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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Living between Idealism and Pragmatism

Philosophers and reformers in every age have been obsessed with the concept of idealism. Some have wanted to establish an ideal government, but they have failed. Some have tried to establish an ideal society, but again they have failed. Some have wanted to establish ideal justice in society, but in spite of all sacrifices they have failed.

What is the reason behind this general failure? It has rightly been said that the ideal cannot be achieved. The reason is that man is born with an ideal thinking mind, but the world we live in is less than ideal. Man is consumed with the desire for the ideal, yet is bound to live in a world that is far from being ideal. As an eminent scientist once rightly remarked that it appears that man has strayed into a world which was not made for him.

Almost all the unrest in human society is traceable to this fact. All men and women want to live in accordance with their own thinking which is based on idealism, but the law of nature being as it is, they fail to achieve their goal. It is this difference between our sense of the ideal and reality which creates problems. People as a result become frustrated, then they begin to register complaints and protests, and finally turn violent, opting all too frequently for fighting as a means to achieve a goal which will always remain elusive in this world.

The only way to establish peace in this world is to accept the formula of pragmatism. It is the greatest wisdom to be content with pragmatic goals when the ideal goal is not achievable.

An illustrative example is that of Alexander the Great. He inherited the land of Greece and became its king. But this was less than ideal for him as what he wanted was to conquer the whole world. Thus he embarked in pursuit of his goal with his army, but history tells us that in 323 BC he died in Babylon, with an overwhelming sense of failure, when he was only 32.

For Alexander the Great, the government of Greece was a pragmatic option, but on a political whim, he opted for conquering the whole world. According to his way of thinking, his option was an ideal he strove towards, but according to the law of nature the ideal is not achievable. Had Alexander the Great adopted the pragmatic approach, he would have surely been successful, but because of the pursuit of an ideal he lost even what he had already attained, while what he had aimed for was never to be achieved.

The only way to establish peace in this world is to accept the formula of pragmatism. It is the greatest wisdom to be content with pragmatic goals when the ideal goal is not achievable.

In this world this has been the case of almost all human beings. According to a Japanese proverb, ‘If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.’ With a slight change in wording, it may be said that one who runs after the ideal goal, loses both the ideal as well as the practically achievable goal.

Because of this obsession, people generally suffer from stress. This stress increases to a point where one begins to engage in complaining and protesting. This phenomenon in turn leads frequently to violence. It is this psychology of the people which is the basis for violence. If people knew the law of nature in this regard, they would be able to live in peace themselves and also give to others the gift of peaceful living.

For example, it was Soviet Russia’s dream to establish the Communist empire, because of which it also ended up participating in the Second World War. This was an unrealistic target for the Communist USSR. Had it opted for the practical target, communism would have not gone down in history as a philosophy that advocated the use of violent means to attain its goal of a classless society.

This principle also applies to those people who have adopted violence as a method. They have a self-styled goal in their minds—such as the eradication of oppression or the establishment of ideal justice. But their own experience shows that even after making numerous sacrifices over a long period of time, they have not been able to achieve anything at all. They have only written a history of destruction. If they gave up the violent method and adopted the peaceful method, they would surely be remembered in history as the people who followed the peaceful course to attain their goals.

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