Ideas Have Consequences

by Nathan Schneider on June 03, 2021

In 1948, Richard Weaver published a book entitled Ideas Have Consequences, in which he attributed the decline of Western civilization to the adoption of nominalism, a philosophy which denies the existence of universals and absolute truth. While most people today aren’t familiar with Weaver’s work, the underlying premise captured in his simple yet provocative title is profoundly real and enduring. Ideas have consequences. That is a fundamental proposition with immense significance. It’s also incredibly straightforward and deceptively simple. Ideas do have consequences. Some of those consequences we can easily anticipate. Others seem to come as a complete surprise, though the connection in hindsight is all too obvious.

One clear example came on Monday as the Chinese Communist Party announced that its two-child policy was ending and that it would now allow married couples to have three children. Now, there are multiple layers of significance to this statement which elucidates the complexity of the consequences that ideas can have. In this case, the idea is communism.

The history of communism in China is complex and I can’t begin to trace all the layers of development throughout the 20th century. Communism, of course, is a political adaptation of Marxist philosophy, which asserts that social ills are the result of power imbalances between the poor and the wealthy, the workers and those who own the means of production. These problems can only be overcome when the working class rises up and overthrows the ruling class, effectively taking power away from their oppressors. Once accomplished, the systems of power which held back individuals from happiness, abundance, and freedom would be eliminated, leading to social paradise.

As a political system, then, communism asserts that by nationalizing virtually every aspect of civic life, the state can create a socialist paradise and take care of all the needs of its citizens. Everyone would have a job, have enough food, have equal access to healthcare, and no one would be able to exert undue power over another because the means by which that power is wielded—through land and business ownership—would be eliminated. With the state in control of everything, there would be no end to possibilities.

That was the promise given to the Chinese people in 1949 when the Chinese Community Party defeated the Nationalist Party. But ideas have consequences, and the ideals of communism never materialized. Quite the opposite, in fact. Healthcare was abysmal, food shortages cropped up, leading to the worst famine in human history between 1958 and 1962.

While these are dire consequences of a malevolent political system, there’s more to it than the inevitable failure of state-run welfare. You see, in order for the system to work, every individual has to be onboard. Even the slightest dissent poses a major threat to the system. When enough individuals collectively decide to resist, the entire edifice begins the collapse. That’s why communism and totalitarianism go hand-in-hand. The state inevitably exerts its authority over every aspect of the life of its citizens. It has to. After all, ideas have consequences, and one of the clear consequences of communism we’ve seen throughout history, whether it be in Soviet Russia, China, Cuba, or Venezuela, is the exertion of totalitarian authority by the state over its people.

Now, this leads us to the 1970s when China began experiencing a significant boom in population, raising the alarm of the West and leading numerous countries, including the United States, to put political pressure on China to curb this population explosion. Thus, in 1980, China exercised its authoritarian control by instituting its infamous one-child policy, which put an absolute limit of one child for each married couple. Ironically, a political party which promised a socialist paradise put in place an authoritarian policy which led to an incalculable number of deaths, including forced abortions, forced sterilization, and even infanticide. Ideas have consequences, and China’s one-child policy exposes the evil consequences of communist ideology.

One of the consequences of communism and its totalitarian hold on its citizenry is that there is no such thing as a private sphere of life. When you walk through the threshold of your house in Western democracy, there is an expectation of privacy, which extends to one’s marriage and family life. In very few instances would there be a legitimate circumstance which allow for state intervention in the home and in the family. But under the totalitarianism of the Chinese Communist Party, there’s no private sphere. The state maintains the right to intrude into the most intimate and private of human decisions, like the decision of a married couple over the number of children they have. Thus, you have the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is now allowing families to have up to three children. The very wording of this new policy echoes the consequences of communism and the totalitarianism it births.

But there’s more here than even what we’ve covered so far. As it turns out, China’s one-child policy, instead of simply curbing an exploding population, has now led to the opposite effect. China is now dealing with an even greater and more existential threat—a declining birthrate. There are now too few children being born in China to keep up with the rate of individuals who are dying, a situation which poses a grave societal threat to the nation. With not enough babies being born, there won’t be enough workers to replace the current generation who are steadily aging and dying off. Thus, just five years ago, the Chinese Community Party changed its one-child policy by allowing married couples to have two children.

But as we’ve seen from the announcement made on Monday, even that policy change has not had the effect that was hoped for. China’s birthrate continues to fall. You see, ideas have consequences, and the way China has implemented its communist ideas and deployed its adult workforce has created a situation where it’s very difficult for a married couple to have any children, let alone have two or even three.  But more than that, what we’re beginning to discover is that Chinese couples, as a whole, have become used to not having children. Many Chinese couples have adopted a lifestyle that is incompatible with having children. Thus, even with the child limit raised to three, couples are declining from having even one. Now that is a consequence no one saw coming.

And perhaps that’s the biggest lesson we need to learn in all this. Ideas do, indeed, have consequences. But not all of those consequences are easily predicted. Some come as no surprise, but others are quite unimaginable. That’s a lesson that Christians need to learn, particularly as churches are having to make important decisions on numerous cultural fronts. Sometimes, the choices we make as believers, and the directions we take as churches, come with consequences we never thought possible. That should give any church leadership pause before they decide to jump on the latest cultural wave or cave into the societal pressures coming at them.

As we consider the consequences of Marxism, communism, and totalitarian authority, we have to understand these ideologies as juxtaposed with the Christian worldview. Under a biblical worldview, babies have infinite value. They are gifts from the Creator, and they make up one of the foundational commissions given to humanity to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Gen 1:28; 9:1). They also represent the future of any society. A declining birthrate in a society is a symptom of a major theological and worldview disease, and it’s no surprise that the West is experiencing its own declining birthrate, not because of totalitarian policies, but because of liberalism and its devaluing of human life, the family, and children. This is why Christians have a powerful opportunity to display the family as an expression and demonstration of the infinite wisdom of God. As we hold marriage, children, and family dear, we put forth an immense apologetic for a biblical worldview, for God’s design, and for one of the great antidotes to societal degradation. Ideas have consequences. Sometimes for ill. Sometimes for the better.

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