Social Justice is Not Totalitarianism

Glenn Beck is not a careful thinker.

He is no doubt a sincere man who wants the best for his country, but his methods for helping the United States become a more perfect union work against this goal. His analysis of the ills and cures for the American body politic are full of mischaracterizations and faulty logic. Thus, he does not help us reach a deeper understanding of our responsibilities as citizens or as believers.

In his attempt to explain the separation of church and state, he again demonizes progressives by utilizing the oldest rhetorical trick in the book. Separate the world into them and us. Assume that our side is righteous and that the other side is evil. Attempt to prove this through guilt by association. Find the most horrible people in history and then associate the opposition with them. This is what Beck does when he compares Christians who advocate social justice with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He thinks that they all are the same because they all use the vocabulary of social justice.

This, too, is logical error because it presumes that all members of a particular universe are the same in every aspect. Imagine the universe of people who use the terminology "social justice." Then imagine that some of those people also advocate for totalitarian government. It does not logically follow that all members of the universe of those who use the term "social justice" also advocate for totalitarian government. (I have also critiqued Beck at Tikkun Daily Blog.)

In this case, Beck's remarks betray his inability or unwillingness to understand the distinction between social justice Christians and totalitarianism. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on-line, totalitarianism is a "form of government that theoretically permits no individual freedom and that seeks to subordinate ALL aspects of the individual's life to the authority of the government." (Emphasis is mine.) Totalitarian governments are single-party governments that control their citizens through coercion, repression, and widespread organized violence. Totalitarian governments are different from a police state in that the police operate without legal restraint, and they function at the whim of a powerful ruler.

Totalitarian states seek to supplant every other institution in society, including the church. They organize around one simple ideological principle and one goal that the ideological principle helps to advance. For the Nazis, racial supremacy was the ideological principle, for the Soviet Union it was a class analysis. Totalitarian governments tend to unify the population by isolating a group of people for denigration and for destruction. This group becomes the evil other that the people have to destroy. Totalitarian governments cannot tolerate pluralism, individuality, or diversity of opinion. They require mass conformity. Dissent is evil.

Hannah Arendt, a German-American philosopher coined a famous phrase, "the banality of evil." I do not want to characterize Glenn Beck as evil, but his insistence that progressives are the evil "others" who want to take over the United States and eviscerate individual liberty in the name of social justice is banal. It is trite. It is old. We have seen this demonization before during the Cold War when progressives were called communists. We see it now when some want to make undocumented workers and Muslims the evil "other".

It would be simple enough to ignore Beck as an ill-informed, illogical blowhard who at best will only be a footnote in history. However, the demonization of an entire group of people or political theory is poison to the body politic. To point out the misinformation and the logical fallacies of such is the only antidote.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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