Overcoming The Psychological Barriers to Combining Realism with Idealism

I was recently forwarded this thoughtful article by Peter Wehner, from Commentary Magazine, that talks about the need for people to appreciate the importance of idealism in striving for policy goals as well as the realism of compromise with others who also have valid parts of the truth.  From the article:

Politics is an inherently messy business. Moreover, the American founders–who developed the concepts of checks and balances, separation of powers, and all the rest–wanted politics to be messy. …

Too often these days, zealous people who are in a hurry don’t appreciate that the process and methods of politics–the “messy,” muddling through side of politics–is a moral achievement of sorts. But this, too, is only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that justice is often advanced by people who are seized with a moral vision. They don’t much care about the prosaic side of governing; they simply want society to be better, more decent, and more respectful of human dignity. So yes, it’s important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. But it’s also the case that politics requires us to strive for certain (unattainable) ideals….

What happens all too often in our politics is that people who are drawn to one tend to look with disdain on those who are drawn to the other. What we need, I think, is greater recognition that both are necessary, that each one alone is insufficient. Visionaries have to find a way to give their vision concrete expression, which requires deal-making, compromise, and accepting something less than the ideal. Legislators need to govern with some commitment to philosophical and moral ideals; otherwise, they’re just passing laws and cutting deals for their own sake.

Unfortunately, moral conviction is often negatively correlated with appreciating the need for compromise.  How then can we combine realism with idealism?  We here at CivilPolitics are actively supporting research to help understand how to remove these barriers to groups coming together despite moral disagreements and welcome contributions from academics who have good ideas.  Some ideas that have support in the research include improving the personal relationships between groups and introducing super-ordinate goals where moral agreement can occur.  In future months, we’ll be highlighting other recommendations along these lines to help combine realism with idealism.

– Ravi Iyer




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