Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 7, 2008

Pragmatic Politics: The End of an Era

Filed under: Butterfly Wings — Punchinello @ 9:50 am
Tags: , , , ,

The World War II generation was a generation of heroes. Not only did the men fight a deadly war against totalitarianism, but the citizens at home, both men and women were directly involved. The United States came together, willingly enduring sacrifices, shortages, fear and hope, standing as a unified force of freedom in the world. Together with England and the other allied forces, freedom won and totalitarian slavery was hobbled.

Slavery wasn’t killed, nor was totalitarianism wiped out. Communism continued in the Soviet Union, spreading to China, but for the moment, individual liberties and the concept of American freedom stood strong. And our men and women in the military came home. From Germany.

Almost a century later, people today forget that Germany was for a long time the center of the academic and scientific world. Much of our philosophy today was formulated in Germany, as well as a great deal of our physics and other science. Einstein was from Germany, as was Niels Bohr. Between the two of them, we opened the doorway into atomic energy, quantum physics, and the nature of energy and light. Those are only two names.

Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, those are two more names from German (Prussia) history. Marx introduced a fundamental argument against the emerging idea of capitalism, and produced the outline for Hitler’s governmental system. Kant, and his philosophy of existentialism, was key to what was then a set of premises that would have meant the end of all further philosophy.

Our American men and women, returning home from Germany, didn’t realize they were bringing with them a philosophic justification for what everyone simply called Yankee Know-How. It was the moral justification and the structural foundation for pragmatism.

Pragmatism is pretty much the same thing as utilitarianism. The concept proposes that unless something has a usefulness, it has no value at all. Without value, it “might as well” not exist. What’s very interesting about this proposition is that it includes an embedded virus, its corollary: “If I do not see a usefulness, then this does not exist.”

From there we have an even further disaster: “If you see usefulness in what is not useful, you are deluded or insane.”

The key question is the determination of usefulness. According to what measure and by what standard will anyone measure usefulness? Keep in mind that we’re talking about value. Usefulness (to someone or something) is a fundamental characteristic of value and values. When we mention “family values,” we’re talking about values, and that means usefulness.

The World War II generation gave birth to a lot of children, known as the Baby Boom generation. For all sorts of interesting reasons, that Baby Boom generation grew up to be strongly educated in ideals (idealism). Without any real pain and suffering, sheltered in the post-war abundance, Baby Boomers grew up with a philosophy that ideals might, can, and should be put into effect.

The problem is that ideals are entirely contrary to pragmatism. “In an ideal world, sure, that might work. But let’s get realistic!” That word, “realistic” is a synonym for “pragmatic.”

Today’s Congress is still dominated by old-school remnants of the WWII generation. No longer directly in power, they are the mentors and educators who taught the in-between generation of politicians who actually are still in power. Those politicians range in age from around 60-80 years old. Almost all of them grew up with a core idea of pragmatism.

We’re coming to an end of the entire concept of pragmatic politics. What we see today, and in the past several national elections is fascinating. On the one side we have the pragmatists, left over with memories of war. On the other side we have a split, with two equally strong views of idealism. The one pathway is the ideal of science, logic, rationality, and reality.

The other pathway of idealism is the ideal world of romanticism. This philosophy arises from a belief that there is a “force of Nature” at work in all living and inanimate things. It unifies everything, making all of reality equal. No particular entity can be or should be more or less complex than anything else. A human being is no different from a fish.

Neither form of idealism is workable, but both philosophies (romanticism and rationalism) were generated nearly 300 years ago. In Germany.

How ironic that the Allies won the war in 1945, but 60 years later, Germany determines the future of America. Although it’s good for all of us that pragmatism has run its course, the emerging battle we now have to deal with is the flawed map of idealism. It’s entirely likely that the 2008 election will be the tipping point. Pragmatism, championed by politicians too old to stay in office much longer, will end within the next 10 years.

Where will we go next? We have three options: romantics (liberals), rationalists (conservatives), or a blended unification that hasn’t yet been formulated.



  1. I have a deep respect for the WW2 generation. I had 2 Grandfathers, 5 Uncles, and numerous other family members who fought in the war. Probably half of them drunk themselves to death afterwards. So for many in my family, the war was not a happy ending. I also grew up near Oak Ridge,TN where the enormous K25 and X10 Uranium processing plants generated fuel for the bombs. As a child, I had a deeply aware sense of the potential for massive destruction. These plants were at the time the largest buildings on Earth. That we put such emphasis on developing a weapon to me was phenomenal.

    I can’t say that I have as much respect for the Boomer generation. I would rather call them the lucky generation. They were born at the pivotal moment when the US had an undeniable advantage: The US was unscathed, at full factory production, and primed to provide goods to a war-ravvaged world. The US government introduced stability with the GI Bill, cheap housing, and programs meant to encourage healthy families.

    As it is now, I’m a young married man. I live in the most expensive city in the country. Me and my Wife can barely afford it. Home prices in most major metros are almost as high. So are choice was to wait. Yet even so, people basically bankrupted themselves and the country. Boomers in particular in my opinion took as much of the pie as possible, not only reaping the reward of having their homes multiply in value, but as if that wasn’t enough, insisted on gambling on real estate, vacation homes, and so on. This was the same generation that gambled on tech stocks.A recent poll found that the majority of Boomers have saved less than 40k for retirement. So not only will my generation have to bail them out of their houses, but we will also have to pay for their retirement.

    In the past, parents would make great sacrifices for their children so that their future would be better than theirs. As it stands now, the current young generation faces a world that is in completely devastated condition.

    Comment by bob — October 9, 2008 @ 10:30 am | Reply

  2. I used to think the Boomers took the whole pie, then I did some reading on generations. An excellent tracking analysis is “The Fourth Turning,” by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Even there, I started with the affirmed belief that it’s been the Boomer generation that took so much and caused so much.

    And then I got into the middle of the book. If you want to know which generation took everything, and STILL is taking everything, it’s the people born halfway between. These would be the generation of folks who were in their 20s while the Baby Boom generation was around 10 years old: the Artists.

    In fact, I believe there’s a deep flaw in the reasoning process made by the authors of the book, based on their own research (which they go to great lengths to demonstrate in the first half of the book). The Baby Boom generation went through adolescence in the 60s, but who was the most powerful influence of all those 10-15 yearolds?

    All the leaders of the cultural revolution, those who promoted peace and love, communism and flower power were in their 20s at that time. They went on to take all the resources of the WWII generation, and changed the entire legal system to ensure they would keep those resources. Even into their 70s, which is their current age bracket.

    Comment by Punchinello — October 10, 2008 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

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