Friday, July 18, 2008

The End of Idealism



I am in need of confession. Picking on comments made in a dialog Noam Chomsky had in the 1960's really is not all so fair, but I appreciated the opportunity to deal with the terms suggested. Philosophical self-consciousness has a certain allure. Especially where we have seen principles deeply rooted in history become incorporated in institutions, principles like representative government, due process and the availability of the writ of habeas corpus. And dealing in the realm of honing and refining definitions certainly gives rise to a kind of clarity, not necessarily the moral clarity that is inherent in working with the imagination in the genres of the novel and the like, but nevertheless some kind of clarity.

In this respect too, I think it is interesting to note the approach Jurgen Habermas of the Frankfurt School focused on Post-Modernism observes with respect to the exercise of representative power by the United States in the post 9/11 environment. Besides the observation of the risks of preemptive action in light of the historical truth that temporal power is fleeting power, so appealing to the reason that suggests the adherence to overriding norms, Habermas characterizes the nature of the structure advanced in democratic preemptive adventures as a "liberal hegemony." "Liberal" because the moral basis of the action is a kind of self-referential dependence on ethical certitude born of the success of liberal principles and "hegemonic" because this is a kind of action that moves beyond principle and international convention into a moral universe only prescribed by the moral certitude of the actor. The implications for process and the history of ideas is staggering.

In the short sighted motivation of achieving some kind of material security the national character from an idealistic perspective is debased in the delusion that self-interested action is ethical action. There is a kind of atavistic assumption here that some inherent goodness adheres as the result of the historical standing of the actors where they have arrived at this time and place with great power. There is no consideration of the possibility that departure from the idealistic underpinnings of historical standing is destructive of the educated view that gave rise to the historical principles at stake in the first place. Consciousness of the dissonance in behavior at odds with emergent standards is overlooked in favor of considerations that require power to be exercised no matter what norms of experience are breached or what self-imposed limitations are acknowledged. In this light philosophically categorical exercises give way to disingenuous displays of cunning. The language of principle becomes only instrumental in deceit. The balance of the past and future inherent in projects of idealism is sacrificed.
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