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One Cheer For Ideaism

Britain is currently in the grip of debate regarding next month’s EU Referendum (do we stay in the EU, or leave?), and I have heard some of the stay-in (“Remain”) supporters refer to the “European ideal”. Obviously, it’s for them to explain what they mean, but the word “ideal”, to me, conjures up the old idea that things like revolutions (eg. French, Russian) can bring about a better world, and ideas (or ideals) of brotherhood and liberty can be made to flood human life, once some kind of repression or repressive regime has been removed, and while – it is normally acknowledged – such processes will involve some blood(perhaps a lot), the end result will be worth it, since goodness, equality, justice, and hope will flourish all around us, and make a perfect world (or at least, a world considerably better than the present one). People believed these things then (the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries), and occasionally – like now, perhaps – you discover that some people still believe in them today. Somehow, people are never very influenced by reality and experience; people do know quite a bit about the depressing facts of history (eg. the “Animal Farm” effect, as I call it) but rush to repeat it nonetheless. They know – they must know, surely – that idealism leads, in almost every case, to very bad things, that, in most cases, idealism is the father of tyranny; and yet – so irrationally – groundless hope eternally fills the human breast; not only the young are perpetually idealist and hopeful.

              The big problem with all these hopes for improvement is that they are entirely man-made, all are purely-human ventures. My scepticism, realism concerning people, is based firmly, I consider, in the Christian, or Judeo-Christian, understanding of humanity. Human hopes and ideals will always fail because of the inherent nature of humans, as revealed by our religion, and as objective – rational – experience completely confirms. But does not God work within (ordain, as it were) certain nations, peoples, and institutions (perhaps, it might be, the EU – maybe the European ideal is valid after all?). I think not, and history shows that the Holy Spirit – the force and power of Christian truth, and evangelisation – moves on; after all, Europe was the powerhouse of Christianity – once. (An exception, of course (indeed, a totally different case) is the fact of “God’s chosen people”, the Jews, whose role, nature, and purpose was so different, and may become so again).

              Humanity’s salvation (moral/social “improvement”, if you like) can never, will never, be a human creation, nor will it be achieved in this world. Oh, of course, I hear you say: “Well should we do nothing then, not try to improve things, just accept the worst?” Of course not! For if we do nothing, then badness will come over us with a vengeance. We simply have to have reasonable, not rosy, notions of what can be achieved, bearing in mind the way humans are. If our aims and efforts are reasonable and measured, we are likely to achieve something; if we cling to romantic ideas of achieving all, then we will surely bring down great evils upon us – as has happened so often before.

 May 2016