The greatest triumph of leftist intellectuals in their attack on the vast body of knowledge and education inherited by the modern era from the treasury of ideas of Western civilization has been to fragment ideas and language itself until neither have any meaning, except as vehicles for emotional rhetoric or a specialized vocabulary.
Today we live in a world filled with idealism but devoid of ideas. We are surrounded by agitation and argument, but it takes place in an environment without historical context in which the very idea of history has been rendered meaningless and objective standards have been banished.
Idealism used to be grounded in ideas. Today idealism is a form of nebulous self-expression, an optimistic attitude or the willingness to believe anything you are told. The Obama campaign is only one of a succession of such nexuses of candidates who are idealists without ideas. Obama has exploited a campaign of personality, becoming the male Oprah to a public that wants to hear an upbeat message without having to pay attention to the words.
Real idealism is hard work because it takes into account the difficulties of achieving your goals. Hollow idealism is just a show, a rising inflection, a hopeful tone, a cheering crowd, the thrill of a mass gathering the cheering the same man even if no one quite knows why they are cheering him.
The dissolution of a culture of ideas has instead replaced it with a culture of rhetoric that grows increasingly shrill by the year even as less and less is actually being said. The ability to understand and debate ideas was the 'exchange medium' of our political culture that allowed an argument to be settled and for one side to win and the other side to lose. Now the only way one side can lose is to be badgered, ridiculed and shouted down until it abandons the argument and seizes another one. Our political culture has become reduced to a bunch of six year olds shouting at each other with neither side ever making much sense.
Into that schoolyard McCain has emerged as the stern and cranky but upbeat principal and Obama as the fun, open and eager to play teacher. Of course these are only masks but they are calculated masks for a political culture of six year olds refereed by magazines and TV anchors that increasingly communicate with their audiences through images and graphics rather than words, let alone ideas.
The erosion of a culture of ideas has also meant the end of standards. It no longer matters if a Presidential candidate was a draft dodger or a drug addict or closely tied to racists. Candidates now know that they can expect a brief storm of scandal before the attention deficit disorder impaired press and public are ready to move on. Clinton may have been the first President who grasped this, but brazening it out has now become the default response by politicians to anything short of and even including a trial and conviction.
Without ideas there are no standards, because standards themselves depend on objective values. The left has demolished those values and ideas leaving nothing but emotionally derived rhetoric in its wake and in fighting them, the right has increasingly become that which it fights, a soulless postmodern mirror image which uses values as an emotional keyword rather than an assessment of intellect and character.
Idealism without ideals is simply emotion. Love, hate, anger, happiness and at the center of them all the Id, the 'feeling self' always animalistically seeking the emotional responses of the present while discarding the hard work required to build the future. Without ideas, the idealistic candidate is the one who knows how to push the right emotional buttons, not the one who offers real hope for the future.
Ideas are the difference between false hope and real hope. Without ideas, everything devolves into a morass of snake oil salesmen slyly plying their wares of "Hope" and "Change" on a gullible public that has been deprived of the education of ideas that was the heritage of their civilization. Reduced to the mental age of children they oscillate between bitter cynicism and naive optimism, devolving into worship. The semantic content of speeches becomes irrelevant, like a dog looking up at its master or a savage at a man, only the tone of voice matters.
The loss of ideas has created generations of technologically gifted, mentally agile and emotionally vulnerable savages. Glib ignorance is the new paradigm as all the deep and numerous databases with their vast store of information cannot replace the intellectual tradition that comes from oral learning and understanding a heritage knowledge rather than unrelated storehouses of facts, theories and opinions masquerading as facts.
Idealism without ideas is the cry of the technocratic emotional first world savage, "Esteem Me, Fulfill Me". Self-esteem is the basest demand of the Id when the Super-Ego's necessities of individual character and moral substance go unmet. This election has seen the candidates of ideas, right or wrong ideas, go down to defeat turning the election into a personality contest. Which leader will push the right emotional buttons to win the leadership of the tribe? Will it be the old grizzled veteran tested in battle or the interloper from a hostile tribe who is busy exploiting that paradoxical vulnerability of ours, this fusion of a third world poverty of ideas with a first world sense of guilt and lack of self-preservation? Either way the absence of ideas brings us to the brink of self-destruction.