Pragmatism, Idealism, and the EU image

Pragmatism, Idealism, and the EU

Male/Female, Straight/Gay, Black/White: there are no end of easy ways in which to make a binary categorization of humanity. One such categorization, often overlooked though significant, is Pragmatist/Idealist.

The idealist is as likely to be wrong as right, while believing passionately that their cause is right, whereas the pragmatist defines what is right more by ‘what works’. We live in a pragmatic age, in which idealism tends to be treated with suspicion; indeed ‘ideology’ is a dirty word. This gives the upper hand to pragmatism, though there are still plenty of idealists about – or Jeremy Corbyn would never have been elected leader of the Labour Party.

Pragmatists often succeed in getting things done, even if they cannot really provide an explanation for why they are doing it, other than ‘it works’. Pragmatists find idealists terribly impractical: idealists are not the cool kids, but the odd balls (and swivel eyed loons) on the side-lines, who need to leave the reality of getting stuff done to the sensible people. On the other side, idealists think the pragmatists are compromisers and self-serving shadow-men. To the the idealist, the pragmatist always looks lacking in character.

This division is obvious in church life. The theological idealist recoils in horror from the methods of the pragmatic ‘church growth’ leader; while the pragmatic pastor cannot understand why the idealist wants to make such a big deal of theological points when there are people to be reached with the gospel.

And there are real dangers on both sides: the pragmatist may build a large, ‘successful’, church but come to the realisation that it is all a house of cards, with little discernible work of discipleship in his many adherents. The idealist may build a very ‘pure’ church, but comprising only him and his wife and maybe a cousin or two.

The same observation can be made about politics: idealists are treated with suspicion; it is the smooth, management-minded pragmatists who get to govern. But where is the sense of vision and possibility?

The debate currently raging in the UK about our forthcoming referendum on membership of the European Union betrays something of this pragmatic/idealistic dichotomy. So far, the debate has been dominated by economics – which is very pragmatic. Those who want to leave the EU because of idealistic ideas about British sovereignty tend to be dismissed as the uncool-odd-balls.

So, when it comes to the vote, what are you going to choose: pragmatism or idealism? Perhaps pragmatism makes most sense, and it’s ‘Remain’. But perhaps the idealists are actually right and it should be ‘Brexit’.

A question to ask before you vote then: Are you by personality more pragmatist or idealist? And if the latter do you need to think more rationally? But if the former, what if the idealists are right?

Difficult, isn’t it.

← Prev article
Next article →