“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars Did wander darkling in the eternal space, Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;”
Dreaming about a governmental structure in which two different parties, one in power and the other playing the role of loyal opposition, combined their efforts toward addressing and seeking solutions for pressing issues of the day? We seem to be wandering “rayless, and pathless” in our own political landscape.
We put out the lights when we confuse political philosophy with political ideology. A political philosophy contains the basis for discussions about the legitimacy of governing, the nature of justice, rights, and the rationality of laws. It questions which rights can be enforced, and how, and why. It seeks answers to the practical questions regarding the balancing of personal privileges with personal rights; regarding the correct mixture of personal protection with personal liberties. It initiates inquiries into the relationship of the individual to the state.
A political ideology is made of sterner stuff. A political ideology has already answered these questions. An ideology packages the aspirations of a particular group (or class, or culture) and sets forth immutable doctrines which support these aspirations. While political philosophy invites debate, a political ideology approves only recitation.
American liberalism and conservatism are political philosophies. There is no end to the moaning among some liberals about the lack of targeted coherent programs to advance “the cause,” or repetitions of Will Rogers’ famous quip — “I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” Rogers’ line is still accurate, and that may be a blessing. Beyond the boundaries of a few organized political groups, it’s truly difficult to find an analogue to the Book of Common Prayer among liberals. Some are focused on economics, others on the environment, some on issues of war and peace, others on the effects of government policy on middle class Americans and the poor.
The health insurance reform issue was illustrative — depending upon which liberal one was reading at the time, the solution to the health care mess in America could be solved by (a) creating a national health service, or (b) creating a national single payer health insurance system, or (c) offering minimum standards for health insurance policies offered by health insurance corporations, or (d) creating a system by which individuals would be given tax refunds or allocated subsidies for purchasing private health care policies, or (e) …or (f) …or (g)…. And so it went.
The response from the Republican Party in Congress was divided between the House and the Senate. Republicans in the Senate offered amendments, some of which were adopted, acting within their political philosophy of conservatism. The opposition in the House was, and remains, fundamentally ideological. There have been 41 useless votes to repeal, reduce, delay, and defund the health insurance reform system enacted in the Affordable Care Act. At first the Republicans offered that they would “repeal and replace” the ACA — then they dropped all pretense of replacing the reforms with anything tangible. Their shift from political philosophy to political ideology was complete in the 113th Congress.
When all the curtains are closed, the windows shuttered, the doors bolted, and no communication can be effectively maintained then we’d ought not be surprised when Ideology takes possession of the darkened house and the inmates imagine themselves to be on the precipice of the abyss.
When Ideology, and not philosophy, drives the conversation we should expect no more from residents within the cottage except a resounding chant of “NO” in ever increasing volume. Either a proposal conforms in its entirety with their ideological doctrine or it must be summarily dismissed. When the darkness precludes any introduction of light (facts, or alternative opinions) into the discussions, the result is then Darkness had no need Of aid from them—She was the Universe.
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