The Show-Off Instinct of All Tyrannies
“Tyrannies always demand enormous sacrifices for negligible returns.”
Assigned listening: Astolphe de Custine, Russia in 1839
Welcome to Episode 75 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will talk about a characteristic of many modern governments. And when I say “governments,” I don’t just mean “civil government.” I mean all governments, including family and church. And other governments as well, like school and political organizations and charities and missions and even some private businesses as well. (Although, because of the nature of the case, private businesses who consistently have this problem seldom survive in the long-run.) It is a characteristic that we seldom notice, given that our minds have been so conditioned to accept it as normative; we only sometimes complain about it without actually realizing the real nature of the problem. Which is strange, because, as you all will see, it is a characteristic that is deeply irrational and should be immediately recognized for what it is; it is only the fact that we have been brainwashed that prevents us from seeing it clearly. A few writers in history have seen it clearly and have exposed it; and yet, the vast majority of us still consider it something normal and natural, even when we are the ones suffering under its weight.
This characteristic of modern governments has been most prominently on display under the so-called “ideological” regimes of the last century – fascism in Italy, National Socialism in Germany, and Communism in Eastern Europe and East Asia – and a few writers have pointed it out, among whom Solzhenitsyn, Shafarevich, Eugene Lyons, George Kennan, and a number of writers less known to the American reading public. George Kennan is a name that the listeners of Axe to the Root should remember: he was the author of the Long Telegram of which I talked in one of our previous episodes, an outstanding US diplomat who had a deep knowledge of Communism and the motives behind the actions of Communist leaders. However, the author I want to invoke to help us today in our understanding is not from a century ago but from two centuries ago, the first half of the 1800s; and his observations came not from Nazi Germany or Communist Eastern Europe, but from Russia of the Czars. The author’s name is Astolphe-Louis-Léonor, Marquis de Custine, a French nobleman born only a few months after the beginning of the French Revolution who lived most of his productive life in Napoleonic France and then under the Bourbon restoration. De Custine wrote and published a book, Russia in 1839, which, to this day, remains one of the most important eye witness accounts on Russia of the Czars written by a Western observer. George Kennan himself, as a student of Eastern Europe and especially of Russia and its politics, considered it important enough to publish a special review of de Custine’s book in 1971. During the early decades of the Cold War, the book was especially popular among Western diplomats working in the Soviet Union, because it was believed that de Custine’s insight into the collective psychology of the Russian people and their government was of a great value in understanding the Soviet Union. Soviet critics at the time claimed that this insight did not apply to Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. But the fact was, the very leader of the Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, officially banned the book in Soviet Russia, and the book remained banned throughout Stalin’s rule, until 1956. If a book like that was banned by both the Czarist and the Communist governments, at least two things are clear: first, there was not much difference between the psychologies of the two regimes, and, second, the book did hit a nerve for both regimes, and therefore was valuable for understanding both Czarist Russia and the Soviet Union.
Before we move to the book and to the insights in it, a little pre-history of it and of the life of its author is needed. Astolphe de Custine came from a politically active and illustrious family. His grandfather, Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine, was 8-year-old when he started his military career in the French Royal in the War of Austrian Succession in Germany. By the age of 18, he was a captain of the dragoons. Despite his impressive aristocratic pedigree (the de Custine family of Lorraine goes back to the 13th century, before The Hundred-Years War, when their native Lorraine was still a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire), Adam Philippe (the grandfather) developed strong liberal and anti-monarchical views. These views made him, in 1780, join the Special Expedition of Count Rochambeau of 5,500 French soldiers to America to help the American Revolution. There Adam Philippe fought with distinction and was praised by Rochambeau himself; he fought till the very end of the war and was present with George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown. He also received special individual recognition from the US government. When he returned to France, he was made the governor of Toulon, a fortress on the Mediterranean coast of France. When the Estates-General were summoned, he was elected to represent the city of Metz in his native Lorraine. Despite being part of the nobility, Adam Philippe joined the Third Estate in voting for a new, liberal Constitution. As the French Revolution progressed, he joined the Revolutionary Army and was soon assigned to train, equip, and lead the new army of volunteers. He did it successfully, and in the wars of the Revolutionary France was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Army of the North. However, as happened with many fervent revolutionary leaders in the revolutionary terror, he was accused of treason and conspiring with the enemy, convicted on trumped up charges, and promptly guillotined.
