30
Jan
11

Ideal vs. Material

If anyone read the review of Irving Kristol’s posthumous collection of essays The Neoconservative Persuasion, they may have also noticed the strict line that neoconservatism draws between the dynamics of the material world and the “moral” and “religious” considerations. It never occurred to me before, but it seems like a great number of the larger ideological debates of the modern era can be drawn along these lines. To quote from the review, most of Kristol’s essays

add up to an extended tirade against American liberalism, which I think should figure as still another of neoconservatism’s principles — the largest and most energetic principle of all, judging by the evidence here. The tirade rested on two main inspirations, neither of which can be dismissed out of hand. Kristol repeatedly argued that American liberalism, in its domestic programs, has relied on a parched and narrow vision of human nature, which attributes too much importance to material conditions and not enough to moral and religious considerations.

Such dogmatism and rabid anti-materialist sentiments (in both the capitalist and the philosophical senses of the word), of course, are the cornerstones of modern American religion, and the dogmatism, at least, carries over to the American right. It’s not outlandish that American religion and conservatism make for such wonderful bedfellows.

The main sticking point for me, the one thing I cannot get past, is this reactionary attempt to deny what is so obviously true about the world: things change quickly and dogmatic rules prove to be inadequate to them as soon as they’re printed or typed. What’s so bad about admitting this fact and trying to deal with it rather than taking the conservative path by closing one’s eyes, plugging one’s ears, and yelling as loudly as possible. Wanting to believe something doesn’t make it true, and attempting to strong-arm materialist (or realist) considerations in the name of morals, dogmas, and static, proscriptive ideals won’t make it go away.

That this is an accepted and acceptable route is something I just cannot fathom.

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