Conservatives Should Hope
There’s good reason to guard against the twin vices of presumption and despair.
As a child, I was taught that the pessimist sees the bottle of whiskey half empty and the optimist sees it half full. Instead of philosophizing, my stance has always been to drink it.
The other day, I was thinking about this inclination and found to my joy it is an inheritance of my Christian upbringing. Pessimism and optimism are exclusively earthly things, and the Christian tends not to lose his head for something that only affects this earthly life. In heaven there will be no hope, but neither will there be despair, and so I hold onto the obscure hope that St. Patrick will be stashing away a lot of bottles for friends there.
Given the disappointment with which conservatives now view the ideological and moral decline of the West, it is in a way a relief to recall Christopher Dawson, who already noted in 1952 that Western civilization had lost “confidence in itself.” He seems to be referring to the year 2023 when he wrote about “the case of a society or class devoting enormous efforts to higher education and to the formation of an intellectual elite and then finding that the final result of the system is to breed a spirit of pessimism and nihilism and revolt.”
Postmodernism is a factory churning out disappointment. We thought that nineteenth-century nihilism was the end of the line, but we were mistaken. Postmodernism and post-nihilism have brought us a new morality without God, because ultimately the nihilist’s stance attacked human nature, which ever seeks to find meaning and transcendence. As societies become more dechristianized, rather than the promised liberation, what has come instead are more stupid new dogmas.
In any case, today these dogmas constitute a sort of pagan religion exercising an overwhelming power over media, politics, and public opinion. Said religion is a bad recipe that mixes wokeism with environmentalism, hedonism, communism, atheism, and sentimentalism. The consequences of that pagan religion have been sometimes so depraved that it is natural that Christians and conservatives fall to the temptation of pessimism.
Think about sexual morals, for example. The revolution of ’68 was quite abhorrent, but at least it was not regulated; I mean, there was no one correct way of participating in the sexual revolution. I suppose the idea was a mixture of being free and being a libertine, and above all, with no limits. Wherever human nature placed limits, they would be blasted to bits by marijuana or mushrooms, or any of the garbage snorted up by the generation, which now, funnily enough, has become mostly conservative.
On the other hand, today’s sexual morality has nothing to do with freedom. Of course, not everything is allowed. Feminism presents sexual relations as a form of pleasure reparations, in which men owe women a historical debt of enjoyment. It is possible that the only thing the sexual revolution and feminism have in common is a horrendous selfishness. Where everything could find a place in the great hippie commune, today only those things that have passed the filter of antiracism, feminism, and the like norms have their place.
The most significant aspect of a society is not sexuality, however, loud and conspicuous it is. Since Roman times, it has been a good measure of the level of moral devastation in a civilization. Perhaps that is why it affects the conservative’s mood so intensely. That, and its proximity to something much more painful such as abortion. The banalization of the murder of babies and the immense number of abortions attack our optimism. And as Christians, we know that abortion is the grand altar of sacrifices on which Satan feeds.
No matter how much the institutional and political corruption of the left can lead us to believe that all is lost, or even for that very reason, it is time to pay close attention once more to G.K. Chesterton’s words: “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.”
I admit that, due to a certain addiction to bohemia and literary damnation, I feel uncomfortable defending optimism. There is something enveloping and voluptuous about the notion of fatality: It keeps you warm. But at the same time, I sense in the conservative Christian world a struggle against all the ideological elements; and, while the battle must be fought on the outside, we must not lose the peace within.
Chesterton faced a similar dilemma when analyzing optimism and pessimism. After many paragraphs, he decided to renounce both attitudes. He had discovered two sinful attitudes in them after analyzing Christian doctrine: presumption and despair. “The heresies that have attacked human happiness in my time, have all been variations either of presumption or of despair; which, in the controversies of modern culture, are called optimism and pessimism.” Both can lead us to hell.
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Neither optimism nor presumption is a frequent risk at this time. But we should remember that there is no such thing as fatalist Christianity, nor should there be a pessimistic conservatism. Our reasons for hope are based on something that, paradoxically, is often wrongly attributed to the left: moral superiority.
Obviously, as humans like any other we are not much better than them—it matters little that I should think I am better looking than, for example, Nancy Pelosi. Our ideas and our ends are superior, however. We are for tradition and for freedom; we are against tyranny and utopia. We are for national sovereignty and the family; we are against anarchy and we are always for beauty. That is far superior to consuming your political life trying to get everyone to travel in an electric car, eat synthetic filets, and be able to legally commit suicide when life becomes a burden on others.
If Western conservatism is able to remain faithful to its Christian roots, it will regain its joy. Our religion is forged from the torture, humiliation, and murder of our Savior and King, which doesn’t seem a very hopeful beginning. And I truly believe that no one since the times of the first apostles, during those uncertain hours of Holy Saturday, has seen things as dire. And yet, hope, banquets, and laughter all returned, and will return again.