I have a standing offer of a bottle of Laphroaig for anyone who can supply me with an objective and nontrivial explanation of any distinction between the nouns idealist and ideologue as used in the contemporary English language.This is a profound conflation of an ancient metaphysical model with a modern form of ideological thinking to which it is entirely unrelated—and in fact, as we'll see, opposed. Plato's metaphysical realism (which, somewhat confusingly, can be called a form of objective idealism) does not assert meaningless ideographs as unceasingly positive—as in Moldbug's examples—but rather it holds that the things we perceive with our senses are instantiations of abstract objects, that is, of universals. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Explaining that conservative ideologues are a dime a dozen, as are progressive idealists, but there are somewhat fewer progressive ideologues and it is almost impossible to find a conservative idealist even when you really need one, will not get you the whisky.
However, there's another meaning of idealist in English - a historical one. Idealism is actually a philosophical school. Or rather a number of philosophical schools. I find the term most useful as it pertains to the line from Plato to Hegel to Emerson to Dewey. (It sometimes helps if you think of them as evil kung-fu masters.)
Let's capitalize the word Idealist in this sense, so that we know we don't just mean a nice person who thinks the world could be improved.
An Idealist is a person who believes that universals exist independently. Specifically, in the modern sense, your Idealist believes in concepts such as Democracy, the Environment, Peace, Freedom, Human Rights, Equality, Justice, etc, etc.
What do these concepts have in common? One, they have universally positive associations. In fact they have no meaning without these associations. A statement such as "the Environment is evil" or "we must work together against the Environment" is simply not well-formed. It is the equivalent of Chomsky's "colorful green ideas sleep furiously."
Two, they are impossible to define precisely. It's fairly clear that they have no meaning at all.
The most fundamental distinction in Plato's philosophy is between the many observable objects that appear beautiful (good, just, unified, equal, big) and the one object that is what beauty (goodness, justice, unity) really is, from which those many beautiful (good, just, unified, equal, big) things receive their names and their corresponding characteristics.Thus Plato tells us that the physical world is a series of models of, or emanations from, higher Forms which are truly real. He is not telling us that we ought to take up arms for a perfect world; he is telling us that a perfect world exists right now, and that by contemplating realities—and thereby distancing ourselves from passion and seeing the eternal One which abides in, and beyond, the ever-changing Many—we can have some knowledge of that perfect world. It is by this means that we draw nearer to God.
The difference between this view, and the view held by modern progressives—that their creed is universally true rather than that the One is universally real—is more than evident. One might be tempted to look at such "idealistic" models as those put forth in Plato's Republic, for example, as a sort of communism-before-the-fact, but to do so would be to impose a present-day understanding of political ideology on an allegorical work of philosophy.
The proposals made in the Republic, which would be strange indeed if applied as though it were a political treatise, make perfect sense when we take the "ideal State" to be the state of the soul, and not a prescription for what must be brought about among imperfect, far-from-ideal beings. Plato is making a vast allegory for the soul, just as he allegoricizes the Eleusinian Mysteries in the Symposium. If we read Plato as a scribbler of political manifestos in the modern fashion with which we are familiar, we misread him.
Another helpful indicator as to Plato's intentions is the actual behavior of actual Platonists. If we look at the way real-life Platonists acted—we're talking Plato himself, Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, and Proclus here—they were about as far away from Protestant reformers as one could possibly get. They had no conception of a universally true orthodoxy which existed in contradistinction to, and which was to violently destroy, all other forms of belief and worship; they did not make calls to immanentize the eschaton.
There is a vast chasm between the claim that there is a perfect world which is more real than this physical one, and the claim that this world must be made "perfect" by destroying everyone who disagrees with you. The former is what one comes to understand with enough study of Hellenic and Egyptian mystery religion, Hinduism, and so on; the latter is the result of an epistemic distinction which begins in memory with Moses (who appears to have derived it in turn from the iconoclastic cult imposed by the pharaoh Akhenaten): hence Jan Assmann's name for it, the Mosaic distinction.
With all this in mind, if we then accept Moldbug's explanation of progressivism as a particularly virulent form of Protestantism, something is dreadfully amiss. Were Luther, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards consulting Plato for their theology? Is Platonic philosophy—or, indeed, anything Hellenic at all—somehow important to Protestant thinking in a way that the Bible is not?
A look at the relevant history tells us that the Protestant Reformation came after a shift in the metaphysical and theological framework of the Western Church between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, away from metaphysical realism, to nominalism. As I said in a recent comment at Occam's Razor (a funny coincidence of names, given the content of the comment):
Nominalism says that universals do not exist outside of our minds; that the frog, the lilypad, and the blade of grass may be easily categorized as ‘green’, but are not actually in common possession of some universal greenness. Such a universal, after all, would be a limit on God’s omnipotence. So for men like Ockham, God was not reasonable or even necessarily loving; he could do as he pleased, rescind any offer, negate any promise. The only indication of what this deity’s inscrutable will amounted to was to be found in Scripture.If Moldbug can find me a record of footsoldiers being amassed to bring about a New Zion in the name of the blessed philosopher—Plato's Chosen, if you like—I'd love to see it.
Over the next two centuries, nominalism came to supersede realism. By the early 16th century, the ontological debate had been more or less settled in favor of the former, and now Western philosophy turned to debates about which realm of being was primary, rather than a debate about the nature of being itself. But the god presented in the nominalist vision was, in a word, horrifying; how was one to worship him? or, as one might come to wonder, how was one to remove such a vicious and disturbing idea of deity from his mind?
The Protestant Reformation; the humanism of the Renaissance; the ‘modern’ thought of men like Bacon, Descartes, and Hobbes: each of these was an attempt to answer these questions. The first declared deity primary; the second, mankind; the third, nature, in a sort of middle-ground formulation. None of these models is particularly satsifying, because the denial of the existence of universals is at its root a corrosive and unsettling proposition, which no amount [of] window dressing can truly mitigate. The Western mind has not yet recovered from the shock.
In short, Protestantism is a form of Christianity that draws itself back to its Hebrew roots, rejecting the grafting of European philosophy and artistic endeavor into it which had taken place over the course of centuries. Indeed, the iconoclasm of the Reformation follows quite directly from YHVH’s repeated injunctions to his people to “overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire” (Exodus XXXIV:13; Deuteronomy VII:5, XII:3).
Iconoclasm, a hatred of beauty, a rabid intolerance of other forms of worship, a fanatical belief in the absolute truth of one’s own creed and the future victory of its adherents: this is the extended phenotype of something much older than Calvin.
I get the feeling I won't be getting that bottle of Laphroaig.