Reply to Jason – what is idealism? 1

Adolf Hitler makes keynote address at Reichstag session, Kroll Opera House, Berlin, 1939

Hi Jason,

thank you for your interest. I define ‘idealism’ as ‘the inspiration to that which is felt to be “higher than”.’

My definition places emphasis on the emotions and brain functions ‘below’ (possibly more primitive than) conscious thought because I think of idealism as an emotional orientation (‘Sarah is an idealistic girl’) or potential (just as we can love or hate), without a specific focus.

That focus is given to it – it could be spiritual, religious (organised spirituality), political or in a personal relationship (‘I love you absolutely’).

The Nazis (German capitalism in extremis) exploited it with skill (appealing to a primal mythology) as other governments aspire to do and those who achieve power.

The manipulation of idealism is essential to the practice of power.

In the US, developing on Winthrop’s ‘We shall be as a city upon a hill’ speech, idealism came to be focused on the flag. In Australia, because of the convict origin of white domination (Phillip’s words after landing reportedly included the instruction that ‘Men are not to go into the womens’ tents at night’) it has been very difficult for the bourgeoisie to find that focus, as they search and stumble from one symbol of loss, failure and defeat to another.

The military disaster at Gallipoli in the first world war – in a far-away country and in the service of the dominant power has finally been turned into some success, ideologically. The requisite amount of gore should silence all criticism.

Idealism is the source of an immense and immensely creative energy (Plato and Plotinus fully understood this) and large amounts of it (together with many of those who embody it) are consumed in every revolution, after which there is the slow but inevitable re-accumulation of its depleted reserves as idealism, having attained far short of perfection, goes into retreat to lick its wounds and prepare to dare again.

And this is my point – we are animals, and idealism is an expression of our animality.

Philosophical idealism’, beloved of cobweb-spinning academics, is the appropriation of idealism by and to linguistic thought (what is known simplistically in academic philosophy as ‘reason’) – ‘philosophical idealism is the belief that…’ It is the harnessing of, the attempt to control and constrain, the horse drawing the chariot.

Philosophical idealism is not simply the placing of consciousness and its products before objective reality – one never has to go looking too far in its manifestation before one comes upon ‘God’ or another expression for ‘higher than’.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Best regards,




4 thoughts on “Reply to Jason – what is idealism? 1

  1. Hello Phil,

    I was not familiar with formal definition of idealism and your explanation is simple to follow.

    Thanks and have a great day ahead,

    Anand 🙂


  2. My understanding of idealism and what you say of it:
    To be conscious is to experience, and to be is to be experienced. That is philosophical Idealism (or the so called German variety that was derived from Bishop Berkeley). Your definition is closer to Plato’s ideal forms, which is different, and is related to the existence of ideal forms of things (for every human being there exists one ideal prototype). Your example of the flag as an ideal, or the Nazi’s Aryan race, brings in an association between Plato’s ideal and political manipulation, which is ideology. Plato, by the way, was convinced that lying to the people was a legitimate, if not the only form of political persuasion (The Republic is full of lies and the virtues of lying).

    German Idealism is far simpler than Plato’s, but also more profound. If there was never any biological entity in the universe complex enough to experience it and understand it, then in Idealistic terms it quite simply would not exist. In other words things only exists if something is able to perceive it, or, in the case of God, if it itself has self-consciousness. The universe might have self-consciousness (vitalism) but the fact that it seems to be fine-tuned to creating conditions suitable for life forms would indicate that it needs human beings to perceive it. If this is true, it would imply there is no omniscient, omnipotent God either. Humanity (or other creatures with consciousness) is a necessity for the universe to be experienced, because if it is experienced it exists, and it does not exist unless it is experienced. This makes us very important in the great scheme of things. If we could start to act with responsibility. We may very well bear the weight of all existence on our shoulders. That should be an inspiration to humanity, shouldn’t it?


    • Hi Paul,

      thank you for your comment. I think of idealism as an expression of our animality, entirely of this world. Idealism per se doesn’t require language to be manifest. Ideals are an appropriation of that emotional response to the world to language. To have an ideal is to think something conceptually – ‘My ideal is a world without exploitation/a world full of love/a society of only Aryans’…

      Academic philosophy, as you know, distinguishes between idealism (‘John is idealistic’) and philosophical idealism (‘John’s philosophy is that of a philosophical idealist’). But rather than a clear distinction, I see an appropriation – of the former by and to the latter, by and to language.

      I think this because the same emotional response to the world in idealism can be found underlying philosophical idealism. For all the people you referred to, there was something above/beyond/higher than/better than this material world. All of them, in my view, rationalised idealism and produced a theory on the back of it.

      On the point of lying – I agree that if a person wishes to acquire and retain power in a society, they must have an ideology – a system of thought bounded by their (or the dominant class’s) interests. That would mean, inevitably, lying.

      I fully agree with your call for living responsibly which I think is synonymous with living ethically and that doing so should be an inspiration to others.

      Very best regards,



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