Most, if not all, political writers today are ready to recognize and reject the historical utopianism found in the philosophical descendants of Hegel. Pessimism, however, is equally critical both of that tradition and of the less flamboyant but, from its perspective, similarly progressive liberalism found in the descendants of Locke, Kant, Mill, and Dewey. Indeed, one of the intellectual benefits of reviving the tradition of pessimism is the way that it causes us to reassess the theoretical debates of the last three centuries so that we see more clearly how the various forms of optimism have been allied. From this perspective, the great divide in modern political theory is not between the English-speaking and the Continental schools, but between an optimism that has had representatives in both of these camps and a pessimism whose very existence those representatives have sought to suppress.
For centuries, much philosophy, both Anglo-American and Continental, has been premised on the idea (not always explicitly defended) of a gradual improvement in the human condition. But what if we grapple with the possibility that such a melioration cannot be expected, that we must make do with who and what we are? Pessimism is the philosophy that accepts this challenge. It does not preach inevitable gloom. In a relentlessly optimistic world, it is enough to give up the promise of happiness to be considered a pessimist. Pessimism’s goal is not to depress us, but to edify us about our condition and to fortify us for the life that lies ahead. To build proper fortifications, one must have a proper sense of the enemy and his weapons. For the pessimists, it is fundamentally our time-bound condition that threatens us. But this presents a special problem since it is also our existence within time, and our consciousness of time, that makes possible many of the most excellent and glorious of human attributes, not least of which is the reason that allows us to philosophize at all. So pessimism must suggest a kind of fortification of the self against an enemy that is already inside the gates of the soul. ~Joshua Foa Dienstag, Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit