The best of Fred Hutchison
Utopia: The perpetual delusion of the left
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
June 14, 2012

Originally published September 14, 2004

When I was eighteen, I knew that the left is generally deceived. It required a few years to find out what the core delusion was, but many years to appreciate how radical is the lie they believe and why it leads to so much deception. The idealism of the left is based upon the romantic delusion that "progress" is inevitable and is leading us to a future utopia. Utopia is a romantic fantasy of a perfect future secular society on earth built by man with God left out. The cruel delusion of utopia is responsible for many of the twentieth-century disasters such as brutal dictatorships, major wars, countless atrocities, and destructive revolutionary movements.

Why is utopia a false hope? Original sin. We are born contaminated by the nature of sin. All parts of our human nature are infected and corrupted. Such beings are constitutionally incapable of utopia. Yet, against all reason, experience, and common sense, many hope for an impossible utopia. Perhaps utopia is a substitute for heaven in a post-Christian secular society.

Catastrophic utopias

Attempts at utopia almost always have catastrophic results. Why is this? Utopias always turn out to be totalitarian in the end. There are no restraints on the power or the impulses of the rulers. If man is inherently good, as the left believes, and the revolutionary leaders are god-like beings, as utopian regimes invariably assert, why restrain their powers?

But man is not good and the leaders are not gods. The practical result of the lack of restraint on leaders is that the pride, self-importance, and self-indulgence of the leaders can be inflated without limit. Extreme pride breeds evil in the form of deadly malice towards all who fail to cooperate.

Totalitarian utopias always, without exception, turn into hells on earth. Witness Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pot Pol, and Saddam Hussein. All of these dictators sponsored cults of personality that demanded public worship of the leader, all were free from accountability, all had virtually unlimited power, all promised utopia, and all were mass murderers. The murder of thousands increased to the murder of millions. Unrestrained evil multiplies without limit. None of these monsters were ashamed of their murders and atrocities. All took a surreal utopian pride in their crimes.

The constitutional golden mean

The two forms of hell on earth are anarchy, where the evil of the individual is unrestrained, and dictatorship, where the evil of the dictator is unrestrained. The American constitutional system places the Republic halfway between these extremes. It is not a utopia and is carefully designed not to be one. The Republic enjoys a balanced containment of evil. The Constitution limits the powers of government so as to restrain tyranny, but leaves enough power intact to somewhat restrain evil practiced by delinquent citizens. Thus, the satanic extremes of evil in high places and personal depravity in humble places can be reduced to a tolerable and livable level. This facilitates a healthy balance between freedom and order. The Founding Fathers discovered the "sweet spot" in which both tyranny and anarchy can be avoided. They wisely realized that utopia is beyond our reach but the virtue of the golden mean is not. America has bred a moderate and temperate people with an intuitive sense of balance. The voters regularly vote out the radicals and those who abuse power. This is not the case in Europe.

Liberals dislike America precisely because it is not a utopia, is temperamentally unsuited to utopian ideas, and cannot become a utopia in its present constitutional formation. Liberal judges attempt to dismantle the restrictions of power and the checks and balances that hinder the coming of utopia. But these restraints are precisely what makes the Constitution so wise. It is what makes life in America so admirable to human reason, so temperate to ordinary human hopes, and so amenable to human prosperity.

The little communities led by semi-utopian liberal commissars in academia, the media, government bureaucracies, the public education establishment, labor unions, and the legal profession are a dismal specter of their designs for the country. The mini-utopias of the politically correct regimes of establishment liberals are halfway houses on the journey to dictatorship because of the mandatory group think and the persecution of those who reject thought control techniques. The semi-utopian element in their thought is precisely what encourages control freak attitudes to prosper and cult-like group think to flourish.

My disappointed hopes

Throughout my adult life, I was nourished by the recurring hope that the old delusional fantasy about utopia would collapse one day. Several times, I saw hopeful signs that this might actually happen. But each time, I was disappointed. I noticed that during the late sixties, disillusioned Democratic politicians stopped talking about "the inevitability of progress." Hubert Humphrey was the last true believer in "progress," I believe, or at least the last one of that era who was "out of the closet." But I was to be disappointed in my hope that this would be the end of it.

