Richard Weaver’s 1948 book entitled “Ideas Have Consequences,” screamed the answer to the question on so many minds following the first two World Wars, the Holocaust, massive genocide, Eugenics, and more. The question, “Why is the 20th century the bloodiest in all of history so far?”
Without Internet, television, or even radio available, it took some time for Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx’s 1848 “The Communist Manifesto” and Charles Darwin’s 1859 “On the Origin of Species” to promulgate from academia into the common lexicon. By the early 1900’s, however, both propositions enjoyed world-wide attention.
Though there is no evidence of a direct connection between the authors of the two books, the two philosophies found common soil in their celebration of man as the highest authority and ultimate determiner of morality and justice.
Engels wrote to Marx in 1859 referring to Darwin’s book as “absolutely splendid.” He continued, “There was one aspect of teleology that had yet to be demolished, and that has now been done.”[i] Engels was clear. Communism could not take hold until the idea of a transcendent God who gave purpose and meaning to our existence was eradicated. He was indebted to Darwin for aiding in this important objective.
In 1920, at a speech delivered to the Third All-Russia Congress of the Russian Young Communist League, Vladimir Lenin boldly proclaimed, “We do not believe in an eternal morality.” He deeply criticized the idea of religious-based morality and transcendent moral truth. In seven short years as dictator, an estimated four million of his fellow countrymen died under his version of customized morality.
Lenin’s successor Joseph Stalin advocated that the provisional government must “disestablish the church and secularize education.”[ii] Lenin would go on to far exceed his mentor’s commitment to routing out those who got in the way. By conservative estimates, he killed at least 20 million. Some estimates put that number at 60 million. Assuming the best, 20 Million, would be equivalent to a US President killing everyone in the state of Texas.
In 1938 the leader of China, Mao Zedong, said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” It was not a mere statement of academic philosophy, but one that carried real life consequences. By conservative estimates, 65 million of his own countrymen died at his hand in the pursuit of a Marxist utopia.
The beliefs of these Communist Founding Fathers stand in stark contrast to those of the United States. In a letter to the Massachusetts Militia in 1798, President John Adams wrote that our Country remained “untainted with the Principles and manners, which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the World.” He warned that we must not give into the seductions that other nations had succumbed lest we “be the most miserable Habitation in the World.”
Why did Adams believe that the way we view the world determines our destiny? He answered it this way, “Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Gallantry, would break the strongest Cords or our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[iii]
In an earlier letter to his wife, Adams said, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.” [iv]
Here are a few other voices for consideration:
“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” – Benjamin Franklin [v]
“I also believe that without His [God’s] concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.” – James Madison [vi]
“It is certainly true that a popular government cannot flourish without virtue in the people.” – Richard Henry Lee [vii]
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens.” – George Washington [viii]
Richard Weaver’s proposal that “Ideas Have Consequences” is obvious to most thinking people. Where most people fall short is in the hard work that it takes to think through ideas to arrive at their logical conclusion BEFORE implementing them.
Neither Mao, Lenin, Stalin, nor any of the other dictators and mass-murderers of the past few centuries were any less certain that their ideas were right than any would-be social engineers of today. Just a few short years ago many were touting the virtues of socialist Venezuela. Today, many of its citizens are starving with inflation at over 18,000 % and a loaf of bread costing more than a month’s wages.
Leaving our fate in the hands of man and his ideas, has simply never worked out well. As John Stonestreet likes to add to Richard Weaver, “Bad ideas have victims.” By returning to God and HIS moral compass, we can circumnavigate the reoccurrence of the disastrous results of failed humanist ideology in the past two centuries.
[ii] J. V. Stalin: “The Provisional Revolutionary Government and Social-Democracy” – August 15, 1905
[iv] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401, to Abagail Adams on June 21, 1776.
[v] Source: Benjamin Franklin, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1840), Vol. X, p. 297, April 17, 1787. )
[vi] James Madison, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Max Farrand, editor (New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1911), Vol. I, pp. 450-452, June 28, 1787
[vii] Richard Henry Lee, The Letters of
Richard Henry Lee, James Curtis Ballagh, editor (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1914), Vol. II, p. 411. In a letter to Colonel Mortin Pickett on March 5, 1786.
[viii] George Washington, A Collection, ed. W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1989), 521-22