IDEALISM, IDOLATRY AND IDEOLOGY Radical Bleeding Heart image


Idealism turns goals and aspirations into idols; ideology does the same for ideas and political programs.

But Isn't Idealism Good?. It may seem strange to suggest that there is something wrong with idealism. After all, conservatives often deride liberals for their idealism, accusing them of a naïve lack of realism. There is truth to this charge: idealism does blind one to reality, but that is not what really concerns the conservatives. They are actually saying that they like the way things are (reality) and that those things cannot be altered. They typically accuse us of trying to change human nature. The implication is that humans are naturally selfish, cruel, and violent, and that nothing can be done about it. That is true of course, but they are also naturally giving, kind, and peaceful. Sometimes they are the one, and sometimes the other.

As long as we bleeding hearts maintain merely that we wish to encourage the giving and peaceful side of human nature while discouraging the violent and selfish, we are no less realistic than the most avid and brutal war-monger. Actually, we are more so.

Idealizing Evil. When do-badders, who like violence and selfishness, insist that we are all fundamentally brutal and egoistic, they are being just as idealistic as the do-gooders who maintain that we are all basically good. The mistake of idealism is to imagine that something that is inside is actually outside. We project our values and aspirations onto something outside of ourselves — our ideals.

The appeal and the danger of idealism is exactly the same as other forms of idolatry: it is a surrender of the self. We fear making decisions and taking actions purely on our own authority. We prefer to imagine that we are just responding to an external truth, a reality that exists apart from ourselves. The danger is that we are then blinded to realities that we find disagreeable, and blindness inclines one to stumble. Those who idolize peace and kindness blind themselves to the power and even — yes, occasionally the necessity — of violence or war. Those who idolize violence and war — the columnist Charles Krauthammer is an excellent example — blind themselves to the fact that kindness often serves ones purposes better than cruelty. The ideal may — or may not — represent an absolutely laudable goal, an admirable hope for the future. The error is just to confuse the goal with a present reality.