< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: Pragmatism, no longer useful?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Pragmatism, no longer useful?

For the better part of my generation, Democratic foreign policy (and to some extent domestic policy too) would aptly fit the term "realist". So pervasive was "realism", and so acute were its successes in preventing a third world war that even Republicans like Eishenhower, Reagan and Bush I unquestionably accepted most of its tenets. The ethos of foreign policy "realism" is simple: one cannot change the world, but everyone working together can. From this universal value the UN was created and for sixty years, a major world war has been averted. I will post again soon on the state of foreign policy realism, today I'd like to turn the focus briefly onto domestic policy. In this realm, America has a long history, dating back to pre-WW-I times. Of course, "realism" was not the original term, "pragmatism" was. The Supreme Court adopted pragmatic approaches, confusing terms even more, with the Brandeis and Llewellyn school of "Legal Realism". It is not accident that this school of thought flourished at the same time that America's great foreign diplomacy victories were abounding. The ideas of pragmatism were, and still are, the same ideas of realism.

Yet today progressives must look very hard at how pragmatism has been used domestically. What originally started as a critique of blind, or still worse intentional, adoption of ambigious first principles, the pragmatic endeavor has evolved into what some today call relativism. That is, the argument that: "these moral values judgments are arbitrarily chosen to fit the winner" has morphed into: "all moral judgments are arbitrary." There is a certain radical pragmatism at work here, it should not be discounted. However, pragmatism has never been concerned with the radical. In some sense, it has never been concerned with the true, rather merely the better is pragmatism's goal. Before proceeding with a long and mostly uninteresting historical discussion, I will simply conclude here, as all pragamatic progressives might fittingly conclude, with a question or two. I hope they engender thought and most importantly, discussion...

How pragmatic is it to argue that all moral judgments are arbitrary? Aren't some moral judgments necessary? Isn't pragmatism itself a moral judgment?

I would very much like to thank Federalist X for setting this site up. I will be posting regularly from now on. Please email us at: mailAmendmentNine@yahoo.com if you have thoughts you'd like to share.

UPDATE: I completed a reading of Josh Marshall's "Talkingpointsmemo.com" just this past hour. His post concerning Hillary's potential run references the false dichotomy (I believe) that many progressives seem to have engrained in their souls. At the start he says there are two reasons he opposes a Hillary run, one reason being "principled" the other reason "pragmatic". Yet, when I read the so-labeled reasons, I confess, I see both reasons equally principled and therefore pragmatic. I read Mr. Marshall all the time, I like his work. I just want to point out even the esteemed Mr. Marshall falls prey to a view that principle and pragmatism are somehow essentially different.

2 Comments:

Blogger Federalist X said...

Good stuff Schenker! Thank you for the post and glad to see you're online.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. You all really need to be linked on the big blogs

6:51 AM  

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