Posts Tagged idealism

Ideal Inequality?

Well, now. Whenever I try to put my finger on the “ideal” for anything—Hollywood award shows, cheeseburger ketchup-to-onion ratios, wealth distribution—I always consult “92% of Americans.”

Speaking of which, Lorie Line is currently tickling the ivories across my sound system, playing some uber-”smooth,” lowest-common-denominator instrumental rendition of “Message in a Bottle.” Not as edgy or as satisfying or as revolutionary as The Police, of course, but—according to those elevator and dentist-office maestros at Muzak—soooo ideal.

It is, I’ll admit, always refreshing when someone who views wealth as wrinkly and static also views us humans as the pre-determined, ready-and-waiting chess pieces we are. Consistency, my friends.

Can we call this “Game, Set, and Match”? Or should we stick with “Marxist Materialism”? An inspiring worldview for the powerless masses, nevertheless. Read the rest of this entry »

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American Idealism and Economic Opportunity for the Glory of God

flag, crossFrench Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain once wrote that Americans “are the least materialist among the modern peoples which have attained the industrial stage.”

Drawing on this sentiment, George Weigel argues that although materialism may reign in America more than it once did, “there remains a link between money-making and idealism in these United States that is distinctive, and perhaps even unique.”

Pointing to President Calvin Coolidge (no fan of materialism), Weigel emphasizes that Coolidge’s famous line—“the chief business of the American people is business”—shouldn’t be taken by itself. For Coolidge, and for most Americans (even today), promoting the dignity-conferring effects of business is part of a larger, deeper idealism.

As Weigel explains:

As for wealth, consider Silent Cal’s remarks at the end of the same speech: “We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element in all of civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists…”

And that, I suggest, is why Americans respond positively to presidential aspirants who lift up a vision of American possibility—prosperity linked to creativity, responsibility, and generosity—rather than candidates who play class-warfare politics, in whatever partisan form.

Weigel then explains how the market economy supports such idealism (emphasis added):

A robust economy is not only an economic imperative; it is a moral and cultural imperative. A robust economy makes honorable work possible for all who wish to be responsible for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. And work, according to Blessed John Paul II in the 1983 encyclical Laborem Exercens, is an expression of our participation in God’s sustaining “creation” of the world.

A robust economy makes possible the empowerment of the underprivileged—the true “preferential option for the poor” in Catholic social doctrine, according to John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus—even as it helps conserve public resources by making the resort to welfare less necessary.

A robust economy is essential in supporting one telling sign of America’s enduring generosity and idealism: the remarkable philanthropy of the American people. Americans, these days, give some $300 billion a year to charitable organizations, including religious institutions that fund vast networks of education, health care, and social service serving people in real need. There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the Western world; if you doubt that, go to Europe or Canada, where the tradition of the benign, caretaker state (the contemporary version of the benign, caretaker monarch) has severely eroded charitable instincts—meaning giving.

Yet many of today’s Christians will shrug at any talk of an “American ideal,” and in some sense, rightly so. Our ultimate aim should be a Christian ideal, and we have a natural disposition to self-construct the latter for purposes of satisfying the former. But while we should be careful to make such a distinction, we should also recognize that a careful concern for the Gospel demands a careful concern for culture and country. Catholic social teaching aside, Weigel’s “vision of American possibility” fits quite nicely into the most generic understandings of Christian mission.

But we must dig deeper, even still, for just as American idealism has been watered down by self-centered post-modern thinking, so has our Christian idealism.

Even more fundamentally, the Christian should be concerned with the glory of God—an overarching, not-of-this-world notion that shatters our convenient cultural obsessions with “individualism” and “collectivism” and pushes us toward a different orientation altogether. Living a life focused on lifting up the King of Kings in all things will mean producing plenty of fruits that fit the current categories—responsibility, self-control, hard work, sacrifice—but I fear that we’re getting to a point where we can’t discern the fresh from the rotten from the poisonous. This is why the market, like any institution, needs to be analyzed first and foremost by how well it enables and empowers transformation at the root of individual worship. Otherwise, the byproducts we’re seeking will soon be replaced by nothing more than hollow do-gooderism cloaked in the lingo of the church.

Pro-market Christians can and should tout the market as the best mechanism for Read the rest of this entry »

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A Robot’s Utopia: Socialism’s Reduction of the Human Person

robot, utopia, socialism, human natureMany opponents of socialism often concede that it would be wonderful if only it actually “worked.” This week at Ethika Politika, I argue that such claims require an extremely strange version of “wonderful.”

Socialism may indeed propose utopian ends, but such a utopia is one that humans could never — and should never — identify with.

The argument centers on the notion that humans tend to desire freedom and that we will ultimately be discontent without it. If we rid ourselves completely of such liberty and cede ultimate control to others, how can this really be a “utopia” in any human sense?

To embrace socialism is to reject “economic knowledge” (as Art Carden recently explained), but it is also to reject something much deeper.

Here’s an excerpt:

To escape this fundamental craving [for freedom], one assumes that a different sort of rebellion needs to take place—one aimed at the control of others rather than the control of one’s self. This is why any fantasies about “realistically sustainable” socialism are problematic: They rely on a view of humanity that is unrealistic, and in turn, they promote unreal humans. Based on such premises, true utopia—the kind we might actually enjoy—is something that cannot exist, even in theory. We can call this “idealism,” but I’m not sure it leads to ideal outcomes. We are who we are, and that is not a bad thing.

Indeed, “idealism” is often just another word for glorified falsehood, and in the case of socialism, that is certainly the case. Such falsehood might be admirable if reality were really that grim, but it isn’t. There is a beauty in humanity that must be tapped, channeled and ultimately embraced. This beauty is inherently linked with truth, which is why to be an “idealist” of the socialist order is to worship a lie — and an ugly one at that.

As I argue, the “ideal” of socialism does not elevate humanity; it degrades Read the rest of this entry »

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Rescuing Social Justice: Individual Virtue, Association, and Hayek

What is social justice?

For some, it’s an ideal. For others, it’s a dream. For others — perhaps most — it’s a mere marker of ideological orientation.

For Michael Novak, however, the answer is none of the above. As he argues in a recent Bradley Lecture, social justice is a virtue, and if it is not, “its claim to moral standing falls flat. The rest is ideology.”

Watch it here:

Novak spends significant time outlining the misuses of the term (this is sorely needed), but eventually offers his own definition: “Social justice is a virtue of specific characters, skilled in forming associations for the larger purpose of benefitting human beings both near and far.”

(If that sounds familiar, you’re on to something.)

This virtue, Novak argues, is also a protection for society at large. Without it, we become like those French Read the rest of this entry »

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The System Is to Blame: Kenneth Minogue on the Threat of Political Idealism

Kenneth Minogue seems to be heavy on my mind these days. I recently finished his newest book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, and it has provided me with lots and lots to chew on (some of my initial comments are here, a full review is forthcoming).

In a video I came across last week (not connected to the book), Minogue does a fine job of outlining the threat of political idealism on our political development (what Minogue calls “civilization”). Minogue’s definition of such idealism basically boils down to any sort of excessive trust in the perfectibility of human systems. He even indicates that libertarians are often guilty of it (worshippers of the market…that sort of thing). In many ways, Minogue’s opinions align very closely with those of Thomas Sowell.

Watch the video here:

This discussion comes in the wake of what Minogue sees as modern society’s attack on libertarianism and individualism. In order to respond to such an attack, Minogue argues, we need “something more sophisticated than Hayek and Adam Smith and the glories of the free market.” The ideas offered in this video are indeed part of Read the rest of this entry »

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