Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ideology vs. Pragmatism ... again!

Bad ideology blinds one to reality. But so does having no ideology or philosophy. During the first 30 years of communism, intellectuals in the West were in denial about the nature of this ideology and the horror that was unfolding before their eyes. At first you might think that those opposed to ideology would be critical of the Marxist-Leninist state. Think again! Anti-ideology played a role in the willful blindness of communism in Russia. In America, the philosophy of anti-ideology was Pragmatism and its foremost public advocate, John Dewey. By the 1920s and 1930s this anti-ideology ideology was in full bloom.

John Dewey, himself return from the Stalin’s USSR with praise for the Russian experiment – ‘the most interesting one going on upon our globe.’” [from John Dewey, Impressions of Soviet Russia (New York, 1929), pp.114-16] “A new type of human nature was being created, Dewey said, cooperative instead of individualistic and selfish. A ‘collective mentality’ was replacing ‘the individualistic psychology.’” [from Liberals and Communism: The “Red Decade” Revisited Frank A. Warren III Indiana University Press, Bloomington & London 1966 P64] Dewey, however, came to his senses during the mid-30s; most others did not.

Frank A Warren explains the viewpoint as follows: “One important consideration is the traditional liberal antipathy toward Trotsky and [left] liberal sympathy for Stalin. In the twenties the editors of The New Republic had regarded Trotsky as a fanatical dogmatist and Stalin as a pragmatic and flexible leader, capable of adjusting his ideas to changing circumstances. This difference was reemphasized in the early thirties by the view of Stalin as an activist, the man who got things done. Trotsky remained, ironic as it may seem, the ineffectual intellectual trapped by his theoretical dogma. The attitude of The New Republic mirrored the resentment against Trotsky’s theoretical brilliance found among many Russian sympathizers.” [ibid P188]

Today, we face a similar problem. The ideology of Islam is dismissed as irrelevant. Our foreign policy is governed by the parliamentary dialectic. “If only they had a legislature, even Hamas and Hezbollah would morph into civil clubs”! The idea that ideas matter is dismissed. Institutions and an innate drive for liberty will change the Middle East, we are told. Fortunately, there’s Daniel Pipes, to pour rain on this fairy tale and remind us of the folly of appeasement when we welcome our ideological enemies to the table.

The problem remains: conservatives believe that Muslims can ignore their religion and act like rational members of a secular society … just like most Christians do. Such an anti-ideological stance blinds our leaders to the immensity of the cultural change required and the consequences of the current ideology of Islam.

Speaking of appeasement, John Lewis charges the Bush administration with the appeasement of Iran. His arguments are persuasive.


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