We hear it all the time: ideologically motivated politics is what is wrong with this country. We need more pragmatism. What is the problem with Ron Paul? Answer: He is an ideologue. What about the Tea Party? A bunch of ideological extremists. Aside from the fact that I consider Ron Paul to be far more ideologically pure than the Tea Party as a whole, I also want to defend ideology from the mainstream smear campaign. Of all the issues in politics that are not a left/right issue, the ideology/pragmatism debate is not a left/right issue. The GOP despises the conservative libertarians because they are too ideological. The Democratic Party too can’t stand the philosophical progressives. We need more pragmatism. Or so we are told.
Ron Paul is famous for continually pointing out that, contrary to the mainstream narrative (which is repeated in the media, schools, sadly many pop-churches, and nearly everywhere else), the parties need to stop working together. Yes, you read that right. The problem in DC is not that nobody comes together, it is that they are always together. We need more political inefficiencies and debates and ideological back-and-forths. In the District of Corruption, everyone is buddy buddy and once in a blue moon, the Red Team wants to spend five bucks more on a program as opposed to Team Blue who wants to spend those five dollars on a different endeavor. So they compromise by saying: “if we raise the debt ceiling just this once more, we can both have what we want.” And then they pose for the cameras. They have selflessly come together and avoided catastrophe! God bless America!
Interestingly, ideology is given the smear treatment in Christian circles as well. There has got to be a connection! (There is, it is called sin). We are told that too often Christians divide over doctrine, over differing theological beliefs. Now, it is true that historically this has been moments great doctrinal division. But on the very basis that the contemporary “Christian” world no longer have any idea what Christian doctrines are to be believed, I deny that this is a problematic common occurrence. We need more doctrine! More emphasis on the truth. And if we define these doctrines in the same way as we might define the word “ideology” (a system of ideas; also known as a worldview) then we are comfortable in asserting that the Church too needs to embrace an ideology once again. Just as in the political sphere, the Christians have been run out by the pragmatists.
The takeover in the West by the pragmatists clearly has affected both Christianity and political theory/economics. In explaining what happened to classical liberalism during the nineteenth century, Murray Rothbard wrote:
Two philosophical roots of this decay may be discerned: First, the abandonment of natural rights and “higher law” theory for utilitarianism. For only forms of natural or higher law theory can provide a radical base outside the existing system from which to challenge the status quo; and only such theory furnishes a sense of necessary immediacy to the libertarian struggle, by focussing on the necessity of bringing existing criminal rulers to the bar of justice. Utilitarians, on the other hand, in abandoning justice for expediency, also abandon immediacy for quiet stagnation and inevitably end up as objective apologists for the existing order.
The other “philosophical root” was Darwinistic evolution. But Rothbard’s identification of the loss of “higher law” (we Christians should simply call this “God’s law –see more here) in favor of utilitarianism is precisely what we are talking about here. When we forsake “justice for expediency” and the standards of right and wrong for “what works,” we find that liberty is lost. At first in slow bits, and eventually in total. That we have lost an ideology of liberty is the cause of the loss of liberty in reality.
Often, we hear that the way we libertarians see the world is “great in theory” but the problem is that it doesn’t work in practice. But as it turns out, what is really happening is we are being manipulated toward endorsing all sorts of injustices and expansions of government power. And in the Christian world, when we are dismissed as putting too much emphasis on doctrine and knowledge, we are told that we are going to drive people away. In other words, we need to be more pragmatic. Pragmatism over doctrine is the core root of the liberal theological movements.
But it is my contention that what the political theorists and Church leaders need today is theory and ideology, practice and application will flow naturally from what is believed. It was with this conviction that Ron Paul’s chief of staff from the 70’s, John W. Robbins, started his Trinity Foundation. We read these words in the Trinity Manifesto:
The ministry of The Trinity Foundation is not a “practical” ministry. If you are a pastor, we will not enlighten you on how to organize an ecumenical prayer meeting in your community. If you are a housewife, you will have to read elsewhere to find out how to become a total woman. If you are a businessman, we will not tell you how to develop asocial conscience. The professing church is drowning in such “practical” advice.
The Trinity Foundation is unapologetically theoretical in its outlook, believing that theory without practice is dead, and that practice without theory is blind. The trouble with the professing church is not primarily in its practice, but in its theory. Christians do not know, and many do not even care to know, the doctrines of Scripture. Doctrine is intellectual, and Christians are generally anti-intellectual. Doctrine is ivory tower philosophy, and they scorn ivory towers. The ivory tower, however, is the control tower of a civilization. It is a fundamental, theoretical mistake of the practical men to think that they can be merely practical, for practice is always the practice of some theory. The relationship between theory and practice is the relationship between cause and effect. If a person believes correct theory, his practice will tend to be correct. The practice of contemporary Christians is immoral because it is the practice of erroneous theory. It is a major theoretical mistake of the practical men to think that they can ignore the ivory towers of the philosophers and theologians as irrelevant to their lives. Every action that the practical men take is governed by the thinking that has occurred in some ivory tower-whether that tower be the British Museum, the Academy, a home in Basel, Switzerland, or a tent in Israel.
We must realize that the most important social changes all take root in the mind. Ron Paul’s revolution, which he did not really create himself, is rooted in the emphasis on changing minds and persuasion toward theory of liberty. This method of revolution can be found even more so in the libertarian activism of Murray Rothbard. “Going into DC to make a difference” has proved to be a fools errand. The only exception was with the efforts of Ron Paul, but we can happily note that his entire career is defined by educating the people and introducing them to the long-lost ideals of individual liberty. The Christian world too is declaring war, as it has long done, on doctrine itself. If you were to look at the most popular bloggers and writers today, you will find a plethora of practical advise, and almost no theory, no doctrine. And I am not talking about the obvious people like Joel Osteen. I am also talking about people like Rachel Held Evans and Scot McKnight. These coffee shop liberals consistently declare war on doctrine, pitting “truth” against “love” and emphasizing the latter over the former. This of course assumes that without “truth,” “love” can be defined at all.
And not only does social change take root in the ideology of a society, but we are also saved by what is believed. Christianity is a worldview. Christianity, as noted by men like Gordon H. Clark, J. Gresham Machen, and Charles Hodge, is chiefly about the mind. It emphasizes the primacy of the intellect, and we are saved by knowing the right propositions. This sounds a bit off in today’s culture, but this is an indictment against the modern framework. If we do not believe the truth, we will not be saved. Thus, ideology is nothing to be dismissed. It is the most important thing! The next time we hear of a politician who is blamed by someone like Paul Krugman (he does this quite often) of being too ideological, here is my advice:
1. Don’t believe Krugman, for there is no politician today who is too ideological at all. Krugman is just repeating talking points that, like his economic commentary, have no basis in reality.
2. We must repeat the fact that the person who Krugman is complaining about is not nearly ideological enough. We must point out that it is our hope that more and more people become ideological.
Talking heads like Krugman will love to point out that killers like Hitler and Mao were ideologues. But this is an absurd argument against ideology. For it is ideology itself which recognizes that the actions of tyrants are wrong. An ethical statement presupposes some sort of ideology. The problem with mass murderers is not that they have an ideology, but that they have a bad ideology.
Ideology as a word itself sounds just awful these days. This is a result of the war on words. I understand how this word is received. That is why I prefer the term “worldview.” And the Christian worldview is competent to address all matters of public life.
Either way, study more and read more. Know more. Be sanctified by God’s truth (John 17:17) and continue to share truth to a world that demeans it.