In my recent interview with James Allen on his show, we got to discussing what it means to be an ideologue. I had an inkling from James ahead of time that this question might come up (big revelation), and as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that many of us are inclined to assume that a charge that someone is an ideologue can be sustained without reference to the truth or falsehood of what he believes. And it occurred to me that this is at most only partly true.
It can be legitimate to argue with a person thus: "Even if your belief about issue X is correct, issue X isn't as important as issue Y, and you are acting as though it is."
But even there, separating his beliefs about issue X from his beliefs about the importance of issue X isn't always as easy as it appears to be.
Suppose, for example, that someone believes that abortion is murder. Given the importance of murder, it's going to be very hard for someone else to say, "Even if your belief about abortion is correct, abortion isn't as important an issue as, e.g., American relations with Russia, more government funding for health care (or whatever); hence, you should compromise on abortion." If abortion is murder, then thousands and thousands of murders are taking place legally in the United States all the time, and it's going to be pretty ludicrous to try to compare that in importance to much of anything else.
What I think we see on the left right now is a hardening of positions on certain subjects, so that they argue not merely that, say, homosexuals should (in some sense of "should") be given the state recognition of marriage for their sexual relationships, but more strongly, that if they aren't, this is a violation of a basic right. Upping the ante, as it were. This requires one to disagree with the position substantively even in order to say, "Oh, come on. Surely we have more important things to worry about."
Moreover, even a position about the relative importance of issues is substantive in one sense. If someone thinks that controlling immigration is incredibly important, you aren't going to be able to tell him he's an ideologue on that subject unless you are also willing to tell him that controlling immigration isn't as important as he thinks it is.
What this second point means is this: There is no way to get a person to back off on a political issue without asking him to change his views about that issue, though those views may be merely implicit and may be metalevel views about the importance of the issue. What makes no sense is to pretend that we can prescind entirely from an evaluation of the truth of what someone believes while at the same time simply, as it were, counting up the units of energy he expends on the issue or measuring his willingness to compromise on the issue and then telling him, "See, look at this. You're an ideologue."
Don't misunderstand me: Rhetorically, it may be that we hope he will, after being presented merely with our incredulity and a picture of himself as he appears to someone else, take a step back, take a deep breath, and get a sense of perspective. Maybe we don't need to expend a lot of argumentative force against the proposition that X issue is incredibly important. It may work rhetorically simply to say something like, "People are dying all over the world, etc., etc., etc., and you are killing yourself over this? Don't you have anything more important to worry about?"
But let's not be in any doubt about what we're doing: We're trying to tell him that he's wrong about something. At a minimum, we're telling him that he's wrong about the importance he ascribes to that issue, and this may well also mean that we're telling him he's just wrong about the issue.
Anyone who decides that he's an ideologue about something and changes his course of action has, ipso facto, changed his mind, even if only implicitly. This is worth bearing in mind for ourselves if we are conservatives: If we change our strategy with regard to some issue, such as abortion, for example, we should ask ourselves if we are changing our minds about it, if we are demoting it in importance. And if so, are we right to do so?