The failure of utopias

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Do you remember how socialism as a theory was totally discredited by the collapse of hard-core socialism in practice when the Soviet Union fell? A lot of our fellow citizens apparently do not. Many believers also seem to need to be reminded of the fundamental problem with so many once-and-again popular political and economic theories, something that we as Christians should be able to identify and understand better than anyone.

Whenever pure democracy, small-scale communes, and even anarchism have been attempted, they have failed. Inevitably the individuals involved insist at some point on what they want instead of what’s good for everyone. Systems that place all power in the person or people at the top—socialism, fascism, monarchies, oligarchies, even representative democracies—unavoidably find at least some leaders looking out first for themselves, no matter how much they claim to be looking out for their fellow citizens.

Though we can cite various political and economic reasons why theorists and politicians have never produced the utopias they promised, there is one reason they will always fail. We confess it with David: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

Any system, promise, plan, or appeal is doomed to fail when it is based on the idea that if we just remove obstacles a, b, and c and make changes x, y, and z, then everyone will do the right thing and we will have peace, equality, an end to discrimination, universal prosperity, a healthy environment, and a lot of other benefits. All those ideas depend on human beings to perfect them, and human beings are universally imperfect.

So there can be no perfect system of government, and the best systems, then, are those that take the negatives of human nature—greed, bias, envy, among other faults—into account rather than ignoring them or assuming they can be educated out of us. A truly Christian approach to politics will therefore value checks and balances, accept that violence sometimes must answer evil, and recognize that military and police forces will be necessary for even the most enlightened of nations. So if and when we are privileged to choose those who govern us, we choose the wisest, ablest, and the most trustworthy and least self-centered we can, and we try to weed out those with weak character, selfish ambition, and promises that rely too much on the right people doing the right things at all the right times.

Still, even we Christians often put much more trust in people’s perfectibility than we should. We speak, act, and vote as though once our party or candidate gets into power everything’s going to be fixed. Too often we display a complacent confidence that the people of our society will simply do the right thing even if we keep quiet.

So remember that Scripture tells us that the purpose of government is primarily the protection of the people and the restraint of evil. Pray, and then pay close attention to candidates’ and parties’ promises and principles, whether from the left or right or middle. Ask yourself: Are they pretending that people can be perfected, that given the right conditions; laws; or funding, schooling, or programs that everyone will do the right thing and peace and prosperity will be just around the corner? If so, then beware. We’ve seen that before. That will never work, and we always have known why.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.



Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.


Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.


Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

Print Friendly, PDF & Email