Tuesday 17 June 2008


I suppose ultimately, there are two sorts of people in the world.
The Idealist and the Pragmatist.

George Bernard Shaw said 'The reasonable man will change himself to suit the world. The unreasonable man will try to change the world to suit himself. Therefore, hope lies with the unreasonable man.'

Idealists are born, not made, I think. To be sure, the spirit of the age has decided what cause the idealist has taken up, but at heart, it rests deep within, I think.

A certain frame of mind, that part mesmerises, part horrifies those not driven by it.

This posts is a personal one- of course it is.

I think Idealism has always been the path of the few, but I think it was the Romans who first truly identified it, as that strange human sentiment that exists in some, that all-powerful need to sacrifice all their own sentiment to an overriding system of principles.
We see it in the reverence for Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Republic. Amongst his many deeds of heroism, the one which was held up throughout the ages, is also one which can seem brutal, almost inhumane.

When his own son betrayed Rome, He did not hand the judgement of the case to another, he judged the case himself.
He found his own son guilty.

And pronounced the death sentence himself.
For the greater glory of Rome.

This tale of pure idealism, of honour over-riding emotion still fascinates, as a proof of the hard headed, almost cold hearted virtue that lay at the heart of the Roman republic, that virtue that made it the masters of the world, before orgies and Emperors blunted those stoic ideals, learned from the Spartans.

The play Julius Caesar, likewise, shows the fascination the Elizabethans had for the Roman sense of idealism, of sacrificing all lesser loyalties for the greater good of Rome.
For Julius Caesar is not the hero of the play, it is Brutus. Brutus, who is prepared to kill the man he loves dearly, for the good of the Roman republic. Brutus, the man who puts principle above sentiment.

Christianity, of course, was built on harnessing such idealism. It originates in an example of total self-sacrifice, and was built on millions committing to the same, sacrificing self for the perceived greater good.

What I always find interesting, is that throughout the ages, the clergy have always attracted resentment for their celibacy. The Protestant reformers weren't just adamant that priests and clergy should be ABLE to marry, but pretty much that they should all be married, whether they wanted to or not. And even today, there seems to be a kind of inexplicable distaste amongst non-Catholics for clerical celibacy.

I tried explaining to a non-Catholic girl once, when she was criticising the Catholic clergy and saying 'What would they know of love?'

'More than any of us.' I replied. 'Because, out of love for ALL of us, they've renounced it for themselves. They have chosen to serve. They have made a sacrifice. And obviously, some fail that sacrifice. But having chosen to make that sacrifice, still, in my view, does give someone who's made that sacrifice the moral highground over someone who hasn't.'

I suppose, to be honest, I find studying movements and creeds easy, because essentially I'm the kind of person these things appeal to. The general logic behind how most mass creeds have become successful is on a number of levels. Selling yourself to the masses is only possible when you have built a hardcore of die-hard fanatics, willing to sacrifice their own lives, and everything else, in the name of the creed. In these cases, the attraction is usually purely intellectual. It is amongst the masses the creed is sold to the heart. The true ideologue serves his cause with all his heart, because his mind permits him to do that.

The pragmatist majority look on the idealist generally with a kind of distaste. From the point of view of the pragmatist, there is something slightly distasteful about their fanaticism. The pragmatist, after all, just wants to feed his wife and children and snuggle up by the fireside. The idealist, if he has a wife and children, will sacrifice not only his own, but those of the pragmatist to his cause.

The pragmatist rightly fears the idealist, because the pragmatist just wants things to be nice and cosy, and the idealist could well just make them worse. The pragmatist doesn't have a cause, so he cannot see why anyone would sacrifice the things that he holds dear for something that can only overturn everything that he, the pragmatist, is comfortable with.

And the pragmatist is right, in a way. Because the cause the idealist has siezed on, may not be a good one. I look myself on most of the great movements of history and concede that HAD I LIVED AT THAT TIME, IN THOSE CONDITIONS, I would have joined.

The Jesuits, is an obvious example. During their heyday, I'd have been in. The Crusades, I'm sure would have appealed to me. I have a sneaking suspicion the Jacobite cause would have sold itself to me, but so would the French revolution. And the Russian revolution.
And I'd have been fighting for Ireland in the troubles, and not compromised for the Free State

But if I'm honest- lacking the knowledge that only history can bring, I'd have been sold on Hitler too. He pressed the right buttons.

And now? In our generation?
In our post war world, the idealist has become the 'rebel without a cause'. Yes, we had the hippie movement, but there is a problem.

