Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why Idealists Win

"This is the blunder of the cynics when they say that idealists do not succeed. Idealists, consistent idealists, succeed much better than anyone else, because no man can be at ease in the presence of his own neglected ideal. Men are always fidgetting and shifting a little nearer to the high seat where the fanatic sits. When once a man has been called an impracticable visionary, he is practically bound to be a success. The moment a thing has been called impossible, something sporting in the soul of man takes the bet and resolves to bring the thing about."

The Right Way to Denounce Things, June 1912, Illustrated London News

I don't know whether it's quite true that "when a man has been called an impracticable visionary, he is practically bound to be a success"; but I do believe there is something inside all of us that admires the fanatic. Secularists may decry faith as being irrational; but the human soul craves faith. We thrill to stories of pioneers who had such faith in a single idea-- whether it was a new design of toaster or a new form of government-- that they persevered in the face of opposition and ridicule. The climax of our films and stories so often involve one character showing unbreakable faith in another. Liberals retain their faith in democracy and education when it seems like dictatorship and ignorance (as they see it) is in the ascendant, and traditionalists hold to their faith in the "abiding things" when the world seems to be nothing but flux.

It was the madness of 1916 that won Irish independence where all the fillibustering and power politics of the preceding decades had failed. The national legend of the British people is the "finest hour" of 1940, when continued resistance against Hitler seemed futile.

Personally, I don't know whether man-made climate change is a reality or not, but I do sometimes wonder if recycling and energy-saving appeals to the younger generation because they are bored with affluence and cry out for some kind of austerity.

It also makes me wonder if we are going to see more and more Westerners, brought up in a culture where self-gratification is the highest good, drawn to Islam for its promise of a more challenging and purposeful life.

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