David Carlin is an old-time Democrat, dismayed by the depths to which his party has sunk. Pining for the days when his coalition of choice was dominated by politicians innocently seeking to channel benefits to supporters, he laments its capture by a band of ideologues more interested in promoting moral license, irreligion, and racial animosity than in doing anyone any actual good.
Though I heartily sympathize with Carlin in this matter, I would offer a few counterpoints to consider.
To begin with, pragmatism, though endemic to fallen human nature and tolerable in its relatively benign forms, is never anything to be celebrated. Not the equivalent of prudence, it means elevating desire over principle, where principle defines what is (actually) good.
When we see pragmatism for what it is, ideologues appear not as deficient practitioners thereof, but as pragmatists on steroids.
To the radical left, it may be necessary to pretend to benefit one’s constituents, but the real goal is something else entirely: the dismantling of a system denounced as oppressive, because it places limits on their power, and its replacement with a system called liberating, because it gives them untrammeled authority over their fellow man.
In other words, the transition from benefits machine to social reprogramming may itself be the fruits of a patient pragmatism, reflecting the fact that the bribes of old have accomplished their purpose, that our overlords have us in their clutches, and can finally spend less energy on hiding their true opinions and purposes.
In response, what we ought to demand from our parties is not pragmatism, but prudence, which strives to find the best practical means of achieving the best practical results, as defined by existing resources measured against objective standards of truth and justice.
The chief political manifestation of genuine prudence is a willingness not to barter, bargain, or bribe, but to deliberate.
Offering reasons for one’s policy preferences, with reference to the common good of the nation; listening respectfully to sincere counterarguments and alternative proposals; and negotiating differences in light of what best approximates the common good in practical terms—this is the heart of true statesmanship.
If it sounds starry eyed to ask this much of frail man, consider that whatever we ask of him, we will get less. So let’s call it “pragmatic,” in the mistaken sense of that term, to up the ante a bit, in hopes that we get something a little better than we’re seeing these days.
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