Okay, the title is a weak attempt at cleverness; but I wonder how many of you (and it would help to be of a certain age) could identify the three books referenced therein. Thoughts of each of them have been running through my mind today as the dust tries in vain to settle from the announcement by the U. S. Supreme Court that the Health Care Reform Act (HRA below) has been largely upheld.
Unlike tv reality (yeah, right) shows, I won’t leave the reader hanging until the end before revealing their identity. The books are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and the somewhat lesser known A Nation of Sheep by William Lederer. They come from an earlier time (mid-late twentieth century), and were part of the required summer reading lists I was required to work through in high school. That practice alone tells you I’m from an earlier era.
What’s the point of resonating with these books and the announcement? Well, first of all, I am not making comment so much on the details of the constitutionality decision itself; I am not a qualified legal analyst or constitutional scholar, of which there are more than enough pretenders burning up the status pages of facebook. While I admit it doesn’t make sense to me, I also admit that I don’t know enough about what makes sense to the people who have studied these things for decades. Secondly, I don’t think this is about whether or not President Obama is a good or evil man. For the record, I believe he is a decent man who cares about people; but I also think his thinking about who should do what about the problems we face are seriously flawed. And those flaws are what remind me of the books.
Brave New World had much to say about the dehumanization of the citizens. They were told what to think and were given ample doses of pleasure-inducing drugs when their brains actuality tried to kick into gear and question the “truths” that were being constantly drummed into their minds. Dissenters were shipped off to a safely confined area where they could do as they pleased–even think freely–among themselves. It’s the constant repetition of “truths” that concern me with regard to the current cultural climate, including but certainly not limited to the president. If a proposition is repeated long enough, loudly enough, and by enough people, it becomes the truth; and such a process lies at the heart of political correctness, in which a decision to treat preferred positions as true and unassailable closes debate and marginalizes those who might dissent. Many such propositions are buried in the 2,000 pages that comprise the HRA. And they include positions regarding abortion, homosexuality, the role of government, the nature of religion, human evolutionary development, and a host of others. They are neither argued nor open to argument; they became true by governmental fiat, as determined by consultation with supposed experts.
Animal Farm, on the other hand, warns against thinking that we can fix everything by replacing leaders. We do not, and perhaps cannot, permanently install the people themselves as governors; those who ascend on such a basis eventually assume it their business to be “more equal” than others. Perhaps the genius of our American system is that it has forestalled the ascent of the new ruling class for as long as it has. But (inevitably?) that leadership decides more and more what will and what will not be tolerated–and what can and cannot be left for the governed to decide. My fear with today’s decision is that it marks a point of no return regarding the powers the government can take upon itself. If the requirement to purchase one particular good is in place, can we really expect that it will not become the first in a series? If this, why not that also?
Finally, Lederer’s book from 1961 pointed to the mesmerizing effect of mass marketing and governmental shell games, hiding things in law and anesthetizing us to their effects, leading us to where we can be fleeced and slaughtered (figuratively, of course). The book resurfaced recently through references in the speeches and writings of Andrew Napolitano. He is worth a read.
What does all of this recollection of books read in high school more than forty years ago tell me? It does not mean that I’m excessively angered by this particular decision, though I think it a bad one. It does not mean that I’m joining a new or existing political movement. It does not mean that those who do, or even those who continue the current regime are necessarily worse people than the rest of us. It does remind me of the inability of human government to do that which can only be done under the Lordship of Christ. We try in vain to instantiate the kingdom for which all humanity inwardly longs–the kingdom in which real truth, righteousness, beauty, and goodness prevail. And the response of believers, rather than to rail against a president or his detractors, ought to be to live and exemplify what a redeemed humanity looks like, where people bear one another’s burdens, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and live as they truly are and ought to be their brother’s keeper.