Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Is and What Should Never Be

As the Obama World Tour reached its apex in the soaring (but as usual, empty) Berlin speech, I was reminded of a line in an old Led Zeppelin song:

And if you say to me tomorrow, oh what fun it all would be.
Then what's to stop us, pretty baby? But What Is And What Should Never Be.

The foreign policy world, and perhaps the entire human world, is roughly divided between realists and idealists. Robert Plant in the lyric above manages to navigate the boundaries between the two, moving from a dream-like idyll to the real world and back again, questioning the dictates laid down by the world as it is, but cautioning knowingly about the power of What Is, as well as the moral constraint of What Should Never Be. Of course the point of rock and roll and the associated sexual and political revolutions was always to defy convention and go with the dream. Thus the Obama as rock star meme, the political messiah, the One we have all been waiting for, the change we can all finally believe in--the sense that the dreamworld of idealism is about to break into the real world and save it, is not something new, but is in fact by this time quite long in the tooth as cultural artifacts go. Political Idealism is a hardy plant--going back at least as far as Dante Alighieri's dream of one world government, and the many others that have followed--Immanual Kant's Universal Peace, Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, the United Nations, the EU, the World Court, and the trans-nationalist Democrat party all point to and long for a world at one. And now Obama is the electrifying new voice for idealism ascendant.

Yet our present day dreamers miss the subtlety of Robert Plant's lyric exploration of the moral ambiguity of the world we live in. Dreaming of What Might Be, chafing at What Is, they, child-like in their naivety, dismiss or disregard What Should Never Be. The hard knowledge of what the world is really like is inconvenient; it impinges on the dream. But the lessons from the real consequences of idealist benders are strewn throughout history for those realist enough to look; that trajectory is seen is small in the lives of so many rock stars--like shooting stars, they burn brightly and then fall to earth as cinders, or worse, completely incinerated.

Rush Limbaugh has stated categorically that we cannot afford an Obama presidency. The reason is this foolhardy brand of idealism that stands back of Obama's pronouncements, which is given so much currency and presence in pop culture--that is the real danger to the US as the leader of the free world, and to the world as a whole. For when idealism attempts in its sleepwalking to make the dream real, the evil among us are unleashed to establish a new world order of their own. One century of totalitarianism ought to be have been enough to have taught that lesson...but that Ur-realist, Friedrich Nietzsche, did he not, prophesied two centuries of world-wide tumult from the decision to invite God to leave.

What Is, and What Should Never Be--world builders ought to consider these things.

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