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The Pursuit of the Politics of Purpose

Pragmatic Radicalism and the Struggle for a<br>Civil Society
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Institute Bulletin No.29 26.September.2005

“One man-resolute-speaking truth, rallies a majority.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The appropriate preoccupation of a civilized society is commerce not morality.”

~ Thomas Jefferson 

Many of you have often asked why engage in the work we do. Others have suggested that we stick to electioneering and finance and forget the disempowered, the disenfranchised and the disaffected. They have suggested that we forget about unpopular causes and remain in the domain of the game. I think it is time to offer an explanation. Sometimes we need to be reminded of certain matters and allow them to shine their rays of conscience onto the complacencies and compromises of our lives.

The juxtaposition of the above two quotes may seem strange to some but they are not. When Jefferson was asked how he could make such a statement, since it was he who had penned the words of resistance and revolution, he explained that the aim of political struggles was to make the political warrior irrelevant.To make morality, civility and decency so ingrained in the spirit of man that society would have the courage of conscience for co-operation to the commonweal of all. That after millennia of struggle to escape the jungles of barbarism men would finally understand that in common cause, in common pursuit of defense, food, resources we would finally end the societal notions of confrontation and have the luxury to enjoy the true treasures of life-art,music,poetry,passion-and yes commerce.

But commerce conducted as civilized members of the same fraternity to fund the civility of life not as adversaries on a battlefield using money as the fodder for cannons. But in order to reach that stage, before you can achieve the civility of commerce, democratic citizens have the obligation to exercise the courage of conscience that Emerson spoke of, to prod society to end the suffering that surrounds us and repel the mendacity and hypocrisy that decays our spirits and paralyses even the best of us from exercising the nobility of spirit necessary to spread the hope that will release our instincts for generosity and decency that will make gentle the life of this world.

These efforts should not be pursued because of any notions of secular saintliness or false piety. They should not be pursued for any specious hopes of reward in the world the world to come. They should certainly not be pursued as salve for our insecure egos that need constant attention as a tropical plant needs water. The highest and best use of our time, treasure and talent is to create an environment around us where rather than looking over our shoulder at whether the other guy has a knife at our back, we are looking out for the other guy. Our highest aspiration is for a society so civil that all realize that this “vale of tears” of a world becomes a “valley of tenderness” where the weak, the alienated, the minorities, the many who are put upon through no fault of their own will have the aid of a societal alliance of leadership from business, labor and politics who will assure attention to their needs in order to insure the survival of our freedoms.

At the dawn of the industrial revolution philosophers and kings and industrial potentates all realized that we entered a new age of the inter-dependance of men.No one could make it alone no matter how much money or majesty they had. At various times in recent history men have left lives of comfort and privilege to engage in the public arena to pursue and propound the necessary progressive changes to ensure the stability of our free market of ideas and industry. Some pushed through revolutionary change, in opposition to their own colleagues, because they understood the historic thrust of the uncontestable inevitability of the need for a society of equity as well as equality. The process of engagement in this development has always seemed to us to be the most exhilirating expression of what we are about as educated and enlightened men who by our refusal, in Dante’s word, to “…place ourselves with those cold and timid souls…”, propel our society to lionize the nobility of courage and conscience and repel the decay of hatred, jealousy and greed. We must struggle not for the sake of philosophical notions of an idealized humanity but for the very pragmatic and immediate relief of the human being.

Moral victories are not the ones we need to seek in this twenty-first century. Effectiveness is the goal. Our manner of engagement in the public arena is the determining factor in our results. The “…engaged man…” in Malraux’s term,or as Saul Alinsky would put it “…the professional radical…”, understands that process is the key. And he must enjoy, and master, that process. Every nuance and every notion.

The pragmatic radical needs to understand, and embrace, power. The old academic liberal notions that power is corrupt and corrupting are bankrupt ideas.We need to understand where it resides and how to exercise it. In order to do so it is really not important that one is even known to the general public. Anonymity is an ally as is an ego that makes us secure in the sure and certain knowledge of our value, obligation and right to engage in the public discourse of our time. The pragmatic radical needs no re-assurance through publicity. Discretion is better, anonymity safer. He need be known only to his peers, other men of influence and engagement, who know he can get things done and share the faith in Tennyson’s words that “…tis not too late to seek a newer world…”

Publicity sometimes frightens opponents and even annoys allies. Those in power with whom you engage must know how much you think of them, not how bright you think you are. Remember that we deal with the manipulation of the coarser instincts of man-greed,envy,prejudice-in order to subdue and neutralize them and allow civility,honor and decency to triumph.

The pragmatic radical must be the private man par excellence in a world gone far too public. A society gone mad with false images and soundbites with a media establishment ravenously replacing contemplation with titillation. He knows the rules of the game: to whom to talk, to remember what was said, to whom not to talk and to remember that often less is more. The subtle nuance of menace often successfully replaces volumes of argument.

One learns which journalists are your kind who would, without being told, know what to print for the greater good. Which questions should be asked and which may not be asked. The pragmatic radical of influence knows that those whose names are always in print are precisely those who do not have power. This is a social revolution
that must be conducted from the corridors of power, not from the barricades of the street, for the redress of suffering is too important to be left to the self-aggrandizers and the publicity-seekers. The pragmatic radical of our time is the classic insider’s man.

Then why engage if there is no public applause? Because even men of influence seek to live in a world where they are judged not by the contents of their pocketbooks by the quality of their character. Even men of power are pained by the suffering around them-for we are all human. All of us at one time, in the deepest recesses of our hearts, have heard echoes of the words of the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik “…shomayim, bakshi rahamim allai…” “…heaven, have mercy on us…”. We have all felt the dark mists of despair. We have all looked into the abyss and found-courage. We have all learned the lesson that justice is not in heaven nor beyond the sea but in our hearts to dream and in our hands to forge. The strongest amongst us know full well, in Benjamin Franklin’s words, that “… the rights of the majority stop at the doorstep of the minority…” or none of us may feel secure in the liberties we hold for granted. This is the litmus test of what we are as a people. How we treat the least among us.

Alan Seeger once wrote “…the day is short, the agenda is long, the work continues and the dream shall never die…” We can usher in a new age of power tempered by poetry and purpose fired by passion. It is the age old demand of G-d, the dream of the prophets and the singular hope of man.

Beryl P.Wajsmann

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