The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard

This is from my post, “The Folly of Pacifism, Again“:

[T]he case for pacifism … is fundamentally flawed….

[I]t rejects the actuality of human nature for an idealized version that is impossible of realization. It is, in other words, an example of the Nirvana fallacy in operation. In this instance it is based on two assumptions — hopes, really — that run contrary to the actuality of human existence. There is the hope for a world without states, and therefore without the kind of state-sponsored violence known as war. But states are inevitable because statelessness invites warlordism, and if a supposedly stateless people join in self-defense against a warlord they will have created what amounts to a state for the purpose of committing violence — in self-defense. Then there is the hope that people — state or no state — will not band together against the “outside world,” but they will.

Bill Vallicella, Maverick Philosopher, in a typically thoughtful post (“Can What Is Possible to Achieve Be an Ideal For Us?“) says this about  ideals:

Ideals must be realizable if they are to be ideals.  The ideal ‘points’ to a possible realization.  If that be denied then it is being denied that the ideal stands in relation to the real when the ideal has its very sense in contradistinction to the real.  At this point I could bring in analogies, though analogies seldom convince.  The possible is possibly actual.  If you say X is possible but not possibly actual, then I say you don’t understand the notion of possibility.  Or consider dispositions.  If a glass is disposed to shatter if suitably struck, then it must be possible for it to shatter.  Analogously, if such-and-such is an ideal for a person, then it must be possible  — and not just logically or nomologically — for the person to realize that ideal.

I believe this is an important topic because having the wrong ideals is worse than having no ideals at all.  Many think that to be idealistic is good.  But surely it is not good without qualification.  Think of Nazi ideals, Communist ideals, leftist ideals and of their youthful and and earnest and sincere proponents.  Those are wrongheaded ideals, and some of them are wrongheaded because not realizable.  The classless society; the dictatorship of the proletariat; the racially pure society; the society in which everyone is made materially equal by the power of the state.  Ideals like these cannot be achieved, and if the attempt is made terrible evils will be the upshot.  The Commies broke a lot of eggs in the 20th century (100 million by some estimates) but still didn’t achieve their fabulous and impossible omelet.

Pacifists and anarchists, as far as I can tell, hold unrealizable ideals. And yet they insist on judging what is real and achievable against those ideals. The pursuit of peace, in the way that pacifists would pursue it, can lead only to subjection by those who do not want peace, except on their terms. The pursuit of absolute liberty, as anarchists would pursue it, can lead only to subjection by those who despise liberty, except as their personal liberty enables them to trample others.

Pacifism and anarchism, in other words, are delusions no less dangerous than “the classless society; the dictatorship of the proletariat; the racially pure society; the society in which everyone is made materially equal by the power of the state.” All are routes to oppression.

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