Topic category: Secession - Formation of a New Constitutional Republic
The Politics of Reality
One challenge of political thinking is to escape the danger of creating an ideology disconnected from reality, especially what I call a reconstructive ideology.
The history of the twentieth century demonstrates the destructive potential of the political theory. Communism and its bastard child, Nazism, instituted one-party states that allowed no dissent, jailed dissidents, and murdered opponents. In our own time, religious extremism has justified similar repression and murder.
Beyond the obvious practical results of these political movements, there exists an ideological precondition that facilitates these crimes--reconstructive ideology. Reconstructive ideologies may be described as intellectual systems that reduce all reality to clear-cut heroes and villains. Thus, certain groups are declared sancrosanct and others contemptible; some always helpful while others are always pernicious. Radical Islam is a perfect exampleof such reconstructive ideology, where virtuous Muslims must subjugate or eliminate infidels. Such has been observed often enough, but what enables such radical oversimplification of the world? I submit it is the emphasis on logical abstraction.
The eighteenth century philosopher Viscount Bolingbroke's main contribution to political thought was the idea that reason, without grounding in reality, was capable of producing extravagant systems of nonsense. Bolingbroke wrote in Concerning the Nature, Extent, and Reality of Human Knowledge, "Thus we may concieve how men came to employ corporeal ideas, for the most part to explain the intellectual phaenomena, and sometimes to assist even their own reflections on them. [I]t soon became artifice, as soon as philosophers took it into their heads to affect such science as they are incapable of attaining. Figures in general, these of speech, and all others that do not typify determinatly, are unworthy of rational creatures, how much more of God? and figures that typify nothing, are nothing, or they are worse than nothing; they are so many lies, since they pretend to denote something real, where nothing real exists." Bolingbroke went on to write in his Fourth Essay,"Metaphysical hypotheses, in short, are not content to account for what may be by what is, nor to improve science according to the conditions of our nature, by raising probability on the foundations of certainty: but the makers of them affect to range in the immense void of possibility, with little or no regard to actuality; and begin very often, as well as end, in supposition." Or, as he wrote in Study and Use of History,"[T]hese systems are so many enchanted castles, they appear to be something, they are nothing but appearances. . . .The philosopher begins in reason and ends with imagination."
It is a matter of opinion where philosophical systems cross the line, and become reconstructive ideologies. The term "ideology" originated with G.W.F. Hegel, whose theoretical system was one of the wellsprings of Marxism. Hegelian philosophy is a perfect example of a logical system disconnected from reality. It is entirely predictable, from a Bolingbrokean perspective, that such as system would lead to the oversimplification of a world that is hopelessly a posteriori, and not based on logical abstractions. In the ancient world, one might call Plato's Republic the first political ideology. (Many would obviously disagree, but that is for another essay.)This puts the Christian in an odd position, as rejecting reconstructive ideology might compromise the Christian philosophical tradition of Aristotle, Plato, and sacred scripture. The main achievement of Edmund Burke was in forging a compromise between Christian philosophy and Bolingbroke. Burke did this by denying that Christianity is uncertain. Burke believed that scripture is "what is," that Christian philosophy is to "account for what may be by what is," to use Bolingbroke's words. In the 1782 essay Reform of Representation, Burke declares, "I do not villify theory and speculation--no, because that would be to villify reason itself. No, whenever I speak against theory, I mean always a weak, erroneous, fallacious, unfounded or imperfect theory; and one of the ways of discovering, that it is a false theory, is by comparing it with practice. This is the true touchstone of all theories,which regard man and the affairs of men--does it suit his nature in general;--does it suit his nature as modified by his habits?"
Plato's theoretical regimentation and oppression are based on one thought--"We" know better than "you." And this is at the kernel of reconstructive ideology--overconfidence in knowledge. Could it be that admitting we do not always have all the answers is the key to freedom?
Shannon Walsh holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Master's degree in History from Western Illinois University. A lifelong Catholic, Mr. Walsh is a student of philosophical history.