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Pragmatism Will Be the Death of the American Ideal

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Pragmatism is leading to the death of the American ideology. According to the common dictionary definition, pragmatism is “an approach that assesses the truth or meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.” In essence, it is the idea that a theory is only as good as its practical implementation. If the practical implementation doesn’t work, then the theory itself is inherently wrong and should be discarded.

The first question this definition brings is: practical to whom? The next question is: if it is practical to some and impractical to others, as the practical application of almost any idea is, then how can any standard of good or bad be defined? Without an objective set of values, known as an ideology, there is no objective morality. Pragmatism for the sake of being “realistic” is immoral and does nothing for the improvement of society.

What then should be the set of values that define our morality? If pragmatism is the absence of objective morality, then what is the presence of it?

Dennis Prager explains exactly what the presence of objective morality is in PragerU’s video, “If There Is No God, Murder Isn’t Wrong.” He says, “The existence of God ensures that good and evil objectively exist, and are not merely opinions.” He is referring to an objective morality defined by God, one that does not change for anyone or any reason and is not subject to an individual’s opinions or beliefs. When decisions are made for the sake of being pragmatic, then that objective morality becomes subjective to feelings and opinions.

On the other hand, dogmatism, which is defined as “the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others,” is the presence of, or the belief in, objective morality. It requires a fallible belief in objective principles or virtues that are not necessarily provable, but apply to all people nonetheless. The Founding Fathers were dogmatists in their defense of the objective morality identified above. Therefore, with a pragmatic approach, the United States would never have been born.

In the past, dogmatic communist and socialist movements committed unspeakable evils. They preached the “truth” in their theories despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the subjective “morality” they claimed to support. The difference between that form of dogmatism and the one that founded America is the premise that was being supported by each. The founding beliefs of America are life, liberty, and private property, while the beliefs of communist and socialist movements are tyranny and mob rule.

Pragmatism takes no side, offers no conclusion, and has no objective morality, principles, or virtues. It defends no one, yet panders to everyone. It is unclear, undefinable, and unaccountable.

It is the reason that compromise is the ultimate virtue in our contemporary society. In attempting to be pragmatic, politicians justify immoral action, or no action at all, through the guise of compromise. It allows them to stay in office by earning the favor of other politicians and certain interest groups that contribute monetarily to their campaigns. Any solution they reach, whether good or bad, can be publicized as a “necessary compromise.” When pragmatism is the only virtue, it opens the door for mob rule and for less benevolent ideologies to take hold and implement change.

Compromise for the sake of compromise is never acceptable, but there is most certainly a place for compromise in our lives. My late grandma Lois always said, “Everything in moderation.” I have found this to be true in almost every aspect of life, and this case is no different. There is a delicate balance between dogmatism and pragmatism, between ideology and compromise, that must be achieved. No mutually beneficial solution can be found without the guidance of an ideology of objective morality. However, no worthwhile progress can be made without compromise. Both are necessary, but in moderation, for too much of one destroys the other.

With a strong ideology rooted in objective morality, there is a place for pragmatism. But pragmatism in the absence of an ideology is chaos, and we are heading further down that road each day in America. We need to redefine, or rediscover, our values and principles as Americans before we let pragmatism become the only morality we know.

Follow the author on Twitter: @jobernhardt

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About Josh Bernhardt (6 Articles)
Josh is a senior at Iowa State University, studying Aerospace Engineering. He became interested in politics at a young age thanks to influences from his father, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Through careful study of people such as Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and John Locke, he gained a passion for political theory and the organization of social systems. This has led him to begin as a writer for PragerU Writer's Squad.

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