Three ways of circumscribing idealism:
(1) A symbolic event which happens instead of a material event which it resembles.
(2) A symbolic event which prevents somebody from pursuing her material interests.
(3) A symbolic event which prepares somebody to symbolise her material interests.
I’m not interested in comparing their strengths and weaknesses as definitions. It is obvious from the outset that no stipulation of this kind will do to capture what's meant by idealism. It's just not up for analysis in the analytic style. Idealism is usefully thought of as that which moves flexibly (dialectically, if you prefer) through these three modes.
OK, let me clarify them. (1) is perhaps the most familiar. Speech about “increasing social mobility,” for example, can be understood as a symbolic event which resembles a particular would-be event – abolition of objective class inequalities of production and consumption – and which contributes to the failure of that event to materialise (because it offers an alternative emancipatory narrative). Flip M.E.G.A. e.g.
(2) is the sort of stipulation we’re attracted to when emphasising the connotative dimension of ideology. Ideology partly works by making its creatures fail to notice, conceptualise, think, feel, theorise or express something. Ideology & habitus, ideology as what's natural, etc. In such cases, there may be nothing ideational to compare a potential material event with. No relation of resemblance could therefore be determined.
If conceptual contradictions or aporia are correlated with material ones, then there should be various causal mechanisms by which the resolution of the latter leads to the dissolution of the former. In fact such mechanisms are hugely difficult even to imagine. (3) is the sort of stipulation we may prefer when we're exhausted by trying to imagine such mechanisms. To take the previous example again, you could argue that “speech about “increasing social mobility”” is something that quite easily could accompany the abolition of objective class inequalities. Certainly, any long-term struggle to accomplish this objective would eventually have to conceptualise itself, as well as its various countermovements and its alternatives – its “probematique” – so in a way, such speech should be expected whenever such material events are underway. (3) gives a more rhetorical understanding of idealism. A moment of idealism is a moment at which thought in some “safe” mode, some materially “status quo” reaches – perhaps coincidentally – a configuration from which it can naturally flow into that thought which is a component of praxis, i.e. that ideality which is the organic complement of material events. This use of idealism is the least pejorative of the three.
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