Sunday, May 10, 2009

Barney Frank on Pragmatism v. Idealism

American University gave Rep. Barney Frank an honorary degree for which he gave the commencement address for the School of Public Affairs--you can view his address here and read his address here. As one acerbic colleague put it, "It was worth the other twenty commencement addresses I've had to sit through to hear this one."

Normally, I would not link to commencement address--bywords for bordom--at the risk of driving readers away in droves. However, Rep. Frank is a funny guy and his strong defense of pragmatism struck me as apposite in light of a variety of recent political debates. Money quote:

I would also make it felony to say “Oh, you can do that because you are pragmatic but I am idealistic.” Understand that the more deeply you hold your ideals, the more you are morally obligated to be pragmatic. Because ideals that are not implemented do nothing but make you feel morally superior. They never fed a hungry kid, they never cleaned up a polluted river, they never built a road that got people anywhere. So yeah, you should be pragmatic after you are idealistic. Pragmatism in the service of idealism is what you need. Idealism without pragmatism is just a way to flatter your ego.