Think of this as Volume 11, Number 17 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I’ve written since 1997. Enjoy.
What is most frustrating to me, as I read responses to my blog posts here and elsewhere, is how often I come up against raw, naked ideology.
Ideology is a soul stealer. Ideology blinds us to reality, substituting an artificial construct. Ideology, regardless of where its -ism comes from, is simply impractical.
One big reason why we have generational change is that the principles which first motivate important changes morph, over time, into ideology. This happens at all times, to all types of principle. The kind, simple words of Jesus have been transformed over the centuries into a host of warring ideologies. The same is true for Mohammad.
The same is true, in our time, for Adam Smith, for George Mason, for John Locke, even for Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, all the great men who are credited with defining what is today modern conservatism.
I have been quite taken with the interviews surrounding the book Pure Goldwater, co-written by Barry Goldwater Jr. (who supported Ron Paul) and former Nixon counsel John W. Dean (who now seems to be a Democrat). Dean revealed that, while Goldwater Sr. was seen as a right-wing extremist in 1964 he was, by the end of his life, considered to be something of a libertarian, out of step with his own party. He even befriended the Clintons!
Goldwater was a man of principle. What he saw in his lifetime was those principles morph into an ideology, an absolutism as troubling as what he had fought in the 1950s.
Jesse Jones (left), a key member of FDR’s early New Deal team (he
headed the Reconstruction Finance Corp. for 12 years) became a
fire-breathing conservative in later life. The same sort of change
overtook William Jennings Bryan, who went from economic populist to
religious crank. It happened to Mark Twain, loyal Republican turned
Mugwump. And to John Tyler, who went from Tippercanoe’s lieutenant and
successor to a Confederate Senator and traitor at life’s end.
What happened? Things changed. The movement went one way, taking
some principles into its ideology, discarding others, and all these
folks stayed where they had stood, on principle. They were discarded.
Right or wrong aren’t at issue here. What is at issue is this
natural progression, of principles to ideology, and the danger that
poses to democracy. That’s why we need to change principles each generation.
I am certain that this will happen to those principles Howard Dean
stood up for five years ago. Time and power will cause some lessons to
become writ, and others to be written-out.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Just as voters in 2008 don’t have to
become wedded to the old Anti-Thesis, we don’t have to be wedded to the
Internet Thesis as an ideology. We shouldn’t be. It’s just a set of principles.
Principles are vital. They are a guide to proper action. Ideology is
a bane. It always leads to trouble, no matter how well-meaning it may
If it can happen to Barry Goldwater, it can happen to anyone.
One more point. Very important. These principles don’t just apply to
politics. The idea of innovation turning into dogmatic idealism and
destroying its creator is common in every sphere.
We see it all the time in sports. Someone like, say, Buddy Ryan, innovates a new defense, everyone adopts it, and eventually it stops working.
We see it in business. Bill Gates innovated a new way of seeing
where power in computing lay, he seized that power, but now power no
longer lies there and the company is sputtering.
The answer in all these cases is the same. Move on. Not moveon.org but move on. Don’t remain
wedded to principles such that they become an ideology and destroy you.
This was the basic theme in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, and this idea of change, of following your own course, remains the only true ideology I know. Because it isn’t one.
But don’t just apply it to issues. Apply it to business, apply it to
politics, apply it to life. It works precisely because it’s not an
ideology. It’s just a principle.