“A majority without an ideology is a helpless mob, to be taken over by anyone.” — Ayn Rand, Blind Chaos (1962– )
If you have ever wondered about the sorry state of our political system, and of exactly how it got that way, the answers to those questions have now been printed in every major newspaper in the country-though not in the manner in which the news writers intended.
Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), who recently announced his decision to retire from politics, had a few choice words for Congress on his way out the door: “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving.” (Federal News Service, Feb. 15)
'Ideology' is a word we hear often enough, and usually in a negative context; what does the word actually mean? According to Merriam-Webster, an ideology is: '(1) The body of ideas characteristic of a particular individual, group or culture; (2) the assertions, theories and aims that constitute a political, social and economic program.'
And 'idea,' in turn, is defined as: "(1) A plan for action; (2) something imagined or pictured in the mind; (3) a central meaning or purpose."
So, since the very notion of an "idea" is a plan for action, while "ideology" pertains to the aims of a "political, social and economic program," how would one engage in "practical problem-solving" without reference to either?
Consider, for a moment, the implications of such an approach. In order to solve problems, one must first identify them. Yet that very act of identification — of analyzing hundreds or thousands of concrete aspects of reality, and then evaluating those concretes in terms of their negative effects on human beings — is itself an ideological process.
And solutions? Those are even more conceptual, involving a correspondingly greater need for referencing ideas, for now we have the added factors of projecting potential alternative actions to be taken in response to the problems, and of re-evaluating the impacts of those actions on the original problem. To say nothing of evaluating whether those actions have created new problems or not.
To attempt to solve problems without referencing an aim or plan, therefore, can only mean: to blindly stumble along on whim and the range of the immediate moment, with no recourse to thoughts or principles, which means: to function as a mindless animal. What would anybody seriously expect from such a course of action? Yet all of it is contained in the Senator's simple sentence.
A day later, on Good Morning America, Sen. Bayh continued his Congressional hatchet-job: "There's just too much brain-dead partisanship, tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage rather than focusing on the greater good, and also just strident ideology."
But when a group of people choose to abandon concepts and ideas, what else is left to them but "tactical maneuvering for short-term political advantage"? And how are such people to determine what constitutes the "greater good" when the very tools needed to define that good are considered to be "narrow" and "strident"?
Yes, there are a number of bad ideas at work in Washington-but the answer is to replace them with good ideas, not to scrap the idea of an idea, as such. That kind of "anti-ideology" would barely allow a gang of thugs to function; to see it seriously proposed in the halls of Congress should give pause to anyone truly concerned with the "greater good" of the United States.
But observe the extent to which the erosion of ideas has turned the second group into a legalized version of the first-for when men discard ideas, all that remains is the reign of brute force.
Never before in America's history has our culture abdicated the role of the mind in human affairs to the extent that it has today — and never before have we found ourselves mired in so much stale, hopeless cynicism, seemingly powerless to tackle any issues with any degree of success. One follows from the other.
No, it is not ideology that has put us in this position, but precisely the opposite: its relinquishment. The United States sorely needs intellectuals of the mind who are not afraid to stand up for ideology — who can step into our intellectual vacuum, confidently expose our current errors, advocate answers based in reason, individualism, liberty and reality, and effectively promote a new agenda of hope, progress, prosperity and production.
Anybody out there interested in a job?
Harrington is a former United States Marine and a free-lance writer who lives in Cheyenne, Wyo.