Belmont Club

The Ideologue

The word ideologue is defined as “an impractical idealist; an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology”. The term has been applied to a number of people. For a handy reference, Campus Progress tells us exactly who to beware of. There is Andrew Breitbart, “little more than a faux-outraged showman”; there’s Steven Crowder, “little more than a faux-outraged showman”; and then there’s Newt Gingrich, “the conservative mastermind turned Speaker of the House who engineered the 1994 Republican House coup”. There are very few ideologues on the Left.  As if to emphasize the point, President Obama told a gathering, “I am not an ideologue.”

But in a 45 minute speech to Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan, Newt Gingrich made the opposite argument.  The former speaker told an audience that “winning the argument” was the most important goal that any politician in America could aspire to today; that being an ideologue in the sense of “a person who pleads for a cause or propounds an idea” was an honorable profession.  In particular he dared his audience to go out and say to anyone who cared to listen, that “two plus two equals four”. For those readers who can spend the time to listen to Gingrich’s talk ask yourself the question: is there room in the political space for making the argument in the kind of way that he does, with a single consistent intellectual thread running through his entire policy prescription?

Or is it better to pre-emptively renounce all strongly held opinion, and like the President, be able to say, “I am not an ideologue”? When is it useful for having a framework for thinking about problems and when does it become a handicap?

Open thread.


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