To move forward, one must first have a starting position
The School of Athens by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael is a masterpiece created between 1509 and 1511 depicting a gathering of classical philosophers. Plato, on the left, and Aristotle, on the right, are shown engaged in conversation at the center of the composition. Plato is pointing upwards, symbolizing his emphasis on the world of forms and ideals. Aristotle gestures towards the ground, representing his focus on the material world and empirical observation. The powerful image is meant to strike a contrast between deep philosophical differences that is often associated with idealism and empiricism. The School of Athens is considered a masterpiece not only for its artistic brilliance but also for its symbolic representation of different philosophical schools and ideas, showcasing the intellectual richness of classical thought during the Renaissance.
By Joshua Peters
The political environment of 21st-century America has been characterized by constant turmoil due to the rise of populist extremism in the two major political parties. Both Democrats and Republicans have gravitated toward the extremes, leaving most Americans behind in their pursuit of ideological supremacy. In this political landscape, people are reduced to mere means to achieve ideological ends. However, a new party has emerged with the expressed desire to end the current political duopoly.
On July 27, 2022, former Republican Christine Todd Whitman and former Democrat Andrew Yang announced the formation of another party under the banner Forward. The Forward Party aims to end party extremism by offering the American people more options at the ballot. To achieve this goal, they propose three election reforms: ranked-choice voting, nonpartisan primaries, and independent redistricting commissions. The Forward Party argues that by implementing these procedural reforms, ballots will consist of a diverse array of candidates, allowing the people to better elect individuals who represent their interests.
While the Forward Party is based on understandable concerns over partisan extremism and provides a reasonable approach to minimize the issue through election reforms, the movement lacks a clear narrative on its political philosophy, ideology, and identity to inspire people to support and propel the Forward Party forward.
Rather than attempting to provide an essential definition of what is meant by political philosophy and political ideology, I will clarify their meanings through ostensive definitions. For example, liberalism is a political philosophy that generally asserts social systems should be designed around individual liberty, a principle that has oriented much of America's history.
However, there are alternatives to liberalism. For instance, socialism is a political philosophy contending that any social system should be designed around collective security, emphasizing material well-being. Nationalism, on the other hand, is a political philosophy oriented around national identity and national interest.
A political philosophy provides a movement with its sense of self and serves as a reference point for determining the consistency of policies or behaviors with the beliefs advocated by its members. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats have lost this sense of self, becoming alienated from their core principles. This alienation leads them to embrace whatever brings immediate pleasure to their fringe membership, often at the detriment of the American people and the degradation of our democratic institutions.
Since both parties have conceded their respective movements to fringe partisan extremists, America has been subjected to policy decisions driven by populist passions rather than sober rationality. America needs more partisan representation in politics—not for the mere existence of additional political parties, but rather for the purpose of toppling the current partisan duopoly and restoring representation and the will of the people to government.
One naturally wonders, and quite rightfully, why, amidst our extensive discourse, there has been a conspicuous absence of information about your identity. It's akin to attending a social event without introducing oneself, leaving others in a state of unease, pondering your background and affiliations. Just as in social gatherings, where the lack of an introduction creates an air of mystery, withholding information about oneself can evoke similar feelings of unease and anxiety. Living in a world captivated by the concept of identity, it is unsurprising that people are inclined to categorize and define others within distinct parameters. It is all too human to want to know who you are dealing with.
Admittedly, our identity is a fuzzy kind of identity. But this need not be a bad thing. Indeed, this fuzzy identity allows us to be pluralistic and pragmatic when it comes to understanding issues and reasoning our way to practical solutions. What is essentially being said here is that our fuzzy identity forces us to be analytic and not dogmatic. Our fuzzy identity allows individuals part of the movement a way to stay true to ourselves and at the same time unified under a common flag against identitarian pressure to conform to the duopolistic system. If one wishes to attribute an identity to the Forward Party, it can be described as embodying pluralism.
So, what kind of political philosophy is compatible with this fuzzy identity, namely, a political philosophy that is pluralistic, pragmatic, and analytic? I believe that political philosophy is liberalism.
Before you cast your stones and adopt the position that we are some reincarnation of leftism, hear me out. Liberalism is not leftism. Liberalism emerged from a rich philosophical tradition that seeks individual liberty, political equality, and human dignity. In contrast, leftism, an ideological movement rather than a philosophical tradition, dogmatically advocates against traditional values instead of critically examining their utility.
Now, one might respond to the advocacy for liberal values with the idea that it carries too much contemporary baggage, leading to constant debates over the meaning of words. If this is the case, then we commit ourselves to a war of words.
Words matter. If we concede linguistic authority to fringe rhetoricians and contrarians interested only in power, how can we claim to have freedom of speech when everything we say is reduced to the preferences of ideological extremists? We must confront the bastardization of language brought on by their postmodernist worldview.