His son, and Astolphe’s father, Renaud-Louis-Philippe-Francois de Custine, followed in his father’s footsteps, took military commissions with the Revolutionary army under the command of his father, and later took on diplomatic work for the French Republic. But when his father was taken to court, Renaud defended his father’s character which earned him the ire of the prosecutors. He was subsequently also brought on charges, convicted and guillotined. His wife, the beautiful and intelligent Delphine de Custine, was also arrested, but for some reason she was spared.
Young Astolphe thus grew in an atmosphere of constant fear for the life of his family. His mother did everything she could to preserve the family’s fortunes in the chaotic times of the French Republic and the Napoleonic Empire. She arranged a marriage for her son, but his bride died a year after the marriage. The family was able to breathe freely again only after the defeat of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbons in France, in 1814. The young Astolphe became the heir of a generous annual income, and his excellent education opened for him the doors of the French diplomatic corps. Unfortunately, an accident in 1824 revealed a secret he had always had: that he was a sodomite. From that moment, he lost all his chances for a diplomatic career, even though he still had his income and estates.
He took to writing, believing that it was his calling in life. Unfortunately, he was a mediocre writer, so at the beginning, nothing came out of it. But in 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville published his Democracy in America. It was an immediate success; and it also made popular a new genre: political travel writing. By 1835, de Custine had already been planning a trip to Russia. He now had a specific purpose for that trip: to write a political description of the other gigantic country, on the other pole of the European civilization. De Tocqueville took on the western border of the European civilization. De Custine decided to take on the eastern one.
He also had a personal reason to do it. Given the history of the family, his grandfather and father being consumed in conflagration of the very liberal and democratic revolution they served, Astolphe de Custine had developed a deep hatred to everything that was liberal, democratic, egalitarian, republican, etc. Contrary to his father’s and his grandfather’s views, de Custine considered absolute monarchy and an aristocratic caste society to be the best form of social and political organization. It gave order and provided security for everyone. Chaos was prevented and prosperity established under an absolute monarchy. Of all European nations, Russia was the last great stronghold of absolute monarchy and aristocratic caste system. So de Custine’s objective was to explore it and to write a political travel writing which would do for monarchy what de Tocqueville did for democracy: a political eulogy which would convince his readers to adopt his political views. That’s the mindset with which he set out for Russia.
And, boy, was he disappointed.
What he saw made him turn his views 180 degrees. Russia of the Czars was not the paradise on earth he expected, even if his Russian hosts tried desperately to present to him Russia’s best face. Not only wasn’t it a paradise, it was hell on earth; he came to the conclusion that while in France, and in Europe in general, any tyranny is only a transitional state, in Russia, it is a permanent way of life. (A sentiment confirmed a century later by Winston Churchill.) Behind the mediocre writing skills, de Custine possessed a deep discerning mind of people’s motives and fears. He could see through the smoke screen and the ostentatious glow of the Russian nobility, to the real relationships of power and submission in the society, and the twisted psychology undergirding them. In short, by the time de Custine got to collect all his thoughts and notes in a book, he was a completed liberal (in the European sense of the word) and anti-authoritarian.
I wish I had the time to expound on all his insights, but I will leave it to y’all to read his book (it’s free online in French and there is an English translation which, unfortunately, is not free). Some of them are general for all tyrannies, and those are that are the most relevant to us today. Some are apparently characteristic to Russia and its people – although, to be honest, we don’t know how much of what is considered “national” character or culture was in fact characteristics of tyranny in general which has sunk deep into the character of a nation that has never known anything else but tyranny. Either way, the book is worth reading, even if you have to endure the boring style.
