The Reactionary Utopian
                      May 15, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     Two years ago, after foot surgery, I started walking 
with a cane. The ankle has healed, but I've kept the 
cane. I like it. It helps my balance, it's funny, and it 
strengthens my faith.

     In this allegedly Darwinian world, where life is a 
ruthless competition for survival, my cane is magic. It 
causes young people, fitter than I am for physical 
existence, to call me "sir" and hold doors and show me a 
respect I've never enjoyed before. Nobody ever told me a 
stick of wood could exert such spiritual power. I think 
I'll keep it.

     Admit it, you atheists: the sight of an old geezer 
with a cane brings out something sweet in you that, 
according to Darwin, can't be there. The truth is that 
love for others is a profound instinct, a powerful 
atavism so to speak, harder to resist than hate.

     Of course we all want to survive. But we want just 
as strongly for others to survive too. Darwinism can't 
explain the environmentalist movement (though I think 
it's misguided). Nor can it explain why we write wills 
giving all we can to those who outlive us. Nor the Bill 
Gates foundation. Nor the sacrifices of parents who give 
their lives for their children. Nor the willingness of 
some people to suffer so that other people won't kill 
unborn children. Nor nuns and priests who consecrate 
themselves to God in lives of charity and chastity (the 
pay isn't all that good). Nor a hundred other forms of 

     Altruism sticks in the craws of the reductionists 
who think man is, and ought to be, selfish. Ayn Rand 
tried in vain to persuade us that Moses and Jesus were 
wrong, that altruism is bad, and that selfishness is a 
virtue. She failed to make much of a dent in the 
popularity of St. Francis of Assisi.

     Frustrating, isn't it? We're all selfish by nature, 
but we're so sheepish about it that we reserve our most 
fervent admiration for people like the man who, without 
even stopping to think, throws himself in front of an 
onrushing subway train to save the life of a total 
stranger. If, rationally speaking, he's a fool, nobody 
says so; or even thinks so.

     Animals may do that sort of thing for their own 
young, but not for other animals they've never met. The 
altruism of cows, for example, is pretty narrowly 
circumscribed, and bulls leave even more to be desired. 
Samuel Johnson once observed that if a bull could talk, 
it might say, "Here I am with this cow and this grass; 
what being could enjoy better felicity?" Touche.

     Man is separated from the beasts by the faculty of 
reason, of course -- the point the old philosophers used 
to harp on; but I prefer to stress his capacity for 
praise and appreciation, disinterested joy in things 
outside himself. A boy in love doesn't just desire the 
girl; he may not even desire her at all. He simply 
marvels that so lovely a creature can exist, as he may 
marvel at Mozart's music or Shakespeare's poetry, things 
that offer nothing beyond themselves to desire.

     As I write these words, I'm listening to a stunning 
recording: Laurence Olivier reading the Psalms in the 
King James translation. They tempt me to superlatives, of 
course, but the real point is that I can't think of, or 
even imagine, anything comparable in the animal kingdom. 
There are no analogies. Bulls don't praise cows, let 
alone their Creator.

     Explaining the phenomenon of praise is a real 
challenge for the Darwinian; it doesn't appear to confer 
any particular advantage in that ruthless struggle for 
survival we're always hearing about.

     I can understand why atheists think religion does a 
lot of evil, because sometimes it surely does. But they 
never explain why man wastes so much time and energy in 
activities they insist are pointless and have no 
biological utility. If we found all the cattle in the 
pasture dancing and mooing in unison, wouldn't we be 
curious about why they were behaving in this 
extraordinary fashion?

     I suppose killing your own children makes some sort 
of sense from an atheistic and Darwinian point of view. 
If survival is a ruthless competition, your kids are your 
competitors, right? No wonder Darwin's legions are in 
favor of this "choice." It accords perfectly, methinks, 
with Ayn Rand's "virtue of selfishness."


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