I am an idealist. I should surprise no one with such a declaration, considering I am an avid reader of philosophers like Russell, Foucault, Marx, Chomsky, etc… But there is something that must be said about idealists. It is something that may come to mind every now and then, but it is the risk of prophecy. Things that may come to pass that are unwanted by the idealist are things that he will vehemently oppose. Most of the time, the idealist opposes certain things with other things being held as the ideal.
In history, idealists have been motivated by some kind of love of humanity. Love, they say, is what guides their writings and their actions. My dissertation on the ethics of hatred and on Tribalism have shown me that if my own reasoning should be made scientific law, then idealists are as likely to resort to tactics of hatred that they would deem ethical as any other group of people. It is from Russell that I come to this realization, as I have been reading one of his political essays on the future of our world. (Which a small fragment can be found here)
A person with revolutionary ideas will learn to love those they wish to do revolution for, but will learn to hate intensely, the more his teachings will be rejected by those he wishes to emancipate. Russell adds however that without a little bit of impatience, who could truly be effective? Indeed, Bertrand calls for balance, here, as he does in all things. His pacifism earned him a moment in prison, in 1918. Mitigation irks those who would believe in strict categories, and before you know it, you have become that which you hate. Tolerance is a virtue that is difficult to get and easy to lose.
The idealist does not escape from this simple fact. While he may display the patience of a philosopher, looking to weigh the pros and the cons, he remains deeply entranched in his own views. What may come first as balanced discussion soon reveals itself to be subtle indoctrination. There is a risk in such a manoeuver, and it is that one takes the gamble of believing their idea is the idea that everyone should have and that by having this idea, the world and its inhabitants will be made better.
Veni, vidi, vici
In the end, this is a war of ideas and idealists are but one side among many, trying to triumph over others. Perhaps the problem here is not so much that idealists can become dogmatists but rather that they should recognize that at one point, they have ceased to view the world outside of their idea. When for example, activists of the Marxist doctrine claim that the capitalists are all money-hungry egoistic sociopaths, while the proletariat are the unfortunate slaves receiving the whip of the economy for their disobedience, they forget that Marx did not advocate for a world led by the proletariat, nor the capitalists.
He simply predicted the advent of socialism and what impact it would have on the people. His prediction he considered “inevitable” and of course, Marx certainly had it in for an egalitarian society, but what idealist does not? The point is not to reverse the classes, neither to have a civilization led by the proletariat but a civilization where classes no longer exist. That does not go solely through the hands of the working masses but also the capitalists.
For they are also the unwitting slaves of the class warfare. Such a mitigated view of Marxism often eludes his most fanatic of followers and his most antagonistic of detractors. It certainly eluded Lenin and it also eluded Stalin. Idealism leads to a univocal interpretation of theory, as being related to an ideal world that cannot be deconstructed except from those who construct it. Too often, idealists lack this sort of introspection that would allow them to see things from the eyes of their enemy. Russell takes this notion into account, when he says that both sides have their share of rights and wrongs. Some things that capitalists say are true, some of it is wrong. It is the same with the idealists of the left.
I am of course using these as an example, but the same can be repeated across the spectrum of politics. If some of those idealists are considered philosophers, as was Heidegger, they are as susceptible to human failings as anyone else. While they will have the wisdom to put this into their rational conjecture, they will lack the introspection necessary to realize it about themselves. Heidegger was a pivotal philosopher of phenomenology and existentialism. Yet, his black notebooks reveal a part of him clearly ailed by idealistic dogma. Anti-semitic and opposed to the opponents of Germany, he too fell to tribalism. Though he did renounce these ideas (timidly) before his death, the harm had been done. It is clear to one such as myself that although I should pay great reverence to Heidegger’s work, I pay none to his person.
The war of ideas is waged first and foremost from within. If an idea must reign supreme, according to our own inference, we must take heed not to let that idea take control of us. It is, after all, just an idea…
If love is what motivates the idealist, hate is what threatens his every move. Chomsky warns any progressive that they may not see their dream come true, but that this should not keep them from going forward. Rome was not built in a day, but if it had not been done carefully, patiently, no one would have been left to say “All roads lead to Rome”. Similarly, Rome fell because an idea must be upkept, it must be renewed. If one sits on an idea, it takes corrosion and eventually becomes but a shadow of itself, to be used as a political gain.
American “Democrats” have been the ones to do so for so long. Democracy is a distant dream that was held by Ancient Greece and other populations decimated by imperialistic Occidentals. When the Founding Fathers of America made the constitution, there was very little about it which referred to Democracy. A republic, it was wished to be, but what of it remains that is democratic is but a ballot. Knowing that there was an idea and that it was poorly maintained, politicians who had a desire for glory, used the idea of “democracy” and used it to wage war. The Athenians also succumbed to this.
The purity of an idea is what makes its strength. As it passes through time, it becomes sullied and then the metamorphosis warps it into a shape alien to its original form. Keep your idea close to your heart but never forget that you may be wrong and that if your idea allows you to love, above all else, then that idea is worth fighting for.
There is an idea of democracy, and it is not for one nation but for all nations. It is not for the poor, the rich, the disabled or the privileged. It is for all mankind, but its proliferation requires the help of the privileged and the understanding of the poor. These are chains we can remove from ourselves, in order not to fight each other, but to embrace one another. Our differences, our similitudes and our uniqueness in a universe full of death.
We live. Life is an idea.