Idealism, Intellectuals and the Pub

Many, many juicy stories from the Religion and Politics Conference last weekend in Copenhagen, one concerning the bed of a well-known professor and its surprising uses, another concerning the stunned look on the face of our Croatian rep at finding one Marxist left in the world, and another the discovery of a small group of scholars, deep in the cold reaches of Scandinavia, who believe that we can actually find the one true meaning of the Apostle Paul.

But for now, a telling moment in a Copenhagen pub. I have always been struck by the fact that intellectuals tend to be default idealists. Because we work with ideas and words, most of us believe they have power to make things happen in and of themselves. You know the lines – literature changes people, or the pen is mightier than the sword, and so forth. A case in point: at the pub half a dozen of us sat down at a table in the corner. After a few minutes the drinks did not appear magically before us on the table, so a discussion began.

‘Do you think they have table service here?’ said one.

‘I’m not sure’, said another. ‘Maybe you need to order at the bar’.

‘I suspect they have table service’, said a third.

After a full ten minutes, the discussion was still raging, but – strangely – the drinks had still not appeared.

Finally, it came upon one of us to go to bar and ask.


7 thoughts on “Idealism, Intellectuals and the Pub

  1. Reminds me of a story about a dead owl found at the bottom of a university office block. An impromptu dead owl email discussion group was formed by knowledge workers in the building that avoided the issue of who was going to do something about the corpse before it started to smell or attract rats.

      1. All forms of idealism are wrong. But some ideas do gain a certain momentum of their own, a surplus which is not easily traceable to the external material circumstances that enable their pragmatic power. This is expected if ideas are part of what’s real.

        You reckon Austin was an idealist, do ya? When my other half tells me the kettle’s boiled on a cold Dunedin evening as we’re watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there are very real factors in play which persuade me to quickly make a cup of tea, rather than discuss the boiling point of water. It’s true that words ‘do’ things, but only true as a trope (ie. the action of ‘words’ reify the threat of power of a potentially grumpy partner). Literally, she’s doing it to me.

        I’m a moderate realist: me & St. Thomas, thick as thieves.

  2. So deep down you’re on side with Milbank, since Thomas was the last peak before the long decline from Scotus – into modernism, postmodernism, capitalism, protestantism etc.

    But yes, the split is a rough one between idealism and materialism, for an idea like Christian communism may gain material force as the effort to establish Christian communist communities sontinues unabated.

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