There was the foolish face of Jimmy Carter on TV putting his faith in the U.N., an embarrassingly inept international society crippled by utopian pretensions. Carter reasoned that if we gave away the Panama Canal, resentment of America in the Third World would surely fade away and Carter would be loved by the down-trodden masses of the world. Carter naively supposed that if he was friendly to Arafat and Brezhnev, all their meanness would melt away. When the Russians betrayed Carter's trust and invaded Afghanistan, Carter said, "No more Mr. Nice guy." He boycotted the Moscow Olympics. "That will show them." This blow of a limp noodle must have really stung. Repeatedly, Carter took foolish actions based upon an unbelievably naive and simple-minded version of utopian thinking. My hopes of getting away from utopia were dashed once again.

Although Carter professed to be a born-again Christian, he lived in a childlike soap bubble of utopian New Age fantasy. But underneath the soft surface of this child-man dwells a bitter and vindictive old kvetch. I have no doubt that if he had absolute power, he would be very cruel to his opponents. I suppose that young enthusiastic utopians are often destined to become embittered and cruel old men and women. The disillusionments of aging are very hard for the utopian to endure.

My hope for the end of utopias was revived when the Berlin Wall fell and the captive nations of Eastern Europe were set free. Surely now, the foolish dreams of utopian Marxism and socialism would be forever discredited. Indeed, America and England pulled back a bit from the road to socialism during the 80's. But most countries did not. In the meantime, a fresh batch of utopian feminist nonsense was boiling over on the stove.

Feminist utopianism

Lynndie English, a private in the American Army, was put on trial for sadistic atrocities against Iraqi prisoners. She is a product of the delusions of feminist utopianism. Let us listen to her words:
    "Ours is a revolutionary age, enamored with the notion that completing humanity's long journey to perfect freedom requires only that we shed old restraints. From the overthrow of convention — comes liberation and beyond liberation comes utopia." (Feminists in Fatigues by Andrew Bacevich, the American Conservative, 9/13/04)
There are several variations of utopian feminism. Lynndie's version is a mix of the nihilism of the sexual revolution and New Age claptrap. John Lennon could have written about Lynndie's sexual utopia as a footnote to his song "Imagine," which is about a dream of one-world solidarity, of people without governments, without religion, and without sexual restraints. Lennon's vision would start with an orgy and lead to a hell-on-earth anarchy — like what prevailed in Lynndie's jail.

The old totalitarian utopias turned those with power into monsters. The feminist utopia can turn ordinary women like Lynndie into perverted sexual predators because it deludes them into thinking that casting off all sexual restraints and conventions is the way to utopia. It is much like the foolish men who visit brothels hoping for sensual paradise and emerge realizing that they have visited a hell on earth.

Lynndie felt that she had to prove that she could do everything the bad boys could do and that her feminine inhibitions must not deter her from the most shocking behavior. Well, history has been full of gun-molls, dragon ladies, predatory prostitutes, and Mata Haris, but it did not glorify them as being "liberated" in the romantic utopian sense. Utopian fantasies can glorify the vilest things.

The perpetually reinvented left

"The left has been beginning over again since the French Revolution. And over and over again...Can there be decent leftists? Yes. But can a decent left be reincarnated from the dark history of the last 200 years? Probably not. And if it has to begin again — why not give it up and save the world another century of grief?" But the left is not about to give up its dream of imposing utopia on the rest of us, despite our wishes. So says ex-leftist David Horowitz in Left Illusions, as quoted and paraphrased in Insight magazine (February 3-16, 2004).

The perpetual reinventing of left-wing utopias that Horowitz describes leads to me to suspect that the left in some form or other will be with us for the duration of the Republic. Some deep psychic disorder in Western man of the post-Christian, post-romantic era seems to be incurable. A friend I see at conferences tells me that he is a "futilitarian." The liberals will never go away. The conservatives must perpetually remain at their posts defending the liberty and order of the Republic against the howling wolves stricken with utopian madness.

In "A Radical's Disenchantment," in the The Nation, Dec. 8, 1979, Horowitz said, "Above all, the left is trapped in its own romantic vision, a vision which prevented it from seeing itself clearly and from grasping the fact that its most cherished notions bore no relation to reality. This moral and political myopia is compounded by the left's inability to accept responsibility for its own acts and commitments."

The utopian vision seems to have three fatal effects on the star-struck leftist: 1) a divorce from reality, 2) a moral free-pass for oneself and one's fellow travelers on the journey, and 3) a demonization of persons, entities, and states which block the way to utopia.

A divorce from reality

If we are on the road to utopia, all the experience of life will be defined according to this journey. But since utopia is a figment of the leftist imagination, no such journey exists. Therefore, the journey of life will be perpetually misconstrued by the leftist.

Part of the divorce from reality is a moral free-pass for oneself and one's partisan friends. If we are on the shining yellow-brick road to the emerald city of Oz, an inflated moral splendor is imputed to all we say and do.

