Saturday, 30 December 2006

The Egalitarian Ideal

Is egalitarianism an unattainable, and thus naive, pointless abstraction, or is it a principle central to the American ideal? Politics always involves an interplay between philosophical abstractions and pragmatic concessions to reality. That is as it should be. We err terribly if a recognition of non-attainability leads to the abandonment of ideals.

In our personal lives, horizons are necessarily limited, and lofty goals often must be scaled back or altered in order to set new goals which are indeed attainable. Sadly for some, that means abandoning not only the unattainable goal, but also the worthy ideal which buttressed it. But for others it means balancing the ideals with realism, and achieving something that can make a difference, rather than overreaching and achieving nothing, or giving up and substituting lofty goals with cynical opportunistic ends.

Our nation's history serves as a testament to the worthiness of the egalitarian ideal, boldly written into our Declaration of Independence, but incrementally approached as two centuries saw the extension of the vote to non-land owners, then an end to slavery, then women's suffrage, and further progress in the mid-twentieth century in the rights of minorities. As Martin Luther King Jr, who participated in creating that progress noted in 1967, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." Formalization of an ideal, such as that written into the Declaration of Independence can have a lasting influence in moving toward that ideal, however unattainable the ultimate manifestation of the ideal can be.

Of course, there will always be inequities. There is wisdom in the oft heard counsel that "life isn't fair" and we do well to recognize that early. But that does not mean that fairness should be thrown away as a value, nor does it justify mistreatment of our fellow human beings, just because absolute equality is unattainable. No matter how much someone may buy into the notion that making things fair is a hopeless proposition, it always seems they will still be acutely aware when they are not dealt a fair hand.

The egalitarian ideal has been held up by people of various political stripes throughout America's history, and adopted broadly in many parts of the world as a worthy goal. No philosophy or party has the market cornered on it, nor do I wish for that, but for much of the last century Democrats have been more consistent than Republicans in holding it up as central to the American dream, and it is largely due to that emphasis that my own identification has remained that of a Democrat throughout my adult life. My party's candidates stumble and fail frequently enough, but the egalitarian ideal remains an American ideal to which I hope the Democrats can hold fast as we approach the future.

And let us all, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and others alike, continue to hold ideals and vision as a beacon to guide our policy and politics as we grapple with the realities in our imperfect world.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes I do believe that we not only can have an egalitarian ideal but that we must have. We have learn through nature the devastating effects of cutting things down, killing things off and not respecting the need for diversity. Loss of species, loss of plants the could have provided cures for serious ailments, loss of habitat and perhaps with global warming loss of the world. To much greed for monitary wealth has made opportunity single track, rather than the celebration of spiritual wealth, wealth that comes from community spirit and belongingness, wealth that comes from creativity etc etc. If we held each of these matters in such high esteem the things utilised for monitary wealth would be in balance and therefore not destructive. Sociologically, ecologically, philosophically, theologically,scientifically, psychologically etc we need to focus on diversity being the sustaining element of life force, of physical, emotional and spiritual wealth!