So, here we go again with another musing about the moving parts of that weird alloy of capitalism and socialism that we live in, modern Western democracy.
The Relationship Between Politics and Idealism
One thing which is rarely even mentioned, let alone discussed, is the relationship between politics and idealism.
The value of social and moral activists to political parties is of course partially the value of their votes. But part of the value is that they supply idealistic clothing to disguise the naked fights over power and money. Political parties cling to their justifications too long and too hard. The Democrats have been fighting racism, sexism, et cetera for a long, long time– long enough for the struggle to shift from a process to a pillar of their identity, their worldview. This is what happens with ideas that have enough juice. The Left appears never to have considered what they would do if they actually achieved what they ostensibly wanted, which appears to be the case: racism and sexism have never been rarer than they are today in America and Europe. They’re far more common in the rest of the world. True, the activists of the Democrats have come up with some new stablemates for these tired old nags, in the form of homophobia, transphobia and so on, but given the arguments about the terms, the relative scarcity of the pitiable people in question, and (unlike race and gender) the concealability of the defining characteristic in many cases, it’s doubtful that they’ll ever be the workhorses that race and sex were.
So. Faced with the unpleasant fact that you won, and might no longer have that sweet political and identity-narrative juice going forward, what do you do?
Give them up?
The Democratic Party won’t permit that.
Any political party or politician (Republicans included) needs idealism not only for the activist energy and votes, but to disguise the uglier aspects of their party. Poor Democrats require a veil over the fact that much of their proffered pitiability is little more than the intellectualization of greed of foolish people who are in the lower half of the distribution when it comes to talent, brains or capitalist ability, and/or in the upper half when it comes to spending money on lifestyle. The unaffordability by the government of poor people’s greed must likewise be concealed. They have to have obfuscation and obscurantism over the fact that the expedience of voting yourself money is an addiction which often never ends (and which, like addiction, requires more and more over time as the system acclimates). Find new idealism, or fix the old? Nah. They’re too addicted to the “quicker, easier, more seductive” path of clinging to the old idealism, poorly fitting though it now is.
So if they can’t give stale idealism up or reform it, just as Christianity could not for so long, what can they do?
Only one thing.
Move the goalposts. Redefine them. Do the new definitions fit the real world poorly? Scream and rage at those pointing it out, since righteousness has its own energy, cheap and corrosive though it is.
Ralph Waldo Emerson saw this sort of rot of idealism. In his most famous essay he wrote,
“Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression.”