Back in 2007 when I got into politics for the first time through the Ron Paul movement, ideology was still the primary factor driving the political scene. Individualism, collectivism, Keynesianism, the Austrian School, big government, small government. Such labels meant something and they separated believers into neatly defined categories. Today with Trump we are currently in a sort of post-ideological state. I won’t call it the end of ideology, we can all see what happened to Fukuyama’s “The End of History”. It didn’t work out according to the theory, reality is a bitch like that.
For practical purposes Trump represents the ascendancy of pragmatism. I’m annoyed, irritated, angry and so on over the fact that Trump lacks a clear ideology. No, “America First” doesn’t fit the bill. Especially when Trump flip-flops on personnel, firing nationalists and elevating globalists. Pragmatism has its virtues, but it also has clear downsides. The direction you move the country in on one issue can be directly counterproductive when it comes to other issues. Although responsible for much suffering over the last century, ideologies are clear, consistent and somewhat logical “packages” of ideas that move society in a unified direction. The morality of that direction isn’t the issue here, we are all familiar with the death, destruction and torment caused by ideologies gone rogue.
When it comes to issues like free speech, the almost total absence of principled thinking is striking. The left especially is guilty of this. They are going full steam ahead with their censorship efforts. I can’t remember a time when the violence used to suppress dissent was this blatant. We have seen it on the governmental side, but not on the civilian side. It is a sad testament to the state of things that one can’t walk down the sidewalk in America wearing a hat showing public support of the current leader of the country. Doing so is likely to attract physical and verbal harm.
The rise of white identity politics as a response to the conditions created by the left also signals the rise of pragmatism. The need for a white identity and for looking at political issues through a white lens speaks volumes about the state of the political debate. Multiculturalism and civic nationalism are bleeding at the altar of practicality. The simple response has been to adopt the tools and analytic methods utilized on the left, rather than fighting identity politics as an ideology. The pragmatic path is proving attractive all across the political spectrum.
We also see this inside the bubble of mainstream acceptability within the Overton window. The run of the mill political parties have for the most part abandoned ideologies and grand political visions in favor of squabbling over minute details about bland political issues. All these trends play a part in the side-lining of libertarianism. Talking about economic theory doesn’t feel relevant to the cultural warfare going on all around us. The practical political issues have overtaken the theoretical issues we used to fight over. This can be a force for both good and evil.
The West today is in rapid decline. The connection to our heritage and values has nearly been completely severed in favor of hedonistic indulgence of short time preference pleasure and status seeking. I view this as an expression of the ascendancy of pragmatism. We focus on the concrete and immediate, not on the generational political shifts steering our civilization over a cliff. At the same time, it is tempting to say that the decline of the grand sweeping political ideologies of the past has meant peace and safety. After all hundreds of millions of lives have fallen prey to them in the past, if that can be avoided in the present, surely this must be good. That is when we must look closely at the very real dangers of pragmatism as well. The European Migrant Crisis is such a calamity. Unless you’re overly conspiratorial, the mess we find ourselves in is the result of short-sighted pragmatic thinking by virtue signalling bleeding heart European politicians, not thinking sufficiently through the long-term consequences of their folly.