This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The true opium of the people

We can also look at the issue from another point of view. Elections agitate, but they also pacify.

Voting calms the people, and it calms them by satisfying their desire for control. Elections not only act as a diversion, they act as a collective sedative.

This is what H.L. Mencken was getting at when he said: “Democracy is a sort of laughing gas. It will not cure anything, perhaps, but it unquestionably stops the pain.”

Karl Marx is famous for describing religion as “the opium of the people”—but it is far more true today that elections are the opium of the people. In fact, I think Karl Marx would have agreed. To understand this, let’s look at his famous statement about religion, this time with some context:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.[1]

Marx was criticizing society more than he was criticizing religion. He believed that in the face of ‘soulless conditions,’ people would look for a comfort of some kind. He concluded that religion was this comfort, and that it had come to be adopted as a warm blanket in the face of a cold reality. An illusory warmth, to be sure, but the important point is that Marx’s condemnation in this instance was not of religion as such, but of religion-as-escape-from-reality.

For Marx the problem with religion was that he thought it was being used to hide from social evils, which meant that these evils would never be seen, much less fixed. He didn’t think it was right to ignore our problems, and so he thought that the security blanket should be taken away:

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.[2]

Those who know me know that I do not share Marx’s view of religion. I believe that although religion can be used to hide from reality and to avoid dealing with life’s problems, this is not its real purpose. Using religion as a security blanket is an abuse of religion, and I think Marx judged it on the basis of its abused form, which is unjust. Having said that, I am with Marx when he says that anything which allows society to avoid dealing with its problems is, in this respect, an evil itself.

What does this have to do with us? We are clearly not a religious nation. Religion has been systematically excluded from public life in America. Even the Christians among us like to praise the ‘separation of church and state,’ although their reasons for praising it are opposite those of the non-religious. Therefore, Marx’s words apply to us, but they apply in a different way. We still have an opium, an ‘illusory happiness’ that allows us to hide from the realities of our situation, but that opium is not religion. It is democracy.

In order to ‘dope up,’ we don’t go into a church, we go into a ballot box. There we pick up a fresh ballot, and this is our new security blanket that ensures us once again that we are in control, and that it’s all going to be okay.

To quote Hemingway:

Religion is the opium of the people…Yes, and music is the opium of the people…And now economics is the opium of the people; along with patriotism…What about sexual intercourse; was that an opium of the people? Of some of the people. Of some of the best of the people. But drink was a sovereign opium of the people, oh, an excellent opium. Although some prefer the radio, another opium of the people, a cheap one…Ambition was another, an opium of the people along with a belief in any new form of government. What you wanted was the minimum of government, always less government.[3]

He goes on at length. Basically, there are a lot of opiums out there to choose from, but it’s clear that we Americans have chosen ours. It’s too bad, really. At least the religion Marx picked on, even when abused, could offer a healthy form of itself as an alternative. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a healthy form of election culture.

[1] Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.

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