The Corner

The Optimism of Fools

Following my sour take on the forthcoming election, and my follow-up posting that practically all my emailers agree with me, a dissenting reader chid me thus, under the subject line “Why you aren’t getting disagreeable emails”:

John — There might be a reason that you aren’t getting hostile emails. Many of your former fans (like myself) stopped reading your stuff when you turned to into a total depressive curmudgeon. There are SOME good people who don’t agree with your pessimistic and British doom and gloom. Americans really don’t like this stuff.

I’ll take that back, there is an underclass of complainers who love this stuff — and they love it a lot. The rest of us are disgusted by it.

This gladdens my heart, because it tells me I am doing my job.

Every age has its characteristic follies, and those follies have their correctives. The folly of the present age in America is a facile, infantile optimism, that recognizes no limits to human abilities or the wonders that can be wrought by politicians, bureaucrats, and generals. The corrective is a firm, measured pessimism.

The natural home of that fool’s optimism in this age is the political Left, so the corrective must come from the Right.

There is also of course a fool’s pessimism. In this age, however, it presents no danger. We are so awash in preposterous smiley-face optimism, we should welcome anything that counters it.

Optimism helped build this nation. Yes, we can clear the forest, tame the prairies, fight off the Indians. Yes, we can build heavier-than-air flying machines, land on the Moon, defeat fascism and communism. Yes, we can prosper without the horror and indignity of slavery. I am sure there were pessimists who said those things could not be done. They were wrong; and thoughful persons, including thoughtful pessimists, knew at the time that they were wrong.

Today, however, American optimism has got completely out of hand. A corrective is needed. The corrective must come from conservatives, the people who understand that “human nature has no history.” We must revive the fine tradition of conservative pessimism. In this age, optimism is for children and fools. And liberals.

Some children will be left behind. You cannot “remake the Middle East” or “defeat evil.” The poor will always be with us. Black and white will never mingle together in unselfconscious harmony. Corporations will not research and explore without hope of profit. Russia will not become Sweden. Forty million immigrants speaking a single language will not assimilate.

Conservatives used to know all this. Some — the infallibly sapient Roger Kimball, for example — still do. The smiley-faces are leading us to perdition. They must be shouted down.

Yes, we can!

No, you can’t, you bloody fools.


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