Thinking more on pragmatism, it occurs to me that the thing that a lot of people mean when they say they are non-ideological, or when they are classified, like so many undecided voters, as “results-oriented” and interested in “problem-solving,” is that they wish to appear reasonable and capable of making compromises with their opponents. Those who are moral absolutists of different political stripes are seen as unreasonable because there are things on which they will not, cannot, compromise. It seems to me that moral absolutists are often confused with ideologues, while the latter frequently prattle about morality and yet never seem troubled by the use of plainly immoral means to achieve their goals. As I suggested below, those who adopt the pragmatist label are very often ideologues of exactly this stripe. This is related indirectly to the discussion of outrage from yesterday.
Ideologues tend to traffick more in outrage, or rather in what we have come to recognize as manufactured outrage, because an important key to any ideology’s victory is to arouse the crowd’s passions and get them to stop thinking critically or to stop thinking at all. Outrage is the heart of propaganda, and one of the main purposes of propaganda is to deflect attention away from the flaws in one’s own system and focus entirely on the crimes, sometimes exaggerated, of another regime. For any ideology to endure for very long, it needs to cover itself in the legitimacy of morality and reasonableness, and outrage at wrongdoing abroad is useful for mobilizing political support for the ideology and identifying it with moral righteousness. To be pragmatic in our political culture, then, is to be willing to compromise on such moral absolutes as part of the “righteous” struggle against evil abroad, while draping oneself in moralistic rhetoric and being willing to use force against those who have been sufficiently demonized as embodiments of evil.