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A Naturally Anti-Utopian Creed


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A Naturally Anti-Utopian Creed

The fifth idea, and one of the most important elements of the Christian vision of government is anti-utopianism.

The Christian tradition affirms the goodness of man, but it also recognizes the reality of sin. We are capable of great good. We are also capable of profound evil. This means that we need a government to protect people from harm and to punish evildoers. But it is equally important that we place limits on rulers.

As Lord Acton famously observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Christian vision of government is deeply skeptical of any utopian visions. It recognizes that we cannot create a perfectly just social order. Politics has an important role, but it is limited in what it can accomplish. As Joseph Ratzinger explained in his essay, “What is Truth, The Significance of Religious and Ethical Values in a Pluralist Society”:

It is not the task of the state to create mankind’s happiness, nor is it the task of the state to create new men. It is not the task of the state to change the world into Paradise. Nor can it do so . . . If it behaves as if were God . . . this makes it the beast from the abyss, the power of the Antichrist.

Politics cannot solve the fundamental problems of suffering, evil, sin, and death.  We cannot be redeemed by the state or technology, or the dictator or the majority. This anti-utopianism is not pessimism or apathy in the face of injustice. Nor is it false optimism that things will get better. What anti-utopianism does is put politics in its proper place and warns us that we cannot create perfect justice. In his Truth and Tolerance, Ratzinger also observed:

Within this human history of ours the absolutely ideal situation will never exist and a perfected ordering of freedom will never be achieved. An ordering of things that is simply ideal; that is all around right and just will never exist. Wherever such a claim is made, truth is not being spoken. Belief in progress is not false in every respect. But the myth of the liberated world of the future in which everything is different and everything will be good is false. We can only ever construct relative social orders which can only ever be relatively right and just. Yet this very same closest possible approach to true right and justice is what we must strive to attain. Everything else, every eschatological promise within history fails to liberate us, rather it disappoints and therefore enslaves us.

This is only a brief introduction to the Christian tradition and its implications for politics. There is of course much more to say and lots to discuss and debate. But at the core of the Christian vision of government is the human person created in the image of God. The purpose of politics is to serve man, not for man to serve the state. The Christian vision of government places politics in the context of our human freedom, the call to human flourishing, and in the light of our eternal destiny.


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