Political ideologies increasingly defy clear definition. Looking back to the 1950s, the identities of political liberalism and conservatism seem easy to discern. During the 1960s, any political observer knew exactly where the liberal and conservative camps stood. The 1980s offered a sharp distinction between competing political philosophies. Even the Obamacare revolt of the 2010s presented a forceful statement of conservative principles. 

But such clarity seems elusive today.

Amid the drama surrounding the personalities of Biden and Trump, the political traditions they claim to represent become subdued and muddled. The combat between these two individuals often distracts from the more fundamental clash of ideologies. But even apart from the Trump–Biden drama, confusion and contradictions abound.

Perhaps a less “political” distinction can shed light on where the two ideologies stand at present.

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The Historical Roots of Our Political Fantasies

Generally speaking, the contemporary Right recognizes what is, while the Left strives for what might be, even if those possibilities stretch the existing bounds of reality. Under a simplified, traditional distinction, liberals search for ways to improve society, while conservatives strive to preserve the best aspects of society. While this is certainly an oversimplification, it can help frame an understanding of how the ideological camps trend.

This distinction between the tendencies of the political Right and Left has existed for centuries, dating back to the clash between the ideas of Edmund Burke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. While Burke saw human nature for what it was—flawed, weak, and in need of restraint—Rousseau envisioned individual human nature as the province of attainable perfection. If only all social restraints could be removed, Rousseau theorized, human beings could reach a state of harmony and perfection through the actualization of personal freedom. Social conventions and traditions, built up over centuries, were not only unnecessary but stunted the potential of human beings.

The contrast between Burke and Rousseau came to light in the French Revolution. Burke warned about the consequences of shedding centuries of social tradition, while a Rousseauian approach considered the ending of traditions and social restraints as a great step forward in human flourishing. But in France, instead of a garden of cultivated beauty, the country experienced the scourge of the guillotine, the result of the revolutionaries’ fantastical illusions.

In the nineteenth century, utopian communities in America sprouted in response to liberals’ persistent reliance on Rousseau. These communities rested not on the realities of human nature or society, but on the ideals of their charismatic founders—ideals that rarely endured past the founders’ deaths. This same utopian tendency prevailed during the New Deal, when liberal reformers sought to use federal government programs to construct communities built, not on principles that had prevailed for centuries, but on dreams envisioned by federal bureaucrats bent on transforming American society.

The liberal tendency toward the concept that reality is, simply, what we make it, prompted many liberals to side with Soviet Russia during the 1930s and throughout the postwar period. Seeing the Soviets as heroic pioneers of a socialist utopia, many liberals overlooked the worst human carnage in history. This same liberal dream threatened to paint the North Vietnamese as noble idealists, who would never do to dissenters what in fact they did.

The liberal tendency toward the concept that reality is, simply, what we make it, prompted many liberals to side with Soviet Russia during the 1930s and throughout the postwar period.


The cultural revolution of the 1960s indulged in fantasy, then promoted a war on anything associated with the “establishment” and “traditional values.” This war, instead of producing peace and love, resulted in urban riots, the destruction of neighborhoods, and orphaned children. The “liberating” power of LSD and heroin dissolved families, communities, and personal mental health, and the attack on police only meant that people had to procure more locks for their doors and more guns for their safety. 

Somewhere between the 1960s and today, liberals ceased asking “What could be?” and began demanding “what must be.” They stopped advocating selective progress and began preaching that everything in the past was wrong and oppressive. But to deny centuries of human existence, the Left had to rely largely on constructed reality: history and tradition were an artificial construction imposed by selected “oppressive” groups in society.

We see the fruits of these ideologies in our current political landscape. The tumult of contemporary times is fed by the escalating authoritarianism of leftist ideologies. The battles over transgenderism in schools, and over whether parents have a right to know that their children have adopted new gender identities, are fueled by the Left’s imposition of the belief that sex is a social construct, not a biological reality. Energy blackouts in Europe result from the illusion that wind and solar are perfect, completely reliable energy sources. Urban violence, after “defund the police” campaigns, sprang from the illusion that a peaceful society did not need police or law enforcement to punish destructive behavior. And the continual and carefree growth of government spending flows from the illusion that debt does not matter and needs no resolution.

The more liberalism has become disconnected from the realities of life, the more its political agenda has drifted into the realm of fantasy.  Wokeism is the inevitable product of that slide away from the real problems and conditions of the world.

Fueling the Fire: The New Religion of Wokeism

To further its agenda, wokeism now carries a certain religious fervor: it demands absolute obedience, excluding anyone who deviates from its demands. 

Professor Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown University makes the connection between wokeism and religious fervor in his book American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time. Mitchell argues that the appeal of left-wing identity politics arises in part because it provides an illusory substitute for the religious beliefs and customs that have prevailed for thousands of years. Perhaps to compensate for a lack of real religion, leftist politics tries to create a secular religion by assigning guilt to oppressor groups. Instead of sin and the devil, we have capitalism and the white race. The French revolutionaries tried to displace the Christian religion more than two hundred years ago; today contemporary leftists are trying to substitute wokeism for Christianity, with the revolutionaries’ same spirit of intolerance and destruction.

The anger of the Left is revealed in its assaults on parents who simply wish to know what is happening to their children in public schools. The group “Moms for Liberty” defends parental rights against, among other things, the transgender ideology of the Left. It exists because, as one of its founders says, “Once a parent loses the right to direct the upbringing of the child, we’ve lost everything.” But because the group believes parental control supersedes state control of their children, the Left brands it a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy our democracy. Such furious slander is what one would expect of ideologues whose constructed realities have been exposed and called into question.

The Left’s increasingly authoritarian push to enforce its illusions in turn intensifies the divisions in society, as can be seen in the battle over speech codes. The only lasting and peaceful remedy to this discord is to conform our culture to truth, as all successful civilizations have done throughout the centuries. 

But the Left is persistent in its quest to dismantle biological, physical, relational, philosophical, and theological realities, a project that requires a larger, more powerful government. Only the force of government can achieve what nature will not. The stronger the truth the Left seeks to counteract, and the more irrational the fantasy it promotes, the larger and stronger the government it requires. Whether it will achieve its ends remains to be seen. 

Image by  fran_kie and licensed via Adobe Stock