The insight I want to take from it in this episode was given early in the book, in chapter 7, and it came to de Custine when he was on a ship approaching the port of Saint Petersburg. On his way to the Russian capital, his ship sailed through the Baltic Sea all the way from Denmark. At the time, the Baltic Sea was a dead sea in terms of economic development and therefore maritime commerce; at least compared to the busy waters around England and France and the Mediterranean, or the rivers of Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. There were no large significant developed cities on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and as far as a traveler could see from a ship, the shores were simply flat marshes with no civilized life on them. De Custine called it a “dessert of water.” The Russian Empire had very little commerce going through the Baltic Sea; in fact, at the time, despite its aspiration to fit into the European cultural and economic life, most of Russia’s international commerce was with Turkey and Persia, through the large rivers Volga, Don, and Dnieper. (Not to mention that that commerce was of a very insignificant volume. Russia has never had an economy to match its geographical size. Even today, Russia’s GDP is less than the GDP of Texas and is comparable to the GDP of the Houston-Corpus-Beaumont industrial region.) In addition, the Baltic Sea is frozen or otherwise closed to navigation six months of the year. The only two large nations bordering the Baltic – Sweden and Prussia – kept no large maritime forces there; there wasn’t anything significant to protect. From a military point of view, there was nothing in the Baltic Sea that would be of any strategic importance to require the presence of a large Navy.
And yet, as his ship was approaching Kronstadt, an island fortress in the bay of Saint Petersburg and a base of the Russian Navy, he was presented with what he called a “forest of masts” of military ships anchored at the base or conducting small scale maneuvers in the small bay. There was no merchant marine in sight to match the abundance of fully equipped and manned military ships, only a few boats sailed by what he called “sailors dirty as Eskimos.” (Racial stereotypes were common for Europe affected by the Enlightenment.) Kronstadt – the name meaning City of the Crown – had been built not only into a fully operation naval base, it also had a large naval academy producing a large number of naval officers every year, whose whole career was expected to serve on those same ships – and the ships were never expected to engage in any meaningful battle, or any battle at all, just conduct maneuvers in the empty waters of the Baltic Sea during the summer, and in the closed space of the Gulf of Finland during the winter. Only very few ever went on a mission beyond the Danish Straits, and such missions have always been commanded by foreigners, mainly Danish, German, or Dutch; the Russian government knew well the low level of professional skill of its own officers and did not trust them with long-range operations. The Navy was not meant to achieve any military objectives at all. There weren’t any such for Russia, not on strategic level, at least.
So what was the purpose then of the large navy the Russian Czar Nicholas I had built in St. Petersburg? Why the vast expense of money, resources, human capital, and time?
De Custine figured it out immediately, even as he was writing his notes on the ship that was taking him past the forest of masts to the Russian capital: the Russian Navy was meant to be Czar Nicholas I’s set of toys. It was a game to him. Or, even worse, it was for show-off. It made him feel equal to the European monarchs. The kings of England, France, Spain, Denmark, all had their large navies. Even the Netherlands had a navy when it was still a republic of separate provinces, when Peter the Great visited it in the early 1700s; and in the 1830s, even after the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars and the breakaway of Belgium, king William I of the Netherlands still commanded a significant navy for his small kingdom. So if these kings had their splendid navies, why should the Emperor of Russia lag behind? Wasn’t he entitled to have his own navy to play with, and show off to visitors? Who cares if 90% of his subjects lived in abject poverty compared to the citizens of the European monarchies at the time; not to mention the still existing relations of feudal serfdom and even slavery? Who cares if, in 1839, at a time when the European nations were undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization of their economies and a subsequent rise in wages and living standards, the Russian czarist government hadn’t even paid yet its debts to its soldiers who fought to defeat Napoleon 27 years earlier, in 1812? The Western powers not only had good strategic reasons to have their navies; they also had the economies to underwrite the costs for building and maintaining them without making them a drag on their economies. Russia had neither the strategic reasons for such a large navy, and neither did it have the economic means to sustain it without gigantic sacrifices forced on its population. But then, who cares about the population? After all, its very capital at the time, Saint Petersburg, was built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of peasants forcefully plucked out of their homes and their villages, to satisfy the desire of one mad man, Peter the Great, of having his capital built in the tundra-like wilderness of the Russian north. Russia had the history of such sacrifices forced on its population, and its rulers had the habit of disregarding the plight of their subjects. Nothing new under the sun, right?
