Authoritarian Government and the Creation of “Reality”

Last night, I was thinking back to the early 80’s when I read and listened to the work of Christian author Francis Schaeffer. His book and film series “How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture” was released in 1976. I think I was 19 or 20 years old when I was first exposed to his ideas. At the time, I noted that Schaeffer’s tone was melancholy. A summary is provided here:

“Schaeffer’s central premise is: when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken, this provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society. This leads to what Schaeffer calls “Freedom without chaos.” When we base society on humanism, which he defines as “a value system rooted in the belief that man is his own measure, that man is autonomous, totally independent”, all values are relative and we have no way to distinguish right from wrong except for “synthesis, pragmatism, and utilitarianism.” … Another premise is that modern relative values are based on Personal Peace (the desire to be personally unaffected by the world’s problems) and Affluence (an increasing personal income.) He warns that when we live by these values we will be tempted to sacrifice our freedoms in exchange for an authoritarian government who will provide the relative values. He further warns that this government will not be obvious like the fascist regimes of the 20th century but will be based on manipulation and subtle forms of information control, psychology, and genetics.”

Reflecting on Schaeffer’s insights led me to recall a comment made in 2004 by Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff, when chided Pulitzer-winning journalist Ron Suskin. Rove said “Guys like [Suskind] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This morning, I read Edward Curtin’s recent post “Raskolnikov’s Dream Come True”. The essay begins with: “Life today seems like a dream, doesn’t it?  Surreal to the point where everything seems haunted and betwixt and between, or this against that, or that and this against us. Something.”

Nowadays, reality is difficult decipher, at least for me. Schaeffer saw what was coming and offered us a warning. We now live in a authoritarian governmental system that maintains control through manipulation and subtle forms of information control, psychology, and genetics. Curtin is right as well–we are living in a manufactured dream.

Published by markskidmore

Mark Skidmore is Professor of Economics at Michigan State University where he holds the Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance and Policy. His research focuses on topics in public finance, regional economics, and the economics of natural disasters. Mark created the Lighthouse Economics website and blog to share economic research and information relevant for navigating tumultuous times.

2 thoughts on “Authoritarian Government and the Creation of “Reality”

  1. Thanks Mark, for your thoughts and insights. I wonder how Mr. Rove’s “history’s actors” would fair without the curtain of National Security redaction currently estimated at 280 million pages per year? Not to mention the void to historians!

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