Whenever any system of Domination has been overthrown, a new one has taken its place. Whenever people have established a way of life without Domination, Domination has crushed them. But in many times and places, Domination has been reduced by popular struggles. These successful struggles have all been inspired by profound ideals. I don’t mean “ideals” in the sense of blueprints for a utopian world, but rather in the sense of standards of human relations by which any real or proposed institutions must be judged. While piecemeal reforms can succeed without an idealistic impetus, systematic ones cannot.
“Peace” and “justice” are admirable ideals, but not nearly profound enough to achieve what we must achieve today. The earlier ideals of constitutional democracy, socialism, and communism have all played essential roles in changing the forms of Domination, but they have all been outdated by the new forms of Domination that were devised to counteract them. We need a new ideal, a new set of standards worth working, fighting, and even dying to achieve.
These are hard times for ideals of any kind. Generations of thought-control have indoctrinated us in cynical and defeatist attitudes. “Idealist” has become a term of contempt, while “realist” means someone who accepts the status-quo. To find and hold a new ideal will take great courage and independent thinking by communities of like-minded people, all making the same effort. But only such an effort can create a movement strong enough to abolish Domination.
The ideals that inspired successful movements of the past were created in response to the abuses and failures of the existing systems of authority. Our new ideal must emerge from the same process. We must freshly scrutinize the institutions that oppress us and that work such horrific violence upon the world, seeking the fundamental systematic nature of these institutions that lies beneath their apparent diversity. The closer our analysis cuts to the root of the matter—that is, the more genuinely radical our analysis—the more powerful will be the new ideal that results from it. Past ideals can be parts of our new ideal, but we must surpass them, just as the present forms of Domination have surpassed all those that have gone before. We must build on the success and failure of the past ideals.
Most important, given a basis of meticulous analysis, ideals emerge from imagination, even from visionary experience. We must use the entire range of our creative powers to find our new ideal. It is not enough to do as Einstein said, and “learn to think in new ways.” We must dream in new ways and hope in new ways—to envision a way of life that makes peace and justice as common as sun, wind, and rain. Only such an ideal will inspire enough people with enough power to lead them through all the bitter struggles necessary to make the ideal come true.
For that is the role of an ideal: not to be true, but to come true, through the greatest efforts of which the best-hearted people are capable. In that sense, ideals are at an opposite pole from scientific truths. A law of Nature exists and describes the structure of events, no matter whether anyone knows it or cares about it. An ideal becomes real and shapes human events only when enough people believe in it and act with enough passion to make its standards a living reality. What makes an ideal different from a mere fantasy is that it should come true.
Ideals emerge from the entire range of our creative powers, and they engage our entire beings. In the days of the 18th century Enlightenment, no one could have dreamed of the 20th century’s concentration camps and hydrogen bombs. We need an ideal that will evoke as much love, loyalty, and courage as the dreadful realities of our times evoke horror, pity, and disgust, an ideal that promises a hope so radiant that its light can overpower the worst darkness that surrounds us, an ideal that surpasses those of the Enlightenment even more than today’s atrocities surpass the Enlightenment’s worst nightmares.
Clearly, to create such an ideal is beyond the capabilities of any one person or group. But for the first time in history, we have a world community facing a global system of power. In principle, the creative powers of the entire world are available for creating our new ideal. It must emerge from a planet-wide process of critical thinking, dreaming, and hoping. I am certain that this ideal is taking form right now, in thousands of places around the world. This book is my small contribution to that process.
Above all, our new ideal must rest on a radical love of people. I don’t mean love in a sentimental sense, I mean love in the sense of action. As Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “. . . love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.” Mutual aid is the practice of compassion, and compassion is the proof of love. Faith in a better future for the world can only proceed from faith in people, beginning with ourselves and our comrades, and proceeding to embrace the world. And we must base this radical love of people on a still more radical love—a love of life itself, and this miraculous planet that gave it birth.
Mark Corske is the author of Engines of Domination, which this article was published from. The book was adapted into a feature documentary, which Films For Action named its number 1 film of 2014. It can be watched free online here.