The problem is, that the intellectual ideals which motivate an idealist now, are passive, and as yet, the ptential for martyrdom in their name, is slim. I believe, of course, in most of the so-called hippie ideals. But of course, the real point with any cause, is for it to dominate your life. The REAL satisfying thing about it, is that PERSONAL sense of sacrifice. And for that, an ideal needs to hold the allure of possible self destruction in its name.

That you suffer daily for your cause. The pragmatist wants to die in his bed with his grandchildren around him.
You want to die for the cause you spent your life fighting for.

When I say, the idealist is born, not made, what I mean is those incipient tendencies are always there. Not all- especially in this day and age- find a cause to fulfill them. They are forced to play the game of the pragmatist, deep down finding it an unfulfilling one.

When I was younger, I found some satisfaction from it in party politics- the Tory party, if you must know. If I'm honest, there were four things that sold it to me, belief that Blair was a slimebag, the belief that it was the party of liberty, the fact that it's colour was blue, and the fact that it was the underdog- the party that was about to be flung out of office.

And whilst I never thought too much about it's policies, I adopted a fanatical approach to party work. Whilst I now dislike the whole idea of political parties, at least in the conventional form, because I see them as essentially blocks designed to stifle true democracy, I still admire the concept of dedication shown by a true party activist. When you're trudging round a hopeless council estate wearing a blue rosette carrying an armful of leaflets, there is a powerful sense of struggle, a sense of dedication.

And of course, I always found it in religion, in various ways. At times in my life, the Church has been the dominating focus of my existence.

Even as a teenager, my father always said that had I lived in Soviet Russia, I'd have loved the marches and the parades and would doubtless have loved the commissariats and politburos.

I guess the truth is, I always needed a cause. Lack of a cause that truly satisfied my intellectual needs, giving me a TRUE sense, it was worth not only living for, but also dieing for, turned me into a rebel without one.

I think the drink, the drugs, the womanising were really just that. the sense that life in itself could never be enough.

Because, for an idealist, it isn't. All that the pragmatist dreams of, is just accepting second best for the idealist. We don't want a secure home, a wife, children, or any of that. Sure we'll take them, but they'll never satisfy.
We want a cause, and if those things fit in with our cause, fine, if they don't we'll turn our backs on them.

And we never really escape idealism. Most of you probably thought this post was about sex. Of course, one of my readers pointed out, because they've read the whole blog and can see perhaps further than a superficial reader, that my views on the subject have nothing to do with sex. They're actually rooted in Catholic idealism. The real point- as they have often confronted me with- is that my idealist approach sees the idea of romantic love in terms of religious worship. I'm actually looking for a woman who I have to suffer for to love. I'm looking for a woman that I look up to as a goddess, whilst she gives me the love a goddess gives her most loyal devotee. A woman actually loving me in more human terms, makes her unworthy of my love.

They're right, of course. It is my own re-interpretation of the Catholic idealisation of the Virgin Mary- no longer recognisable, except to the observer who truly observes that though my ideals may have radically altered, the framework of belief, and the way I SEE belief and ideals, is of course, the way a Jesuit would.

I think it is hard for the pragmatist to understand the motivation of the idealist. The pragmatist would never consider the sacrifice the idealist would. Because the idealist has a dark edge to him, he would sacrifice himself, but what else too? That chills the pragmatist.

Idealists, they are a mixed bunch. For good or ill, the fate of the world rests with them. The pragmatist at the end of the day muddles along, just hoping his life is free of them.
But of course, if there had never been any idealists, would we have progressed from the Iron age at all?

For the idealist toppled kings, freed slaves, crossed oceans, founded religions, philosophised, was never happy till he had changed what he wanted to change. And in the process, he burned heretics, slew the populations of the New World, gassed the Jews and sent his enemies to the Gulag.

The thing is, if you ARE an idealist, you just have to face the facts, that is what you are.
You're never REALLY going to be happy, settling for what drives others.

You really need to have a cause which rakes you, mind, body and soul. Nothing else can EVER fulfill you. A cause that really CAN carry you to your grave.

And it may never really make you happy. And you may have to sacrifice EVERYTHING for it.

So the point is, to be responsible. Choose your cause properly- choose the cause you CAN truly believe in, mind, body and soul.

Because that, is what YOUR life, will be all about- to the exclusion of everything else. Because that's what being an idealist means- you live by ideals, not sentiments.

And if you're going to sacrifice everything to it, you need to choose ideals that are worth it.

THEN- and ONLY then, does your life begin.


Anonymous said...

I'm not unresonable. I'm just difficult. I could get unresonable, if I put my mind to it, though... :)

Anonymous said...

