Archive Civic Polity Nota Bene Philosophy Steven Wedgeworth

The Utopian Hope: A False Eschatology

Writing about the role of hope in utopian movements, Eric Hoffer says:

Discontent by itself does not invariably create a desire for change. Other factors have to be present before discontent turns into disaffection. One of these is a sense of power…

For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap. (The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial, 1966, 7, 11)

Mr. Hoffer adds, “One of the most potent attractions of a mass movement is its offering of a substitute for individual hope” (15) The mass movement or the utopia offers a new hope for the individual, so long as they agree to give up their own identity and join the movement.

Since this is the case, the doctrinal content of utopian movements is not of the first importance. This is where many theologians and pastors misdiagnose the situation. As Mr. Hoffer puts it, “When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program.” He even goes so far as to say, “All mass movements are interchangeable” (16). He notes that German Communists became National Socialists with little difficulty. Mr. Hoffer adds:

One mass movement readily transforms itself into another. A religious movement may develop into a social revolution or a nationalist movement; a social revolution, into a militant nationalism or a religious movement; a nationalist movement into a social revolution or a religious movement. (17)

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.