(As a side note, de Custine’s assessment of the uselessness of the Russian fleet proved to be prophetic. Over the next 80 years, until the fall of the Russian monarchy, the Russian fleet never engaged any other nation in a long term naval war, nor had any significant – from a strategic perspective – naval battles that would justify the expenses. For this period, the only two wars that saw a massive fleet engagement were the Crimean War of 1856 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and both ended in defeat and utter devastation for the Russian fleet. We will talk about the Russo-Japanese War and the failure of racial theories in a future episode. During WWI, despite the large scale of the war, Russian ships remained stuck in their harbors, or preferred to bombard undefended civilian areas instead of engaging in combat; in St. Petersburg, it was the Communist-leaning crews of those berthed ships that were the strike force of the Bolshevik revolution. The Soviet Union continued the legacy of maintaining many ships for no use. In WWII, the Communist government simply ordered the crews to leave the ships, armed them, and send them to fight land battles. For most of Russia’s history, its navy was just a practically useless toy; and it has always been rarely combat-worthy. Our listeners may remember the Russian involvement in the conflict in Syria last year, sending Russia’s last remaining aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Well, I was on that ship for a short time in the summer of 1990, when it was still named Tbilisi, a few months before it was renamed to its present name. Even then, it was considered badly out-of-date in terms of technology; today, it is no better than an antique item. Russia has always had a navy just to show off; it was never expected to be of any worth in battle.)
But de Custine’s insight went beyond the particular issues of the Russian government’s psychology; it applied to all tyrannies and all authoritarian regimes. His conclusion was this: Tyrannies always demand of their populations – under slogans like “loyalty” and “patriotism” and “faithfulness” and others – enormous sacrifices for things and activities that produce nothing of real value, except for ostentatious display. After so much effort and expenses, the practical results will be minimal; the poor people drafted into such undertakings, or having to pay in taxes and dues for them, will receive no improvement of their lot. But the tyrannies who lord over them will have their satisfaction that they have demonstrated some greatness, built upon human suffering and deprivation and even deaths. Sacrifices for trifles, that’s the common factor of all tyrants.
And it wasn’t limited to Russia. Pre-revolutionary France was known for the ostentatious displays of its kings built on great sacrifices of its people. British travelers in the 18th century describe women and children in France begging for a piece of bread along the roads, in a country whose climate was immeasurably more favorable to growing foods than that of Britain; meanwhile, in the midst of chronic starvation for a significant part of the population of France, the palaces and the lifestyle of its kings were immeasurably more opulent than those of their English counterparts. The situation was similar in Germany where more than three hundred principalities whose princes were competing to show themselves rich and prosperous, or military intimidating, on the backs of their subjects. King Frederick William I of Prussia, for instance, had an obsession with tall soldiers, so he created a special regiment for soldiers that were minimum 6’2” tall. He searched his realm to find every single male with such enormous height for his time, and then, when he couldn’t find more, he turned to other monarchs and paid significant amounts of money for any such soldier sent to him; or sent out emissaries to search for such tall men and impress them into service by any means necessary, including force and fraud. One of his tallest soldiers, the Irishman James Kirkland (7’2) was signed in using false promises. His tallest ever may have been the Finn Daniel Cajanus, whose height was between 7’8” and a little over 8’ tall. Most of these men were unfit for battle because of their gigantism, and the regiment never saw a single battle in its 130 years of history. But Frederick William I personally drilled them and trained them every day, and even had them march through his bedroom when he was on his sickbed. Visiting foreign dignitaries were made to watch the regiment march in formation as part of their visit; the king was trying to impress them. Life in the regiment was so dull and purposeless that many of the soldiers tried to desert or even committed suicide. But hey, the king had his toy to play with, right, and nothing else mattered. And he wasn’t the only monarch with such bizarre obsessions.