So how about if you are are an idealist but pragmatic too? You know what your ideal is but also know that not everyone will go for it?

Anonymous said...

Im a pragmatists meself. I will put up with anything for a lot of beer, moderately interesting sex and chocolate. Really, I am a convinced chameleon.

Anonymous said...

Im a pragmatists meself. I will put up with anything for a lot of beer, moderately interesting sex and chocolate. Really, I am a convinced chameleon.

Anonymous said...

What if it isn’t you who choose the cause, but it’s the cause that chooses you?

Anonymous said...

any particular reason for having the murderer Che in your post?

Anonymous said...

Interesting, a rebel without a cause. Most of us don't have the luxury of being an idealist when we are young well not in my case. But maybe I was a natural pragmatist anyway.

Anonymous said...

Me? A slightly cynical pragmatist shell protecting a too often disappointed idealist, who still likes to think good of people in general, but knows not to expect it.

Anonymous said...

Well, you write like an idealist, milk, milk, steak, milk, milk.

You also failed to mention that there is indeed a contemporary idealist movement that is not simpering, de-fanged, and clawless, and people really are dying, not in subservience to a leader, but out of a commitment to their cause. You just happen to be on the other, non-idealistic, side of history this time.

Anonymous said...

Could it also be said that the idealist hates the idea of getting old ?

A certain amount of vanity - to be struck down heroically in prime and preserved in perfect image forever ?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I always had the feeling that Elizabethans were fascinated by good conspiracy tales, because they truly feared them. You have had years of religious turmoil in England. You have the ascendency of Sirs John Dees and Francis Walshingham. You have Chris Marlowe pulling into bars and listening for malcontent. I'm not surprised then, that the subject of conspiracy was of such fascination--from Ben Johnson's "Catiline," to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," "McBeth," "Hamlet," "King Lear," etc..

Then again, the kind of Spartan virtue that you're talking about might have appealed to some as well.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually looking for a woman who I have to suffer for to love. I'm looking for a woman that I look up to as a goddess, whilst she gives me the love a goddess gives her most loyal devotee. A woman actually loving me in more human terms, makes her unworthy of my love.

You are looking for a Narcissist. You won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

“I'm actually looking for a woman who I have to suffer for to love. I'm looking for a woman that I look up to as a goddess, whilst she gives me the love a goddess gives her most loyal devotee. “

Crushed, Sounds more like you are looking for a Dominatrix ;-)

Anonymous said...

Heart- I can't argue with any of that ;). Worth the effort the though. And I sincerely mean that xx.

CherryPie- All it takes for evil to rriumph is for good men to do nothing...

Mutley- Hmm. both comments look the same to me. Surely a chameleon would have disguised one of them?

Crashie- Of course. That's the sign of a true- nd satisfied idealist- one of who didn't choose a colour- the sort of idealist I USED to be, but one who realises, they know in the heart, their body and their soul, they KNOW what they need to do about what their MIND is telling them.

THAT'S idealism.

And I think you know that in your guts.:)

Lord N- How far do you want to expand the definition of murderer? I've pictures of Blair lurking on this blog as well...

jmb- Possibly. I'm not sure about that. The first bit, maybe, not the second.

Moggs- Yeah, I kind of figured :) I've got a lot better at reading readers than I once was.

Helen- Do you know, I've been mulling over that comment all day? Not too sure what to make of it, to tell you the truth.

Your comments have a habit of being thought provking :)

E-K- Too damn right!

'And i find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad,
That the dreams I've had of dieing are the best I've ever had,
I found it hard to tell you, because you'll find it hard to ake,
When you're running round in circles,
It's a very, very, mad world..'

(Tears for Fears)

That's the psychology of the idealist, Kev.

X-dell- Of course, those were hard times. The overthrow of the Catholic church in the reformation REMOVEd a pillar of the English economy.

It went from being an accepted European power to international rogue state (In European eyes), destroying the economic power of monastraries, a fundamental emplyment sector and controllor of production and distribution in, especially, The North.

The social unrest of the times, causes mass vagrancy and unemplyment. and craconian- but also humanitarian responses.

The Witch panic and the poor laws.

So a sense of a state becomes very strong.

For the first time, the state starts to be seen as the governing board of a nation, not just the advisory group of the King.

So the theory of a Republic, a government existing by popular will- started to fascinate.

Lilith- Sadly, it's not a narcissit I want.

Moggs- I think you're closer to the mark.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't thinking along the lines of doing nothing. I was thinking more along the lines of having a plan with various stages in it, that way it is more likely to succeed!