Silly philosopher’s joke: A pessimist is someone who thinks a 12 ounce glass with 6 ounces of beer in it is half empty. An optimist is someone who thinks it is half full. And a realist (here’s the philosophical bit) thinks that the glass is twice as large as it needs to be.
When it comes to many applications of this mot, I’m with the realist. Take the size of government, for example. (I feel another joke fluttering in the background: “Take my wife–please.”) It’s easy to be gloomy about . . . well, about a lot of things these days. But there is also a lot to be said for looking at our current problems–economic, political, even spiritual, if I may use that word–as a spur to action rather than as an occasion for despondency. That, overall, is my recommendation.
Still, if you are going to be stirred to action, it is well to be a realist about the evils you are acting against. And to be a realist, you have to take an accurate measure of the problems. I cannot think of a better brief articulation of what we’re up against than Mark Steyn’s disillusioned column in the current (Dec 1) National Review (requires registration). In essence, it’s a reflection on Adam Smith’s famous remark that “there’s a deal of ruin in a nation.” (“Especially this nation,” I remember John O’Sullivan once remarking.)
True, says Mark, but there’s a limit to the amount of ruin you can absorb without ruination. “The contrast today,” he writes,
is not between America and Europe, but between the slightly-more-than-half of America at ease with the prospect of a Europeanized future and the considerably-less-than half of America for whom our differences with Europe—the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, non-confiscatory taxation, a society that prizes individual opportunity over state protection–were a big part of the American success story.
If you’re a relaxed conservative, this is 1976. Let Obama & Co. have their head and screw up, and we’ll be back in two or four years. But in two or four years there’ll be even more ACORN registrations, even more foreign campaign contributions, large numbers of amnestied illegals with de facto if not quite de jure voting rights, a new Unfairness Doctrine that consolidates Democratic dominance of the dinosaur media and banishes much of the rest.
Etc. Wise words. Invigorating, admonitory words. Words that Pericles, for example, would have approved of when contemplating his famous Funeral Oration early on in the Peloponnesian War. One of the great things about the Athenians, Pericles observed, was that they were cultured but also manly: they loved beauty but “with moderation” and they pursued the life of the mind “without effeminacy.” Pericles was talking to a state that was then confronting a great deal of ruin–so much, alas, that it led in the end to ruination.
One of my favorite remarks in Mark’s piece (and no, this is not a non sequitur) is his description of Sarah Palin as “the last non-fop in the GOP.” Maybe there are one or two others. If so, I don’t know who they are. Anyway, it’s ironical that such a womanly woman should have been the most manly candidate in the race. Food for thought.
Mark concludes by describing himself as NR’s resident “Gloomy Gus.” Gloomy? Sober, I’d say. Any country that provides a platform for people like Mark Steyn and Sarah Palin is far from finished.