We live in uncertain times. Massive changes in the American political system are underfoot. The tectonic plates of our political system have shifted, and all Americans will feel the convulsions.
Two recent books will be especially useful for those trying to navigate their way through these changes. The first I will review today. It is Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Sowell is an African American economist. He is a Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Most perceptive Americans have noticed a gulf that is growing increasingly wide between conservatives and liberals. The lack of civility has reached epic proportions. I am 61. I remember when it was not this way.
Sowell’s book takes us to the heart of the conflict. It is over two different views of humanity. The first he calls the“unconstrained view” of mankind. It assumes that people are basically good. “man is, in short, ‘perfectible’…meaning continually imrpovable rather than capable of actually reaching absolute perfection” (pg 18). The person with this view trusts human nature. Therefore, he trusts government. He thinks government, made up of unconstrained politicians, can do things well, even better than private individuals left to their own initiative. Since people are basically well intentioned, he feels little need for the military or the police. Reasoned discussion will bring them our enemies to their senses. Democrats, liberals, and socialists tend to have an “unconstrained” view of humanity.
The other is the “constrained view” of humanity. Man has “a radical infirmity in all human conrivances, an infirmity inherent in the fundamental nature of things” (pg 14). This view distrusts human nature. Believing that people are essentially greedy, self-interested, will abuse power, and use others, it looks for ways to disburse, not concentrate human authority. This view motivates men and women to spend money on national defense, and build solid police and fire departments. The “constrained view” distrusts government. The less the better. It seeks to decentralize governemental power. It places a premium on capitalism. Captitalism regulates and tempers the rapacious desire for human improvement, harnessing man’s corrupt desire to the common good.
All prescient Believers will recognize in the “constrained view” the doctrine of Original Sin. The twentieth century has been a search by the “unconstained view” for a Utopia on earth. But the verdict has been rendered. The more people believe in the goodness of humanity the more evil they become, and the less people believe in the goodness of humanity the more virtuous they become. The unconstrained view has led to the forced liquidation of 20 million Russians by the search for a Communist utopia, the deaths of 80 million Chinese in the search for a Chinese communist utopia, and the execution of one third of the Cambodian population for the same reason. In each case, men with an unconstrained view of humanity sought to build a utopia on earth. In the process the very evil that they denied boiled to the surface and destroyed their efforts.
We should be concerned. The unconstrained view is gaining the upper hand in the American political system. What is the solution?
It is not politics. We need to perform our political duty, but ultimately, the solution will not be found there. The solution is the gospel. For only in the gospel do we come face to face with who we really are. We are sinners that deserve crucifixion. The confrontation with each persons own personal inward evil that the gospel brings to pass, ultimately works an opposite magic. It makes men and women virtuous.
So, in conclusion, preach the gospel. Commit to a gospel-preaching local church. Place your eyes on eternal things. “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus” (Phil 3:20). There is a direct correlation between vibrant Christian religion, a constrained view of humanity, limited government, and personal freedom.