Wednesday, February 11, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Being Ideological

Jonah Goldberg:

As I noted last month during all the inauguration hype, Barack Obama is determined to cast himself as a pragmatist and anyone who disagrees with him an ideologue. In his Philadelphia speech in January, he lumped "ideology" alongside, small thinking, prejudice and bigotry as things Americans must declare independence from. This is a very old liberal argument going straight back through Kennedy and FDR to Woodrow Wilson. It is also a profoundly dishonest framing of debate because it assumes that liberals are reality based and empirical while conservatives are hidebound dogmatists and ideologues. Somehow being pro-choice is empirical, but being pro-life is dangerously ideological. Supporting the nationalization of the banks is pragmatic. Opposing such measures stems from a feverish loyalty to discredited ideas.

But most of all, it is an attempt to preempt good faith disagreement by declaring it out of bounds and illegitimate before the conversation even starts.

As Goldberg suggests, everyone has an ideology, especially people who say "I'm non-ideological." There's nothing wrong with having an ideology -- it's just a set of views that reflects how a person sees the world. It's just important to be able to identify one's own ideology, recognize its weaknesses, and be willing to change it as new information arrives. Goldberg continues:

Now let me be clear. I have no problem with Obama having an ideology. There is nothing wrong with ideology, if by ideology you mean a checklist of principles. "Does it expand freedom?" is an ideological question. So is, "Will this protect a woman's right to choose?" "Will this help the middle class?" "Will this redistribute wealth?" "Will this end torture?": and so on. These are all ideological questions, and whatever your orientation to such questions might be, there's nothing wrong with the fact that they are ideological. Heck, the very idea that it's the job of the government to "grow" the economy* is a surprisingly recent and thoroughly ideological assumption.

This is why I've long had a fondness for the late Senator Paul Wellstone. As much as I disliked his leftist beliefs, he at least seemed to arrive at them honestly, and displayed little effort that I could see at using his elected office as only a means to get rich and stay in power. The problem in Washington is not clashing ideologies. It's that we have too many politicians thinking pragmantically about enriching themselves and not ideologically about political philosophy.

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