The collectivist ideologies that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century, their claims to scientific rationality notwithstanding, continued the same practices as soon as they came to power in the 1920s and the 1930s. After all, de Custine’s observations applied to all tyrannies, and collectivism, with its disregard for the individual, can’t produce anything but tyranny. The Soviet Union started building its gigantic monuments and industrial plants almost immediately after the Civil War was over. With three-quarters of the population still on the brink of starvation, re-directing investments towards heavy industry and energy only meant that the famine of war will continue in peacetime. And it did. Countless millions died of starvation in the 1930s, while workers on the gigantic industrial projects of Stalin’s Russia lived and worked in horrible conditions. (And some projects were built political prisoners who were expendable to the regime anyway and died by the tens of thousands on the job sites.) After WWII, the same thing happened: the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe were more concerned with building gigantic statues and monuments than with solving the problem of food production and housing. Only one of those gigantic statues, Motherland Calls in Volgograd, commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad, took 5,500 tons of concrete, 2,400 tons of wrought iron, 12 tons of stainless steel and even 2 tons of titanium to build, all in a time when the average housing space for a family of three in the city of Volgograd was 200 sqft and the daily food rations were barely above the limit of 2,500 calories needed for a person to survive. Nazi Germany also had a large program of monument building in a time of severe austerity, not to mention the enormous party rallies and military parades where hundreds of thousands of people were required to march and demonstrate the power of the Nazi Party and its ideology. Speaking of military parades, in the last 60 years, that has been the favorite propaganda device of petty dictators around the world, from North Korea to Zimbabwe and Paraguay, and even Putin’s Russia in the last 10 years. In all of these cases, the militaries are barely combat-worthy and are good for little else than terrorizing civilian populations; but, man, the parades are organized like expensive choreographic festivals. Or you can call them Carnivals in military costumes. There is a good reason why Washington DC was built so as to not have a special avenue for military parades, like most European monarchical capitals; such ostentatious display of men in shiny uniforms has always been contrary to the pragmatic and egalitarian original American spirit, informed by the Reformation and its worldview. Trump’s desire to have a military parade only shows the degradation of that spirit to the levels of African or South American dictatorships and of all dictatorships in general: boss those peasants around to make great sacrifices so that some elitist buffoon can show off to other elitist buffoons.
Not only military parades, but real wars can also be – and most often are – a manifestation of this instinct of tyrannies. What is a war if not politicians demanding enormous sacrifices of their populations – and the ultimate sacrifice of their soldiers – for purposes that never serve the ones making the sacrifice? (Remember Lord Farquaad from Shrek: “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.”) Trillions of dollars and thousands of Americans lives and limbs later, what’s the tangible benefit of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the taxpayers and the soldiers who underwrite the bill in money and lives? Look at the Social Security Administration: a gigantic expense of bureaucracy for management and enforcement, and how close is it to solving the problems it was supposed to solve? It is actually going in the opposite direction, having a shortage of $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Look at our government school system: another gigantic expense, producing only more illiteracy and ignorance, while private schools and homeschoolers produce a superior product at only a fraction of the cost. How is this possible? The answer was given to us by the Marquis de Custine some 180 years ago: all these government programs and projects and undertakings have the same purpose as the Russian Navy of his time, and that is not to meet real objectives and to solve real problems but to be the toys of the governing class, a show off to the world of how powerful, or how compassionate, or how caring their state apparatus is. It is all a game of show off, and none of it is meant to produce real return on the taxes paid by their subjects. If it seems to you they don’t produce results, it is because they were not meant to produce the results you are expecting. But they do produce the results the government apparatus expects them to produce.
