Arts & Culture

The Delusional Idea That Has the World in Its Grip

Email Print

Do you long for a better world?

Would you like to see the many wrongs around you made right?

Do you wish everyone lived in a world of peace and justice?

Clearly we’d all answer yes to these questions.

The real question is, how can we accomplish these ends? How can we achieve a perfect world?

These are the questions Dr. Paul Cleveland addresses in his new book, The Great Utopian Delusion.

“There is an idea that has the world in its grip,” Cleveland states. This idea is that we can achieve a perfect world through the government. While this idea has had many names—liberalism, progressivism, collectivism, communitarianism, socialism—Cleveland argues the real name for each of these movements is utopianism.

Maximum Happiness…On Earth?

Cleveland explains that the main goal of utopianism is to achieve maximum happiness on earth.

This very foundational fact about utopianism should give us pause, for the four chapter gospel informs us that we cannot reach heaven on earth.

We live in a time between the third and fourth chapters of the gospel, between Redemption and Restoration.

Jesus has come to this world and redeemed his people through his sacrifice for sin on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, rising to sit at the right hand of the Father. Jesus’s miracles, in the chapter of Redemption, show us the way things could be. In the feeding of the five thousand, healing the leper, and raising Lazarus from the dead, we glimpse a glimmer of hope. Jesus shows us the way things could be—a world without starvation, illness, and death.

But, Restoration will not be fully accomplished until Jesus’ second coming. We get to be a part of restoring God’s creation, which we do through our work, in our communities and families, and by sharing the Good News of Christ. However, we cannot experience heaven on earth. A perfect world is a delusion, as Cleveland’s title indicates, for as fallen beings we will never reach perfection.

Devastating the Spirit of the People

After discussing the goal of utopianism, Cleveland argues that in order to reach utopia, the culture must be rid of anything that supports or encourages individuality.

When people emphasize individuality, the thought goes, they cannot be serving the common good and working towards utopia. Therefore, the culture must be rid of individuality and self-interest.

Yet, each of us have been created uniquely in God’s image, with distinct gifts, talents, and passions. We are made in his image so that we can know him better and help those around us know him. Further, we have been created such that we use our gifts to pursue our own well-being. When we are limited and compelled to be like everyone else, we lose this ability to image God in the way we were made to and the ability to fully care for ourselves.

In our work, our unique talents allow us to use our comparative advantage and specialization to increase value. Our unique passions and desires fuel creativity and fulfillment in living out who God has created us to be. As Cleveland notes in the book, creating a culture of look-a-likes is devastating to the economy and the spirit of the people.

The final piece of Cleveland’s assessment on utopianism is that in order to achieve a culture without individuality, government force is required. By nature, we are unique individuals, therefore force is needed to cause people to act in ways contrary to their own self-interest. The government is the only entity large and powerful enough to enact this change.

Going into Our Communities, Families, and Churches

Cleveland helps the reader understand the true problems behind utopianism through compelling stories and historical facts. He explains why utopianism does not work, why it goes against our nature, and why it is important to warn others about its unfulfilled, misrepresented promises.

Yet, knowing that utopianism is not the way to better this world does not stop us from wanting to make the world a better place. Cleveland ends the book by helping the reader think through alternatives. He states the answer is individual responsibility. He indicates that collectivism creates irresponsibility, using a tragedy of the commons type of argument. He goes on to say that we need to break out of reliance on the government and that the “Invisible Hand” will help us do so.

While I agree that individual responsibility is key, the final chapter of this book leaves the reader unsatisfied. The book is a dire warning against collectivism and utopianism, but there is not a comfortable response or suggestion that helps the reader know how to use that warning to fuel a change.

We all see injustice, suffering, and poverty around us. The answer cannot simply be to take care of yourself and let the invisible hand do the rest. We are made in the image of God, made as relational beings. And, we are called to love our neighbors and serve the least of these. How do we do that?

This book is a good start in terms of discussing the flaws of utopianism. We now need to take this start to our communities, families, and churches, and discuss how to be inspired by its message to make a change in the world.

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!
  • Will

    This looks like a really neat book. Thanks for sharing Kathryn. I think this is an important topic for people to wrestle and I’m glad for your critique as well. I do believe that ultimately we must provide the best service or product that uses the least amount of resources. that is how we bring slowly alleviate poverty while of course eliminating barriers to entry for the folks on the bottom of the economic totem pole.

  • Byron McMillan

    “In our work, our unique talents allow us to use our comparative advantage and specialization to increase value. Our unique passions and desires fuel creativity and fulfillment in living out who God has created us to be. As Cleveland notes in the book, creating a culture of look-a-likes is devastating to the economy and the spirit of the people.”

    When we work to increase our value based on a scarcity model this leads to unhealthy competition and a grab for limited resources. When we base our value on kingdom abundance principles with a view towards the common good, we learn to offer and receive our gifts no matter the comparative advantage and specialization that some of us have over others.

    • If we respect the rule of law, no theft, murder, kidnapping or coercion, then there is no unhealthy competition. People must work for their own self-interest, which includes philanthropy, in order for us to bring about the common good.

      When we put the common good first, we end up with socialism, poverty and death.

  • “The answer cannot simply be to take care of yourself and let the invisible hand do the rest.”

    That’s a good start, but self-interest has always included charity.

    Utopianism came from the first socialist thinkers and their views of human nature. Adam Smith assumed the Christian doctrine of original sin which made utopias impossible. Atheist socialists rejected original sin and claimed all humans are born innocent and turn to evil only because of oppression. The greatest oppressors are property and inequality. The state can perfect human nature by ridding the world of property and inequality.

Further readings on Arts & Culture

  • Arts & Culture

When literature achieves renown and ubiquity—Don Quixote, Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter—the result is an avalanche of convoluted literary interpretations….

  • Arts & Culture
  • Public Square

I was surrounded by a sea of twinkling smartphone flashlights lifted to the sky as tens of thousands of fans…

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!