A single, widely-applicable strategy or idea, typically well-intended, whose scale is too large—or which is being dealt with at too high a level—to permit observable reality and detail. Ideology in the state sector is expressed in:

1. large projects, which can be persisted with and given a measure of plausibility due to the massive resources that are invested in them; and

2. general principles — the abstract ethic in terms of which the regime defines and justifies itself, and on which it bases its claim to be ethical.

Pragmatic thinking, focused on grounded local observation, is seen as an offence to these projects and principles, and suppressed, often by authoritarian governments impressed by their own good intentions.

Here is some news of ideology from history. First of all, the story of a man who was motivated by a grand vision—to bring the world the benefits of universal peace. This fine aim called for fresh new thinking, a radical shake-up and overdue reform, dragging his tradition-bound nation into the fourteenth century.

On 18th May 1291, the city of Acre fell to the Muslims. It was the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land. Some people might have thought that this was the moment to draw a line under the Crusades, which had by now had 196 years to prove their futility. However, the King of France, Philip the Fair (1268–1314) had a big, idealistic project. He allowed himself to be persuaded by a Spanish mystic called Ramon Lull that he was destined by God to recapture the Holy Land and, having done so, to send teams of missionaries to convert the Muslim world to Christianity. Philip himself was to lead this crusade. He was to become the new Roman Emperor, with the right to intervene in the election of the pope. Having reconquered the Holy Land, he would then set up his court in Jerusalem and establish a worldwide reign of universal peace.I9

In order to fulfil his vision, he needed to find a great deal of money, and either to unite under a single command the two rich and powerful monastic-military organisations—the Hospitallers (the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem) and their rivals the Templars (the Knights Templar)—or to strip at least one of them of their wealth. The Templars were a multinational organisation of remarkable development and sophistication. Although their numbers were quite small—there were around 4,000 Knights in France—they were formidable warriors and defenders of the faith; and they ran a respected international banking system, and provided safe lodgings, safe escort and financial services all over Europe. Reform, with some limitation to their power and influence, was needed, but Philip decided to see the end of them: he wanted their money; and he wanted to dissolve their rather independent command structure and replace it with his own military command over a crusading army.I10

He made his move on Friday 13th October 1307. That morning, the Templars were visited by officers of the crown, who arrested them and handed them over to the torturers. They were required to make public confessions to living lives of extreme pornography, including roasting infants in order to anoint idols with their fat, making magic potions out of the ashes of deceased Templars, and indulging in initiation ceremonies which included summoning up a Satanic cat to hover over the proceedings, which they were then required to kiss beneath the tail, and swearing on oath that they would be available to sodomy for the rest of their lives. Remarkably, some survived the interrogations, though the tortures could include having their feet roasted until the bones fell from their sockets—one, at a later inquiry, displayed the bones. The Templars were quickly and completely destroyed, but some of the accusations stuck: the task of fabricating an entire body of accusations out of nothing, and then compelling the innocent victims to substantiate them, was so extraordinary and seemed so improbable that it inevitably left the suspicion that maybe there was something in it—that there is no smoke without fire. Recent historical research has conclusively cleared the Templars’ name, but a fabrication which must have shocked its contemporaries into thinking that no one can be trusted, ever—and whose lies lasted for five centuries—has to count as a success for the art of the visionary.I11

Nonetheless, the crusade did not happen; the vision died. In other words, the project was, by the standard of such projects, utterly typical, with all four defining elements in place:

1. the vision;

2. the obstacle;

3. the ruthless campaign to overcome the obstacle, thereby validating the vision; and

4. the forging of a new reality with regard to pain and busyness.

It is not success that matters, it is the signs of advance, crowding out all considerations, detail, circumstance and diversity—everything but the ideal and unfalsifiable cause: “universal peace” will do nicely (Hyperbole).

It was Philip’s bad luck that he did not live at another time. He could have been an economist. He might have observed, one December day in 1931, the crowd of unemployed outside the Municipal Lodging House in New York City, lining up in the hope of a free meal.I12 Adopting John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory as his Bible, he might have committed himself to a lifetime of labouring to build the new Jerusalem of universal employment. He could have destroyed local economies and resilient food production with oil-dependent industrial agriculture in a global market economy. This crusade would have been in the cause of economism and its global reach, and the bright-eyed, authoritative vision would have been supported by the sharpest and most optimistic young minds around—such as that of Michael Stewart, an advisor to the UK’s Labour Government in the 1960s:

Whatever the qualifications, the basic fact is that with the acceptance of the General Theory, the days of uncontrollable mass unemployment in advanced industrial countries are over. Other economic problems may threaten; this one, at least, has passed into history.

Michael Stewart, Keynes and After, 1967.I13

You can see the attraction of vision. If you are looking at a crowd of the hungry, demoralised and unemployed on a winter day, shortly after a world war fought in trenches, it is reasonable to want to do something big, and from the top. By contrast, the virtues of the local particular which inhabit Lean Logic are, very often, on a minute scale. The visionary who attempts to kick the habit, to turn her gaze away from the epic of large accomplishment to the detail of tradition and local knowledge, is in for a shock. She could, with due application, find herself woven into the conscientiousness, care and imagination of being located—being somewhere and building community. She could in due course find herself sufficiently fluent in the grammar of her practice to achieve something. She could walk in the company of the lore, rhymes and ballads of local gossip. The reformed and fully-recovered visionary, reflecting in a damp field in a place of no particular importance, could find that the big life-shaping decisions have already been made by the weather and the geology, by the culture and local traditions. Some of the tasks, skills and pleasures that remain are about providing food and are likely to be delicious. Some could be shocking. In fact, hang on—over there, on this big landscape, there are two tiny figures, and something strange seems to be going on . . .


Johnny Sands

1. A man whose name was Johnny Sands
Had married Betty Haigh,
And though she brought him gold and lands,
She proved a terrible plague.
For, oh, she was a scolding wife,
Full of caprice and whim;
He said that he was tired of life,
And she was tired of him
And she was tired of him.

2. Says he, “Then I will drown myself,
The river runs below.”
Says she, “Pray do, you silly elf,
I wished it long ago.”
Says he, “Upon the brink I’ll stand,
Do you run down the hill
And push me in with all your might.”
Says she, “My love, I will.”
Says she, “My love, I will.”

3. “For fear that I should courage lack
And try to save my life,
Pray tie my hands behind my back.”
“I will,” replied his wife.
She tied them fast as you may think,
And when securely done
“Now stand,” she says, “upon the brink,
Now I’ll prepare to run
Now I’ll prepare to run.”

4. All down the hill his loving bride
Now ran with all her force
To push him in—he stepped aside
And she fell in of course.
Now splashing, dashing like a fish
“Oh save me, Johnny Sands.”
“I can’t, my dear, though much I wish
For you have tied my hands
For you have tied my hands.”I14


Henry IV, Philip the Fair’s successor 275 years later, understood this: he knew the importance of small things; he affirmed the tradition, for every French family, of a chicken in the pot every Sunday, and his name is remembered and honoured in some very fine cheese.I15


Related entries:

Reductionism, Internal Evidence, Genetic Fallacy, False Sameness, Sedation, Casuistry, Utopia.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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