson on utopian communes in America - efforts to establish perfect societies - and ultimately how the struggle between communism and capitalism dominated the 20th century.
We looked at 19th century communes like the Shakers and the Oneida Community. Both were religious, members of both gave all their property to the commune, both controlled all aspects of members’ lives, but they had opposite views of human sexuality. The Shakers eschewed sex but the Oneida commune spread it around as much as possible in a method they called “complex marriage.” Both thrived economically, supplying members with whatever goods and services they needed and both lasted longer than most attempted utopias. Neither achieved perfection, but they were around for a fairly long time working at it.
Though voluntary, 19th century American communes attracted fanatics who knew what was best for us all, and who were willing to impose it violently. It can’t be just coincidence that two presidential assassins were, at least temporarily, members of the Oneida Community. They were Charles Guiteau who killed President Garfield, and Leon Czolgosz, who killed President McKinley. Czolgosz especially seemed to personify the utopians’ metamorphosis from from religious to secular/socialist, then to athiest/communist as he embraced leftist anarchists and communists. People like him had no qualms about violently imposing their utopian fantasies on Russia beginning in 1918.
They transformed Russia into the USSR, then extended their influence over all of northern Asia and half of Europe. Promising to redistribute wealth, they appropriated private property whether owners were willing to part with it or not. They took control of the entire economy and every aspect of people’s lives, but seemed by all acounts to move further away from perfection rather than closer to it. The USSR couldn’t provide the consumer goods citizens needed. Its planned economy caused its demise.
Communist utopians tolerated no dissent. Somewhere between forty and sixty million people, most of whom were skeptical about communist dreams of establishing a workers’ paradise, were killed - far more than the number who died at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis.
Even without reproducing, the Shakers outlasted the USSR, which finally disintegrated twenty years ago. There are still a handful of Shakers in New Gloucester, Maine a few miles east of where I’m writing. As for the Oneidas - their utopian community is gone but they exist as a joint stock company making cutlery.
The religious American communes were entirely voluntary. People could join or not and if the life didn’t suit them, they could leave. The USSR was anything but. Communist officials built walls and an elaborate security apparatus to keep people from escaping. They had no choice beyond “adapt or die.” Communists believed they knew what was best for all whether they liked it or not. Religion was outlawed and the state became church. The revolution was sacred and capitalism evil. Individual liberty was not only irrelevant, it was “counterrevolutionary.” And, as Boris Pasternak’s novel character, Dr. Yuri Zhivago put it: “They shoot counterrevolutionaries.”
My earliest awareness of this was watching on TV as an ugly little bald guy with a wart on his face took his shoe off during a speech, banged it on the podium at the United Nations in New York City and declared: “We will bury you!” That was Soviet Premiere Nikita Kruschev. That Kruschev was dedicated to forcing Soviet communism on the entire world came through loud and clear to me that day and I’ve never forgotten it. Kruschev’s USSR collapsed thirty years later only because the United States sustained a forty-five-year-long Cold War.
We face a different enemy now. It’s another religious utopian group with strange ideas about sexuality, but different from its smaller predecessors in that it would violently impose itself on everyone in the world. It’s anything but voluntary. Radical Muslims are true believers with no doubts that they know what’s best for all of us whether we like it or not. They would make the world Muslim and run it under Sharia Law. They’re quite open about their intentions and have demonstrated that they’re willing to kill themselves if they can take a few infidels with them. Radical Shiite Muslims believe the Mahdi will emerge soon to preside over a thousand years of justice and peace. Iranian President Ahmadinejad invoked him from the same UN podium Kruschev used fifty years before.
Like the communists, Radical Muslims know the biggest obstacle in the way of achieving their utopian vision is the United States. Trouble is though, our Commander-in-chief lacks the will to oppose them. He won’t even call our enemy by its name. After US Army Major Hasan openly admired Muslim suicide bombers, declared the US an “oppressor” of Muslims, asked an al Qaeda recruiter what he could do “to further the Jihad,” shouted “Allahu Akbar!” while he gunned down forty-three US soldiers last week, President Obama said: “Well, look, we -- we have seen, in the past, rampages of this sort. And in a country of 300 million people, there are going to be acts of violence that are inexplicable.”
We’re in deep trouble.