To the Editor:

Keith Urbahn’s interesting reflections on the heart of the young conservative leave out one thing: a plan to use “the reins of the ruling elite” for anything more than the propagation of the ruling elite. While he is right-on in his assertion that unbridled idealism has trouble focusing effort on concrete change, he ignores the kind of idealism that underlies tangible social change. These changes are not always inflations (of government spending, of social programming, of the liberal ego) but sometimes innovations and improvements. To impute to blue-voting liberals the motive of only the self-aggrandizing goals of world peace and equality misses the point. It is the “backwards and impractical” bans on gay marriage and abortion that I, as a pragmatic liberal, seek to avoid. Although I won’t be working on Wall Street next year, I can only imagine that had I chosen that path, I nonetheless would hold equality of opportunity — not equality of distribution — as an incorruptible ideal.

The “ideology” of liberalism as I adhere to it, unlike that of conservatism (even Urbahn’s ideology-free version) is itself a form of pragmatism. It is simply to do the best we can for the world. This is why we voted for the uninspiring John Kerry, who promised not “a blanket commitment to worldwide peace” but an old-school try at improving domestic policy to treat Americans equally. The argument that contemporary conservatives, in eschewing the heritage of Burke, are preferable to any sort of progressivism makes little sense — other than economic sense to the wealthy. So perhaps I’ll never have what Churchill describes as a brain, but I hope I will always have the intelligence to see that our democracy, founded on the imperfect ideal of equality of opportunity, demands practicality that includes hope for betterment.

Toby Merrill ’05

Dec. 1, 2004