The Politics of Envy

Envy is one of the most devastating factors of our age. The politicians consistently stir up envy by reminding the people that somebody else has it (cheaper taxes, tuition, housing, cheaper health care, a paid vacation, a Cadillac, etc.) and it is unfair that you don’t. We are told that some people have more than their fair share, and that only the government can make things more fair by taxing and regulating the successful. The losses of the rich are supposed to make the rest of us happier and better off.

During his New Hampshire primary victory speech last year, Bernie Sanders declared: “When the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, that’s not fair,” Sanders went on to tell the energized crowd. “The top three drug companies in this country made $45 billion in profit last year. That is an obscenity… We must tell the billionaire class and the One Percent that they cannot have it all at a time of massive wealth and income inequality.”

In his article on Sander’s speech at the New Hampshire primary, Ian Tuttle, writing in the National Review said, “In other words, envy sells. And make no mistake, that is what Sanders is selling. After all, socialism is inevitably a politics of envy: Wealth is by definition finite, so more in your pocket means less in mine — and if I have less than I want, it must be your fault. Because Sanders has no room in his cramped understanding of the world for the complex interplay of free economic actors, he must default to simplistic moral explanations — Greed!: of Wall Street bankers, pharmaceutical companies, and America’s 536 billionaires — and simplistic solutions: to wit, frog-marching Goldman Sachs executives down Fifth Avenue and divvying up their stuff. They’ll have less, so you’ll have more.”

Envy, although often confused with jealousy and covetousness, is much more insidious and deadly. Envy is the feeling that someone else’s having something is to blame for the fact that you do not have it. The principal motive is thus not so much to take, but to destroy. The envier acts against the object of his envy, not to benefit himself, but to cut the other person down to his own level or below.

A peasant in the Russian proverb who was offered one wish by a genie: “You may have anything your heart desires,” said the genie, “but your neighbor will receive twice as much as you do.” The peasant thought a while, and replied, “Make me blind in one eye.”

“The politics of envy is the politics of this commandment: ‘Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.’ It is the politics of two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner” (Gary North).

Envy is a cheat. It will destroy a citizen and their culture much more than any enemies — imagined or real — will do.

The politics of envy and guilt is nothing other than class hatred and war. It is a blight on the soul, a rottenness eating at the foundations of culture. No society can long survive it: the nation that fails to overcome it through faith and obedience will fall. It is the sociology of Satan. It is but a step away from hell.

Envy destroys the man who commits it. He does not work for the future and the glory of God. He cannot fulfill the purpose for which he was created. His frustration increases: he can’t enjoy what he has, for he is eaten up by what others have or, when he turns the envy in upon himself, by what others do not have.

More than this, envy is a rot on the foundations of society. If the cultural ethic is the destruction of anyone who owns something that others don’t own, the result is chaos. And if you are fearful of your neighbors’ envy, you won’t produce. Success and productivity become dangerous, and the whole culture declines. A civilization dominated by envy has rottenness in its bones: it is doomed to extinction. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Proverbs 27:4)

We are witnessing the wholesale use of the politics of envy in an unprecedented manner. Envy is being used to manipulate the object of envy into feeling guilty for being envied. The envied person is made to believe that he really is responsible for the sufferings of others, that his wealth is actually a cause of poverty in other people. When envy is so pervasive in society, when it is positively encouraged by our leaders, we turn the envy back on ourselves and feel guilty for what we possess. A central motive of socialistic reformers is to cause an orgy of self flagellation among property owners.

The envious man does not stop at merely bewailing the “fact” that the rich are to blame for the plight of the poor. He nurtures this hatred of his enemy. Regardless of his own advantages, he cannot bear to think of the object of his envy enjoying anything.

It is this envious, destructionist mentality, nursing itself on the notion that “your wealth is the cause of my poverty,” that is the basic ethos of socialism. For socialism does not — and cannot — build up capital. It seeks only to expropriate or destroy the capital of others.

Winston Churchill wrote that, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy. Its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

Socialism is institutionalized envy coupled with legalized, strong-armed theft. Socialism was once proclaimed as a way to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. Almost everyone knows today that socialism makes most people poorer. Yet socialistic legislation still appeals to millions of voters all over the world. They would rather see most people poorer under socialism than see most people wealthier under a free market system. They resent the rich far more than they resent poverty. They resent the idea that some people have more wells or better wells than others.

If America is to survive, let alone continue to prosper, we must personally overcome the temptation to allow envy to make its home in our minds. Once resident, it then opens the door to the politics of envy and guilt and we are all made poorer and powerless by it — all except the politicians who believed, like the pigs on George Orwell’s, Animal Farm, that all pigs are equal, except some pigs, and they are more equal than others!

Wade Trimmer has been in full-time Christian service since 1971, thirty-five of those years as a senior pastor. He pastored Grace Fellowship of Augusta for 30 of those years.

In 2008, Pastor Wade formed Training for Reigning Institute of Disciple-making, a non-profit organization, for the purpose of equipping leaders, especially in Third World countries in being more effective in carrying out the Great Commission. The past 9 years have taken Pastor Wade outside the USA to more than 25 different nations.

He is the author of 46 books, a conference speaker and leader of international mission’s training. He is married to Anne and they have three grown children, five grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. They are members of Grace Fellowship of Augusta, Georgia and make their home in North Augusta, South Carolina.