Regardless of who ends up winning the 2008 US Presidential election next month, at least one thing seems to have been established beyond any shadow of a doubt. The candidacy of Barack Obama, whose fundamental message of change and hope drew enthusiastic support from so many tens of millions around the world, has proven that "idealism"—a concept that in many ways has fallen out of favor during the past few decades—may finally be coming back into fashion.
So what is idealism, anyway—and why is it so important? In this Unbound interview, EnlightenNext magazine's Elizabeth Debold speaks to philosopher Susan Neiman about her latest book, Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown Up Idealists. To Neiman, director of a Berlin-based think tank called the Einstein Forum, idealism is more than just naive dreaming. By her definition, it is the inherent human desire to transform the world as it is given to us—a revolutionary philosophical position that has driven social and political change throughout history. In this timely and thought-provoking interview, Neiman explains why she thinks that in order to build on the political momentum that Obama has generated, we need to forge a new idealism that is mature enough to handle the tough questions confronting us at this time in history without losing our visionary spirit. Digging into the rich history of Western philosophy, she argues that the ideas of men like Plato, Kant, and Thomas Hobbes are still relevant in our contemporary search for a guiding ethos.