A reader responds:

I don’t think you’re wrong that socialists like Bernie Sanders supporters may have materialistic motives, but I wouldn’t be so quick to forget the genuine idealism of youth.  They would like to get things for free, but they think everybody else should too!


Thank you for that wonderful line!  And I agree that non-materialistic motives may also be involved.  But just what non-materialistic motives are we thinking of?

I’m not keen on the term “idealism.”  It sounds like a virtue, but it isn’t one.  What I think we are really dealing with is what used to be called “enthusiasm.”  It meant a tendency to enthuse -- a high-minded, high-spirited emotionalism -- which is a most equivocal quality.

Yes, enthusiasm can be transformed by charity into a virtue.  Medieval Europe was transformed when thousands of young people followed Dominic and Francis and took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Even today, many young people feel the call to give up everything for God, and struggle with all their might to understand it.  It isn’t like voting for free tuition!

But enthusiasm can also decay into something ugly.  Political messianism is “idealistic,” but more blood has been shed for power and utopia than has ever been shed for power alone.  Besides, without the divine gift of humility, pursuing a cause larger than self is compatible with the most extreme selfishness – just because one is sure one is good.