Practical idealism
Practical idealism is a term first used by Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi , pronounced . 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement...

 (Gandhi Marg 2002). It describes a philosophy that holds it to be an ethical imperative to implement ideals of virtue or good. It further holds it to be equally immoral to either refuse to make the compromises necessary to realise high ideals, or to discard ideals in the name of expediency. Practical idealism in its broadest sense can be compared to utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

 in its emphasis on outcomes, and to political economy
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...

 and enlightened self-interest
Enlightened self-interest
Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others , ultimately serve their own self-interest....

 in its emphasis on the alignment of what is right with what is possible.

International Affairs

In foreign policy
Foreign policy
A country's foreign policy, also called the foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals within international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries...

 and international relations
International relations
International relations is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations , international nongovernmental organizations , non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations...

, the phrase "practical idealism" has come to be taken as a theory or set of principles that diplomats or politicians use to describe or publicize their outlook on foreign policy. It purports to be a pragmatic compromise between realism, which stresses the promotion of a state's "narrow" and amoral self-interest, and idealism, which aims to use the state's influence and power to promote higher liberal ideals
Liberal international relations theory
Unlike realism where the state is seen as a unitary actor, liberalism allows for plurality in state actors. Thus, preferences will vary from state to state, depending on factors such as culture, economic system or government type...

 like peace, justice and co-operation between nations. In this view, realism is seen as a prescription for Machiavellian selfishness and ruthlessness in international relations. Machiavelli recommended political strategies for reigning, or potential, Princes; the infamous teachings gravitate around his vision of the overarching and ultimate goal of any Prince, remaining in power. These strategies range from those that, today, might be called moderate or liberal political advice to those that, today, might be called illegal, immoral or, in the U.S., unconstitutional. For better or worse, Machiavelli is by name, like novelist George Orwell
"Orwellian" describes the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free society...

, modernly associated with manipulative acts and philosophies that disregard civil rights and basic human dignity in favor of deception, intimidation and coercion. This extreme form of realism is sometimes considered both unbecoming of nations' aspirations and, ultimately, morally and spiritually unsatisfying for their individual people. Extreme idealism, on the other hand, is associated with moralist naiveté and the failure to prioritize the interests of one's state above other goals.

More recently, practical idealism has been advocated by United States Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice is an American political scientist and diplomat. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush...

 and Philip D. Zelikow
Philip D. Zelikow
Philip D. Zelikow is an American diplomat, academic and author. He has worked as the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, and Counselor of the United States Department of State...

, in the position of Counselor to the department. The latter has defended the foreign policy of the George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 administration as being "motivated in good part by ideals that transcend narrow conceptions of material self-interest." Zelikow also assesses former US presidents
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States . He is noted for his exuberant personality, range of interests and achievements, and his leadership of the Progressive Movement, as well as his "cowboy" persona and robust masculinity...

 and Franklin Roosevelt as practitioners of practical idealism.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, American foreign policy has always had, and I think rightfully had, a streak of idealism, which means that we care about values, we care about principle. It's not just getting to whatever solution is available, but it's doing that within the context of principles and values. And at a time like this, when the world is changing very rapidly and when we have the kind of existential challenge that we have with terrorism and extremism, it's especially important to lead from values. And I don't think we've had a president in recent memory who has been so able to keep his policies centered in values.

The responsibility, then, of all of us is to take policies that are rooted in those values and make them work on a day-to-day basis so that you're always moving forward toward a goal, because nobody believes that the kinds of monumental changes that are going on in the world or that we are indeed seeking are going to happen in a week's time frame or a month's time frame or maybe even a year's time frame. So it's the connection, the day-to-day operational policy connection between those ideals and policy outcomes. - Condoleezza Rice, Washington Post interview

Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

an diplomat and former ambassador to the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Dr. Tommy Koh quoted UN Secretary-General
United Nations Secretary-General
The Secretary-General of the United Nations is the head of the Secretariat of the United Nations, one of the principal organs of the United Nations. The Secretary-General also acts as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the United Nations....

 U Thant
U Thant
U Thant was a Burmese diplomat and the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, from 1961 to 1971. He was chosen for the post when his predecessor, Dag Hammarskjöld, died in September 1961....

when he described himself as a practical idealist:

If I am neither a Realist nor a Moralist, what am I? If I have to stick a label on myself, I would quote U Thant and call myself a practical Idealist. I believe that as a Singaporean diplomat, my primary purpose is to protect the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and economic well-being of the state of Singapore. I believe that I ought to pursue these objectives by means which are lawful and moral. On the rare occasions when the pursuit of my country's vital national interest compels me to do things which are legally or morally dubious, I ought to have a bad conscience and be aware of the damage which I have done to the principle I have violated and to the reputation of my country. I believe that I must always consider the interests of other states and have a decent regard for the opinion of others. I believe that it is in Singapore's long-term interest to strengthen international law and morality, the international system for curbing the use of force and the institutions for the pacific settlement of disputes. Finally, I believe that it is in the interests of all nations to strengthen international co-operation and to make the world's political and economic order more stable, effective and equitable. - "Can Any Country Afford a Moral Foreign Policy?"

Critics have questioned whether practical idealism is merely a slogan with no substantive policy implications. (Gude 2005)

US Presidential Politics

The phrase practical idealism was also used as a slogan by John Kusumi who ran as an independent candidate in the 1984 presidential elections. This was the first introduction of the phrase in U.S. presidential politics. (United Press International 1984) (New Haven Journal Courier 1984) (New Haven Register 1984)

Former Democratic Vice President Al Gore also used the phrase in the 1990s, as did Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the 2000s.

American political scientist Jack Godwin elaborates on the doctrine of practical idealism in The Arrow and the Olive Branch: Practical Idealism in US Foreign Policy.

External links

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