- ActivitesHuman Rights
- December 4, 2008
- 3 minutes read
To add to my post the other day on the role of ideology in foreign policy, I just want to say something about “pragmatism,” since we are hearing that word a lot. The emerging consensus, as Glenn Greenwald puts it, is that “we have now entered an era where pragmatism and competence trumps all considerations and old ‘ideological’ disputes are thereby rendered obsolete.” Along these lines, Dan Lehr says “pragmatism is forcing ideology to take a back seat.” This is probably true. Ideology has taken a back seat. But this does not mean ideology is gone or irrelevant. All it means is that our current political discourse has opted to de-emphasize questions of ideology for reasons that may have little to do with the actual, and supposed, decline of ideology.
Jim Arkedis argued last week that “no matter who’s in the Oval Office for the foreseeable future, I think we’re ending the left/right divide and putting a premium on smart pragmatism.” I am, to be honest, not totally reassured by the rise of “smart pragmatism.” It brings to mind our pre-9/11 foreign policy, which while infinitely better than our post-9/11 one, is not necessarily the standard to which we should strive (for that argument, see here). In some sense, everyone is “pragmatic.” What differs from one person to the next, however, is what and where their “non-negotiables” are. Where are the red lines of foreign policy? There are always red lines because there are certain things we won’t do even if they”re in our pragmatic “self-interest.” And there are always things we”ll choose to do even if they go against our narrowly-defined national “self-interest.”
The fact of the matter is liberal Democrats and conservative realists have different red lines, in part, because they are animated by different principles. In short, while principles or “ideology” may not seem to matter as much now, that has little bearing on the question of whether they will matter at some point in the future. They will come to matter more if and when we move away from lowest common denominator agreements and start to talk fundamentals and “first-order questions,” which is something I think we”ll have to do eventually.