Idealism dreams of utopia but usually winds up creating hell.
The Occupy Wall Street movement shows cultures must learn this in every generation. So must mayors and other elected officials whose cities and lands become beachheads of the occupation while the leaders try to find their position and voice.
In the 1960s, the Mecca of utopianism was a New York dairy farm that will forever be known as “Woodstock.” When the dreamers moved on, Max Yasgur’s land had become a 600-acre trash dump, crushed under the feet of a mass of starry-eyed partiers.
In the creation of their utopia, the flower children had actually wrought hades. A musician remembered the trampled pastures as “a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud.”
The anarchists, nihilists, “whatever”-types leave hellish flotsam behind in the already swampy fields of politics, sociology, economics, theology, and all the other acreages where they march, proclaim and declaim, camp, have sex, and deposit their waste.
Ho hum: we have been here before. The OWS movement is the current manifestation of the banality of utopianism. The citizens of Paris nourished their utopia with the blood of the rulers, and when that ran out, one another’s. Not learning the lesson of the 18th century, they tried it again in the 19th. The Paris Commune of 1871 spilled the blood of a new generation of Parisians. In 1917, the Bolsheviks occupied the streets of Moscow in utopian fervor. A decade and a half later Hitler’s young Brown Shirts were the occupiers of German cities, stirred by the utopian vision of Aryan society.
We should not be surprised that both the communists and the Nazis are supporting OWS. The movement dresses itself in many colors, but beneath the shirt-whether red, brown or green-beats the heart of utopian idealism.
There are big differences between ideals and idealism. That’s the major lesson every generation has to stay after school to learn. Positive ideals are the aspirations and values we all need to lift us upward in a culture whose gravity is always pulling us downward. Idealism is the problem, not ideals.
Idealistic people descend into idealism when they forget original sin. America’s founders were people of high ideals, but they also understood the fallibility of the human being. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man was an idealistic assertion, but the Declaration of Independence was a statement of ideals. The Constitutional system that emerged provided the equilibrium of checks and balances.
Some, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin might have dived into the utopianism of the French Revolution. However, understanding original sin tempered the idealistic bent of the founders, and gave the nation a system whose endurance is only now in question, after 235 years.
The young OWS occupiers have been well-schooled in idealism by tenured academics who occupy the major universities, but have not been educated in the blunt reality of ideals, and the effect of original sin upon them.
Until the idealists are truly and roundly schooled in the reality of human nature, the greed they lament and all the other ills they protest will linger, waiting for another idealism-washed generation to give cities hell in their passion to create utopia.