But don’t make the mistake of restricting this rule only to state tyrannies. Tyrannies are found in every human government, and therefore, this characteristic of tyrannies can be found in every human government.
Take the institutional church, for example. Even in Jesus’s times, that characteristic of church tyranny could be seen in the practices of the scribes and the Pharisees, in Matthew 23:4-7:
They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
And yet, the result of all these burdens is zero, or even negative, as Jesus says in the following verses. These burdens do not lead them into the Kingdom of God, but to the contrary, people are prevented from entering the Kingdom. Useless work and show off for nothing, is what the religion of the Pharisees was.
For centuries, the main struggle within the church was between those who wanted the church stay focused and faithful to its task of serving Christ and those who wanted to turn the church into just another religious temple obsessed with how it shows off to the world. The fight was real as early as the second century AD, even while the Roman persecutions were still raging. Tertullian, one of the finest and purest minds of the Church at the time, had to deal with clerics who considered institutional subjugation more important than true righteousness and justice; thus, demanding of their people efforts and sacrifices that produces no progress in the spiritual growth of the Church. A similar spirit was spreading even among the laymen in the Church: the persecutions and some twisted theology produced the conviction in many people that death in the hands of the persecutors was the most secure way to heaven, so scores of young Christians just turned themselves in to the authorities in the hope that the authorities would kill them and thus make them saints. While their bravery was spectacular, the results for the Church were disastrous; so in many places the church ministers had to declare that deliberate martyrdom is no different than suicide.
Once the church was free of persecutions, another temptation to show off appeared, and that was erecting lavish buildings and turning the simple service to Christ into elaborate liturgies that eventually made sense to no one, and produced no spiritual value, but required gigantic efforts and money. By the time of the Reformation, this had grown into a disease on the face of the Church; Luther’s first disenchantment with the Roman Church was not in 1517 when he posted the 95 Theses but in 1510 when he visited Rome and saw the luxurious life the ecclesiastical hierarchy was living on the tithes and offerings and the indulgences the regular people in Christendom paid to the papacy. And while the expensive extravagance of Rome was not such an issue in itself, the spiritual result of it was not positive at all; in fact, Rome was the most debauched city in Christendom, full of prostitution and other immorality. The Whore City demanded sacrifices from the simple-hearted commonfolk of Christendom only to maintain its opulence, not to serve the purposes of God. Rome was the church equivalent to the Russian Navy of de Custine’s time: designed to project a false magnificence, while serving no practical use at all. And all that on the dime of the hard working Christians of Europe.
But why beat on the Roman Church when we have the same problem with our own Protestant churches today, and even with those who pass for “Reformed” or “conservative, Bible-believing”? On one hand we have gigantic Charismatic mega-churches spending millions of dollars on gigantic buildings and mass activities (not to mention private jets for their celebrities). On the other hand we have “Reformed” ministries who absorb hundreds of millions of dollars every year to run “Reformed” colleges and seminaries and apologetic ministries and conferences and multiple formal debates on the same worn-out topics. And then we have hundreds of mission organizations sending out tens of thousands of missionaries who burn through $2.5 billion every year, in addition to the tens of billions of dollars already spent on churches at home. And what’s the fruit of all this? Insignificant. In the United States, the church has been losing the cultural war – exactly because none of these ministries really had any idea to teach the nation everything Christ has commanded, but only to vaguely “preach the Gospel.” (What “gospel” is it without the Great Commission?) In the final account, we have all these impressive church buildings and seminaries and organizational structures . . . for what? Only to satisfy the lust for notoriety of a few elitist churchmen, while the world around them is abandoned to wickedness and injustice. As I said in “Denethor Ministries,” a previous episode of Axe to the Root, we would have done better to spend all that money on bourbon instead of on ministries; and the results would be better.
