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Calvinism, Communism, and Our Constitution

One of the doctrines of Calvinism set down in the Canons of Dort is total depravity. Total depravity means that the basic desires of man are all evil. Many people find this statement annoying, and insist it can't be true. People today operate under the misconception that man is basically good, that his greatest desire is to be a righteous person, but this is obviously false. People don't like to hear this, however. We'd rather deceive ourselves and let ourselves believe that we're essentially good people that just happen to do wrong sometimes, and such assumptions can often be dangerous.

One of the most illustrative examples of the veracity of total depravity can actually be found in political science. Communism, on the face of it, seems to provide for Utopia. Communism is weighed down with many connotations after the decades of the Cold War, but at the crux of it, communism said that if everyone shared everything equally, everyone would be happy, no one would suffer from starvation or want, and the world would be a perfect place. It's easy to see the appeal in such a world. In comparison, capitalism seems mean and dirty, pitting man against man in competition for resources. Even our constitution seems crass in comparison. We set up three separate branches of the government, and then pit them against each other, forcing them to compete for governing power.

Yet communism turned into a horrible disaster, both economic and political, and our form of government and economy has lead to the greatest nation of the modern world, greater even, in some ways, than Rome. The reason is, of course, total depravity. The founders of our nation, because of the treatment they received from the British king and their basically Christian world view, assumed that government, and the people who do the governing, are a necessary evil of society. Therefore they set up three branches of the government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial branches. They then gave each branch checks on the powers of the other two. We call this a system of checks and balances, but what are we balancing in this convoluted system? The evil desires of the men in government! The founders simply assumed that the members of each branch would seek to gain power, and thus the two weakened branches would be forced to limit the more powerful one out of self-interest. Communism gave power to a select group, trusting in the basic goodness of man, and these people, having no opposition, took control and wrested not only political power from the people, but also material gain.

The same parallels exist in the economic sphere. Communism expects people to work industriously, even though they don't directly receive the fruits of their labor, simply because they should realize it benefits everyone. If man truly desired to be righteous, then everyone would work hard, and a nation under communism would prosper, with everyone sharing equally in all the benefits of everyone's hard work. But this collapsed, somehow. Instead, people stopped working hard. Since they didn't receive all the rewards for working hard, they didn't suffer all the effects of not doing their work, and thus many decided to ride on the coattails of others, allowing only some to pull the rest of the society along. Capitalism forces each individual to work hard for himself. It uses personal greed as a spur to force men to struggle for success, pulling the rest of society ahead along the way. I may not personally benefit from Bill Gate's billions, but his success has created jobs, created products, and created money that will pass through many hands, eventually benefiting everyone. It's not as direct as communism, and it's not as evenly spread, but it has a greater cumulative effect than people usually seem to be willing to admit. I'd rather be poor here in a capitalistic country than rich in a communist one, and I think, if you compare the two lifestyles, you'd be forced to agree.

But if total depravity is correct, where does that leave us? Without hope? I, personally, have hope through my Christianity, but there's also another benefit to realizing the truth of total depravity…it allows you to take it into account and try to work around it, as the founders of our country did. They didn't throw up their hands in despair and allow the country to finish disintegrating. Rather, they used man's basic evil for a greater good. We can do the same.

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