Saturday, 13 December 2008

There's no pragmatic way out

Tara Smith wrote an arresting article on "The Menace of Pragmatism" in the Fall 2008 issue of The Objective Standard. She explained that
[w]hile pragmatism presents itself as a tool of reason and enjoys the image of mature moderation, of common sense and practical "realism," in truth it is anything but realistic or practical. Pragmatism has become a highly corrosive force in people's thinking.
Later on she identifies the key features of the pragmatic style (it could hardly be called a method) of thinking:
  • A short-range perspective

  • The inability (or refusal) to think in principle.

  • The denial of definite identity.

  • The refusal to rule out possibilities.
Professor Smith's article has many examples; but I came upon a concretisation of the psychological process involved in a totally different source, a World War II thriller I'm reading [The Polish Officer by Alan Furst].
It snowed, early in November, and those who read signs and portents in the weather saw malevolence in it. The Germans had lost no time stealing Polish coal, the open railcars rattled ceaselessly across the Oder bridges into ancient, warlike Prussia. The men who ran the coal companies in ancient, warlike Prussia were astonished at how much money they made in this way - commercial logic had always been based on buying a little lower, selling a little higher. But buying for virtually nothing, well, perhaps the wife ought to have the diamond leaf-pin after all. Hitler was scary, he gave those huge, towering, patriotic speeches on the radio, that meant war for God's sake, and war ruined business, in the long run, and worse. But this, this wasn't exactly war - this was a form of mercantile heaven, and who got hurt? A few Poles?
The thugs in charge of economic regulation in Britain and America, like the Fascists of the 1930s, are getting away with a course of action that verges on insanity and can only lead to ruin. As far as Britain's Gordon Brown is concerned, borrowing billions from the producers of the future works quite well in the short run, because the opinion polls report that his popularity has increased, and other European politicians have praised him for his economic leadership. It's true that injecting all those billions of nonexistent money into the economy doesn't seem to have eased the flow of credit much yet... But perhaps, somehow, Keynesian economics will succeed this time round, if only government ministers can bully financial institutions into making magic work.

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