I noticed earlier this month that a theologian and commentator that I greatly respect, Dr. Michael Brown, posed this question to his Twitter account (and later The Christian Post) this week:
Why are so many millennials drawn to socialism?
Can someone explain this to me? The younger generation in America has grown up during a time of virtually unapparelled national prosperity and ease (generally speaking), yet so many are advocating socialism. Why do you think that is? (Honest question.)
— Dr. Michael L. Brown (@DrMichaelLBrown) March 4, 2019
“Can someone explain this to me?” he asked. “The younger generation in America has grown up during a time of virtually unapparelled national prosperity and ease (generally speaking), yet so many are advocating socialism. Why do you think that is? (Honest question.)”
This is an honest question, he explains in the subsequent op-ed.
“This is not a leading question. It is not meant as a setup or trap. To the contrary, I’m asking the question because I have not yet formed an opinion. Why, then, is it that so many millennials are drawn to socialism?” he asks.
As a one-time young, starry-eyed, teenage socialist, I would like to give Dr. Brown, and all of you, my answer.
I am 32, so right on the tail end of millennials. It feels like a million years ago that I was a socialist; in reality, it was about 12-16 years ago (aaand now I just feel really old.)
I grew up in San Francisco, the epicenter of all things left-wing, radical, and counter-cultural. My heart was bleeding for as long as I could remember.
In a city that back then, as it is now, was filled with homelessness, the apparent poverty I perceived always stuck me as tragic. How could there be so much stuff in the world, and yet not everyone had some of it? It seemed a grave injustice to me, and to be honest, I don’t even think my relatively moderate Democrat parents taught me any of this. My kind-hearted, atheist mother simply felt extreme empathy for the impoverished, drug-addicted, or mentally ill, and taught me to as well. And that I did.
When I was first introduced to the idea of socialism as a young teenager, the principles jumped out at me instantly, striking a chord: what if we all gave to the community so that everyone could have!
It seemed like a perfect solution to the world’s problems to my young, idealistic, incredibly well-intentioned but historically ignorant mind.
It was also a spark of the Creator I would later come to know, Who loves me selflessly. Except, like all knowledge apart from Him, it was off.
Because, rather than the concept of love as you love yourself, the basis of socialism is give what you want to get.
The appeal for me was two-fold: it seemed to be the perfect solution to what I perceived as grievously unjust wealth inequality because my material worldview viewed material retribution as the only true justice, and it also made me feel extraordinarily puffed up to advocate for others to share their wealth with those in need.
As someone who felt an incredible moral high for advocating for everyone sacrificing their excess for the sake of making sure no one else ever lacked, I had no idea what an incredibly materialistic solution this was to the world’s problems.
As I grew older, I had a hard time reconciling the fact that I was a sworn pacifist, and yet the only people who seemed to have achieved socialism did so by physical force. I reasoned that it was a necessary evil for the sake of enacting true justice.
I found the revolutionaries of Cuba to be romantic, but when I traveled to Cuba when I was 17 and saw people living in equality, but equal poverty, I knew that Castro hadn’t had all the answers.
Learning about the mass murders of dissidents, artists, Christians, and homosexuals stirred my conscience too.
The plight of well-educated (free education!) Cubans who were driving taxis rather than practicing psychotherapy because there was no market for their services seemed difficult to blame entirely on the travel embargo, as was the line fed by the Cuban government about all their economic woes.
I had always had a problem with how oppressive socialism had always ended up being in world history and believed that “no one had ever done it right.” I thought it should be gentler and nicer. More “democratic,” right? Just free tuition and healthcare, what’s wrong with that?
I honestly didn’t think much about the taxes, other than to unquestionably swallow the line that only rich people would be taxed a lot and, well, they didn’t deserve all that money, right?
Over time, particularly when I later moved out of San Francisco (after the tragic death of one of my friends at the hands of an MS-13 gang member who mistook him for a rival gang member, which played no small role in my eventual paradigm shift) and met people with different perspectives did I start to notice the flaws in the socialist logic.
The proverbial ton of bricks that hit me was the realization that nothing I believed in could be enforced without physical force, and that it was, in fact, theft to force private citizens to give up so much of their own money. Suddenly it made sense to me that so many of the Miami Cubans were Republicans, a fact that had always puzzled me in the past.
More importantly, however, I also came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. With that was the realization that the world’s problems aren’t material, they are spiritual. We are fallen, and no amount of money, or government-subsidized healthcare, can change the effects of separation from God.
Millennials who don’t understand the ills of socialism aren’t just ignorant of economics or world history, but with the principles of liberty and the basis of biblical morality.
They need the Gospel, first and foremost. Because it is not capitalism, nor democracy, nor republicanism, nor the free market that saves us.
It is Jesus Christ. Heis the only true solution to the world’s problems.
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