Telescopic Politics: A Call for Idealism, Part I

StarsintheskyToo often in modern politics (not to differentiate modern politics from other eras in this respect, but the dead won’t be reading this blog) political pragmatism. That is, there is a profound cognitive dissonance between our knowledge of the magnificence of the human race and our choices in public policy. This problem, notably, occurs on both sides of the aisle, thus the following may seem apolitical when it is truly pan-political.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, believed that material constructions were all simply reflections of the real idea, or form, of these constructions. For example, couches made by craftsmen are all expressions of the one true couch. The ideal couch cannot exist in material form, it is solely intelligible. Thus, the best we humans can do is to try and make the best expression we can of the couch with the materials we have.

The same principle holds for abstract concepts. The most relevant to politics is justice. While the true form of justice does exist, it is impossible to exemplify in earthly society. All civilization can create, just as with couches, is an expression of justice.  Justice is very real, and it is extremely important in government. But we cannot have it perfectly. Societal order cannot exist without at least a rough imitation. However, the important idea here is that ideals do exist, and that we do our best to emulate them.

Many times over the course of my life I have decided to take a walk at night, and gaze at the stars. Doing so allows me to gain perspective on my life, and put into proper context whatever troubles I am experiencing. Isn’t it telling, from a Platonic point of view, that a right understanding of both the important priorities and possible solutions to life’s events is gained by fixating on that which is far above us? Ideals and universals must first be established in order for particular problems to be dealt with.

Ancient Greek philosophers were not the only thinkers to talk about the importance of ideals. C.S. Lewis said: “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” In other words, if  we pursue ideals before particulars, the details will be sorted out. But if our philosophy is constantly changed do to reacting to various situations with no driving principle, the attempt will only fail. In the same way, if we make the more egregious error, as Marx did, of trying to solve one specific problem (economic inequality) and deriving a general principle from this solution, the resulting idea (communism, in this case) will almost necessarily be terrible.

When we apply this to the realm of politics, the specific political philosophy of each member of the ruling arm of the government becomes vitally important. They must be asked what their understanding of the highest good is, not their answers to relatively minute policy issues. It is also important to know what we ourselves deem the highest good of our civilization to be. Only after determining this, can we know how to properly frame a government, and who we want to lead it.

The ideals of society are thus of the utmost importance, and should be what is constantly debated and discussed in contemporary culture. Without these, we are left with arbitrary responses and neither a guide nor a standard to measure by. In reference to politics, the overarching universal must first be discovered before a response to any single societal ill can correctly be brought about. Thus, ideals are of the utmost importance and no good political philosophy denies them.

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