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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/15/09

An Ideology of Audacity

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E.J.Dionne writes today about the apparent lack of ideology in Barack H. Obama. Dionne speaks of "audacity" as if it were a substitute for ideology, but I think Obama is ideological, but circumspect about it. Audacity means "speaking out (of turn)," effectively. Children are at some age "audacious" because they are not only seen but heard at inappropriate times, embarrassingly, but often with piercing truthfulness. We are trained and learn to cloak our thoughts as we get older and to speak in euphemisms and to dance around sensitive subjects. We learn to suppress our natural desire to be heard, our audacity, and so we suppress some of our good ideas and beliefs. The title of Obama's book The Audacity of Hope is a densely packed with meaning. Obama is not confining his desire to be heard to "hope," but he is saying that his hopes should be heard ... and everyone's hopes should be heard. It is a Kantian categorical imperative ... and that is a clue to Obama's fundamental ideology. Obama is fundamentally a pragmatist. Pragmatism is a paradigmatically American philosophy, but it is a philosophy with antecedents in British Empiricism and Kantian critiques of reason. Obama is heir to a philosophy that steers away from most dogmatism, and in fact, it practices the review and criticism of dogma as a minute-by-minute exercise of free will. Obama's up-bringing and experience is that of a person from the hoi polloi, the many, the menu peuple, the commons, and so he has a sense of immersion that, say, Caroline Kennedy does not have. She has a sense of exception that Obama only has from his academic success and his considerably above the average intelligence. Immersion in a society gives you a sense of its thrum and pressure, its jostling, its uncertainty. Obama has this directly and comparatively, because of his African roots and his Indonesian experience. Obama understands being part of the whole as few others understand it. Obama does not like everything about the whole. He sees and feels (still) the injustices that pervade the commons, especially the ethnic commons. He is, because of this a humanist, dedicated to the pragmatism of liberal causes. He knows that his feelings, his beliefs, could be "wrong" or misunderstood because it is the nature of human beings to be held in thrall of their beliefs. In other words, Obama is a practitioner of multiple working hypotheses, not one of which is given strong public utterance, but all of which are entertained as a means of understanding other people. Obama is an empiricist, forever on a deliberate quest to understand, but also forever on a mission to make things better for the common people. It is, of course, difficult to say that Joe Biden is not for the common people the way Barack Obama is. Liberals are humanists, humanitarian, imbued with a sense of humane action in the world. It comes from being in the world and suffering in it. It comes from self-confidence that one can transcend, if one has the self-confidence. It comes from the pure knowledge that self-confidence can be taught and learned and practiced in small but important steps ... as we do in community service and community organizing. In a sense that is consistent with empiricism, Obama is an atomist (metonymist) and an organicist (synecdochean). He understands the parts, the people, but also the part representing the whole as easily as the whole representing the part. If you were to study American philosophy abroad, in France say, you would come to the conclusion that Barack Obama is an exponent of the essential American philosophy and its roots. He is a pragmatic but not a dogmatic Liberal. His Progressivism is a method, rather than an agenda in itself. He avoids ideological pidgeon-holing as if it were the plague, because he sees it as leading to dogmatism and loss of free will. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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