Malcolm Gladwell’s books are bestsellers, which is something of an annoyance to his many appalled critics who feel obligated to explain his enduring popularity. The opposition trots out the usual canards: oversimplification, reliance on anecdotes, storytelling skills that leave the facts far behind, etc. Not one synthesis put forward by Gladwell has been successfully overthrown, even when subsidiary details have lost their original luster when contrary evidence came to light.
Why is Gladwell so popular? The less-traveled road leads to the truth of the matter.
In an interview published on May 29, 2018, Gladwell explains why he emphasizes the things he does.
I like ideas that absolve people of blame. That’s the most consistent theme in all of my work. I don’t like blaming people’s nature or behavior for things. I like blaming systems and structures and environments for things.1
When interviewer Dan Amira asks the follow-up question, Why do you not want to blame individuals?, Gladwell replies, “I’ve thought about this a lot, and I have no idea. I don’t know where it comes from.”
There, in a nutshell, is the explanation for Gladwell’s popularity: he puts the blame where humanistic, autonomous man always puts it. He has a built-in audience because if systems and structures and environments are to blame, then man is a victim and not responsible for his woes. Gladwell is promoting the idea of metaphysical evil, an idea launched in the Garden of Eden when personal responsibility was jettisoned by Adam and Eve.
Enter R. J. Rushdoony, who overthrows that view by asserting that evil is a moral fact: human responsibility is always implicated. In respect to diagnosing mankind’s problems, Rushdoony is the anti-Gladwell. The two men couldn’t be any farther apart. Gladwell’s approach leads to false solutions. The false doctrine of metaphysical evil requires installing a massive state apparatus to “solve” a problem that can only be corrected by regeneration of the heart. Until blame and responsibility are dealt with headon, mankind’s problems only worsen.
Valid solutions start with Christian self-government. Men, in fleeing from blame and responsibility, throw them-selves into the hands of false saviors willing to countenance their victimhood and apply coercion to undercut liberty. Manipulating “systems and structures and environments” requires total control, but because those things are not the actual source of mankind’s problems, our moral evil not only remains but is actually amplified.
Gladwell struggled to explain why he doesn’t like to blame individuals: he doesn’t know where that impulse comes from. It comes from our sin nature, and it is only resolved by the transformation wrought by Christ. Malcolm Gladwell, a professed Christian, does not appear to apply his faith to this question.2 Some level of dualism is acting in him and countless other Christians to create The Great Disconnect, whereby God is effectively muzzled in the world at large that He created.
No problem can be solved if misidentified. Faulty solutions will multiply, and their guaranteed failures, one after another, will spawn only more vexation and loss of liberty. Humanistic solutions fail “because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20), i.e., they don’t speak according to His law.
“God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Don’t miss the implicit contrast: God made man upright (a moral fact) but men seek out many inventions, devices, contrivances, and schemes (metaphysical facts). Men only set aside their devices when they’re made upright again in Christ, when they’re self-governed under God’s law. Contra Gladwell, there is only one way people are absolved of blame: when the Father makes us “holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
Christian self-government is the key to solving mankind’s problems because it’s the only solution that recognizes the actual problem (moral evil), its solution (regeneration), and the strategy for recovery (applying God’s law). This begins with equipping Christian men and women with the tools to rebuild moral foundations, and the resolve to use them, “to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Once Christians repudiate victimhood, they can become more than conquerors. We won’t look for solutions in the wrong places, “healing the wound of the people lightly” (Jer. 6:14, ESV). We will live to see that “the entering in of Thy Word bringeth light” (Ps. 119:130).
1. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/0... magazine/malcolm-gladwell-likes-thingsbetter- in-canada.html
2. Ironically, Gladwell’s view of the American prison system come close to Rushdoony’s views, but for different reasons.
- Martin G. Selbrede
Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.