Why “The Idealist”

For months, the name and purpose of the blog have been bothering me. The name and stated purpose seemed pretentious. So I decided on something that may more appropriately describe by thoughts and feelings from the outset. It seems the pretentiousness may, however, have only increased by implying that I may know “how things, perhaps, ought to be” (see the title). My position is not that I know any of how things should be, but that I have opinions and I am anxious to explore what is ideal. I again encourage free expression and exploration of topics philosophical, political, and economic. Religion will surface often, but for me is not the crux of the debate.

This morning, reading in Will Durant’s “The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage,” I ran across the following regarding Mahatma Gandhi: “In his first year there (in London to study law at age 18) he read eighty books on Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount ‘went straight to my heart on the first reading.’ He took the counsel to return good for evil, and to love even one’s enemies, as the highest expression of all human idealism; and he resolved rather to fail with these than to succeed without them.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” exclaimed Thomas Paine in December of 1776 as Washington’s army faced a horrible winter in Delaware. Our current times are also very trying. If only we had leaders who didn’t just say they believed in Christ (as the religious right states), but actually believed Him and were disciples of Him (as was the previously mentioned Hindu pacifist), the responses of our government and the results of our decisions would be quite different.

My goal for this blog and the world (delusions of granduer? Maybe, but after all, I am an idealist) is that we can identify the changes that can and must be made in order to preserve liberty and progress as humanity.

9 Replies to “Why “The Idealist””

  1. Cool Ghandi quote. Good luck with the new-and-improved blog.

    One tension that I find very interesting between a political idealist and pragmatist is that between James Madison and George Washington (respectively). I think there is a balance to be struck in real politics, but the danger is that the ideal is too often forgotten…..

    (P.S. I really like the ‘notify me of followup comments via email’ option–if I ever start a blog, be forewarned that I may be hunting you down for tips!)

  2. Robert,

    Thanks for your comment. I am listening to John Adams biography by McCollough and it is interesting to learn about that difference between Washington and Madison, Adams and Jefferson. I agree that it is importance to strike the balance, and I also agree that the ideal is forgotten often. That’s why I am attracted to it: I’m a sucker for the underdog.

    BTW, I hope to post something this next week on Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the real price of labor (if I can figure out what he’s talking about).

  3. I think that often the idealist isn’t taken seriously because their thoughts and points are “idealistic” and therefore assumed to be not important or useful. Sometimes I hesitate to express that I am idealistic because then the even more opinionated pragmatists discount the comments or ideas off hand. For me realism is kind of like settling, like giving up just for what works instead of really trying to find the best way to do something. Sure capitalism works, but is there a better way? It builds wealth and prosperity, but if we think about things from an ideal standpoint, can we find something better? I guess I am an idealist because the way things are currently stinks and the status quo needs to change.

  4. Interestingly, I think Marxism and capitalism share a notion of creative destruction (at least Austrian capitalists/economists…), probably due to Hegel’s influence. The difference seems to be the former wants to change institutions and the latter is more focused on change at the firm or individual level. In fact, today’s liberals vs. conservatives seem to line up a bit on this dimension.

    To play devil’s advocate, it seems one could argue that the Book of Mormon teaches an inside-out type of change (a la Captain Moroni) rather than an outside-in type of change. How would you respond to that argument?

  5. I’m not sure what you mean my creative deconstruction (I have read some Hayek), and although I agree with many of Marx’s criticisms of capitalism, communism was not and is not the answer. I believe that the ideal answer is to have people voluntarily cooperate in business (I believe that sharing information and resources increases efficiency) with a focus on improving the world first and themselves second and for people to voluntarily give to take care of those in need. And that puts me into the inside-out type of change camp because human nature doesn’t tend to that willingness to give.

    If the changes are external (i.e. central government enforced), they will last less than a generation before they are perverted by the natural selfish tendencies of the human being.

  6. Mike,

    I like the change very much. A while back I bought the url “waxingquixotic.net” because I have a streak of idealism in me that often comes across as impractical and windmill-tilting. So I have a great deal of appreciation for your idealism … though you seem quite practical in your idealism to me. 🙂

    Dream on, brother

  7. Thanks Watt. Sometimes I do feel Quixotic also. I appreciate your thoughts.

    Robert,

    Regarding the difference between the liberals and conservatives in our day I see where you are coming from with the liberals (theoretically) more in favor of large government insitutions that solve the problems of the world where as conservatives tend to support corporatism to make those changes. The problem with both of them is that the individual is left out of the picture and her liberties are trampled by either the government or the corporation. Those who control the government (either the special interests or big business) manipulate the laws in their favor leading to the existance of an elite (either operating as the “vanguard of the proliteriat” or the uber-capitalists). The small business owner and individual is left to have his case made by the non-Randian libertarian or the progressive Orwellian leftist.

    I hope in the next twenty years to see a peaceful revolution wherein the common man takes responsibility for his role in governing himself and his country; keeping in check the government and its currently frightning over-reaching of executive power and disastrous foreign policy. Again I don’t see this as a conservative or liberal issue. I see it as an elite (those who benefit) v. the rest (those who pay the price).

  8. Here’s a blurb on creative destruction. Your violent attitude to the status quo reminded me of this concept, and made think of the violent/revolutionary nature of Marxism. I guess idealists from all sides have a contemptuous view of the status quo….

    Your statement “people voluntarily cooperate in business” reminds me of the anarcho-syndicalist scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Thanks for clarifying your view on inside-out. I think it’s a fundamental tension that confronts any view on institutions, to what extent can the institution encourage change without forcing change in a sense that violates the very principles the institution is trying to establish….

    Regarding the non-Randian libertarian, I think a strong case can be made that the term “anarcho-capitalist” is ultimately a contradiction in terms. In practice, the very real problem that I think you are interested in getting at is the power that coporations have over the little people. So it seems Monty Python’s anarcho-syndicalists are indeed a better fit for the common man.

    By the way, there’s a rich tradition in Russian literature (ironically) about the common man. Gogol’s “Overcoat” is a classic on this if you haven’t read it.

  9. Robert,

    I hope my “violent attitude” against the status quo is only in the Gandhian sense.

    Thanks for the reference on creative destruction. I do agree with the concept with the caveat that the legal and political systems must not create an environment where in the the corporation or the capitalist are protected against the small business and entrepreneur.

    Regarding anarcho-syndicalism, I have read about it when you metioned it previously, but I don’t think I fall into the category because I am not in favor of class struggle in a violent or forceful manner. Maybe I need to devote an entire post to anarcho-syndicalism and my thoughts (immature as they may be) about the value of labor.

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