Below is a challenge I don’t think I’ve met:
Here’s a video of a recent NYU protest:
Of course this is an absurd example of leftist protest, one which the real radicals would find a pale imitation of real protest. Yet, a recognizable youthful idealism is on display here; an earnest attempt of applying highly abstract political and philosophical ideals to current circumstances and direct experience.
Here’s some of the philosophical backstory from wikipedia:
“The guiding ideal behind Hegel’s absolute idealism is the scientific thought, which he shares with Plato and other great idealist thinkers, that the exercise of reason and intellect enables the philosopher to know ultimate historical reality”
Addition: Hegel was an idealist because empirical reality is not knowable to us, but is always mediated by the mind to some extent (after Kant), but unlike Kant, that reality isn’t attributable to categories of thought which yield genuine knowledge of the physical world (Kant was an empirical realist, influenced by Newton’s Principia and keep in mind Kant failed in his aim to put metaphysics on the same ground as the sciences).
Such absolute idealism can pose real danger to individual liberty as can all folks seeking to institute a top down set of abstract principles… granting legitimacy to all manner of statist thinkers (who have translated that troubling relationship between individual and collective in Hegel’s work to “rational” projects which worked their way into a political philosophy and platform for actual governance for the German State…but given German piety I believe was already there to some extent), who with their followers very much believe that they are on the road to reality (serfdom?), and that such a road must be built and maintained by them.
Of course this isn’t the only influence, and it doesn’t necessarily de-legitimize Hegel’s thought either, as many other uses can be found for it even by those who don’t understand it all (of which I am one). Francis Fukuyama, in The End Of History synthesizes Hegelian thought with many other influences (including Nietzsche, which Allan Bloom didn’t much like) into the building of neoconservatism. (which I should mention is a movement from which Fukuyama has been distancing himself since the Iraq war).
However, I’ve been asked to come up with an intelligent connection between the political/philosophical idealism of the NYU protestors and this recent 60 minutes video, which portrays the Israeli settler situation and its religiously motivated idealism.
In the video, Israeli settlers (many of whom are young), are busy applying highly abstract religious principles as proof of their rights to the land they colonize. It seems something of a kibbutz, where both socialism and Zionism are merged, but it is also very much religiously motivated. Such idealism also doesn’t seem too far from Israeli nationalism (with which it may come into direct conflict through the state’s use of military force, which Israel’s elected officials and lawmakers claim they may well have to use against them).
Perhaps the best I can come up with is what I’ve already hinted at: a shared lack of individualism in both cases (which as an American, I may mistakenly assume has such strong roots elsewhere as it is does here). Both groups of individuals are placing perhaps even their lives in the hands of group authority, which in turn is guided by the interpretation of highly abstract and profound ideas under which collective action is sought.
It is doubtful that any one member of either group has entirely thought the guiding ideas through, but it is likely that each of them have had many doubts…doubts which their respective groups don’t necessarily foster.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the U.S., we have managed to create a structure in which people may believe and organize as they please, but the attendant political idealism and desire to base their principles in virtue as determined by one political party, one sitting government, or indeed one majority (and the tyranny that majority can wield over any individual) has so far been kept in check.
In addition, we have also successfully managed to develop a state in which freedom of religion is maintained, but religious idealism (and the desire to ground our principles in religious texts and belief) is also thankfully kept in check.
I don’t know if this is a satisfactory, or even complete response, as most of what I’ve said is fairly pedestrian, over-simplified, and nothing new…
If you think you can do better, have at it. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.