"Comrades, we have finally been liberated from the boring bourgeois Munchkin land. We are noble pilgrims going to the emerald city of utopia. What wonderful people we are!" The comrades chant, "How great we are indeed, indeed..."

"However, the lions, tigers, and bears in the woods near the road are scary. They might try to stop us from progressing in our trip to the fabled Oz. Watch out for those scary conservatives, Christians, and moralists. They are troglodyte trolls, one and all."

(Time passes) "Wow! We are finally in Oz, the great and glorious. Wait! The iron doors are closing behind us! Where are those frowning guards taking us? I thought Oz had the answer to all our problems." One of the frowning guards smiles slightly. "Don't worry. We have the answer for troublesome upstart nags like you." Silence falls. After a while, one timidly asks, "Guard, what is a gulag?" The guard's faint smile returns once more. Darkness falls on Oz.

The semi-utopians

There is a difference between the utopian radical leftists and the semi-utopian liberals. The utopians want to destroy the present establishment to usher in the utopia. The semi-utopians advocate gradual change. They want to place us on the yellow brick road. They are planning for a long journey to Oz. The Fabian Society of England were prototypical semi-utopians. Their program was to move towards socialism through gradual degrees. The American phrase for this is "creeping socialism."

Woodrow Wilson is the father of the semi-utopian Democrats. His foreign policy idealism is well known. But his semi-utopian domestic policy is not. Biographer H. W. Brands studied Wilson's writings during his twenty years as an academic semi-utopian (Woodrow Wilson, by H. W. Brands). Wilson was opposed to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights because they speak of universal unchanging human rights. Wilson subscribed to the historicism of Hegel, the same Hegel who inspired Marx. Historicism is the belief that all categories, truths, and values are relative and historically determined and can be understood only in their historical context. Hegel's historicism is utopian. It involves a constantly evolving human nature and forces of history which are moving us gradually towards utopia. Wilson saw the human rights in our founding documents as only one stage in a long development.

Wilson is the prototype of the activist judge who has contempt for the founding documents and sees human rights as an infinitely expanding force. They grow and evolve and are often redefined over the passage of time. Wilson hated the constitutional brakes on governmental power because he dreamed of a continuous expansion in the role of government without limits. But governmental growth without limits is not a journey to paradise. It is a developmental concentration camp.

Did Wilson live in a state of unreality? Yes. Wilson regarded himself as the "embodiment of humanity," according to Brands. In his speeches, Wilson often claimed to speak for the peoples of the world. He saw himself as the "mediator between humanity and its own future." In his own mind, Wilson was a visionary leader, and a "tribune of humanity." American democracy under his leadership was a "beacon for the progress of all nations," and the embodiment of righteousness. Anyone who resisted America under his leadership was resisting the "forces of history." (See The Perils of Progress, a book review of Brand's Woodrow Wilson by Ronald J. Pestrino, in Claremont Review of Books, for the sources of these insights.)

But Wilson was not a mad man. He was a heady semi-utopian philosopher. He borrowed the ideas about the leader of a state becoming the repository of the "general will" from Rousseau and Hegel. Hegel articulated how a visionary head of state could be the "vanguard of history." Interestingly, the Communists claimed that honor for their own leaders.

Wilson was the spiritual father to modern liberal Democrats and stepfather to the postmodern liberals. The modern liberal Democrat was more dreamy-eyed and less pugnacious than is the postmodern liberal. The postmodern liberal places more emphasis on throwing off personal restraints, but both agree that old constitutional and moral restraints are no longer relevant. The postmodern liberal is more preoccupied with saying nasty things about the troglodytes, but both agree that their opponents are troglodytes. Both are self-righteous and self-justifying. The old progressives like Wilson are more godlike in their pretensions. The postmoderns like Michael Moore are more narcissistic and childlike. But both believe in Oz.

If a semi-utopian political leader of either camp got enough unrestricted power and experienced a grandiose narcissistic inflation of ego, he might think that utopia has been realized. He might indulge his delusions of paranoia and place the troglodytes and the munchkins in the gulag. "We cannot have our pristine utopia ruined by ideological undesirables and uncooperative primitives walking about." Subsequently. the rest of the people would be assigned their place in the totalitarian socialist machine. Then the exalted demigod leader/savior would congratulate himself for liberating the people from the horrible troglodytes and munchkins and for bringing the rest of the people into the glorious worker's paradise. "No groaning will be tolerated in paradise!"

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31