The Tyranny of Pragmatism

Courtesy of Eric Chan via Flickr

Rejecting philosophic and ideological thought in favour of practicality may be politically expedient but it is used invariably as an excuse for government overreach. The recent political climate has illustrated this reality in both the Republican, and Democratic parties. Donald Trump is a strongman that fancies himself the captain of America’s fate. Hillary is an authoritarian that believes government can, and should fix every problem; she is fond of calling herself a ‘progressive who likes to get things done’. Neither of them care for the constitution and neither of them have the transparency to explain their ideological stance. Trump pretends to be a constitutional conservative (all the while never mentioning the constitution), and Hillary jumps between labelling herself as moderate and progressive in an attempt to obfuscate her agenda and attract the largest audience. In reality, Trump is a populist demagogic authoritarian and Hillary is an equally authoritarian political opportunist. One thing they both consistently triumph is how pragmatic they are — ideology is below them; they only care about ‘what works’.

This is a textbook political move. President Obama has also bragged about his supposed practicality:

“So often in the past there’s been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that’s been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you’re a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you’re some crazy communist that’s going to take away everybody’s property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don’t have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory — you should just decide what works.”

— President Barack Obama, March 23, 2016.

Obama is certainly more ideological than he cares to admit, but he has no issue using pragmatism as the battering ram to open the gates of government control. It is similar to how the media pretends to be an objective news source but under the cloak of ‘objective journalism’ lies their true agenda

Pragmatism is not only dangerous because it is used to veil one’s true motives; it is also used to justify unethical and dangerous policies. There are situations where a policy may work but is not necessarily good. Sometimes freedom can be an inconvenience, especially for busybody politicians, but that does not make it moral to limit people’s liberties simply because you find them bothersome. The destruction of certain freedoms can yield utilitarian benefits in aggregate, but on the individual level it robs people of their natural rights. Throughout history, freedom has been restrained because it is seen as troublesome and a barrier to collective progress. Without an ideology that cherishes liberty, it will be restrained at any despotic ruler’s whim.

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”
 — Thomas Jefferson

Pragmatism also forces outlandish political compromises because anyone who rejects a settlement based on principle will be belittled as dogmatic. Whenever a compromise is made in politics, one can assume that government power was expanded in some way. Yes, government could do something, but should it? This question is never asked because a pragmatic approach is unconcerned with the unintended consequences, moral hazards and ethics surrounding any government decision.

Despite the prevalence of this rhetoric, this election fielded several candidates that transparently and passionately defended the philosophy that informs their policies. They are the living antithesis of political pragmatism.

It seems incomprehensible that Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, would resonate as well as he did with Americans. Indeed, he shattered expectations by gathering twelve-million votes. I find socialism reprehensible but respected the fact that Bernie Sanders pinned himself to an ideology rather than hide behind the pragmatist cop out. The truth is that Bernie’s image of America is not all that radical. Since FDR the United States has had an ever expanding welfare state but it has never been an honest debate. Many Democrats share the exact same vision as Bernie Sanders but they do not have the honesty to label themselves as a socialist. Instead, they seek to expand government control through slow, methodical ‘compromises’. And it is working. Sander’s may have lost the democratic nomination, but his socialist movement will live on.

Contrast that with the values represented by candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They fought equally passionately for constitutionalism, fiscal responsibility and liberty.

Say what you want about these candidates, but you cannot question their sincerity. They revealed their biases and provided voters with an ideological choice. It is time to have an honest debate between these philosophies, socialism & capitalism, collectivism & individualism, constitutional revisionism & originalism. If we stay on our current trajectory, America’s founding principles will simply die by stealth. Individuals that do not have the gall to stand up for the principles they claim to represent will continue to make concessions that slowly erode our civil and economic liberties.

Progressives have been fighting an attrition war through the false god of pragmatism, and they are winning. They pretend to be devoid of ideological dogma but in reality their political philosophy is a guiding force. Conservatives have followed along with this narrative and have largely abandoned the ideological fight, and consequently, the cultural fight. Instead we drone on about effectiveness, never daring to argue morality. Why should we continue to fight on their terms? Progressives consistently forward their philosophic agenda (albeit dishonestly), and we should as well. America was founded on ideology, and it will take a passionate defence of that ideology to take it back. We must escape this cycle of pragmatism that inevitably leads us down a trail of tyranny.

Article originally posted on my blog — http://masonrattee.com/2016/08/06/the-tyranny-of-pragmatism/