[Obama has] described himself as a "pragmatist," even a "ruthless pragmatist," countless times.
Of course Obama is an ideologue. The important question is whether he is sufficiently self-aware to recognize the truth.
I for one would be horrified to learn that the president is working from the assumption that ideological biases are something only other people have. That is the surest route to hubris and groupthink (which might explain Obama's political predicament).
What I really don't understand is what's so great about allegedly value-free pragmatism and so bad about supposedly unthinking ideology? The truth is that the vast majority of the time, pragmatism isn't value-free and ideology isn't unthinking.
Ideologies don't require blinding yourself to the facts; rather, they help you prioritize what you are going to do with the facts. Indeed, the very question of deciding what to be pragmatic about -- this but not that -- requires applying an ideological test.
The president invokes his or America's "values" to justify a ban on waterboarding, passage of universal healthcare, sustaining legalized abortion, higher taxes for the wealthy, gay equality and -- coming soon -- a more expedient system for selecting a college football champion. Those all involve pursuing ideological ends, even if that fact is obscured with rhetorical blather about pragmatic means.
A truly "ruthless pragmatist" might opt for summarily executing enemy combatants after torturing them with hot pokers. He might abandon anyone who can't afford health insurance to rot. He might ban abortion on the grounds that Social Security needs more young people or eliminate college football entirely as a needless distraction and a drain on resources.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1909 that if everyone becomes a pragmatist, then "ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth." Russell's point was that there's nothing within pragmatism to delineate the proper and just limits of pragmatism. We must look outside pragmatism for that.
Our values, customs, traditions and principles provide the insulation against the corrosive acid of undiluted pragmatism. When you bundle these things together, it's often called an ideology, and there's no reason to apologize for having one.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
"There's Nothing Within Pragmatism To Delineate The Proper And Just Limits Of Pragmatism"
Good points by Jonah Goldberg: