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Rand Simberg

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December 2, 2012 - 12:00 am

As Jonah Goldberg has long noted, one of the long-standing conceits of the Left and “progressives” is that they have no ideology, that they are simply “pragmatic,” just wanting to do what “works”:

Ultimately, much of philosophical (capital “P”) Pragmatism — at least on the left — was an attempt to make socialist or Marxist ideas — or attempts to move toward those ideas — seem practical and empirical rather than ideological. Much of the anti-ideological language of the left today is a byproduct of that project. “Ideology” (by which the left means conservative ideology) is bad because it stands in the way of “pragmatic” improvements. But those “improvements” aren’t pragmatic at all, they’re deeply ideological. Some of the most blinkered ideologues in American life, going back to FDR, have championed the idea that they “don’t believe in ideology” or “don’t believe in labels” when in fact what they really believe is that they don’t think ideologies they disagree with should be allowed to stand between them and implementing their agenda.

Here’s a canonical example of the thesis, from “liberal” Jonathan Chait:

The contrast between economic liberalism and economic conservatism, then, ultimately lies not only in different values or preferences but in different epistemologies. Liberalism is a more deeply pragmatic governing philosophy — more open to change, more receptive to empiricism, and ultimately better at producing policies that improve the human condition — than conservatism. [Emphasis added]

Got that? They’re “more receptive to empiricism.” That’s why they continue to promote socialist policies that have failed everywhere they’ve been tried, often accompanied by the deaths of tens of millions, not because they’re ideological.

And in fact, there was a whole (“progressive”) American movement along those lines, started by socialist John Dewey, called American Pragmatism. Indeed, supporters of President Obama, despite his well-documented life-long devotion to communist, socialist, and generally Leftist causes, assure us that he is not ideological at all, but simply wants practical solutions to our nation’s problems. It’s purely a coincidence that his proposals always somehow end up increasing the size and power of the state.

I note this history because it came to mind when I read President Obama’s characterization of Egyptian president Morsi’s Gaza game, in which the latter won great acclaim by siccing his pit bull on the neighbors, and then modestly claiming credit as a peacemaker when he decided to (momentarily) pull back on the leash:

“Mr. Obama told aides he was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence,” The New York Times reported after the Gaza ceasefire Nov. 21. “He sensed an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology.” [Emphasis added]

Yes, a major player in the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization whose ultimate goal is the imposition of sharia law on the world and the end of Western civilization, has no ideology at all. He just wants to do what “works.” And few things work better than a thuggish protection racket when there is no punishment for the extortionate behavior. In fact, the administration won’t even bring itself to criticize Morsi and his minions’ pro-jihad rhetoric, presumably because, like Joe Klein, and despite vast and obvious evidence to the contrary, they think that he is a “moderate” who might somehow become radicalized by any truth uttered about his behavior:

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m obviously not, from this podium, going to characterize the Egyptian view, nor am I going to speak for them and characterize our private diplomatic conversations. I will say that in all of the conversations that she has had, that the President had with President Morsi, we all agree on the need to de-escalate this conflict, and the question is for everybody to use the influence that they have to try to get there.

And all this, of course, was before he decided to make himself the new Pharaoh, arrogating unto himself almost unlimited political power, to which the administration’s response has been almost as anemic:

…asked point blank if the White House “condemned” Morsi’s move, Carney stopped short.

“We are concerned about it and have raised those concerns,” he said.

Carney said Obama has not spoken with Morsi since the Islamist Egyptian president helped achieve a truce between Hamas and Israel, but said Obama’s recent praise of Morsi was limited to those efforts.

Whence such a constraint now? After all, what could be more “pragmatic,” what works better than simply seizing power, given the opportunity? There’s nothing intrinsically ideological about dictatorship, so you’d think that this pragmatic non-ideological president would be totally down with it (perhaps even more than a little envious?).

And at the risk of Godwinizing this piece, I have to note that there were other people who, historically, were lauded for their pragmatism. For instance, Benito Mussolini reportedly “made the trains run on time,” which was supposedly a great feat in Italy, and was greatly admired by many American “progressives” for it (not to mention mafiosi, and even if he didn’t really). And Adolf Hitler himself was as pragmatic as he needed to be, at least when coming to power. He built up his arsenal, in defiance of the Paris Accord, only after realizing that the French and English weren’t inclined to stop him. As Jonah Goldberg relates via email (so sorry, no link or source unless you subscribe, which you should):

…when the fascist chancellor of Austria Engelbert Dollfuss (yes, you read that right) was deposed in a Nazi coup, the fascist dictator of Italy Mussolini sent troops to the Austrian border to defend Austrian independence from Nazi aggression. Hitler backed down, renounced the coup, and played nice. He was after all, a “pragmatist.”

And as for his moderation:

In 1938 former Labor Party leader and president of the British Peace Pledge Union, George Landsbury, proclaimed, “I think Hitler will be regarded as one of the great men of our time.”

And actually, as I wrote last spring, President Morsi has some other things in common with the Reichschancellor than just his pragmatism, moderation, and complete lack of ideology:

  • Do they promote a political system where the individual will is bent to that of the (Islamist) state? Check.
  • Do they advocate a totalitarian regime, in which no personal decision lies beyond its reach? Check.
  • Do they take as their guide a book written by the founder of their movement? Check.
  • Are they willing, even happy to kill and terrorize innocents to maintain that power? Yup.
  • Do they think Jews nonhuman, and wish them exterminated from the earth?

Well, OK, maybe there’s a little ideology there. But you got to love that pragmatism.

More: Why Doesn’t Egypt’s Military Do Something About Morsi’s Power Grab?

Rand Simberg is a recovering aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism and Internet security. He offers occasionally biting commentary about infinity and beyond at his weblog, Transterrestrial Musings.
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