Friday, April 26, 2024

The Liberal Utopia


What was valued was not an orientation toward the kingdom of heaven but confidence that America offered a utopian alternative to it.

The Age of Nihilism: Christendom from the Great War to the Culture Wars, by John Strickland

Strickland begins this chapter on liberalism with World War Two (he has offered much work on the reasons and drivers behind liberalism in the many earlier chapters).  With Nazi fascism defeated, communism in the east and liberalism in the west were left to stand off against each other.

Toward the war’s conclusion, of course, the west, led by the United States, would carpet bomb Dresden and drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Total warfare had exposed the shortcomings of utopia to all Christendom.

I think this was well exposed in the Great War, and in the United States in the (so-called) Civil War before this.  Yet, I take Strickland’s point: without the transcendent, every strongman is quite sure of what utopia should look like.

America was the free world; Nazi Germany, the slave world.  One must live and one must die.  Propaganda through film and other means would help shape these narratives.  Ideology replaced Christianity, and therefore it was up to ideology (liberalism) to offer the solution against another ideology (fascism).

John Locke offered inspiration.  The United States was the first nation to embrace this liberal philosophy, this ideology as the basis for societal formation.  Individual liberty was to become the highest good, and it was the trademark of the United States. 

The individual was free to define and create himself.  John Stuart Mill kept it simple: pleasure and happiness, these would guide.  Utilitarianism.  This was determined on a case-by-case basis; nothing transcendent here.  A free exchange of ideas would provide the light to shine the way.

…individuals would reach conclusions about right and wrong on their own.  This would yield a utopia of individual liberty.

Post-war America had a mission: to spread this ideal around the world; to evangelize.  American exceptionalism.  Of course, this trend started from the beginning – a manifest destiny took the former colonies to the west coast of North America and beyond.  Now all of Western Europe was at her feet, as was Japan in the Far East. 

Religious diversity would drive a strengthened national identity.  Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox from eastern Europe, Jews.  Given this diversity, another uniting force was required, and the nation-state was happy to offer the alternative.

The “American Way.” It has been observed that this phrase appeared in the New York Times about 700 times from the Civil War to 1932.  In just the subsequent decade, coincidentally coinciding with the build up to war – a war that most Americans didn’t want – it appeared over 2200 times.

The “American Dream.”  This phrase was coined in 1931 – not really the dreamiest of times.  Each individual had an “inherent right to be restricted by no barriers.”  Man’s nature is not fixed – a plasticity, to be shaped individually. 

Free market capitalism, such as it was, would fuel the American Dream in this “land of opportunity.”  Freedom and consumption would be united.  The benefits were widely distributed throughout much of society – and much more successfully than in the other surviving ideology of communism. 

Speaking of communism…it was not as different from liberalism as might appear on the surface.  Both aimed at the myth of progress.  Further, communism was just as western as liberalism.  Both ideologies were born in the West, both spoke a similar language.  Citing Samuel P. Huntington:

“A Western democrat could carry on an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist.  It would be impossible for him to do that with a Russian Orthodox nationalist.”

Yet this commonality did not prevent a Cold War.  Communist insurgencies in Greece, Italy, and France were thwarted.  The United States had its House Committee on Un-American Activities.  The Truman Doctrine, NATO, Radio Free Europe.  Western European unity took shape, ultimately forming the European Union.  All such institutions were averse to transcendent values.  They were liberal, after all.

What was valued was not an orientation toward the kingdom of heaven but confidence that America offered a utopian alternative to it.

The invented idea of a “Judeo-Christian” tradition took root.  Mainline denominations coordinated with the “American Way.”  The fight was against godless communism, after all.  Eisenhower would both promote and be promoted by this new American ceremonial deism.  The National Prayer Breakfast, one nation “under God,” Bishop Fulton Sheen and the Day of National Prayer, Billy Graham. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.  His social gospel message introduced utopian Christianity into the civil rights movement.  But he went further.  As Strickland describes, he also turned to traditional Christianity.  Sacrificial love and mercy; staying clear of violence. 