The family as a sphere of government is not immune to tyranny, and, as such, is not immune to manifestations of the same instinct. Here, the instinct can go two ways.
On one hand, we have families that deliver their children to the state and to the state institutions of indoctrination. Most parents have no ambitions for their kids, so they just go with the flow, whatever the government schools do with them. Parents with higher aspirations, however, expect and encourage their children to excel in areas that would make Mom and Dad proud; the problem being that such areas of ostensible achievements in the state schools are usually not such as to serve the long-term success of the child. Modern focus is almost entirely on athletics, in an economy where the demand for professional athletes is rather low. At the same time, areas where success is not as glossy and spectacular – like science and engineering – are usually ignored. But it is exactly in those areas that our economy is showing signs of increasing labor shortage: starting from mechanics and technicians and laboratory workers, and going all the way to engineers and programmers and scientists, American companies are resorting more and more to finding employees abroad because they can’t find them at home. I talked about this phenomenon in a previous episode, titled “Science, Engineering, and the Kingdom of God,” and the poor educational choices modern American parents make. Even homeschool parents. In my practice as a math tutor, I have noticed that it is usually immigrant families that pick on that void and are sacrificing to position their kids to take advantage of the real opportunities. American parents are rather concerned with whether their boy makes it to the football team or whether their girl is admitted to the cheerleader or soccer team. These may be a reason for personal pride in the parents, and they require enormous efforts from the children, but they serve nothing in preparing the children for a future of being productive and independent adults.
And while such parents cripple their children from being independent in one way, other families, on the opposite side of the spectrum, cripple their kids in a different way. The tyranny of an ambitious soccer mom whose kids are in the public school is rivaled by the tyranny of a patriarchal father who homeschools his kids, and wants to make them a perfect example for a patriarchal family. So he homeschools them not to prepare them to be independent and productive for God (“a man shall leave his father and mother”), but to mold them into children for life, eternally dependent on him for their living, their having a family, and for their individual purpose in life in general. Daughters are not trained or educated outside the basic tasks of the kitchen and of bearing children; thus, they find themselves helpless later in life should they remain unmarried or are subject to abuse by their husbands. Others are taught that they should stay serving their fathers until they are too old to run the chance of finding husbands or even bearing children. Sons are raised with the legalistic expectation that they should continue in the professional or business footsteps of their fathers, and serve for nothing in their fathers’ businesses. There is nothing wrong with a son who wants to continue the business of his father, but this practice is often made into a religious rule that stifles the true spiritual and professional talents of the sons, should they be different from their fathers’. Just as there are daughters that have been kept at home for years serving their fathers, there are also sons who have worked for their fathers decades into their adulthood, receiving not wages as workers but only allowances, as if they are still immature children. Such examples are way too common, unfortunately, in conservative Christian circles where fathers, and even whole churches, have misunderstood the meaning of the Biblical family and have adopted an erroneous view of its restoration in our society. And in all such examples, the children are made to commit to significant sacrifices, including sacrificing their future in service to God with the talents He has given them, for the maniacal passion of the fathers to demonstrate a “true patriarchal family” to the world. For all practical purposes, such “families” are no different than the Russian Navy de Custine described: the weaker members have to make gigantic efforts and suffer so that the stronger member has his toy to play with.
I am not going to talk about a solution to this problem that is present in every human government. Such solution should be obvious; the removal of tyranny. And for that, we have talked in other episodes, and will continue talking. For now, I will assign for reading the book we have been talking about: Astolphe de Custine, Russia in 1839. The book is rather boring to read because of its literary style; as I said in the beginning, de Custine wasn’t exactly a gifted writer. But he had an incredible insight into the psychology of people and governments. Read the book. You may find that, in your area of government, you have been committing the same sins tyrants commit. And it may open your eyes to the tyranny of our own governments today, church and state.
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