If we consider political philosophy as the mind of the party, then political ideology is the body. An ideology gives political philosophy its legs and allows movements to understand themselves as real. It propels philosophical maxims into public consciousness, enabling them to realize their true potential.
Now, the abandonment of liberalism by the two major parties does not imply they have forsaken their respective ideologies. They have remained somewhat consistent with their political ideology despite distancing themselves from the political philosophy of liberalism. However, their ideology is governed by certain positions. Unfortunately, they have committed themselves to postliberalism in the form of Christian nationalism on the right and illiberalism in the form of woke socialism on the left. This is because conservatism and progressivism seem to occur organically within a political philosophy; all political philosophies will manifest a progressive or conservative disposition. (Under liberalism, we see the unique emergence of libertarianism as an ideology not arising from any other political philosophy.)
Since we rest on a fuzzy identity, the Forward Party will have to consciously manage its ideological spectrum to ensure the party is not taken adrift by what seems to be a natural tendency to move further and deeper into a particular ideological worldview.
Many people have forgotten that Republicans and Democrats had prominent progressive and conservative wings in their respective parties at one time. The abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s, defining the newly formed Republican Party, was a powerful progressive movement. It was also composed of former Whigs, who had strong traditionalist sentiments. Similarly, the Democratic Party in the mid-1900s had to balance its emerging New Deal progressive wing with the conservative Dixiecrats in the southern states.
Despite being composed of diverse viewpoints, the two parties failed to move their respective parties forward without capitulating to a particular ideological worldview. Thus, the current ideological composition of the Democratic Party, mostly progressive, and the Republican Party, mostly conservative, is the natural consequence of failing to manage diverse viewpoints.
The most effective way to manage the ideological spectrum is to regularly assess where the party is ideologically and to engage in a dialectical process on a continuous basis. For a dialectical process to be effective, Forwardists must be willing to be rational during times of disagreement and compromise to achieve a pragmatic resolution, otherwise individuals within the party will grow resentful and become disinterested in seeing the party progress.
What is the dialectical process? The dialectical process is a process whereby thesis and antithesis synthesize to form a new thesis—said simply for the purpose of this essay, it is the process for which competing perspectives find a productive compromise to form a new, unified perspective. The dialectical process is a critical idea in Hegelian philosophy. According to German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, it is through the dialectical process that the truly free and organic society comes to know itself as rational through the struggle of ideas. Said differently, the dialectical process is a social good. English philosopher John Stuart Mill defended the position that social diversity of opinion is a good. Mill believed progress comes from conflict, and conflict requires diversity. As the old proverb goes, iron sharpens iron; and so too must opposing views sharpen each other to test their capacity to rise to the occasion.
Now, the dialectical process has already been committed to by Forwardists, albeit not explicitly. By affirming viewpoint diversity and pragmatism as the means to solving contemporary problems, the Forward Party has committed itself to the struggle of competing ideas and perspectives to find solutions that are not predetermined like that of religious dogma or postmodern pedagogy.
The Forward Party must be vigilant in identifying and mitigating events that trigger a slippage into an ideological death spiral. This is essentially the issue that plagued Republicans during the rise of the religious right in the late 1900s, which the enthusiasm from that era trickled over into the 2000s and led to the ascent of the Tea Party and Trumpism. The slippage into extreme ideology gave rise to wokeism on the left in the 21st century for which the Democratic Party has all but given up trying to manage. Accordingly, both parties have found it easier to give in to their respective extremists to foster political loyalty. This could easily be the fate of the Forward Party if the party does not manage its members’ ideological passions effectively.
While it might be tempting to declare at the outset that the Forward Party will not be ideological and therefore will not engage in ideological debates, this would be a mistake. The Forward Party must commit itself to the struggle against what seems to be a natural tendency to drift into ideological extremism over time. This is not to say that the Forward Party must take an ideological stance, but rather it must not shy away from the debate. If we wish to put words to our “ideology,” then it is perhaps best described as pragmatism as understood by American philosopher William James, whereby we seek the “practical cash-value” of ideas.
The Forward Party could say that it will not participate in any ideological struggles, but this would mean the Forward Party is dead on arrival. An ideology gives a political movement its legs. If the Forward Party ignores this reality, then it will go nowhere.
The Forward Party should embrace its fuzzy identity and contend with the ideological spectrum. However, Forwardists must do so under the guise of a political philosophy, as it will provide us with focus. The Forward Party must not shy away from having Forwardists affirm or negate an opinion based on ideological preferences. Members of the party must engage with diverse viewpoints and commit themselves to rational discourse (the dialectical process) to resolve differences.
What we are doing is a noble endeavor. The Forward Party will grow in the next several years as more and more individuals continue to become disillusioned by the current two-party system. However, if we continue to abstain from engaging in ideological debates, then our efforts will ultimately fail. The Forward Party would merely leave major issues defined or undefined by extremists loyal to the duopoly—and is this not what the Forward Party is fighting against? As the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”