He would join liberal ideology to traditional Christianity.  In his “I have a dream” speech, the sons of slaves and of slavers would sit together, black boys and black girls would join hands with their white counterparts, all God’s children will join hands.  King would write:

“We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.  It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this work time itself becomes an ally of social stagnation.”

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  Throughout the country, race riots erupted – 160 cities in all.  Twenty thousand were arrested, forty-six were murdered.


The overt manifestations of nihilism had barely begun to be seen in society.  In many ways, the 1960s were a turning point.  Tom Holland has considered that this decade will one day be considered as significant to the history of the west as the decade following Luther’s ninety-five theses.

We will see what Strickland has to say about this.


  1. November 22, 1963--JFK.
    June 5, 1968--RFK.
    April 4, 1968--MLK, Jr.
    May 4, 1970--Students Allison Krause, Jeffrey Glenn Miller, Sandra Lee Scheuer, William Knox Schroeder, shot down by National Guardsmen at Kent State, Ohio.

    Motherhood, apple pie, and the American way. Baseball, hot dogs, and Chevrolet. What's good for GM is good for the country.

    Charles Manson, Woodstock, Tonkin Gulf, My Lai. Free love. Acid trip. Watergate.

    Hoo, boy! It's a wonder anyone managed to live through it. Yet, here we are some fifty or sixty years later with liberalism, Communism, and utopianism still alive and kicking hard at our world.

    Ukraine, Gaza, transgenderism, abortion on demand, AI and the Singularity, CBDC's, "You will eat bugs and you will like them."

    What will it take for humanity to learn? What will the decades ahead produce for those still alive? I thrill at the prospect of living in "interesting times" and look forward to the future, yet, at the same time, there is something in me that dreads the thought of what we will have to go through and what mankind will look like in 2069.

  2. I have two thoughts when reading through this. First, the there were two big differences between liberalism and communism. Liberalism did and still does respect the rights of individuals while communism only values the progress of one class of people. Not even the individuals in that class are valued, just the amorphous, faceless blob known as the proletariat.

    The other difference is that liberalism at least tries to find a peaceful way to rule over people with different interests. It tries to build consensus and find acceptable compromise. Communism on the other hand marks whole classes of people for extermination. It goes straight to killing, slavery, theft to achieve its goals. Liberalism has many weaknesses but I know which system I want to live under, at least before it falls apart.

    The other overall point is that the liberal West was during the same time taken over by Marxists of different flavors: Progressives, Trotskyites, Gramsciites, and Marcuse's hippies. The Progressives were a homegrown anti-liberal strain. But European communism infiltrated the US successfully in the 30s at the latest. Many of the "problems with liberalism" were actually the subversive communist elements created disarray. I think liberalism's greatest weakness is that it had no answer to subversion. The communists used liberal's values against them (us).

  3. Utopia!

    Ever since the Garden of Eden, mankind has been struggling to return to that ideal and has been disappointed forever.

    In his quest for Utopia (Eden), man always relies, not on his relationship to God wherein is peace, but on his (supposed) authority to impose rules on his fellow man to bring about "peace". Nearly everyone is in favor of making laws which will force others to live according to their own personal opinion as to what Utopia is. Nearly everyone loves the idea of compelling their neighbors to behave through the auspices of government, which would bring about the desired outcome, if only enough people would toe the line appropriately. Since everyone has a differing opinion as to how to accomplish this, there is constant conflict and Utopia never arrives.

    The solution to this dilemma is not hard to grasp but it requires a paradigm shift, namely that, peace does not arrive by force but must spring from a conscious decision within oneself to live at peace with others, especially your neighbors. Romans 12:18 is the parameter, since it puts the burden of "living at peace", not on your neighbor but on yourself. Notice that this does not say you can live at peace with your neighbor as long as he is a peaceful person.

    It may be a hard thing to hear, but it is ALWAYS possible to live at peace with one's neighbor. You just have to decide what it is worth and how much you will have to give up to achieve it. "Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself" entails sacrifice at your expense FOR the sake of your neighbor. In the end, it will come back to you. "Give and it shall be given unto you..."

    This is as close to Utopia as we are going to get on this side of Heaven.